I needed a small binder, and I needed it fast – the kid who had only just remembered she absolutely HAD to have one, BY TODAY!, was supposed to already be on her way to school. So I grabbed one out of my cupboard, pulled out the contents and handed it to her, dumping the papers into my drawer to deal with “later.”
Turns out they were our financial reports from 1995.
The first thing that struck me was that our entire combined monthly income back then is less than one (1) biweekly paycheck for me, alone, today. And there, I get to enjoy a smug moment of self-congratulations – it wasn’t too long after these pages were printed that I sat at my fugly old kitchen table, sick and tired of the constant battle to keep the net income above the net expenses, and mapped out what I intended to do about my pathetic earning potential.
Made a good call when I circled “database stuff” as something that paid insanely well and was likely to be the kind of thing I’d be good at, and tolerant of…and an even better call when I dove in, worked hard, went to school, put up with ‘junior’ titles for a while and iced that cake with the continual reading of way-too-many articles and whitepapers to keep myself technically current even when my full-time job for six months straight consists “only” of herding children and growing carrots said children refuse to eat. Yay me!
But of course, the next thing that struck me was the way that, month after month, the bottom line was a negative number. By a couple hundred dollars. By a couple thousand.
Again and again and again, a simple, one-word category: Car. Month after month, one or the other of our broken down, sad excuses for vehicles, dying on a road somewhere in the middle of nowhere, requiring towing and fiddling and Dire News about how it would cost $X to keep the blasted thing on the road another month or two. (There comes a point where it is “obvious” that you’re throwing good money after bad on a car…that point came, and went, and still we kept throwing hundreds a month into “one last” repair on the truck and the van…ugggggghhhhhhh…)
Account balances on the credit cards, ratcheting inexorably upward… $29,000… $33,000… $40,000…
…interest payments, $400…$500…$800…
It’s strange, really, to look back over that kind of paperwork. It’s just numbers, a bunch of dot-matrix (remember those?!) printouts…income items, $150 for playing at a wedding, $68.05 for sixteen brutal hours of performing at a fair, $35 for spending three hours cutting up coupon books (yes way).
Expenses…$370 to fill up the cars. $735 for rent. $360 for groceries. (Really? For two people who never ate at home?) $580 for eating out. (Which really does make me ask myself again: What groceries?!)
So many things that I look at now and just shake my head. For gosh sakes, I say to myself. What in the HELL was the MATTER with you?! It’s so obvious! I mean, just look at the numbers!
…they have “unsustainable lifestyle” stamped allllllllll over them…
But it took a remarkably long time for The Obvious to dawn on me; and longer still for me to do anything about it; and even longer than that to actually be effective with my efforts; and yet-still-longer before I realized just how good the lifestyle is to me, the deep feelings of satisfaction, the hard sleep you have after a long work day, the simple gratitude you develop for things people forget are awesome.
Like being able to grab butter out of the fridge – no milking or churning required. Having a freezer to store your food…and a pressure canner to help avert botulism. Microwaves.
Homemade. Cheese. Danishes.
Ah well. At least I eventually cottoned on, huh?
…and figured out how to make Danishes…