We are coming up on another round of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe the annual ritual of hopefulness doesn’t feel so hopeful because it reminds you of all the times you’ve promised to get in shape (save more money or some other goal) – but didn’t. Don’t fret, it is okay to feel hopeful in spite of past failures. This is a brand new year, give yourself a break. Besides, you are unlikely to do better by making yourself feel worse. Instead, forgive yourself for past failures; set small, measurable goals and begin again. You can do this.
It is nice to splurge when you have a little extra cash. It is important to save, too. Decide to use a portion of your refund to make your financial life a bit more secure. Here are some ideas:
- Create an emergency fund. Put at least $500 ($1,000 if you can) in an account that you never touch unless there is a dire emergency – as in rent, utilities or repairs on a car you need to get to work. Add something to the fund – even as little as $2.00 every time you get paid. You can also open a retirement account. Start saving with myRA, a retirement savings account from the United States Department of the Treasury. No costs or fees, no complicated investment options, no risk of losing money. Don’t worry, you can withdraw your money without penalty if you need to. Learn more at myra.gov.
- Pay down debts – if you have outstanding utility bills, medical bills, student loans, etc., now is the time to negotiate with creditors. Ask if they will accept a smaller, lump sum amount to pay the debt off so it doesn’t get in your way later. If you have a lot of debt that you do not realistically expect to be able to repay, consider using the money to file for bankruptcy. Talk with a credit counselor first, ClearPoint, formerly CredAbility, is a good resource – credibility.org. You may also qualify for an income based student loan repayment plan. In December of 2012, Obama signed into law a federal student debt relief plan called Pay As You Earn — PAYE for short. The program limits your monthly payment to 10 percent of your discretionary income. You may even qualify for loan forgiveness. Learn more at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college/repay-student-debt/
- Invest in your car – if your vehicle has been needing work, get it done now so you don’t find yourself on the side of the road later.
- Pay off any evictions – This is really important because you will be in a stronger position to rent when you are ready. Ask if you can pay a reduced amount. Get payment documentation in writing. Check your report for free at annualcreditreport.com to be sure derogatory rental history has been removed.
- Pay off fines – pay off or catch up any tickets, fines or probation fees.
- Buy a washer and dryer – trips to the Laundromat can be a drag. This may be the time to invest if your home has connections.
- Pay your car insurance in advance for the year. You might also make rent or car payments ahead, just be sure the creditor understands your intentions and credits the payments properly.
- Invest in your health – maybe you have put off visits to the doctor or dentist because you didn’t have insurance. Use a portion of your refund to have your body and teeth checked out.
- Invest in yourself – maybe you have been wanting to get your CNA, GED, or learn to be a bartender or hair stylist. Now is the time to get trained and licensed.
- Start a small business – do you crochet, make plates or jewelry? Use a little money to invest in some supplies. Use the proceeds to buy a few more. Get a PayPal account and sell your goods on Etsy, Amazon or eBay.
About self help
Whether you are completing exercises in a workbook, reading the latest self-help book or article, or organizing a peer counseling/support group (may also be called a sister circle), you are engaging in self-help strategies. Self-help is a powerful emotional health tool because it requires an active, ongoing choice to face and work through challenges you are facing. Choosing self-help is like saying to a problem or challenge, I am still in charge of my life.
Take Action! Set up your own sister circle
Choose 2 or 3 other women and decide together what your circle will be like. Some ideas to discuss:
- Shared values around confidentiality and trust
- Meetings (when, how often, where, how long)
- Group goals (will your circle focus on a particular topic or problem like getting out of debt, parenting, or will it be more general)
- Expected commitment(s) from group members, etc.
You may need to revisit the values conversation periodically until you find just the right group groove. Sister circles are a great way to invest in your well-being, be accountable for your choices and goals as well as be heard.
Why not give it a try?
Everything that matters is still true. I used to use these words as salve when some small thing, in the larger scheme of things, went wrong. This patch of perspective covered it all. I relied on my raft of words to keep me afloat when troubles, real and imagined, threatened to overtake me. A wildly expensive repair bill, minor irritation, major disappointment… uncomfortable feelings didn’t fester too long with my mantra as salve. Nothing else really mattered as long as dear ones were safe, healthy and well.
Then my brother died.
