Last night I did something impulsive. I dropped in on merimask ’s etsy shop – something I do fairly regularly, and noticed that she had a few masks on sale preparatory to discontinuing the patterns. One of them was one that I’ve admired and mentally had in the “I’m going to buy that one someday.” So I ordered it.</lj>
Just like that.
That led me to some thoughts about how nice it is to be able to do something like that occasionally – just buy something expensive because I really need/like/want it. I don’t mean all the time – I’m not independently wealthy. Occasionally. It’s so nice to finally be in a place where that’s possible.
Many years ago, just about ten actually, we had the two required sit down meetings with the minister to determine if we’d really thought through this whole “getting married” thing. One of the questions she asked us was “what is money.” Bob responded with some smart-ass definition straight out of an economics class. I didn’t really have an answer. But in the bad years that followed I realized that for me, the answer to that question is “freedom.” Or perhaps “independence.” They’re slightly different implications, and I pick a different one depending on the circumstances at the time I’m thinking about it.
There were some very bad years where I was either underemployed or flat out unemployed. I had no reserves and large debt, due to a combination of poor financial responsibility and two jags of unemployment following two moves to follow Bob’s job. I was tapped out – completely dependent on Bob for everything from the roof over my head to gas in my gas tank to go anywhere. From largest to smallest I had no resources of my own. Bob never offered anything, be it cash, gas, take-out for dinner, etc. I presume that he thought that I *knew* I was welcome to it and I should just let him know what I needed and he would be pleased to provide. I don’t think he ever knew how small it made me feel. I didn’t feel like I could suggest that we get a pizza, because I was spending someone else’s money. I felt guilty asking for a book at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Pennsic while dependent on someone else was an exercise in mental torture.
It was horrible. I felt trapped and unhappy. How could I complain, or even have an opinion when someone else was paying the freight? Knowing that if the relationship had gone south I *couldn’t* leave because I couldn’t afford to live was terrifying. It changed the way I looked at money forever, and probably sowed the seeds of the panic I feel about large purchases (the fridge, sofa, air conditioning, etc.)
Remembering all of this, the year that we went to Pennsic while Bob was out of work I handed him a few hundred dollars at the beginning of the week. It’s much more fun to roam the merchants with some mad money in your pocket (even if you don't spend it,) and I figured he’d be even more reticent about asking than I had been. I’m still not sure that he gets it, but I hope the experience made me a more empathetic person.
Time has passed, situations have changed. I got a good job, got my head straightened out, put my nose to the grindstone, and in about five years I cleared our debt. I’m carrying a small credit card balance right now, even though I said that I would never do that again, but it’s nothing I couldn’t pay off at a moment’s notice. We have a house and a child, both of which make me very nervous. I’ve become an expert at playing with other people’s money – I am the queen of “12 months, no interest, no payment.” There is a growing emergency cushion in the bank, and I have a timeline and a plan for large dollar items that need to be done around here. We are now using credit instead of letting it use us. I’m proud of where we’ve gotten, and that we got there pretty much under our own power. I told the lady at the bank when we were being pre-approved for the mortgage “I’ve been to the bad place – I’m not going back.”
That’s all well and good. But the truly satisfying part is being secure enough to buy something I really want to treat myself. That’s a good feeling. A grown up feeling.