Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reflections on Day Five of My Spending Diet

Day five of my spending diet.

On Oct. 17, I spent $9.70 on subway sandwiches for Josh and me. I also bought Josh chips. No need for him to suffer.  (I needed a sandwich because I had a meeting at 6:30.)

I spent nothing on Oct. 18.

On Oct. 19, if you don't count the cost of the two kittens, two litter box pans, and their cat food, all of which fell under the category of earmarked expenses, I spent nothing.  (I know how that sounds. I did in fact spend a bit over $200 on the kittens, but it was earmarked--let's not be arbitrary and rigid; that's not what this exercise is about.)

Today, I spent about $9 on a gallon of milk and double-A batteries.

And what is this exercise about?, you might ask.

Well, let me just say, I went into Walgreen's this afternoon, took $60 cash out of a cash machine, got the milk, got the batteries, paid for them, and left.

Previously, when I went to Walgreen's, I'd go into a rapture-like trance.  I'd lose my focus, hardly be able to remember what I'd originally come there for; I'd peruse the aisles with fully engaged gathering instincts, scanning the merchandise for anything that I might need, anything on sale:  Facial cleansers, skin moisturizers, hair moisturizers; buff or nude non-comodogenic foundations....

The cosmetics aisle was a particular area of weakness. I could never decide whether my skin was neutral or cool.  Were my veins green or blue?  Was I ready to buy one of the anti-aging formulas?

I'd stand there for quite a while.  Staff would approach me, Can I help you?  Are you looking for something?  No, I am a crazy lady, rapturously overwhelmed, scrutinizing the the veins on the back of my hands and wrists.  Do you think they are blue or green?

Twenty minutes might go by easily, and I'd never leave without spending $25 or more.

I agonized over every purchase.  Everything had to be well-reasoned and economically justified.

How is it that I did not need something when I was home, but when I got to the store, I'd find so many things that I needed?  It happened all the time.  I'd get to the store, and I'd be like, What do I need?  What do I need?

The thing I need most in my life is time.

I need time at least as much if not more than I need money.  I need time to do the work that I do that makes money.

I need time to write these posts.

I need time to go to the barn and ride my horse.

I need time to walk my dogs.

I need time to spend with my family.

I need time to myself.

I need time to do household chores.

My life sprawls, happily, and the one thing I need the most to accommodate that sprawling life, is time.

So, that's mainly what this crusade is about: Not spending 20 minutes at Walgreen's.  It's less about the money, and more about the time.

And yet, it's also about the money.  Because, every now and then, I realize, I am frittering away so much money that I am reluctant to spend it on things that matter.  For example,. I  might feel that I can't afford to be generous in writing a check for a charity that I like.

Having a farm, (or, for that matter, being alive), there is always the potential for unexpected expenses--there's just a lot of ongoing maintenance and repairs, like blowing out a tire on the new International Harvester tractor circa 1957.  Add to that, a horse, two kittens, possibly some goats, maybe chickens, three dogs...There's a lot of actual and potential expense there.  One can't reasonably continue to fritter away one's income on this 'n that, any more than one can afford to fritter one's time away at Walgreen's or Target, with so much stuff to do.

The other thing about being on the farm is that I don't want to be anywhere else.  I  love being here, and I don't want spend time away from here if I don't have to.  I don't want to be in Walgreen's.  I don't want to be at Target.   There are very few places I want to be, other than here.  I know, this could become a vice.

I am not coming to this spending diet from a Puritanical perspective.  No.  I am coming at it from a perfectly selfish perspective.  I want more of my life back.  I want my time and my money.  Time is life.  Money is power.  I want more of both.

I also want to break the habit of throwing money at anxiety, in the same reflexive way that I sometimes eat to assuage anxiety.  If it worked, that would be one thing, but, in my experience, it doesn't work.  Take, for example, my earlier post about Josh's birthday.  Or, for a new, updated, fresh and enhanced example, that over-priced cake and wine that I bought for my birthday in a fruitless effort to impose cheer on a difficult Tuesday.  You can buy  happiness, but on that Tuesday, it would have had to have been either a lot more money coming to me, or just a much better tasting overpriced cake.

You have to factor in that money also raises your expectations, and thereby sets you up for further disappointment, so if that fancy gourmet cake turns out to be stale, then you feel even worse than you would have without it, or with a regular cake.  And if you spend a lot of money on your kid's birthday, and he doesn't have a good time, then you feel worse than you would have felt if you had not spent so much money for his enjoyment.

Being on a farm is different from being in town in some ways that make you think differently.  We have our own septic and our own water, and we have to take our own trash and recycling away.  You start to think more independently, because you are independent of so many of the public services that in-town folks enjoy.

The woman who sold us this farm told me, several times, that if we were diligent about harvesting the green beans, and if we froze them properly, they would last us all through the winter and into the spring.  At the time,  I thought, Well, how many bags of frozen beans have I bought in the last fifteen years?  Frankly, I could go a whole winter with no green beans at all.   I'm not from the Midwest.  I don't do the green bean mushroom soup casserole thing.

I think that what she was trying to tell me was that if I played my cards right--if I sewed and reaped my veggies and raised chickens, and bought a bread maker...then maybe I could get away with hardly ever leaving the farm. Maybe, I could just eat green beans and butternut squash all winter and gaze out over the natural beauty surrounding me through the changing seasons for as many hours of mt life as I possibly could.

I think that was the promise that the green beans held out, and also of the freezer in the basement, big enough for a year's supply of vegetables and one-half of a grass-fed cow.

It's about trying, if not succeeding, to cut ties with Walgreen's and Target--or, failing that, to change the relationship to just being friends.  No more rapture.  No more long afternoons spent together.  Just keep it formal and civil.

Hello.  Milk.  Double-A batteries.  Thank you.  Good-bye.


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