9/21/2008 7:48

Being Poor Momentarily

My student friend, the U.S. Postal Service, and my friend's university jointly (but not cooperatively) gave me the gift of momentary poverty. I have to say that I didn't much like it.

There are plenty of distractions from life available without the need to spend time and mental energy worrying about the current state of one's checking account. I have a renewed empathy for those who face that worry on a continuing basis, every month or every payday.

Several people commiserated with me during this time, most of them saying they too had such an experience, some of them recently. And then they'd add, "It was my own fault." It always is, of course, at least up to a point. Generally, you do know how much money you are spending and how much is coming in to balance the expenses, and for the most part you can and should anticipate and plan and never, ever, let the one get past the other.

But even a well-to-do control freak with above average analytical skills can make an incorrect estimate or put excessive trust in an unreliable person or institution. When that happens, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, because all financial plans are built on estimates and assumptions and will fail when the estimates fail to match reality. Even mine.

I am not especially pleased with how I responded to the situation. In practical terms, I did well enough. A few missteps, yes, resulting in temporary overdrafts (which my banks kindly accomodated, exceeding my estimatation of them), but all in all an acceptable performance in practical terms. Inwardly, somewhat less so. I was too quick to blame (others, not myself), too obsessed with the problem (even during Sunday afternoons, when no practical actions could be taken), too much committed to increasing my control for the future (as if I'm not already obsessed enough with control), too little confident in the future, and too close to maintain a consistently realistic perspective.

Although, in my own defense, I did find it hilarious that a man who regularly keeps a $1000 cushion in both his checking accounts would be the victim of a double overdraft.