Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Hidden Costs of Spreading Yourself Too Thin

So it's a little embarrassing to look back at my blog history and realize that I've only put up one tiny post in nearly two months...

And it's even more embarrassing to have to confess that -- even though I am constantly preaching balance and stress management to my clients and friends -- the main reason I haven't been able to write is because I completely over-committed myself in the last couple of months. For some reason I'd like to chalk up to temporary insanity, I thought it was a good idea to take 3 classes this semester, continue full-force with my 2 part-time jobs, accept a couple of random freelance opportunities, organize a silent auction and attend a 3-day training out of town... all essentially culminating in February and March, and all during my second trimester of pregnancy.

I think the "what the hell were you thinking?" goes without saying. But don't worry, several caring individuals have been kind enough to say it anyway.

Of course I recognize that this type of overloaded lifestyle has consequences, as I think most of us do when we're slowly, half-voluntarily getting in over our heads. But one interesting thing I noticed, somewhere in the fervor, is that there are also financial consequences. Maybe it's our heightened collective attention on the economy right now that tuned me in to this issue; but once I started noticing, the financial fallout of my voluntary chaos seemed to be everywhere.

For starters, there's parking: Theoretically, there is free parking available for GSU students at Turner Field, and you can take a shuttle from there to campus (or walk the 1.5 miles or so on a nice day and get in your exercise at the same time). I used to take advantage of this option at least once a week to save money and to allow myself a few minutes of zone-out time or brisk walking. But I can count on one hand the number of times I've been able to swing it in the last three months.... I get too busy before or after class to add the extra time to my commute; so I suck it up and pay for downtown campus parking, promising myself each time that I'll be more disciplined next week.

Of course, that's on the days when I'm on time, or close to it. Some days I am so rushed before class -- finishing up one commitment or another -- that even my regular parking spot downtown is unrealistic; and instead of $5 or $3, I have to pay $8 for the premium lot that is just a couple of blocks closer to the classroom building. Two blocks closer means 4 minutes less late to class!

So I'm guessing I've blown at least $70 in unnecessary parking charges this year so far. If I could work at a slower pace, give myself more time to plan ahead, I could have pocketed that $70 for the kid's college fund and probably been a little more sane each time I entered the classroom to boot.

Parking is an easy example. But wait, there's more!

There's paying absurd ATM fees to get cash from Not My Bank when I suddenly realize I need it, despite the fact that I probably passed four of my own bank's ATMs on the way to wherever I was going.

There were a couple of bounced check fees in January (in my opinion the most ridiculous and inexcusable expense a person can have) because I was too hurried to notice that I accidentally made a PayPal transaction from the wrong account.

There are the countless times we've eaten out or ordered pizza because I didn't have time to plan meals for the week or make a thorough trip to the grocery store. (This one is expensive AND unhealthy).

My housekeeping, never what I'd consider overly tidy to begin with, has definitely suffered from my busy schedule... so one day in frustration I thought I'd quickly vacuum the main parts of the carpet in the 30 minutes I had between obligations. Just a quick job, so why take the time to move everything off the floor, right? I'll just vacuum AROUND the phone charger cords.... Turns out, when one of those gets sucked up into the vacuum cleaner, the cord itself will wrap around the axle until it hits the base, which is when it will snap unceremoniously, leaving you with inexplicable black marks on the carpet and $30 less in your wallet for the replacement.

It seems that cutting corners (or being too busy to avoid cutting corners) has taken quite a bite out of my wallet in the last few weeks. And since I think money is often a symptom-bearer for other issues, I'll say that this is probably a reflection of some of the non-monetary costs I've been sacrificing to stress and hurry as well: quality time with family and friends, healthy eating, time to exercise as much as I need...

It's too bad there's no budget program that will show us this stuff on one of those handy pie charts. "If you would slow down and quit taking on so much, you would save 5% of your expenses, be in 8% better health, and have 25% better relationships."

Too bad indeed. Guess I'm going to have to slow down and pay attention instead!