Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Being Frugal: Or, Why I Seem to Be Spending Most of My Life Cooking

While I spent a good many hours of today cooking, I pondered why it was I seem to be spending so damn much time doing it lately. I don't mind cooking. I've gotten used to it, and let's face it, it's nice to be able to prepare food I can actually eat a normal portion of that won't kill me.

But really, the reason I'm spending so much time cooking is because I'm being frugal. I keep wanting to say, "I'm poor," but saying "I'm poor" really isn't true. For a single person, I make OK money. The problem is, I have old credit card and medical debt. The good news is, I've been making inroads on paying this off since January.

Cooking is one of the ways I've done that.

I don't buy prepared foods anymore. I buy one kind of cheese. I started making my own iced tea, which saves me $3.99 a week. That's nearly $12 a month. That's a whole iTunes album. Or lunch out. It's very nearly two hours of bowling.

And it doesn't stop with food.

I keep my heat at 69 degrees during the day. I've recently started experimenting with turning it down to 65 at night. And this, in itself, I know is nothing: I have coworkers who turn the heat down to 50 and just put space heaters in their bedroom and bathroom. This is how people manage to save money to, well, save money for things and pay off debt.

I've had to become conscious of all of this uncomfortable stuff, like how much water I use, do I really need that many lights on, and how can I save on my Verizon bill?

I spent much of this last year finding ways to cut things by as little as $1. Seriously. $1. Just a dollar! You'd be surprised at how quick that adds up.

$1 is an iTunes song. It's 1/40 of the way to buying a food processor. It's a bait pony for my pony mods.

Thing is, even knowing all that, it's fucking hard to stick by a budget. It's a lot of mental energy to spend on stuff like figuring out how to sell books to buy books as Christmas presents. It's putting off buying a car until I get another book check, even though I have a boyfriend in Cincinnati, and it's a fucking killer now - more than ever - to not have a car (and it's fucking winter, which always makes not having a car twice as shitty).

Watching books leave this apartment this last week was surreal and just slightly excrutiating. I've gotten rid of lots of books in lots of moves, and moving a few more books wasn't a big deal, but the *reason* I was doing it was just so much different.

And, again: it's not like I don't make money. I have a ridiculous credit limit. I pay $600 a month toward my CCs (It will go back up to $750 next month when my student loans are deferred again after classes start). This is a staggering amount of money. And yes, I could get away with paying a third of that toward them. And then... and then... I'd be in debt for the rest of my life. I would continue to be one of those people who looks like they're making a lot of money but is, in fact, just one bad medical disaster away from moving back in with friends and family.

I don't want to be that person.

It's going to take another year of this. Of counting dollars and selling books and watching the thermostat.

This is hard for me. I've never done this before. My parents never lived frugally during their adult lives. I never learned how to manage a budget. I never learned how to delay gratification. Everything was right now. Want, want, want.

I see. I want. I take. I was always Faith, never Buffy.

Before I got sick, I was not the best of people. Let's just say that out loud again: I was not a good person. I'm not a great person now, mind you. But I'm less of a screaming teenager. Some of this is just sanity brought on by stable blood sugar, but some of this is growing the fuck up. Counting dollars. Valuing friendships. Relationships. Figuring out what the hell it all means and how it all adds up, and more than that:

Knowing that all of us, if we choose to live paycheck to paycheck, are just a stumble away from losing everything we feel we've worked so hard to build. I lost my whole life in Chicago. Yes, granted, a lot of bad shit happened at once - but if I'd had $200 on my credit card, $5k in savings, and chosen a better health insurance plan from my employer instead of selecting the crappy default... things could have turned out a lot better.

We're never going to be prepared for violence, for death, for those scary things that happen in the blink of an eye, the ones so shocking to your everyday experience that they just leave you stunned and speechless. But you can be *better* prepared. You can make the effort.

I know I could lose everything again. Things are still so tenuous right now. But I'm actively working toward a future. The future I want. You pick somebody you want to be. A life you want to have. And you build it. You do what somebody with that life would do. I've always believed that - before I got sick and even now. Pick your future. Build it.

It's not easy. God, it's not easy on a Sunday night when you're cooking breakfast quiche and chicken dinners for the week and trying to figure out how to juggle the dollars you saved on variable utility bills so you can buy yourself a Christmas food processor or cordless drill. These aren't things I want to spend energy on.

But, you know what? I could be spending my energy on so many really *useless* things, like celebrity magazines and cable tv. This really isn't such a bad place to put some energy.

I loved my roaring 20s. But now I need to clean up the mess of them before I head into my dirty 30s.

Because I do plan to get into a lot of trouble.

Er, I mean, financially responsible trouble. But trouble nonetheless.

Peru for my 30th birthday!

And that'll just be kicking things off.