The last seven days have been really tough for me. There was more than the usual amount of crazy with the Denizens (bus is late, school out early, appointments, “sickness”, etc. etc. etc.), but that wasn’t the part that shoved me over the edge almost to the point of wanting to just sit down and cry for a while.
It was running out of soda on the same day that both my Scooba and my Floormate decided to have parts fail / break off / crack / spew / collapse, relegating me to cleaning the floors around the Den with a hand towel and the incredible cleansing power of cuss words.
So there I was. I’d just cleaned the kitchen, playroom, downstairs hallway, and four frickin’ bedroom floors with a hand towel. It was 101 degrees outside, and 80-something inside. I was hot, tired, sweating, my back was throbbing in a new and exciting way, and I decided that darn it, I needed a soda. For the good of mankind.
Because the mood I was in right that moment? I could have chewed somebody’s head off.
Soda hath the power to calm the savage beast…
And then…as I was lifting the cold silver can out of the fridge…a certain emptiness struck me…hmmm…fridge looks…powerful empty…no…no!...nononononononoohno, NO! DEAR SWEET $DEITY IT CAN’T BE SO, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, no! NO!
The last soda!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The world…turned gray…
And I woke up half an hour later in Turlock with a new tattoo and several yards of barbed wire wrapped around my ankles.
OK, not really.
But Dog is my witness, I did have a moment of vertigo. How could this be? So soon? SO SOON?! Because didn’t I just…I mean, I know I said ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ but I thought gone would be…you know, later than this…
And then I started wheeling and dealing with myself, trying to find a way in which buying soda would not count as totally breaking my own rules.
After all, I can’t exactly make soda, right? And I’m saving soooooo much money elsewhere, on strawberry jelly for example, that surely I have saved enough to buy myself some soda, right?!
I even went so low as to pull out the “well, but HE’S getting…” card. The husband is getting Kleenex THAT’S RIGHT!! Even though I could totally whip him up dozens of cloth hankies, he insists, in no uncertain terms, that he will not use a hankie, not even one that is 100% cotton, tie-dyed in cool, vibrant awesomeness and hand-sewn by his doting wifey-pooh.
Just as I was making the decision that diet Pepsi would be “my” thing…I tripped over the second half of the case on my way back inside the Den.
Oh. Heh heh. Yeah. That’s right. I, uh, sort of didn’t put all of it into the fridge, because there was, hee hee, zucchini…ahem, never mind! Just kidding! I wasn’t having a panic attack over diet Pepsi, just, you know, havin’ a little fun with y’all…
This right here is going to be the really hard part of my little project, especially for this early phase where I’ll have to be going out fairly regularly to get the things we need. I need butter, milk, eggs, soda, flour, sugar, cream and waitasecond, what was that middle thing again…?
I’ve already started imitating a helicopter at Costco, circling around and around and around the store, retracing my steps to put back the things I grabbed out of habit that are no longer on the Allowable Purchases list.
The list never was particularly long. The whole middle section of the store has been mostly off-limits to me for years, along with most of the right side aisles as well. One thing I do not need is sixty-four cases of pens and a filing wall system, you know?
But there have been other things I’ve cheerfully bought that are purely and only for my convenience. Chez-Its, chewy fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, Triscuits and tubes of roasted nuts.
None of them are horribly expensive, and the kids love them, and they make for fast lunch-making in the morning. C’mon. Six bucks and I’ve got a month’s supply of Chez-Its! Five bucks to refill the treat basket with gummy fruits!
Versus, having to make the cheese dough and roll it out and cut it and make my own version of Chez-Its. (Basically, pie crust dough with a whack of cheddar mixed into it, rolled a little thinner than usual and baked at a high temperature.)
Or having to make my own gummies, which I totally can but meh, I just don’t wanna and besides! It’s only FIVE BUCKS.
And of course…the soda. My precious, precious soda. I’m already rationing it, and cursing the fact that my poison of choice is the diet. (It has a use-by, and they aren’t kidding around. It turns into weird tasting bubbly water almost immediately after the use-by date.)
