Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Financial Loneliness

with 11 comments

Total Black: $536.54
Total Red: $230,773.68

One common response from a number of commenters, readers, and other regular viewers—more so of late than previously—has been to formulate a budget or a come up with a plan of spending.  I’m not, on principle, adverse to the advice.  I understand the need to plan and budget accordingly.  And I can own that I have let myself go a bit these past two weeks, especially as opportunities to socialize surfaced through the theatre gig.  But there’s always a way to tighten our financial belts.  But as I got to thinking about planning and budgets, and started writing this post, something entirely different surfaced.  Something unexpected but vital to getting my spending under control.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts that monthly I have only a few recurring expenses: utility bill, rent, cell phone bill, internet & home telephone bill, laundry, and health insurance.  Cable has been discontinued.  Instead of turning on the television as background noise this morning upon waking I went to the gym.  I’ve only got to ensure that I don’t lose connection to what’s happening in the world as I’d typically have CNN on in the background.  The newspaper subscription is also canceled but I have about one hundred newspapers piled up that I need to get through so that’ll keep me connected for quite some time.  Netflix has been suspended since August.  The gym membership had to be prepaid until March before I could renew the membership, so that’s good for a few months.  So, right now the only expenses of those listed that I can reduce in the short-term are health insurance and eliminating home telephone.  Health insurance is about to increase to over $500 and one comment I received suggested an internet site for comparing health insurance plans.  I’ll check that out tomorrow.  I’ve delayed making any changes to health insurance because Congress may extend COBRA subsidies and I’d rather keep the coverage I have now.  As I’ve maintained in prior posts, I do not want to eliminate the telephone line entirely but rather transfer the telephone number to some free service like Skype or Vonnage.  I must check whether porting a land-line telephone number to an internet-based service is possible.  But that’s next on my list of costs to eliminate.

So, with a few exceptions, reductions to my recurring expenses are somewhat set at bare minimum.  It’s my non-recurring expenses that I need to get under control.  I think I have the most difficulty planning when I have a little bit of cash.  Even when I worked as an associate at a large corporate law firm, on paydays I’d first pay all the bills that I could before I’d use any of the funds for myself.  The catch, however, was that I should have used that money for groceries first, then subway fare, then bills.  I did it in reverse.  Part of the reason I’ve always been so cavalier about my food/drink expenses is because I’ve viewed them differently.  We have to eat, right?  And what’s a coffee or two each day?  In Resolutions For the New Year, I committed to reducing my coffee purchases to once a day.  That doesn’t mean I must purchase one each day, but to scale it back to only one per day.  Initially my thinking was that it would at most cost about two dollars a day.  But now I’m seeing that would work out to over fifty dollars a month.  That’s almost one student loan payment.  As an aside: one bit of good news though is that any coffees and such that I’ve bought lately have not cost me anything as my mother got me gift cards to Starbucks, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts for Christmas.  But this afternoon, while walking back from the gym, instead of using the twenty dollars I had in my wallet for Gatorade or a lunch, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up bread, cheese, lunch meat, and butter.  I ate both lunch and dinner at home tonight.

Part of the problem for me though is that eating is social.  And so when I worked at the firm, I’d often grab food with people just in the hopes of hanging out and deepening friendships.  I don’t want to reduce my thoughts to some simple platitude, but I think I used buying food or grabbing a coffee as a means to satiate my need for human contact.  I was always asking people if they wanted to go grab a coffee.  People could count on me to join them on their trip to the firm’s cafeteria or a walk outside to grab food.  But then always we returned to our desks to eat, alone.  Evenings might bring more socializing if you worked on a project and ordered food together.  So, if work permitted, I’d be sure to stay late and order in so we could all talk about our meals.  Didn’t care a bit about the damage it may have been doing to my waist-line.  And then the next day, like some simpleton who never got the message, I’d hope again we’d all have lunch together and I’d repeat the same behavior.  And of course, we didn’t.  Grabbing a coffee became pretty much the only opportunity to talk with people.  Perhaps now it’s really the memory of socializing that I’ve associated with that cup of Joe and not the caffeine boost, which is why I have such difficulty letting it go.

Forgive the stream-of-consciousness here . . . I’m sort of typing this all out as I think it because I just recalled that on Saturday, during a gap between shifts at the theater, one of the other ushers mentioned to me that everyone typically uses that time to get food and eat it in the bar.  I had wondered if the bar even remained open during that time.  Not believing that I missed out on that I’d been missing out on that chance to get to know people better, and even though I had already treated myself to a nice dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant a few hours earlier.  So, still feeling a bit weighed down by that Thai food, I ran around the corner for a salad from Cosi.  Something told me that it might be a good pick.  Sure enough the Leader I referred to in And More Jollification commented on how much he likes Cosi too.  Instant joy.  “You like me.  You really like me.”  So, even though I wasn’t hungry, I paid roughly ten dollars for food just for the chance to eat with people, hoping we’d hang out and get to know each other a bit more.  And we didn’t.  I sat at the bar with the Leader.  He ate his sushi.  He didn’t talk to me beyond his Cosi comment.  Everyone else sauntered in slowly and long after I had already finished my salad.

