Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Give us this day a full tank of gas…

I filled up my big old van’s big old tank this morning. Not exactly “Dear Diary” material, I know. Or at least, in a normal person’s mind it wouldn’t be.

But for me, well. I’m not normal.

Eight years ago, our financial situation was, hrm. Rather intense. Which here can be translated to mean, “So ugly that I literally broke down in tears and had to flee the room upon reading a note from daycare saying that Eldest had been out of diapers for three days and had borrowed sixteen diapers in that period of time would I !PLEASE! bring in some diapers already?!”

Because…I wasn’t going to have enough cash for a package of diapers before the weekly direct deposit happened. I used cloth diapers at home, so I couldn’t even raid my home stash for them.

In case you’re wondering why I’m so rabid on such ‘whatever’ topics as leftovers, not buying crap you don’t need or even really want, working smarter and not harder and so forth and so on (and on, and on, and on): I owed daycare sixteen diapers, and couldn’t pay them back. People. That’s less than $10. And I couldn’t come up with it without an ‘after Friday’ option.

Use your leftovers! Drive that car until it gives you a darned good reason to replace it! Insulation! Brush AND floss!! Wear a sweater and for Pete’s sake, think about Someday before it hits you upside the noggin!! And remember, children: A line increase on a credit card does NOT equal a pay raise!!

Anyway, at the time, every Saturday morning went the same way: pay the bills in the morning, go to the bank for whatever was left over, do the shopping, fill up the car on the leavings.

Occasionally, I might actually get the tank filled all the way. Gas was about $1.50 a gallon if memory serves, and my Escort wagon only had a ten gallon tank. But usually, uh, not.

Standing there in my nice warm wool jacket listening to the hiss of the pump as my Ginormous Van cheerfully sucked $60 worth of gasoline into its innards courtesy of my Mastercard, I remembered one time I walked in and plopped $3.50 on the counter. Two ones, and a fistful of small denomination coins rescued from the ash tray. Carefully sorted and counted twice, then set on the counter in neat little easy-to-count piles, which was my way of trying to make it look less crazy.

“$3.50 on 2, please.”


“You want…three dollars and fifty cents worth?” she asked. Her voice couldn’t decide if it wanted to be sarcastic or commiserating. She stared at my neat piles of coins with an expression that clearly said she thought I was probably somewhat dangerous and she was considering calling the police.

“Yes, please,” I said brightly, trying to look more eccentric than crazy. She shook her head, put the money in the till and stared at me through the window for the entire four minutes it took to put just over two gallons of gas into my car.

Two gallons of gas was crazy talk. It was ‘going nowhere else this weekend’ talk. It was ‘going to be lucky to make it to the train station and back this week’ talk. It was ‘might have to use the old shoe leather…at 4:00 in the morning…in the dark…’ talk.

Worse…it was ‘call your mother and ask for a(nother) loan’ talk. Oooooh, man. Just…just shoot me, OK? I am not running home to momma for gas money!!

It was a time in life when I might lie awake at night trying to find the ‘quit’ option. How do I just say, “OK, you win, I give up”, to Life? You the man, Life, you the man. Congratulations on your shut-out victory over me. Can we go again? Best two out of three?!

Obviously, it got better. And it got better quickly from that point – I had a better job and was becoming more and more fiscally savvy by the second. The debt snowball began working its magic and pretty soon I even had the discipline to start using credit cards again – but that's another story for another day.

Yet still, every so often…standing there in my beautiful wool jacket, pumping gas into my big old van, pondering what to do with the annual bonus check when (if) it arrives and whether or not now is a good time to move money out of Stock X and into Stock Y…I find myself thanking $DEITY for the blessing which is a full tank of gasoline.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. I know exactly how you feel, I remember when there were always more debts than cheques.

Today I had a lovely anniversary present and I did remember, just for a moment, how just ten years ago I had to search all my pockets and handbag for change for a loaf of bread to last us till Friday.

It's nice to appreciate what we have now. It's also nice to congratulate ourselves on all the hard work it took to get here.

Pour yourself a glass of something indulgent. You've earned it.

NeedleTart said...

Good reminder. I can remember being young and hungry. Literally no money for food, and determined not to ask for food stamps (no kids, believe me, if I had needed food for kids, I would have been the first in line) it's good to remember that time now and be grateful.

21st Century Mom said...

I wouldn't spend a whole lot of time thanking $deity - you did that work yourself. You got through college after becoming a Mom, you got jobs, you learned to manage your money. What is amazing to me is what a short period of time it took. One of the biggest impediments to digging out of a hole is feeling overwhelmed and not being able to see that you do it one shovel full of dirt brought from top to bottom at a time.

You done good. Thank $Deity for your good health and bright mind and then pat yourself on the back and our a nice glass of wine. You deserve it!

A. Klemmer said...

Eclair nailed it for me: A lovely post. But also anxious making, as the nature of my business and my bride's employment are all changing at the same time and making me feel financially queezy. The thought of going back a few decades income-wise is not pleasing, and probably unlikely, given I have the fear to motivate me away from it. The fear provided in part by this post. I'm tired, though, of thinking about money.

Susan said...

What a relief to be reminded that being young wasn't always a party. I remember the Potato diet -- all the money I had in the world bought me a bag of potatoes that had to last the week until payday.

Digging out of debt is hard work. Good for you!

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