I had a good laugh today. I spent a chunk of time cleaning out the linen cupboard, which I realize sounds about as jolly a time as getting your teeth filed. You’ll just have to trust me when I say it was a very pleasant afternoon.
I found a tiny little picture frame wedged waaaaaaaaaay in the back, under The Most Hideous Set of Table Linens, Ever©. They were a gift from a friend of a friend. I think he originally got them by losing a bet or something. Ugly is too short a word, people. They look like someone had been eating nachos and drinking something purple and then threw up on the table cloth.
Seriously. Hideous. And also? Going to charity. I’m sure somebody will think they are the cat’s whiskers.
But I digress.
So here’s this little picture frame, and I was looking at it and thinking, Now, why do I have this feeling like I wasn’t ever going to throw this away…?
It unremarkable, and empty. It’s slightly bigger than a wallet-sized picture, really kind of an oddball shape. Slightly beat up, and the hinge is broken on it, like I changed the picture that was in it a lot…
NO WAIT! Not a picture!!
A credit card!!!!!
It was at this point that I sat back and laughed until I about gave myself a case of hiccups.
It’s my GRRRR! frame, people!
Back when we were floundering in debt, I kept this little frame on my desk. In it, I would keep the credit card that was my current Enemy #1 – the one with the highest interest rate (or the one whose customer (dis)service had pissed me off more, in the event of a tie).
Dog is my witness, I used to actually snarl at this picture frame. Every morning! I would sit down at my desk, glare at that card and go, “GRRRRRRRR!”
I would tell the card how it was going down. I would tell the card to watch out, because hey! I was not going to be buying any new outfits today! Nossir! And see this? THIS, my friend, is a bagged lunch. HA! That’s eight more bucks coming off your balance.
And then I’d make scissor gestures at it: Snip, snip, pal – yer dead!!
I would scrimp and save and glare at the frame every time I made a frugal choice (Yeah, that’s right – that’s going to your balance! Snippity-snip-snip-SNIP!!). It was a focus point for the magic we were making, with our determination and anger and shame and hope. Every day, looking at that credit card, I would think about what we were trying to do.
It made me stop and think - which is not merely half the battle, but the winning of the whole stinkin’ war.
Cards swapped in and out of that frame a lot in the early days. One card would be hitting me for 30+% and be in the frame…then after a month or three of the ‘grrrrr’ treatment, maybe their customer (dis)service would be more interested in talking about a rate reduction, and the card would get a temporary reprieve while another card took its place.
That first year, I’d say cards were flying in and out of the frame about monthly.
Then there weren’t that many cards left, and the cards there were didn’t change interest rates on me as much. The card that went in stayed in, until it was paid off. At which point...yes. It went to the scissors, without so much as a blindfold.
It was ceremoniously cut into shards and dropped into a little brandy snifter engraved with the word ‘FREEDOM’. I've still got the snifter, with the card-shards. (Little dusty, actually.)
I’d forgotten about the GRRR! frame, though.
We humans are funny animals. We can be so intelligent, able to think about all manner of High and Wondrous Deeds, and yet still find ourselves doing exactly what we know we shouldn’t…because what we want (or the consequence of what we’re doing) isn’t something we can see, right here this second.
We eat ourselves into diabetic comas, smoke our lungs to cinders, drink ourselves into familial destruction, ruin our physical, emotional and fiscal health because damn it – it feels so good, in the Right Now.
We can ‘know’ that we’re putting our feet on the road to ruin, without being able to really understand what we’re doing. Five, ten, twenty years out? Pshaw! Might as well not exist.
It’s only when it is right in our faces that we seem to ‘get it’. I never paid much attention to how much fat was in the food I ate, until too much of it laid me out on my bathroom floor groaning in pain within hours. And I’m sure that if my gallbladder hadn’t given up on me, in twenty-thirty years, I’d be having to stick myself with a needle to inject my insulin two or three times a day.
I hate needles. I hate them so much. I would do all kinds of crazy things to avoid a needle. But simply not eating a Death by Fat and Sodium mashed potato bowl from KFC?
C’mon. Surely this one little bowl isn’t going to hurt me. And besides, I’m going to have a salad at some point in my lifetime (probably), so it’ll balance out…
My GRRR! frame was just what I needed, at the time. A physical manifestation of a rather esoteric need: the need to be free. The need to not be bleeding hundreds and thousands of dollars a year away in interest payments, late fees and ‘just because we can’ charges.
We’re intelligent animals, we humans. But we still need our focal points to redirect our attention away from the fleeting (and possibly harmful) pleasures of the moment and back to those things that build our futures, shaped by our dreams into beautiful realities.
Today, I have a new focal point, in roughly the same place where the GRRR! frame used to sit – right where my eyes tend to settle when I pause for thought. It’s a Buddy L Easy Saver bank. One of these:
It doesn’t have the same passion I had with the GRRR! frame. When I’m in a philosophical frame of mind, it reminds me to approach my savings playfully, to remember to have a little fun with it, to enjoy watching the dials whir and to look forward to the day when I finally (finally!) get to $20 and the door unlocks. It embodies the fun of anticipation, the slow but steady nature of growth.
And also? It ends up being coffee. Because when that door unlocks at the $20 mark, I scoop those coins out of there and lug it down to the supermarket, dump it into the Coinstar machine and reload my Starbucks card.
And then I get a low fat mocha and fat free scone and consider myself among the blessed.
And not a GRRR! in sight…
(If you have a Coinstar machine near you, check out this link. It shows you all the cards that are available, and if you get or reload one of these, you don’t pay the counting fee. They offer Old Navy, Borders, Linens n Things and iTunes, among others. If you’re a coin-hoarder who occasionally purges but pays a fee for doing so, this is a good deal.)
E. B. White
10 hours ago