It happened in the wee hours of a September Saturday. Even before I arrived at the dawn darkened course or took my first step of the Singleton 10-miler, Brad was dead.
The weather was deceptively beautiful. It gave nothing away. Everything that mattered was not still true, but the gentle breeze carried no signs. I crossed off each race mile in blissful ignorance.
I have heard others talk about the sudden death of one beloved. They speak of signs. I knew something was wrong, they brag proudly, holding up their angst. It is evidence of their bond, unassailable and true, with the loved one, cruelly lost. I expected to know, too. But I didn’t. Me, the oldest sister who read Brad bedtime stories as boy, welcomed him for summer visits as a teen and admired his kindness as a man.
My brother died as I slept undisturbed then later toed the start line thinking only of the finish – not his life, already ended. I did not feel any shift or change. I did not dream or startle and bolt upright. I had no hint from my heart or bones. I did not know until the calls came.
They started in the check-out line at Sam’s club. Race participants had parked there before the store opened to the usual throngs eager to check Saturday chores off their lists. Until the calls came, I had counted myself among them – an ordinary person doing ordinary things on an ordinary day.
The cashier looked giddy with surprise. Her pitch had landed a “yes.” Sure, I said. I’ll upgrade my membership to Advantage Plus. You’ll save four dollars on your paper towels today, she said, eager to assure me I had made a wise choice. The phone buzzed in my pocket. It stopped and started again immediately, insistently. I pulled it out, five missed calls, and knew… something was wrong. My sister doesn’t ever call on a Saturday morning, and never so many times in a row.
Filling the gas tank, usually a dreaded chore was a welcome task then. I needed time, just a few minutes more with the pretend comfort of willful ignorance. The tank filled too quickly. I had to call back. Stalling hadn’t helped though, my brother was dead.
Brad died on September 24, 2011. He would have been 36 on his birthday, just two days later. Instead of celebrating we mourned. No, we didn’t really. The shock was still so fresh. We didn’t fully understand yet how vacant the space he occupied in our lives would be. We could still torture ourselves by pretending it wasn’t true that he would be separated from us forever.
Now I need new comfort words.
I am without protection from life’s upsets. Something that mattered is no longer true. A dear one, my younger brother, is not safe or healthy or well. My brother is dead, and I am left without my mantra to steady myself on grief’s rocky path.
With pen and paper close by take some quiet time to let a past resentment or hurt fully bloom in your consciousness. Notice how you feel – is your body tense, has your breathing become more rapid?
Now pay attention to what you are telling yourself about what happened. You might hear something like, these things always happen to me or what did I do to deserve that or why is life so unfair? Write down exactly what happened along with all of your questions and feelings. Is there someone you trust that is emotionally healthy enough to explore this with?
As you go over past hurts think about changing the question from why to now what. Asking why can keep you in a position of powerlessness because your focus stays on the person and the pain he or she caused. Asking why is not always useful because you may never be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Asking now what can be a more helpful question because it puts you in the driver’s seat. Now what reminds you that you can decide where you go and what you do next.
How does it help me to hold onto painful feelings?
How would it help me to let them go? What would it take if I decide to let go?
Not quite ready to overhaul your diet? It is okay to start where you are. One easy way is to add instead of subtract from your diet. Look for ways to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with all meals and snacks. For example, have a small salad before the burger, add some broccoli or zucchini to your eggs, or enjoy an apple before the chips. You will create a win-win by eating more of the foods that nourish you and less of those that don’t really do a body good….all without feeling deprived.
Starting where I am is good enough and much kinder to my sense of self than never starting at all.
Getting started with exercise – The Centers for Disease Control advises adults to exercise at least 150 minutes at a moderate pace each week. Don’t let that number overwhelm you. Start where you are:
- If you have a minute or two, swing a kettlebell, jump rope or dance to your favorite song.
- If you have 5 or 10 minutes, take a brisk walk, do jumping jacks or lunges.
- If you have a pedometer, challenge yourself to take more steps each day.
- If you don’t have 30 minutes all at once, exercise in 10 or 15 minute increments.
You don’t have to start perfectly, you just have to start. That’s how you build trust in yourself – you do what you say you are going to do. Knowing you can count on yourself to come through is pretty powerful. If you have made a promise to yourself to exercise how will you keep it?