I try to give our family finances the care and attention they require, but if there’s anything in the world that triggers a deficit of attention in me, it’s a column of figures that never adds up to a positive number.
by Frank South
Yesterday, just when I was thinking we were making some headway, financially, and I was feeling a little better about myself, in general, the oil sensor, water pump, and starter all went out on the car at the same time. We had plans for that five hundred dollars. If we even still have it. I might have spent most of it on a new camera tripod.
Truth is, I hate money. Or, it hates me. No matter what I do, we just don’t get along, we never have. I try to give our family finances the care and attention they require, but if there’s anything in the world that triggers a deficit of attention in me, it’s a column of figures that never adds up to a positive number.
It’s been this way forever. At ten, I only managed to sell three tickets to the Boy Scout Anniversary Jamboree -- two to my parents and one to the depressed lady next door who I think thought I was collecting for the paper. This wasn’t enough to get the prize -- a Motorola Transistor Radio. But what was worse was when I turned in my official Jamboree cardboard box with “Trustworthy” scrolled across the top in big letters; the Scoutmaster discovered I was short six bucks. I’m pretty sure I had planned to replace it with allowance or lawn-mowing money, but I forgot. I even forgot I’d spent the money, so later when I got the lawn-mower money, I forgot to put that in the “Trustworthy” Jamboree box, so now I was standing in front of the Scoutmaster and the whole troop being fingered as a thief. I wasn’t, honest. I just forgot to cover the deficit.
Later, after my dad paid the difference, I went on the Jamboree camp-out and since they all thought I was a thief anyway, I stole the Motorola Transistor Radio from the winner’s tent, got caught, and was kicked out of Boy Scouts. See, the winner was such a smarmy show-off and kept rubbing it in...but that’s another story -- maybe an advice article: “ADHD, Get Even Now -- Before You Forget.” Maybe not.
But I’m talking about money. As what passes for an adult, I got credit cards and promptly forgot every amount I charged as soon as I had whatever I bought in my possession. When the bills came, I paid the minimum -- when I remembered -- and was shocked when, card by card, they were refused when I tried to buy a TV.
Still, I was basically a poor cook/waiter/starving artist type trying to balance my checkbook and pay my rent, so I couldn’t get into that much trouble. Then, success reared its ugly head. When the Hollywood cash rolled in, I figured I never had to worry about money again and promptly began throwing it out the window like confetti.
I put up a sort of “together” front in those days, and both my wife, Margaret, and I were confident that no matter what, my career in the L.A. television world was solid, so there wasn’t that much to worry about. Of course, we were completely wrong.
Now I’m back to being a poor, starving artist type, and I’m more comfortable in that position in life for a lot of reasons -- the people I’ve admired in life were never the wealthy ones. But still, I’ll probably be working off old debt until I’m even older and grayer. And when I see my ADHD son and daughter impulse buy and treat money with the same absent disregard I did, I worry.
So I tell them stories of my screw-ups and try to give both of them hints on how to not to focus on possessions, and to stay aware of the dollars flowing in and out of their lives, and help them see that even though it’s not how we measure the true value of life, we need to give our individual and family finances the attention they require to at least keep us fed, sheltered, and not totally stressed out by harassing debt-service calls at all hours. I think they’re getting it. Though when I told my daughter, “I really was going to put the money back in the Boy Scout box -- I just forgot,” she rolled her eyes.
So we keep going, and pray that the car doesn’t need any more major repairs before spring. And even if I still hate it, these days I’m trying to treat money with at least a little more respect.