I hope no one in my lifetime invents a time machine.
I really shouldn’t be given the ability of going back or forward to try to ‘fix’ things. I can pretty much guarantee I’ll make an absolute mess of it. Marty McFly will seem like a time lord compared to my disasters.
It’s better that I just work from right now.
Except… that’s not really how I work…
Sometimes I’m focused on next week or a year from now and completely lose sight of what the kids like to call… ‘the moment’.
And sometimes I’m firmly living in the past, obsessed about trying to change something that cannot be changed.
And I know I’m not alone, because I’ve been talking to lots of people lately during my OFFICE HOURS about this idea of ‘time’ and how it connects to the way we manage our money.
The time-money-space continuum
In my mind, there are three ways we manage money.
• looking back to the past
• figuring things out as they happen
• making choices in the future
And like any conversation around time, there are lots of ways to look at it… but I’m going to focus on more of a strict cashflow line of thinking. Not investing. Not risk management. But the day to day of dealing with your money.
Living in the past
You know that thing where it feels like you’re always paying off last month’s bills…?
It’s not a problem exclusive to variable income earners… but man does it happen a lot to us. You’ll go through a couple of months of no income … living on your credit card… and then you get a big job! But the problem is those earnings go entirely to paying off your last few months of expenses.
It’s really demoralizing. It feels like you can’t possibly get ahead.
There’s always a balance on the credit card or line of credit and it just plain sucks.
Putting out fires in the moment
How well do I know the feeling of ‘barely skirting by’…. quite well.
It’s the feeling that you always make it to the end of the month, most of the bills tend to get covered… but you have no idea how it happens.
On one hand, you can trust that it happens every month… but on the other hand HOW CAN YOU TRUST IT? Because sometimes you have a panic attack on the 16th about where your next month’s rent is going to come from.
When big expenses come up… you deal with them… but they hurt. Man. Do they hurt. And they might knock you back to the ‘living in the past’ mode.
It’s a place of reacting to the things that are happening to you, and it doesn’t feel any more in control than ‘living in the past’.
Making choices in the future
This is where things get better.
After long years of living in the past, and putting out fires in the present…. now I’ve shifted my time-space-money continuum to more of a future feel.
Now, I’m a few months ahead of the game. I’ve got three months of basic salary saved up, not as an emergency fund, but as a buffer against variable income.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have dry months, but it means I have way more time to prepare as those dry months happen. I have time to come up with solutions instead of reacting.
I’m way more aware of my regular expenses, and the weird ones…
Taking care of the regular ones means I can put money away and prevent the ‘living in the past’ credit card debt. Taking care of the weird ones means that I’m constantly stashing small amounts to cover big expenses…. when they come, they don’t surprise me anymore… my money is ready.
It’s not just about ‘saving’… it’s about shifting WHEN YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE CHOICE.
I’m not forced to spend because of choices I’ve already made.
I’m not forced to react in 5 seconds because of things that are happening to me.
I’m able to make choices with my money before I need to actually use that money… and that allows me the time and space I need to make the best choice I can.
How to make the transition
How do you get from stuck in the past to living in the future…? Well… if you’re anything like the people I work with and have variable income as well as hard to plan expenses… it’s hard.
But it’s sure as shootin’ not impossible.
It’s a slow process of getting control of your spending and managing income so that you’re not living in the past anymore. Then you can begin to plan for the big expenses… so they don’t throw you off track. That’s when you’re ready to start building up an income buffer… and extending the time you have to make your financial decisions.
What I’d really love, is to be able to explain it to you…
If you’re interested in hearing me talk at your for 30 minutes (for office hours regulars … you know that sometimes happens)…. sign up for an office hours session. I’ll be happy to give you a sense of what your next step might be in morphing your own personal space-time-money continuum! … all without a time machine.
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Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator
Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.
She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.
Email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org