Sunday, July 3, 2011
The budget crisis
"We live impelled by desire. We hunger, we experience a fundamental and pervasive dissatisfaction with what is, and expend enormous amounts of time and energy in striving to attain a better external circumstance and a more satisfying state of mind."--Sasha T. Loring, from her article "How to Tame the Wanting Mind" in the July 2011 issue of Shambhala Sun
"Greater happiness lies in coming together--a transcending of the self. No amount of consumerism can ever approximate the happiness that comes through generosity and giving."--Raj Patel, in an interview with Andrea Miller in the July 2011 issue of Shambhala Sun
$30. That is my allotment of "fun money" for the week. I am finally going to be living on a budget, one that will allow Mike and me to live within our means, not accrue debt, and boost our Emergency Fund. For too long I have been looking at my husband as if he were the cramp in my spendthrift lifestyle. But the truth is right there in the spreadsheet in which we track our monthly bills. Some unexpected expenses coupled with Carmelita's $5 a day Bully stick habit ($150 a month if you're counting) means that for the time being we have to conserve our funds for just necessities. $30 each is what we can afford until our home economic recovery.
My reaction to scarcity is not that different from most people's--I go into panic mode, looking for any loophole, any extra income flow. How much change have I accumulated in my Vermont Common Crackers container? ($37.) How many summer pieces have I sold at the consignment shop so far, and when can I pick up my check? (12 pieces, end of July, although they're usually slow in paying up.) What about those rebate checks for the $80 worth of wine I bought over the last three months? ($10.) Does anyone owe me money? (Sadly, no. The only woman I loan money to is Linda, and that's only $5 here and there. I may be desperate enough not to be above a trip to the bank to cash two $5 Estancia rebate checks, but I'm not about to act as loan shark to a senior citizen living on disability.)
I've taken to squirreling away whatever money I do get. While visiting my parents in New Jersey recently, I pocketed the change from the $20 my father gave me to go into Starbuck's for his daily Caffe Americano. Two days of this, and I had earned about $35 not counting tax, but I also had to endure the ribbing my father gave me about his cup of coffee suddenly going up in price by 733.333%.
Why the obsession over nickles and dimes? Mike and I both have jobs, a roof over our head, fresh food in the fridge, health insurance, clothes, etc. I am not in desperate NEED of anything. I know I'm being irrational, greedy even. But being on a strict budget is like someone with a drug addiction finding out that his only dealer has gone out of town and left no forwarding address. I know that I won't have to live on $30 a week forever--the amount will fluctuate along with our income and expenses. Mike has to adhere to this amount the same as me, and he isn't suddenly looking for change in between the sofa cushions. Then again, he's an ascetic compared to me.
I have to face the fact that I use money as a salve for the emotions I can't control, the emotions that are a part of my being alive. Having money makes me feel safe, but so does spending it. As long as I have money to spend, I can shut out any sadness or anxiety that comes my way unbidden, like closing the screen on a window: the mosquitoes are still there, but instead of biting they butt their little heads against the wire, unable to penetrate.
A woman I work with said that back in Iowa where she spent part of her childhood, mosquitoes are just a part of summer life, so ubiquitous that you hardly notice them. This got me thinking again, the more you try to escape something, the more of a threat it becomes.
I have definitely curtailed my shopping in the last couple of months, but that feeling of wanting more money remains. Just yesterday I broke my budget buying summer sandals at a discount shoe store. Desire is always buzzing in the background. I just hope to reach a point where it doesn't bother me that much because our solvency as a couple means more.