Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Need to Ball

No, not the need to bawl. The need to ball. The need to floss. To flash your bling. Okay, people over 35: The need to...oh, heck, I don't even know the older slang words...the need to flash your wad? Ah, I got it! The need to show off by the use of fancy toys.

It's a little long.

Anyway. Sorry I haven't been blogging much. I've had a lot on my mind, and while sometimes it's good to blog about that kind of stuff, sometimes it's not. I've been working on losing weight again--down eight pounds!--and working on saving money. I've been contemplating simplicity versus stuff. I've been drooling over my friend Sarah's apartment, which is a perfect little studio with the CUTEST kitchen and bathroom ever. (It makes my place look too large and overdone.) I've been obsessing over Mint.com, which has a bunch of new and amazing features, including a graph that shows how much money you've spent versus earned in the past six months, and if the numbers are right, all I can say is: No wonder I'm carrying a balance on my credit cards. Wow. My new plan is to visit Mint six times a day, hoping that the very act of doing so will prevent me from spending money, which will in turn hopefully swing the balance of earned vs. spent back to black. (However, in spite of all my other faults, my net worth is not too bad. My 401(k) balance exceeds my car loan and credit card debt, so disregarding my student loans, my net worth is positive! Um. If that even counts.)

It's so interesting, this need to floss. I COULD, of course, take the bus to work, and walk up the stairs, and drink tea, but I sure feel a lot spiffier driving my Jeep right up to the door of my work, getting a VIP parking spot in the shade, walking four steps, riding the elevator up to the fourth floor, taking a sip from my Starbucks mug and drawling to my personal assistant while raising my massive sunglasses, "Anything important, darlin'?"

Perhaps my imagination ran away with me on the last part, but that doesn't negate the ease and spiffiness of driving and elevating rather than walking and stair-climbing. Sadly, it's never cool to arrive somewhere out of breath and rushed. (Busy, self-absorbed, and on the phone, though, is still totally cool. Totes.)

The POINT is, I was recently talking to a grad-school friend, who told me that in waiting tables he had earned more than enough money for the whole summer and couldn't decide if he should keep working or quit and devote more time to his side projects. "Uh huh," I said thoughtfully, doing some fast mental arithmetic. Let's see, call it $150 per shift including hourly wage and tips, he's worked about ten shifts...okay, so $1500. We'll call it $2000 to be generous. Sure, that's a lot of money. And then I looked at Mint again and realized that I spent, on average, $4200 a month. (And no, I don't actually make that much, hence my problem.)

What happened to my days of subsisting on $500 a month? That summer in which I lived at my sorority for $300 for the entire summer, waited tables and participated in a few medical experiments, and had more money than I knew what to do with? Times were certainly tight, or could be, but the cash flow of tips makes up for a lot of budgeting ills. There was always more money. And there was always food, at the restaurant. A human's needs are actually very basic: food, shelter, transportation. (We'll take for granted that said human lives in a city and has access to clean water--this is basic living, not post-apocalypse living.) Once you've paid for the roof over your head and you have a place to get food, the rest of your money--which exists mainly to ensure your food and shelter in the future--should be excess, right? It seemed so, at that time. I imagined what would happen if at some point in the future I got a real job. I might make $50,000 a year, I thought. I would never want for anything ever again.

HA. That is not what happened. Instead, my needs expanded to fit my income. Suddenly I had a LOT of needs. I needed a car--and not a used one, a brand new one, and then I needed insurance and gas, and then I needed to drive fast, so I needed speeding tickets and higher insurance rates. I needed a nice apartment. I needed a lot of nice apartments because I chose poorly the first time, so I needed to spend a lot of gas driving back and forth between various apartment locations. Let's not forget that I needed to fill up those apartment with nice furniture. I needed new work clothes, and I needed (NEEDED) new work shoes. I needed high speed internet and cable TV, and then I needed to rent movies, and then I needed a Netflix account. I needed a better cell phone package. I needed to be online everywhere, so I needed a year-long contract with AT&T Wireless at Starbucks PLUS my home high-speed bill. Instead of drinking at dive bars where pitchers were 11 bucks, and that was all we got, I needed to go to fancier places with my new yuppie friends and order martinis.

Good LORD did I need a lot of things.

I thought that once I got a real job I had to change lifestyles--from the Young, Broke, and Barely Legal to the Old, Rich, and Upstanding Citizen. And I thought the Upstanding Citizen NEEDED all that stuff.

I was wrong, obviously. Completely wrong. I didn't need an apartment; I could have lived in a RV if I wanted. I could have even lived in a van, bought a $25/month gym membership at Boeing, and showered in the gym locker rooms. If I decided to get an apartment I could have gotten a studio. If I had chosen to get a one-bedroom I didn't need to fill it with furniture. Even after I got my work computer, I could have gone to a library all day and used their free wireless connection instead of buying one for myself at home. (I won't even mention how little I actually needed the one at Starbucks.) No one actually needs cable TV. And NO ONE needs MARTINIS at ten dollars a drink.

I'm getting on towards four years into my Old, Rich, and Upstanding Citizen lifestyle, and in some ways, I'm cutting back. I'm replacing martinis with beer and drinking fewer beers. I just cut my cable TV. (Need my internet, though.) (Yeah, sure I do.) I finally settled where I was going to live and I've lived there for more than a year, going on two. I carpool to work and take the bus where I can. I haven't gotten a speeding ticket recently and my insurance has gone down. I switched my bank account (FINALLY) so I no longer pay overdraft fees. Little steps.

But it's not really about that, because as soon as I freed up some money I found an amazing lingerie store and went to Japan and redid my apartment, putting me back in the hole. It's about reminding myself that the only thing I HAVE to do every day is shower, put on clean, presentable clothes, and go to work. I don't NEED anything beyond food for myself and Titan. I don't NEED Starbucks or to go out to lunch and I don't NEED to buy a cart full of groceries every time I'm at the store. I don't even need any more work clothes and I certainly don't need any more shoes. I can try to floss all I want to, but at the end of the day, Titan isn't impressed anyway and I'm home by myself bemoaning my credit card debt. Nothing flossy about that.

4 comments:

Kalvan said...

Growing up sucks. I just dropped $1200 on an unexpected car repair and the only good thing was it balanced by a reduction of our hospital bill for my son's birth that was almost as much. Oh cruel fates! Taking with one hand while giving with the other.

Mint.com sounds interesting, I'll have to check it out.

Oh, and see you in a few weeks?

Sarah said...

Thought I'd check out that mint.com site you mentioned. It's official. I'm addicted.

Calsee said...

Thank you for this post! One of the more entertaining things I've read lately, I could even see your gestures and hear the inflections in the words.

Mint rocks, thanks for continuing to spread the gospel.

I'll see you soon for cheap beer and happy friends!

Aarwenn said...

Hi y'all,

Thanks for all the good feedback! Just getting this down in blog format made my mental anguish more clear. It's amazing how much societal pressure affects us. After thinking about it, I've realized that really, I'd much rather eat sandwiches and drink Sparks in the park than I would pay 8 dollars a glass for wine and 10 dollars for mac and cheese at Bleu. Just as an example. (Except for Chez Gaudy Tuesdays.)