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I like to think of myself as a thoughtful person but I struggle every day with how to use the money I have to live on. Like everyone, I have fixed expenses that I must pay every month like rent, car insurance, and food, plus unexpected costs. If I don’t pay my fixed expenses, there can be unpleasant consequences such as fines, getting evicted, losing cell phone service, and more. What makes it difficult for me is that I don’t have the best impulse control which means there are times I want to buy something right away without thinking if I really need it. I also tend to be obsessive compulsive, so getting stuck in the thought that “I want it so therefore I must need it” happens more often than I would like.
So how do you tell the difference between need versus want? A need is something you use on a regular basis and it can make things difficult if you don’t have it. Transportation, utilities, rent, pet expenses, and groceries are a few examples. Wants are those extra things in life that people enjoy. Junk food, video games, craft supplies, comic books, vacations, going to the movies or other recreational activities are considered wants rather than needs.
The hard part for me is that it’s easier to spend money on wants and harder to save for needs. I try to find cheaper ways to fill my wants without going over my budget. There are lots of things I do that help me spend less on extra want items such as not going to stores when I’m low on cash, paying bills and taking care of needs first, and checking to see if I have extra money before spending on wants. Also, I go to the store with someone who helps me spend wisely and doesn’t encourage me to overspend, and I pay close attention to what I already have before I think about getting something new.
What do I do for unexpected temptation? I try to remember the times that I got a ‘want’ item and how fast the good feelings went away and I’ve still had to live with what I bought. For example, one time I went on an outing with a friend to Philadelphia and I spent much more on lunch and an activity than I originally planned. Even though I had fun, it wasn’t worth the extra expense and stress it caused me as I had to really limit my spending for the last two weeks of the month. Now when planning for fun activities, I remind myself of this experience, and I do more research regarding the places I will explore, and I am much more conscientious about how much I spend. Another way to avoid unexpected temptation is to not go to stores that I know sell a lot of “want” items I like. Engaging in other activities for a short time helps me to stop thinking about an item I want but don’t need. I also try to think about what else is going on inside me and around me that’s causing me to want something. Could I possibly be using buying things as a quick fix to feeling better when I am experiencing negative emotions?
Balancing your needs and wants on an ongoing basis involves discipline but also nets rewards. When I’m thoughtful about my spending, and saving up for the extra things that really mean something to me, rather than impulsively spending, I feel happier and more centered. Conscientious spending leaves me feeling more in control of myself.
Please stay tuned for my next blog in which I will share my budgeting strategies that I utilize on an ongoing basis. These are the strategies that I have honed over the past few years of living independently. While for me, budgeting is tedious and a real chore, it allows me to do the things I want, as well as cover the expenses for the things I need.