Penny Foolish

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m having lot of trouble adjusting to changes in my life. I was recently
laid off but the company is paying for my health insurance through the
COBRA period. Because I am getting unemployment, the change in my
income is roughly a $500 a month decrease. That’s tight, but not
drastically, or at least shouldn’t be if I could adjust my lifestyle to my
financial realities. Part of the problem is that with so much time on my
hands it is too easy to go out and spend money. I am eating at home
more but I am also spending more on groceries and just out and
about. How can I get a grip on my new reality?

Penny Foolish

Dear Penny Foolish:

There are three things in life that function pretty similarly, though the
consequences to mishandling any of them vary quite a lot: time, food,
and money. Each involves issues related to: good and bad choices;
incomplete, delayed, or zero gratification; insufficiency of resources,
vows and failures; and generally pleasure denied at the costs of
meeting obligations to necessity. It would be grand if we could all eat
and spend as much as we wanted when and how we wanted, not
necessarily only for personal satisfaction. In a universe of infinite
resources you might even be a busy, thin, philanthropist. But the
average human would likely end up a bloated coach potato with too
many things.

My point is that you need to apply the same principles to a money diet
that you would if you wanted to lose weight: make up a budget and
stick to it. Start with the necessities: rent/mortgage, utilities,
insurances, taxes, all the non-glamorous aspects of life. Then think
about the daily and monthly expenses and how you can adjust your
behaviors. Things like haircuts (go a little shaggier), food (eat less),
entertainment (budget movies), clothing (mend don’t buy), etc etc etc.
In every category, think about where you can trim. I emphasize trim
not slash. Because if you can make changes at the margin of every
aspect of your life, you may be able to avoid having to cut out
something bigger that you truly value. $500 is not small change in
anyone’s month that I know. But it is enough that you will almost
certainly feel the changes. Unless you’re prepared to do something
drastic, like taking in a boarder, or go into mounting debt (bad bad
bad)!!! You should learn to make these changes.