At the beginning of the year, I chose a theme song to help me stick to my New Year’s resolution to stop worrying about my financial security. It was “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”
With two months left in the year, I’m struggling to keep my promise. It’s as if my worry is that last party guest who just won’t go home.
Although I give generously to my church, charity and family, I’m compulsively frugal. I have major buyer’s remorse after most major purchases. If I spend more than I should, I beat myself up. What did I do wrong? Where can I cut my budget to replace the overspent funds?
But a recent incident made me realize that I’m that annoying partygoer. And I know there are lots of others like me.
We are the ones who have such anxiety about spending money that we stress out the people around us. Or perhaps you’re making family and friends miserable with your miserly ways even though you are financially stable.
Do you recognize yourself in the following story?
To celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to Italy. Leading up to it, I worried myself sick, checking and double-checking prices for everything. I keep researching prices even after I’ve booked a flight or reserved a room to see if rates have dropped. The upside is that I’ve saved money on some occasions.
The downside: I get upset when I can’t take advantage of the lower price. I blame myself, reasoning that I booked too soon. Or that I booked too late.
I also create detailed lists of everything I need to pack so that I won’t have any unplanned expenses.
Then it happened.
I left something behind.
I forgot my coat. And, to make matters worse, it was a new coat that I had decided to get just for the trip. I had agonized over buying it because it was a want and not a need.
So there I was in the airport waiting for our flight to Rome, distraught.
My husband tried to console me. My brother and sister-in-law, who were traveling with us, tried to calm me down.
Unaware of my theme song, my brother said, “Let it go.”
I gave him the stinky eye.
With rain in the forecast and temperatures dipping into the 40s at night, how could I let it go? I would need a coat. I would need to spend money I shouldn’t have had to spend. Didn’t he know this was an affront to all penny-pinchers? I would lose my lifetime membership card.
My sister, who had called to wish me a safe trip, heard my distress right away.
“I just can’t believe I left my coat,” I said. “I’m so mad at myself.”
Exasperated she said, “Let it go. Just buy another coat.”
“Are they all nuts?” I thought.
I would have to replace something I already had at home. What a waste of money. I mentally retraced my steps trying to figure out how I could have been so negligent.
I know what you financially sane folks are thinking. I’m a crazy person.
And you are absolutely right.
But in my mind, all unnecessary spending leads to financial ruin.
At one point during a walking tour to see the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, I had to use the bathroom, but there was a 60-cent charge. I actually paused to weigh my options.
Trish Salerno, the Collette Tours manager, paid for me before I could fish out some change from my purse. I offered to pay her back but she was too kind and wouldn’t take the money.
Seriously, I was relieved (pun intended) and told her so, after which we both burst into laughter.
What did I tell you? I’m crazy.
But my economic angst comes from a deep place. There’s still that child in me who grew up low-income and who had to go without a lot of times. She’s scared. She’s fearful of not having enough. But I’m not that little Michelle anymore. And neither are you.
This column is dedicated to all you penny-pinchers who live not to spend even when you have it and it’s necessary. If you’re being a good money manager, let the worry go. (I’m also preaching to myself).
If you suffer from thriftiness torment, listen to “Let It Go.”
I bought a coat. And it’s beautiful! (Plus, I can take the other one back).
I am rededicating myself to stop my parsimonious pity parties.
Are you with me?
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@
washpost.com. Comments may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.