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39isfine: Money, money, money (or lack of it)

They say it makes the world go around, but sadly when you have less of it, the world keeps turning and demanding more... yep, this week I'm thinking about cash flow. Mainly because I am suffering with something of a blockage.

My payday is the 15th, so it's nearly the 'end of the month' for me. And this month after a tax bill, car service/MOT, a large gas bill and yeah, yeah, ok I admit it, a skiing holiday, I am what is commonly known as skint. My card nearly bent in half on that holiday - truly a sign, if I needed one - that it was about to give up the ghost. The pic this week is a snap I took on the holiday as, well, it's very pretty and much prettier than pics of my empty purse which I tried to take and looked naff.

Anyway. When I saw my bank balance a week or so ago, I was close to tears. Through the tears I started listing things I own on Gumtree and eBay, frantically hoping that I'd sell those silver Whistles shoes for a grand and trot off into the sunset with the notes.

I felt a mixture of stupid and foolish (are they the same thing?) as well as afraid. Like a silly child who had made a daft mistake. I'd budgeted badly (well, not budgeted at all, really) and berated myself for being in the red. Again.

I think it's a big thing for many of us to be debt free and 40 is one of those ages by which we imagine it might have happened. Every day it seems I spend money: is this just part of being a certain age, that I simply have more demands on my purse strings such as the car and 40th birthdays? Or am I as bad with money as I was at 18 when we got switch cards and had to try and see if we could use them against the last fiver in our student overdraft.

Much like weight loss, many of us are not where we'd like to be with our bank balance when we approach 40. Right? I hope so, otherwise I feel like a total failure.The comparisons are easy to make. I say I'm overweight, I say I'm skint. But I then have some cheese and buy a dress I don't need. Which in turn makes me feel bad because it's a size I don't want to buy at the moment and costs money I don't have.

Why do I feel the need to be on top of money as I turn 40? Partly inherited, I think. My parents are part of the 'not on credit' generation. They did not dabble in car finance and buying a new bookshelf on an interest free credit card. But then we all crave the biggest debt of all - a mortgage - which I have. And am glad to have. So why do I worry over a credit card when I have tens of thousands to pay back on a flat?

It's all about perspective. But like with the body stuff, I know it's time to say a) it's my fault and b) I'm going to cut back.

I've over-spent on doing work on my flat. But now the work's done, so at the moment there's no reason to spend money on DIY, furniture or decorations. I have to learn that what I have is enough for now. That the 'hallway bench' (£395) I’ve spotted in Oliver Bonas is unnecessary, to say the least.

Is being in debt at this age the norm? I decided to ask some mates via a Facebook post, asking: "Do you think it's ok to not be in control of finances at this age? Is it inevitable to be overdrawn/counting the pennies/wondering why you're not a spreadsheet budget person...?! Or is it time we were in control, and better at money stuff?"

Replies included:

"I'm 42 next month and absolutely shocking with money. It comes in, I spend it. Spreadsheets give me palpitations. I'm nearly always overdrawn as well. I honestly don't think it has anything to do with age and everything to do with personality - I'm not an organised person and so money is no different, whereas i know people who have written down every penny they've spent since they were 20!"

Another said: 'I'm 45 and totally dis-organised with money... no pension etc. I still expect that someday a millionaire is going to fall in love with me, despite 25 years evidence to the contrary.'

One friend has an inspiring story in that: "I had a little panic at 40 thinking surely by now I should have my shit together... but Instead we decided to take a risk (build a business) as the thought of being in a job we tolerate for another 30 years was scarier then the financial risk . And I think it's ok to still be winging it at 41 and a bit ... keeps it interesting eh."

I loved this one as it made me feel inspired. What's better - be out of debt but in a job you hate, or in debt and building a career dream? I'd say option 2.

One friend detailed how she lost her house a decade ago and is now more frugal, another that she is careful with her spending on the weekly shop which she feels is enough.

Another summed it up for me with: "The phrase champagne taste and lemonade money still applies even now I'm 40...alas."

So it is clear I'm not alone. BUT - it won't hurt to be frugal until I feel comfortable again, right? Like with eating and drinking. If I can walk past the chocolates at work, I can walk past those silver boots in the H&M window. Although - surely they are part of the 'always metallic shoes' thing I was talking about last week? No? oh.

There's a horrible rising sense of panic when your finances are out of control - you watch the petrol pump dial increase while your palm gets ever-sweatier. Or you daren't open the uber email to tell you what the trip home cost. You click 'transfer now' on money you owe a friend, then check back in with eBay about those shoes. You curse the state of the nation when you have to pay 'per item' not per prescription. And then, because you feel bad, you go and get a sarnie that you could make for 50p at home if only you got out of bed on time and did a weekly shop like a 'grown up'. Anything but blame yourself for over-spending, that's for sure.

I've decided that I am going to try not to buy new clothes for at least a month, possibly more. There's a big holiday in the pipeline for April - I have all the clothes I need for that too, if I'm honest. There's a 60th party and I have a dress I can wear to that if I stick to the trying to shift a bit of weight regime. It can be my weight loss/money saving inspiration.

I can't promise I won't buy anything. Thinking of not buying new spring loafers (I want/need some tan ones) or a few new dresses feels strange, but also a bit liberating from the constraints of my own fashion/shopping demands. Perhaps this is a new habit I can stick to...

Because I need to. My realisation is that 'debt free' at 40 is perhaps unattainable for many reasons. Not least that surprises will always happen, from birthdays to break ups, redundancies to red reminders but also because, well, the MORTGAGE. The biggest debt of all, remember? But the one that keeps a roof over your head, and all those shoes and dresses inside the property.

I’ve realised, through those tears, that taking control of your own finances is not a joke linked to 'adulting', it's real life. And it's time, even if I'm not debt-free at 40, I was working towards not crying when I check my bank balance.

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