Several times during this visit I’ve tried to pay for things but my daughter wouldn’t hear of it. At one point she noted that she now makes considerably more than I do, thanks to my recent economic downturn.
She wasn’t snide or condescending, but rather expressing a “so glad I can help you for a change” vibe. When I thanked them today for buying me lunch out Abby’s response was, “Thank you for cooking and cleaning.”
Having my daughter pay for groceries or meals out while I’ve been here feels weird. Sure, it’s a cheap price for a maid and cook, and I know she really can afford it due to her own awesome budgeting and frugal-hacking skills.
Oh, and her salary, which is now larger than mine.
For years I’ve been the one who helped, even when I could barely afford to do so. Now I’m the one who gets helped.
Then again, that was my choice.
As noted in “Time is something we can’t do over,” not rushing to replace my previous income level was a deliberate decision:
“(After) years of frantic busy-ness, of being afraid to say ‘no’ because an opportunity might never come again, I’m calling a temporary halt.
“From now on I want to plan my days rather than merely react to them. … When it comes to time we are allowed no do-overs. But we can try to do better with such time as we’re given.”
Making that choice meant accepting a much lighter purse, at least for a while. Since this part was voluntary, I don’t get to whine about it. Not even a little bit.
Back on frugal lockdown
It’s not that I’m broke. Far from it: I have enough guaranteed freelance revenue to cover basics expenses and a little more. In fact, a new gig just popped up: one article a month at a very decent pay rate. (No longer will I undervalue my work.)
But that’s nowhere near what I was making at MSN Money, so I’m back on frugal lockdown.
These days I don’t routinely spring for a fun daily deal or social buying voucher that I think would be great for my daughter or my nephews. (Or for me.)
When a discount gift card website notifies me that cards on my wish list are available, I almost always delete the e-mail. In the past I’d regularly buy either for myself or for Abby and Tim.
While shopping, I keep reminding myself of what I don’t need, e.g., instead of buying treats for my nephews I should just stick with the usual Café Awesome menu.
A touch of shame
At no point have Abby and Tim been anything but gracious. And in my own overly panicky defense I’d like to note that I’ve contributed in several ways other than cleaning and cooking:
- Paying for a couple of lunches out with free gift cards that I got from rewards programs
- Picking up some needed items at Walgreens with one of those discounted gift cards
- Ordering cat food purchased with free Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks
But I’m flashing back on a 1990s visit to my mother. She’d been unemployed for years and wasn’t old enough to draw Social Security. During one trip I proposed lunch and a movie – my treat.
Mom fussed about it, saying we could eat at home and then go to the movie, or maybe not even go to the movie at all. I insisted, gently, since she rarely got out of the house for anything except a trip to the store.
We had fun yet I could sense low-level stress the entire time. Looking back, I think it was not stress but shame. Mom was embarrassed that she couldn’t afford to treat me.
Now I get it. Boy, do I.
Picking my spots
That said, the need to cut costs has been a fine reality check. It wasn’t that I’d become a complete spendthrift, but I sure had become accustomed to the small luxuries noted above.
When I wrote “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year” for MSN Money seven years ago, I was living a bare-bones lifestyle because I had to do so. Now I’m cutting back on spending because I choose to do so.
By no stretch of the imagination could my current situation be called bare-bones: I’ve got plenty to eat, no consumer debt, a loving partner with whom to share expenses and as much work as I want to take on.
I also have the option of picking my spots. Saving where I can lets me spend where I want – say, on a trip to Phoenix – and the decision to take on less work for a while has meant I could swing a trip that’s considerably longer (and sadder) than usual.
If the reduced income bothers me sufficiently then I’ll do something about it. Until then, I’ll see what I can learn from where I am right now. Think of it as a refresher course on frugal living — and no whining allowed.