Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lasting Cheap

Before I moved to Santa Cruz for college, I worked with a teacher in LBC who was enthused to share her advice and stories about college life. She remembered proudly that money had been so tight for her at one point during her college years that she jumped a chain link fence at night to steal vegetables from a community garden.

That story stayed with me both out of fear and curiosity. I was leaving my parent’s home for the first time – was it going to be a struggle for survival? Would there be signs before I got to that point? How would you make yourself full with boring garden food? I wondered how it felt for food to be uncertain.

In the 23 years since, I’ve had modest years, but I never really struggled financially until toward the end of my marriage, when I was unemployed and money was the most contentious issue in the home. Those were tough times but food was not uncertain.

My finances became impossibly tight again this summer. It was a combo of unexpected bills and my own carelessness. You could say I have been engaged in a 3-year rebellion against the idea of money as a source of tension and means of control.

But now, I’ve got to pull my head out of the clouds to gain control over my own self. Though my parents have helped me with the condo and the kids and I receive spousal support, I’m struggling to cover my bills. In a little over a year, my mother will retire and the spousal payments will stop. I have to create financial stability. There is no longer room for error.

I’m working on it. I’ve enrolled in a 401k for the first time in my life. I’ve given up a good hair salon and meeting friends for drinks. I used to do lunch regularly with a work friend, but now we catch up over walks. Out to dinner with my parents recently, my mother handed me an untouched loaf of bread from the table to take home. I brought it home and threw it in the freezer, defrosting it when we were out of sandwich bread.

I’ve seriously changed my ways. I reuse tinfoil and pack my lunch for work every day, including tea. When I shop for food, I use a handbasket instead of a cart, limiting myself to what we need. I keep a household binder, where I organize coupons, recipes, and other helpful information like low cost health solutions. For example, did you know that pesky vaginal itch, so common during sitting-around-in-wet-bathing-suit season, can be solved in 48 hours with baby shampoo and a hair dryer? If you’re skeptical, I can grab the magazine clipping out of my binder so you’ll know it’s direct from a Stanford study. That info is gold in a house of girls.

There are no more dinners out with the kids after a long work week. No last minute dashes for BK breakfast sandwiches before school. I keep my fridge stocked with poultry, fish, and hardboiled eggs that I prepare on the weekend.

As I can’t stop mentioning to everyone all the time, I get a weekly box of veggies from a local CSA. I believe the $25 a week has been a good investment. My health has been getting better gradually in my quest to waste as little of the fresh farm produce in my fridge. I’ve even figured out what I can do with eggplant, my least favorite vegetable, outside of throwing it in the trash.

In one week of waste, I completely forgot about the box of veggies in the back of my car after picking it up – until my kids asked me about the smell. I guarantee that won’t happen again. I’ve gotten better about storing the produce so it lasts and have even made a broth with the week’s leftover veggies. How Little House on the Prairie is that?

There’s going to be a lot more of that while I work on getting a higher paying job and/or establishing a side gig to supplement my income. To say I’m busy is an understatement. When I’m overwhelmed, I make myself look back 3 years; I had just gotten a part-time job for $15 an hour and the only place I had to go if my marriage ended was my parents’ home. I know I can accomplish more.

But what has humbled me deeply is the realization of just how freaking fortunate I am. You know how you notice more of whatever is on your mind – when I was worried about my hair falling out after the divorce, I noticed for the first time how many women have thinning hair. Now, I notice people who show signs of financial struggle.

I am waking up to the reality of living in a county where more than half of our seniors don’t have enough money to pay for their necessities like food. In nearby Salinas Valley, the salad basket of the U.S., one in four families experience a food shortage at some point during the year and many routinely resort to non-nutritious food to stretch their budgets. More here and here.

The most important lesson from my financial wake-up call is that I owe everything to those who have shared with me. For this reason, it is imperative that I share with others. And, really, there is a need for all of us to get better at sharing.

My mother was walking dogs in my neighborhood yesterday and a couple with a baby stopped her. They asked her for money and all she had on her was the $5 she handed them. They said they were desperate, looking for jobs. As she talked with them, the man said he’d been considering doing "something bad.” There is a need for all of us to get better at sharing.

picture 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49936927@N05/4913830980/in/photolist-8udEKN-7WRdRz-dsKk9R-9NMzss-8RTcjW-b1FwgX-dSrfdx-8txTkB-azV329-7E7WxL-ehonsd-d4sULU-dXbjCV-8fmX7a-8AsmzR-efvE9F-9eh7KD-7Fc3ck-dSwP1m-bzePWZ-8TLKuJ-7D9k8K-dtgRGz-dRGA2J-dzG36f-8Xidps-8cVfVz-7W1kuc-7AQPsj-bAGiss-8o2cCc-aCHiB2-8eATQm-81H7Mu-eRi2KW-b36uNc-9Bo9aM-86iYA7-d3qoMh-dtnVXg-83fMJZ
picture 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38037974@N00/1392581128/in/photolist-384kRs-42Zu9g-42ZxAB-42ZBqk-434jaY-434qS5-5dHSTE-6ud4F7-6ud4Fm-6ud4Fo-6LQkSq-712ugH-7bvnPP-7dKPGo-8KhbDs-87MBkw-8Kh4b3-8Khbcy-f2D3WZ-8Ke7ic-8Kh9qo-8Kh5us-8Kh6XU-8Kh8Q3-8KhaBE-8Ke5vX-8Kh7Ds-8Ke9m4-8Ke3fK-8Ke23g/lightbox/


No comments:

Post a Comment