I never realized until now how many different ways loneliness can manifest itself.  In law school I picked up smoking partly because it provided an occasion to talk with people.  Another smoker won’t look at you strangely if you’re smoking and you talk with him.  Plus, smokers have their own form of social etiquette—like waiting for the last person in your smoking group to finish her or his cigarette before going back inside.  It was all a form of inclusion.  A form of belonging.  I guess if kids can get caught up in gangs because they need to belong, then I can pick up smoking or a salad to try to fit in and belong too.  Thankfully, I’ve long since quit smoking.  I never really was hooked on it, just on the thrill it brings when you connect with other people.  Even now if I do have a cigarette, it’ll be at a bar because you get to stand outside and talk with people.

What does all this have to do with finances?  Nothing, I suppose.  And everything too.  Part of this electronic confessional box is to flesh out my hang-ups, frustrations, and other difficulties with anything finance related.  Writing this post has really helped.  I could continue typing for another five paragraphs all about the various ways—like sitting in Starbucks for hours spending at least twenty dollars—where I’ve spent money to be somewhere in the hope that I’ll strike up a conversation with someone.  It’s enough now to realize, however, that I’ve been using money to purchase food and drink and medicate a need for human contact.  Now that I’ve stumbled across this, I’m that much closer to debt freedom.

I wonder if any researchers have looked into how much of our debt is really a form of financial loneliness like mine.

11 Responses

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  1. I hear you. Being fiscally responsible is very lonely. I suggest you snag a boyfriend who adores you. He will be willing to be broke with you and do broke-ass things, like walking around the city with thermoses filled with tea from home, playing monopoly or cooking with fewer and more inexpensive ingredients. Wait…. I just told you about my life.

    Angel the Lawyer

    January 4, 2010 at 23:21

  2. You dont need to waste money on cable watch CNN silly….


    January 4, 2010 at 23:51

  3. Dude! That’s awesome. Never knew about this site! Woo-hoo. Cool. Thx.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 5, 2010 at 10:30

  4. Sounds better than sittin’ here alone. 😉 Besides, I love Monopoly, but two-people playing it is boring. Guess I need to find me a few thermos-carrying, tea-drinking folks who will come over and cook and play.

    But seriously, thanks for the comment. Made me smile.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 5, 2010 at 10:34

  5. Have you called your cell phone company to make sure you’re on the cheapest plan? Than can shave off more money per month. And look into a home dry cleaning kit instead of going to the dry cleaner. Excellent for maintenance between dry cleaner trips.


    January 5, 2010 at 12:02

  6. This is also reflected in your penchant for buying happy ending massages and gifts for others. You’re trying to buy love, attention, and other things money actually can’t buy. Probably wouldn’t hurt to talk to a therapist to figure out better ways to cope.


    January 5, 2010 at 16:33

  7. I know what you mean about needing human contact. I found ways to have contact with people through volunteering. It doesn’t cost anything, sometimes includes free food, and usually results in some tangible good to someone or something else.

    Are there any volunteer things you can do – even things that are a one-time commitment rather than long term. Events like fundraising walks are usually looking for volunteers, often give you a tee shirt and a snack, and you get to hang out with people. If you’re interested in politics, campaigns always need people. You said you were in the Peace Corps – that’s another place to look for a connection. There’s probably hundreds of things you could do to have human contact that won’t cost you anything. You’d be saving money, and having opportunities for more meaningful human contact than just grabbing a coffee.

    For me, none of my volunteering is law related, because I want to meet people to hang out, not meet someone in the context of helping them through some sort of unpleasant legal issue.


    January 5, 2010 at 22:05

  8. I know what you mean, but there are lots of ways to stretch your socializing dollar. Game nights can be fun ways to get people together, and a board game goes a lot further than the same amount of money spent at a theater or bar since you can play it over and over again. Instead of going out to eat, have people over for a dinner party and have everyone bring a dish or a bottle of wine or something. Join a reading group at a library. There are a lot of free or cheap things to do that bring people together, especially in New York.

    Jim in Chicago

    January 6, 2010 at 12:37

  9. A therapist? Why when I have you all? You’re good for a random jab or two. Anne certainly holds my feet to the fire and doesn’t hold anything back at that. I get the occassional “good job” or “keep at it” from an electonic passer-by. That’s all I need, right? 🙂

    Besides this is free!

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 6, 2010 at 19:03

  10. I run two bookclubs here in the city. But that’s not the same as grabbing a beer together spontaneously or just meeting up for a coffee or
    to see a movie. So far I’ve only got one pal to do that with. (Thanks Larry!) But something tells me he wouldn’t be up for 3am nights at the bar. 😛

    Another friend, O.J., also suggested New York Cares for volunteering opportunities. Hadn’t heard of that site. Cool resourse. But that too isn’t the same as just hanging out at home watching a movie or getting friends together for the Lost premiere.

    Just need me some friends. That’s all.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 6, 2010 at 19:10

  11. That’s pretty flippant considering the position you find yourself in. I hope you don’t actually think having a bunch of anonymous people on the Internet read your blog is a substitute for having a competent therapist, especially when you admit you have some deeper issues to work through. If you still have your fancy law firm insurance, it almost certainly covers at least a few visits to a mental health professional. Take advantage while you can.


    January 7, 2010 at 08:54

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