Every year, even though I long ago abandoned my Catholic upbringing and although I currently regularly attend Methodist services I wouldn't call myself very religious, I commit to and benefit from observing Lent.
Lent is a Christian religious observance that in the liturgical calendar begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks ending on Easter Day. The traditional purpose of Lent is for “believers” to show their faith through prayer, penance, repentance, atonement, and denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
But what I've always used the Lenten season for is as a forced time to discipline myself and give up something that I rely on too much; an annual 6-week break from a vice. Over the past decade or so this practice has devolved into a rather stale and predictable pattern. Each year I'd give up either alcohol or sugar, sometimes caffeine, and I'd patiently (sometimes not so patiently) bide my time until Easter Day where I'd binge on whatever thing I'd denied myself for the previous 6 weeks.
But at the beginning of this year I was hit by a car as I crossed the street, and although I escaped with only minor injuries, those injuries have been slow to heal. I've also had to deal with an already ill father getting sicker and more dependent, and family members being either unreasonable or unavailable to help.
I bring these events up to say that I've been in a very stress-filled yet contemplative head-space. I've been forced to make some changes in my life that I have been resistant to, and it's thrown some things into perspective for me.
One realization has become clear - I SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY
Listen, I know I'm a pretty lucky person. I have a fairly stable career that pays me well, and I have a nice looking balance in my bank accounts and retirement money markets and stock portfolios. I don't have any kids that I have to pay for, and just a 20+ lb cat that I treat to fancy food and filtered water.
I have a nice house, but also a nice fat mortgage. I have a fairly decent well-running car but it's also almost a decade old and I could use an upgrade, which would mean a car payment. And that no kid thing? Try having an elderly, sick parent whose meager pension and SSA benefits only cover a quarter of his expenses, so guess who gets to cover the rest?
I in no way want or need your pity - I am well aware that I travel regularly to nice locales, fly first-class, and generally get to do things that many of my friends and family only dream about. I have nice clothes and accessories, a collection of fancy handbags, I like fine wines and top-shelf liquors and I treat myself to them liberally, I'm a "foodie" who never hesitates to go out to fancy dinners and never balks at laying down $100 for a good meal.
All of this is to illustrate that while I have the means and wherewithal to afford to comfortably indulge myself and do what I want, - I SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY.
So I decided last week that this year for Lent I wouldn't do the safe, predictable thing; where each year the biggest inconvenience has been that my birthday inevitably falls smack in the middle of the Lenten season and boy isn't it a drag that I can't have a birthday cocktail or a piece of cake. This year I would really challenge myself; I would use Lent as a true time of reflection and atonement. I would put myself on a very strict budget.
I'm not counting my bills, my medical expenses, or things like gas for my car. This is strictly a budget for my personal spending; the money I use for groceries, clothes shopping, eyebrow waxing, pedicures, movies, going out to dinner, or drinks with my friends.
My goal is to spend no more than $60 a week between March 5 and April 20.
YIKES! Am I right?
So far it's gone fairly well; but it's only been three days. I'm keeping a spending journal, and seriously, I've already had several eye-opening moments. In just the past three days I've been way more conscious of what I do with my money. And that's really the whole point of this Lenten practice - to be more aware and conscious.
I don't know if I'll be successful every week, in fact I probably won't, but I will be more mindful. I will be cognizant as I choose that $15 glass of Pinot Noir; I will be attentive. And that's all I'm really asking of myself. I may post some of my progress over the next 6 weeks. Feel free to mock, criticize, or pity me. I probably deserve it.