“In those days, there was no money to buy books.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I have always been able to live within my means… sometimes more comfortably than others…Budgeting has always been somewhat of a creative endeavor, and sometimes I have been better at it than others. As I’m unemployed at the moment, I’m definitely trying to reign in my spending, and prioritize my purchases… and as with everything, I have good days and bad days.
Being unemployed has had a few unforeseen budgetary side effects. Obviously, I’m trying to cut a lot of corners, and though I’m not going out and spending a lot of money, I am now spending a lot more time at home, and with that I’m noticing a much higher heating and electricity bill. I’m torn… should I be going to bed earlier so I use less lighting? Using more blankets? Lighting more candles? Would I actually be better off spending a few bucks on a small cup of coffee and sitting in a café afternoon with my laptop? It’s hard to say…
When it comes to finances, I think a lot of people in my generation are used to treading water. Sometimes doing really well with their heads way above pool level, and other times floundering. In the past I’ve been really good at saving money, but to some degree I save money for the same reason I exercise… so I can enjoy indulging a little bit without feeling guilty. Thinking back on some big purchases over the past few years, I’m sure they weren’t always the smartest financial choices… (Bulldogs are not cheap, and neither are their medical bills!) But there is something to be said for fulfilling a dream, and I definitely would not trade in Toby for more money in the bank. I seem to be living in the cycle when I do great at saving money… and then of course life happens, and my car insurance is due, I go to the dentist, take Toby to the Vet, get my hair cut, and visit the gynecologist all within 2 weeks of each other, and the cushion gets depleted, little by little, and built back up again little by little.
Maybe someday I will have a job where I’m making more money than I know what to do with… maybe someday I will be able to think seriously about saving for retirement, and planning for investing in my future…But is it bad that I’ve never really dreamed of that? I know you need to be able to work towards a dream… but being a Creative Writing Major, I don’t think I ever had the dreams of making copious amounts of money… at least I’m not disillusioned… and I don’t think I’m “settling” either… I just think I’m realistic… and I think there is something that is just a little bit enchanting about the idea of living within your means. Was it just me, or was anyone else excited to be out of college, and be somewhat dirt poor living in a shoebox apartment, eating raman noodles? Wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing, at least for a while until we figured our lives out? And those years right out of school were some of the happiest I’ve ever had… Then again, I realize that my whimsical writer dreams aren’t always on-par with the rest of society, but mostly when I think about my 20s, I always go back to that quote from A Moveable Feast where Hemingway says “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.” And maybe I need to have bigger dreams… but living well and cheaply being in love sounds like a pretty amazing way to go through life. And if I could somehow attach my current yard to my tiny-loft apartment, I would go back in a heartbeat!
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be in a situation where I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, where I don’t have to worry about how many times I go out to eat during the week, and how much money I’m spending on gas… But I’m also really proud of the fact that I am totally able to live within my means, and able to budget, and have the ability to make good financial choices on a daily basis… and I’m really happy doing it!
Sometimes this involves saying “no” and sometimes it means being a little anti-social… but mostly it just means getting a little creative. I was supposed to drive to Portland yesterday and go to the ballet with some friends… we were going to wait in line for “pay-your-age” tickets, which would have been a great deal, and overall something I actually could have afforded… but I made the choice to instead stay home, and spent the money on electric toothbrush heads…it was at this moment, that I felt really boring, and maybe a little too adult… but hey, cleaner teeth/ better oral hygiene is future money saved on dentist bills, right?
Though I have always been fairly good at budgeting, my dad always says that I have champagne taste on a beer budget, and he is kind of right. My biggest indulgences when it comes to spending are usually food and wine related… (and books… I love buying books… I’m trying to be better at the library… key word trying… but I also passionately believe in small independent bookstores, and I think they are really struggling right now…. So though buying books might not always be the BEST financial decision for my personal situation, books are ALWAYS a guilt free purchase.) This goes back to the eating and drinking well thing… I started working in the Oregon wine industry when I was 21 years old… meaning that my fairly inexperienced palate quickly developed a taste for fine wine… and along with that came fine food… because, let’s face it, they go hand in hand. I wouldn’t say that I am a wine snob… more so I have wine/food snob tendencies. Over the past several years I have really developed an appreciation for good wine, and a healthy appetite for good food. It’s all but unavoidable when you are in the industry…(it also helps when you are dating a chef) because everyone around you is drinking good wine and eating good food, everyone around you is talking about good wine and good food… it becomes a lifestyle, the universe is kind of wrapped up in good wine and good food… and with that comes good coffee… And there are worse lifestyles to have… but there are also cheaper lifestyles to have. Hence the champagne taste on a beer budget… And yes, my wine/food snobby tendencies haven’t completely turned me over to the dark side. I still eat an occasional packet of Top Raman, and I have been known to keep a box or two of macaroni and cheese in my pantry for emergency dinner situations. I shop at bargain grocery stores most of the time, and make a few special trips for Organic Kale, and specialty cheeses… because life without at least a little indulgence is just too dull, but I am being a lot better about eating in!
So I’m not buying books, and I’m cutting back on designer coffee, I’m wearing a few more layers, and trying to drive a little less. It’s not the perfect budgeting strategy, (and yes, I still desperately need to find a roommate), but it’s something.