In the Bank, part 2

If time is money, then Pay Yourself First. In the Bank, part I.

Behind the pressing noise of the divorce, the quiet question nagging at me over the past 18 months has been this:  How do I invest those rare hours each week in order to build a foundation for Bug’s and my future?
I figured my only hope was a windfall from one of three sources:

1)      A man

2)      A bestselling book

3)      A more lucrative job
Because options 1 and 2 are the stuff of soap operas, I hurled all my initial energy into making myself a more marketable career gal. A scattershot approach was the best I could manage. I took on every additional responsibility I could at work. If even the slightest gap appeared between our team’s offerings and students’ interests, a project took root. I began to apply for a PhD. I looked into and Organizational Development training program. I explored a Public Management graduate certificate.  Every conference or seminar that came across my calendar, I attended. “Need help organizing it? I’m your gal!” I learned names. I shook every hand.
Where has this left me? With the same income I had a year ago, without a single new job prospect, and exhausted.
As 2011 wound down and the start of the spring semester neared, I kept thinking, Something has to hit, right? Even as my ammunition dried up, I continued to shoot high and wide. I signed up for and then dropped one graduate class after another, desperately searching for a way to make use of the tuition waiver my job provides. What kind of bonehead wastes the opportunity to take courses for free? Especially one who wants to beef up her resume, and needs to make More Money?
Besides, I love learning.  The challenge and the demands of scheduled assignments keep me hopping, and those oh-so paternal expectations of the instructor force me to reach. When I am in a class, I dig into the corners of my wallet of time, and what little I find I hand over to the syllabus and its personal counterpart: the instructor. I do not bother with Facebook or TV. I only say yes to invitations that compel me and do not conflict with assignment due dates. The teacher is important enough to pay first, and I am frugal, and I keep my receipts. The prize, supposedly, is my own improved scholarly understanding of something or other.
The problem? Every syllabus I read made me wilt like a dust bowl dogwood. I love to learn, but “Human Resources for the Public Sector?”  Please. Stick a fork in my eye.
Here is what I realized. I was looking at each of the three items on my Man-Book- Job grocery list as nouns. Goals. Finish lines to cross. But if I shift the angle a bit, if I turn them into verbs, what happens?
1)      Make friends. Go on dates. Enjoy getting to know people. Welcome connection and even love, should it choose to come around.

2)      Write. Then write some more.

3)      Work with focus and enthusiasm. Seek opportunities. Build relationships and skills. Stay one step ahead.
This lifting and shifting of my gaze peeled the haze from my surroundings. The sudden brightness brought into focus the formerly obscured direction of travel. In Tuesday’s post, “Love: Letters,” I worked my way around to admitting that my One True Love is and always has been the ink. If I treasure writing best of all, and practice sometimes brings improvement, why not Pay Myself First? No writing classes are offered here on my campus? So what? For goodness sake, design a course! If one of my students wants to study Computational General Equilibrium and no one in our department teaches it, I tell them to develop a syllabus, find someone who can guide the learning, and go for it.
So, I did. I designed a syllabus. The course is called “Process, Practice, Publish.” It lists eleven learning objectives, including these:

  • Integrate a writing practice of approximately one hour (1000 words) into the daily routine
  • Maintain writing “storehouses”—in print and in electronic format – for organizing writing products and research

It details four sub-sections of course expectations, like this one:

  • One hour of editing is required weekly. This can be editing a single piece or a collection. This editing should take place in a discrete segment of time, separate from the writing process.

It includes a time line describing weekly assignments from January to May, including these:

  • By February 7th, identify one writing group or class, and join for regular meetings with fellow writers.
  • By  February 21st, develop an annotated list of 3 publications and their submission guidelines.

Three weeks in, and I am already gathering speed like Hi-Ho Silver.  It is a marvel, this concept. Those few feathered strands of time try to slip loose, but now I have simple instructions for how to braid them into reins to keep this filly at a full gallop.
Who is the instructor? The toughest of the tough cookies. And hell yeah, I’m going to pay her first.


