Well, I had a seriously exciting experience this past Friday morning. Here’s a rundown of what happened, minute by minute:
6:15 am: The excitement begins! It’s the 15th: payday! I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a little over two weeks. I take the first sip of my morning coffee and log into my checking account to make sure the direct deposit has gone through properly.
6:16 am: I take another sip of coffee, log into my credit card account, and pay off the balance.
6:18 am: I log into one of my student loan accounts and make a $300 payment. Another couple sips of coffee while I do this.
6:19 am: Aaaaaand…that’s it. The excitement is over. I still have 2/3 of a cup of coffee left.
Or, if you prefer visual depictions, take a look at the following figure, which illustrates what my life sometimes feels like over the course of a month:
Note: the figure is not drawn to scale because I had to make the red bars big enough for you to see them. But really, they’re only four minutes long. Two tiny, imperceptible blips in the expanse of my month.
In other words, what I currently seem to be living for is a specific four-minute stretch of time that occurs at my dining room table, in front of a pixelated screen, twice a month. A four-minute stretch of time that is followed by what feels like the longest two weeks in the world. Which is followed by another exciting four minutes! Which is followed by (once again) the longest two weeks in the world. And so on.
In other words, it’s pretty much always the longest two weeks in the world.
Is anyone else familiar with the fable of The Magic Thread? It’s about a little boy who is given a thread that he can pull whenever he’s looking forward to something in the future and wants to skip ahead through time to get there right away. At first he just uses it occasionally when he’s bored at school and wants to get to the end of the day, but he gets more impatient later on and eventually starts skipping ahead months and years at a time. Unfortunately he can only move in one direction though, and when he finally gets to be an old man, he realizes that he has skipped over a great deal of his life and can’t go back.
I had this story in a big collection of fairy tales as a child. I found it haunting then, and I find it haunting now. Because many paydays later, when I’ve paid off my loans, I’ll be older than I am now: at least two years older, maybe three or four. These are years of my life we’re talking about—years!—and I’m wishing them away in two-week chunks. And when they’re gone, I won’t be able to get them back again.
Thinking back, I’m not sure I’ve ever been in this much of a magic thread mindset before. Back when I was in grad school (that is, from the fall of 2010 through the end of 2015), long before I ever started making payments on my loans, I received a research assistant paycheck via direct deposit every Friday. But in those days it was always a nice surprise when I checked my email on Friday morning and noticed an email with my pay stub attached to it: Oh yeah, it’s payday! Whereas today there’s almost nothing that could distract me from the fact that the next payday is on April 29th. And I don’t like this new mindset. I don’t like it AT ALL.
I know this post is a little at odds with last week’s post, which was about how I’m really content with my life right now. What can I say? Human beings are complex, and both posts are true: I am content with my life (and I definitely experience a great deal of convergence), but I also feel that I’m looking forward to the future far too much.
For their final episode of Season 1, the Budgets and Cents podcast (which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already) answered listener questions. I submitted the question: “How can I be at peace with my life NOW, even if my financial future isn’t ideal?” Cait and Carrie’s answer, in part, was to recognize the progress I’ve made thus far and to be proud of that—to focus on the positive. You can hear their full response if you listen to that final episode; it’s the very first question they answered.
So, okay. Here goes. Let’s compare where I was a year ago to where I am today, and examine the progress I’ve made thus far.
Here’s where I was in April 2015:
- I was still in grad school and didn’t know when I was going to finish.
- I had just checked my student loan balance for the first time in about three years and found that, due to the accruing interest, I owed a grand total of about $56,000.
- I knew that my paychecks were going to cease completely for the entirety of the summer, due to unfortunate academic/research funding issues. In other words, I was not going to be paid at all between May 1st and August 31st, other than a part-time clinical job I had lined up for the month of June.
- I didn’t know if I would be paid during the fall semester or not.
Ok, now let’s look at what has changed between April 2015 and April 2016.
- In July I negotiated pay for August (it was still a bit of a rough summer though, financially speaking).
- In August I started this blog to motivate me to get my finances in order.
- In September I negotiated pay for the fall semester.
- In January I finished grad school and started paying back my loans.
- In March I started a new job.
- As of today, my loan balance is down to about $53,900.
Well, that did help. (Thanks, Cait and Carrie!) I do feel good about what I’ve accomplished in the past year.
And I’m working hard on finding more ways to detach, to be less focused on these paychecks, to stop wishing my life forward into the future. Because payday is going to arrive when it arrives; counting down the days isn’t going to make it get here any faster. And once those two weeks are gone, I won’t be able to get them back again.
Do you have any suggestions as to how I can minimize my magic thread mindset and take the focus off of when the next payday is? Please share in the comments!
PS: Interestingly, I’m not the only one writing about the relationship between time and financial goals this week—there must be something in the air! For more angles on this topic, you should definitely check out Maggie’s post on the amazing things that can change in a few years and Penny’s post on being content with right now while also pursuing future goals.