When I start telling myself how little whatever the lusted-for item is, I know I’m up against one of the weirdest of money-related human traits: The “but it’s such a little thing” syndrome.
For years, I thought it was Just Me who did this. I’ll give up cable TV and the gym. I’ll steel my soul and say NO VACATION THIS YEAR. I’ll resist the new Lexus and even the expensive dinners out.
But…not going through the Taco Bell drive-thru on my way home from Costco for a Victory Burrito and Super Gigantic Diet Pepsi of Doom? Seriously?
Not getting a shot of dark chocolate mocha from Barista’s before the farmer’s market (or any other time I happen to be downtown)? Not even a small one?
Through the years, I’ve been relieved to note that I am so totally NOT the only person who does this.
Oddly, the feeling of deprivation can be far more intense when you’re saying no to something small. It’s just two miserable bucks for the Victory Burrito, you know? Just two crummy bucks.
Aren’t I worth two bucks?
Am I that bad off? Two bucks is extravagant for me now?
Now the truth is – two bucks is not too extravagant for me. I can afford to get myself a burrito after overcoming the perilous odyssey that is a Costco trip.
And I suppose I can even argue that I “deserve” something for my trouble. I’ve just hefted fifty pound sacks of flour and sugar and heaven only knows what-all else not only onto the cart, but then off it and into the van. And now I’m headed home to heft them yet again, and wrestle their contents into bins and buckets…followed, of course, by the cooking part…
Sure. I deserve a little treat for all that work. And blowing four bucks on a burrito and a soda seems like a pretty small thing, fully within my rights as a citizen of the civilized world.
But you know what else I deserve?
I deserve to live my life in the way that gives me my best shot at happiness.
Sure, I could fork over the money for a burrito stuffed with beans and rice and guacamole, and it would taste good and I would be happy…at least for a little while.
But I could also keep that two dollars and put it toward something else – like, say, being out from under the debts we’ve racked up these last few years. Toward being able to say we own the Den of Chaos, free and clear.
Being able to say, “Check out this beautiful little ranch, ten acres of good land not too far from everything…”, and instead of being trapped because we don’t have the capital to buy or the ability to sell the Den in anything like a Timely Fashion, we could snap it up. Sell the Den at our leisure – or not at all.
We’re not going to get that kind of happiness buying overpriced burritos and sodas, no matter how much we may deserve them. We’re not going to get it by rewarding ourselves every time we do something we need to do. We’re not going to get it by deciding that gosh-darn-it, we’ve been working so hard, we deserve to…spend every dime we managed to save by doing all that work ourselves on a day at the carnival.
We deserve to go right back to treading water and wishing it were otherwise. We deserve to have a great time for a few hours, so that we can continue being miserable the other 95% of the time due to that terrible gap between actual income and what we need to make some headway.
The larger things are obvious. The smaller things…are subtle, and harder to put down. It feels so awful, putting down those itty-bitty things.
It can feel like the ultimate defeat, saying that a $2 latte just isn’t in your budget right now.
But it’s actually the ultimate victory. It’s a moment when you take your eyes off now and acknowledge that what you really want isn’t impossible. It isn’t beyond your grasp – it’s there. You can have it.
You just have to choose it…not merely in the abstract moments when you’ve had a little too much wine and are pondering what you woulda if you only coulda, but for real, for keeps.
Am I deprived? Nah. I’m living in and for a dream, that’s all. It may look like deprivation from the outside, but then it’s hard to see what I can see from out there.
I see not having credit card statements coming in each month. I see having a net worth back in the black again. I see having equity in this house no matter what the market decides to do. I see money in the bank, and the ability to let go of that month to month worry about it.
Am I willing to give up on all that for a burrito, or a soda? A latte, maybe, or a just this once pizza delivery?
Nah. I’ll patch an awful lot of jeans, plant peas by the hundreds and eat nothing but zucchini before I give up on it.
Because I’m totally worth it.
I totally am.
John Kenneth Galbraith
21 hours ago