Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bionic Budget

A friend I've known since high school stayed with me last weekend. The timing was not the best. I was still smarting from the end of my benefits and literally counting my pennies to go to the grocery store. I lucked out that this particular friend has mastered the art of the shoestring budget.

I called her Bionic Woman some time ago, and then I got her mixed up with OJ, who is actually my brother. I think I’ll go back to calling her Bionic. She’s an avid runner, biker and swimmer. She’s training for a marathon or something exhausting. She knows all the best deals on groceries. She reduces waste, volunteers, and grows her own food. She’s unemployed but has run out of benefits and therefore is no longer counted in the unemployment stats. She has scraped by on modest real estate investments and odd jobs.

Friday, the day Bionic arrived, was crazy. I was sweating my money issues. I had an interview that made me realize I was a different size the last time I needed to wear something more dressy than jeans. The kids were acting like little maniacs, probably in reaction to the anxiety emanating from my pores. I was fried by the time I picked up Bionic from the bus. (You know she got a good deal on her bus fare.)

On the drive home, we agreed to take our chances with whatever we could find in the fridge for dinner. Not long after getting home, Bionic found two sausages and had those going along with eggs and French bread she had picked up on the way. There was a frozen cheese pizza for the kids and dinner was served.

The other meals were equally easy. Inspired by Bionic’s example, I made bean burritos and a green salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette the next night, mostly from what I could find in the fridge. I was feeling all proud about my salad with chopped apples, cucumbers and shaved parmesan. It turned out to be one of the better things I’ve made recently.

I did go to the store for a few things on Saturday while Bionic watched the kids. All three of them wanted candy and Bionic gave me strict guidelines on what to spend. I don’t normally buy candy but was trying to be fun. I found myself on my knees in the candy aisle, reading off prices and ounces for various options into my cell, completely engaged with Bionic’s advice before realizing I was getting looks. (What? This is a brutal economy!) I spent a total of $3.23 on a bag of gummy bears, a larger bag of gum drops, and an oversized candy bar.

Another normally forbidden item was Safeway Select grape soda. I mean kids can handle some high fructose corn syrup, can’t they? Did I mention it was $1.25 a six-pack? Don’t worry, I won’t do it again. Daisy who like me is poetry in motion spilled her grape soda at least eight times – she even spilled her sister’s grape soda. She had two cans and left splashes of purple on the rug, coloring books, clothes and pillows. That never happened with Hansen's.

Everything Bionic and I did for entertainment last weekend was free. We met an acquaintance who bought us drinks. We wandered around shops, especially bookstores. We stayed up late talking and watching CNN (she’s one of those news junkies). We went to the party she was in town for, where there were two dinners served. Bionic looked perfectly reasonable when she walked out with a good-sized doggy bag (not that they were offering those). We quietly made fun of strangers and pointed out celebrity look-alikes. She laughed at the drama created by my kids and took them out on their scooters with the dog.

I really couldn’t have asked for more from a houseguest under the current circumstances. There was a time when Bionic was fed up with my inability to return a phone call. I wonder what she’ll think when I call her every time I go to the store.


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