5.10.2007

The Phantom Debt

A couple of months ago, with the help and support of someone very dear to me, I became, for the first time in about 10 years, entirely debt-free.

Of course, there should be high-fives and abundant celebratory toasts at this momentous occasion. But instead of being at peace, and revelling in my new found financial freedom, I seem to have become downright terrified of spending money.

I can only compare this to the phenomenon that many amputees claim to have experienced, a sensation that the missing limb is actually still there! I still feel the weight of the appendage that I carried for over a decade. In fact, I've found myself checking my credit-card balance several times a week, each time believing that my burden would suddenly re-appear, and each time finding the balance at zero, and each time being strangely disappointed that there was no balance due. And I've taken to wringing my hands in anxiety over the 'extra' money in my bank account at the end of the month. Was there a bill I forgot to pay? A check that hasn't been cashed? Surely there must be something I've missed!

In the weeks leading up to my liberation, I made a very modest list of items that I planned to buy (with cash) when I finally reached my goal. But to this day, not a single item on the list has been acquired. I feel as if the slightest indulgence will send me spiraling into a sticky pit of finance charges and ever growing balances. I know this won't actually happen, but I can't seem to behave in a rational manner when it comes to spending money.

And why does this insanity not manifest itself at the supermarket, or the drugstore? I won't scramble to find the cheapest brand of cereal or toothpaste if the one I prefer is more expensive. But I'll be walking down the street in a pair of sandals that are about to fall apart, stop at the window of one of the many neighborhood shoe stores, stare longingly at the wonderfully colourful offerings on display, then just continue walking along - or rather, shuffling along - as if nothing had happened.

I know I'm going to crack sooner or later. Summer is just around the corner. The dresses are to-die-for, the sunglasses are Jackie-O-fabulous and don't even get me started on the handbags! But I think the splinter of ten years of debt is too deeply imbedded in my psyche to be shaken loose by a flashy pair of shoes. I'm very confident that I will be able to spend within reason, if and when I finally get started. Because even though I'm still feeling my phantom appendage, the joy of being debt-free is beginning to grow on me.
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