In the Bank

Personal finance gurus say the secret to amassing great wealth is to Pay Yourself First. Before you take care of your auto loan or head to the mall or supermarket, you put a chunk of change where it can earn interest. It helps if you have to jump through some hoops to get your hands on it.
Getting rich may or may not be in the cards for the 99%, but the psychological effects are as compelling as the financial ones. Conceiving of you – your very own self, your well-being, and your future security – as being more important than a restaurant owner or oil executive can do wonders for your momentum. The icing is that at the end of a decade or three, you have a nice little cushion for doing the things you really want, not just having things that slake the fleeting thirst.
When Tee and I were married and living on one income, we managed to siphon into a savings account a bit off the top of every paycheck. We found ways to save (I can make my own baby food! I can also cut hair!) and discovered that our quality of life did not suffer. The small bank balance we cultivated allowed us to split without either of us going into arrears. Even in my currently strained financial circumstances, I have continued to drop one chunk of my meager income into retirement every month, and another into a savings account. Both bits are paltry, but the habit of treating Shannon, Inc. as a creditor has stuck. It helps me breathe easier to know Bug and I have enough in reserve to survive the next disaster transition.
Where do you find these few bucks? I will not insult your intelligence with another collection of tips. You can barely turn around without bumping into another ten-point bullet list for plumping the piggy bank (Turn down the heat! Pack your lunch!) All the advice columns re-package the same simple counsel: Don’t squander the pennies on junk. They add up to real money.
Pay Yourself First!
Piquing my curiosity lately is the notion of what happens when this principle expands beyond the wallet. Maybe money is not the only currency that matters. Every so often, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is really valuable?” Besides cash, what other resources can you invest in your well-being, to be able to do the things you really want to do in the future? To be the person you really want to be?
I had lunch with a colleague today who just told me she just received a significant promotion. She is moving from supervising one department to overseeing three. It is a new position, and she will be building it as she goes. The exciting opportunity gives her the chance to test the waters in two areas she has not supervised before, forcing her to learn new skills to navigate murky waters. It will give her a giant headache, and it may prove to be a disaster.
She took the promotion for not one cent more in pay. No raise for doing two whole new jobs? Is she crazy?  I asked her if she would have kept her previous position if they had offered her more money to stay. Her immediate answer?
“Not a chance.”
She is too curious, too excited, too ready to see where this might lead.
Open doors? A sense of professional adventure? Challenge and responsibility? These are currency.
Health and fitness?
Family and friends?
Peace and quiet?
All are currency. So is a safe and thriving neighborhood. So is a sense of contributing to a greater good. So is freedom, in all its manifestations. Even (ahem) love.
Your list is going to be different from mine. Only you know what you amass readily and what you waste. What things must you bank, every month or every day, in order to keep the system oiled and moving towards your best self?
For me, and I suspect for many others, the most precious currency is time.
Time is the Crown Jewels in terms of pure value. Like many parents, my most prized commodity – and my most overdrawn account – is the sliver of the week I have to myself. (Of course, the time with my kid is an investment in its own way, but stick with me here. . .) Between the office, the chores, the kiddo, the dog and the errands, these teeny tiny silvery, slippery strands of time drift around me, loose and hard to catch. I fritter them away for a whole host of feeble reasons (I’m tired! I don’t know where to begin!). Far too rarely, I weave these threads together into something moderately substantial, like an afternoon hike or a night making art with friends.
Time, as much as or even more than money, is what I can use to build a nest egg for my own rich life if I Pay Myself First.
Like the Better Homes and Gardens ten-point inventory for saving $2012 in 2012, a gal has to look at where she wastes time in order to sock more of it away. (Facebook, anyone?) I am not talking about idleness. Creative loafing is a noble art, and quiet stretches of unscheduled time nourish the mind and body. I am talking about the noise and clutter, the ways I lose time to activities that sap me while offering nothing in return. Besides the several-times-a-day detour into social media to check status updates that have little to do with things about which I care, I also find that I peruse the Groupon and Living Social deals that appear in my inbox five times a day, and jump every time the phone pings.
Like the financial gurus, I offer the same simple counsel here: Don’t squander the minutes on junk. They add up to real time.
The past few weeks, I have decided to Pay Myself First. Instead of letting those loose moments drift away, I have been practicing tucking them into places that hunger for them. It is turning out to be a fun and fascinating project. In my next post, I will write more on how it is unfolding. For now, though, time’s-a-wasting and the other work calls.