First ridiculous event of 2016

I am weak, this I know. It took only one night of frigid temps for me to break my post-holiday “eat healthy” vow with a mug of sugary, milky, calorie-laden chai latte. Standing in front of the microwave, my fleece throw wrapped around me, I hoped the two minutes I’d punched on the timer would be long enough for the cats to finish eating for the 47th time so I could get my sweet fix and get back to the couch and my movie (Eat Pray Love).

Then, BANG!

The cats went flying and I flew to the back door to see my still fully intact Halloween pumpkin, which I had so jauntily perched on top of the grill with a pair of glittery red Christmas bells wrapped around it, rolling along the driveway. I made it outside just in time to see the pumpkin turning the corner and starting down our steep driveway. Just out of my reach, it ricocheted against the berm of the planting bed and back out onto the pavement, picking up speed. I tried flinging my fleece at it to slow it down — futile. Now it was a big orange bumpety bowling ball, headed straight down the alley, with me chasing after it in the 20-degree darkness, in my holey slippers, hoping the pavement wasn’t icy and I wouldn’t kill myself.

Down Big Orange went, careening across the street (thank God no cars just then) and right up the concrete ramp my neighbor Nancy had just replaced her front steps with, probably in anticipation of the knee replacement she needs.

BANG!

Right into her front door.

(shit)

I paused, only halfway down the driveway. I imagined the oozing bits of smashed pumpkin all over her stoop. The 10-year-old in me considered turning and running back inside — she’d never know it was my pumpkin. But no, I did the adult thing, running through the curbside slush to assess the damage. A miracle — no smash! But I had to search for Big Orange in her yard (why is it so damn dark everywhere?!), expecting to see her fling open her front door in a panic any second as Gracie barked and barked on the other side.

She didn’t appear. Maybe she wasn’t home (though her car was out front). Maybe she didn’t hear it (not likely). Or maybe she thought “No way in hell I’m going to see who/what just pounded on my front door.”

I’ll fess up next time I see her (so, like, April or May).

In the meantime, I retrieved Big Orange (still solid as a rock — clearly a superior squash), race-walked back up the driveway, recovered my flung fleece, deposited Big Orange on the bench by the back door, retrieved the worse-for-the-wear glittery red Christmas bells, and went back to my chai.

It needed another 30 seconds. And I completely forgot the whipped cream. So, bright spot, the diet’s not fully trashed after all.

“Life was a little like that, I guess.
We’d spend so long chasing after something already in motion,
always out of reach and calling, just ahead.”

~ Mackenzie Herbert, Chasing Trains

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If I had a dollar…

…apparently I’d spend most of it.

Our helpful credit card company compiled an annual rundown of our spending in 2013 — all neatly categorized. It was eye-opening and more than a little scary. We use this card as much as possible to get the points, which we cash in to add to our vacation fund. The total was scary, the individual category amounts were scary, the idea that we spend so much money was scary, and understanding that this spending does not include mortgage, property taxes, insurance, or utilities was — is — terrifying.

Of course it all makes sense — it stands to reason if we earn X and save Y there’s a Z in there (for zpending) that’s big scary number. But I never really considered us to be zpendy people. We’re careful to not build up debt. I’m not one to buy pricey shoes or clothes or makeup or manicures (Mike isn’t either). We have gadgets (PCs, laptops, tablet, Kindle), but only got smartphones in the last year and older-generation, used ones to boot, and our carrier is a no-name, cheap one. We’ve taken 4 (maybe 5) non-lavish vacations in 8 years (and that wasn’t nearly enough). I can be a little crunchy/thrifty — I make my own laundry detergent and shower cleaner, wash and reuse plastic bags, avoid toll roads….little things.

And yet…numbers don’t lie. Some spending we can’t do anything about — gas is what it is (and it’s a lot, due to Mike’s long commute every day). Fixer-upperhood is expensive — home improvements/maintenance are never-ending, and copious amounts (Lowe’s & HD cards, paying the occasional contractor) aren’t even on the card.

But on the “maybe we can economize” side, we do give Walmart a lot of money — mostly for food, because Giant Eagle is too dang expensive. Plus we eat out on top of that (and it doesn’t include fast food or coffees that we pay cash for). Should it really cost $6K a year for two people to eat? And yeah, we have a lot of vehicles — not my preference — so there’s car maintenance (not to mention insurance; not on the card). There’s Target and Big Lots (and Sam’s doesn’t take the card, so that’s extra, too.). And geez, I just realized for some reason the PetSmart spending isn’t even on here — that’s odd, considering we almost always buy cat food and litter there. It would have been interesting to see what that amounted to.

So, what’s the lesson here?

Do I need to make a budget? We don’t have a budget for anything, especially not food. We talk about eating out less, and I push for it, but since I’m the one who does all the shopping and cooking, I’m also the one who’s happy to eat out to give myself a break. Frankly, I’m not sure how I’d even stick to a food budget — I’ve never done that (and obviously it shows). We could live off our pantry for quite a while — do I stockpile too much for just the two of us?

And then, on the other hand, I vacillate on the whole saving vs. spending thing. We’re beyond middle age these days, we don’t have kids, we both work, and will likely be working for many years yet. Sure, it’s important to save for old age, and no, we don’t have a huge retirement fund, but what if we don’t make it that far? Should we be so very careful now, foregoing those weekend Egg McMuffins, the pricier organic Greek yogurt, and those flats of summer annuals to save for a future that might never come?

Could we save more? Surely. Should we save more? Absolutely. Will we save more? Probably not, unless one of us loses our job or some other catastrophe befalls us. And you know what? If we do or it does, will I regret the money spent and not saved? Maybe. But it might just as well be that I look back on those less-than-frugal days, those “let’s get 2 of the bottles of on-sale wine” or “let’s stop for Chinese takeout” with fondness.

And who knows, now that I have a baseline “target,” maybe I’ll be inspired to try to make the next year-end summary a bit less scary. But then, that would mean fewer points and less cash back. Which means less for the vacation fund (and more pulled from savings). How’s that adage go again? A dollar spent is 1% (sometimes 5%!) cash-back earned?

We are not to judge thrift solely by the test of saving or spending.
If one spends what he should prudently save, that certainly is to be deplored. 
But if one saves what he should prudently spend, that is not necessarily
to be commended. 

A wise balance between the two is the desired end. 
~Owen Young

There I go again

Remember when you were a teenager (especially junior high) and all you wanted to do was fit in? Have “normal” clothes that everyone else had, hair that everyone else had, perhaps Bonnie Bell lipsmacker or a shirt with a little alligator on it? Maybe a pink streak in your hair or an all-black wardrobe (depending on your social circles)?

OK, maybe you weren’t like that — maybe you were mature enough or independent enough or smart enough not to care about superficial stuff like clothes and hair and accessories. Maybe you were always an original. I was none of those things. I just wanted to fit in — and I didn’t, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Now, at post-middle age (unless I live to be quite old, at which case I am still middle-age), I think I’ve finally achieved it — I fit in with my peer group. In fact, when I’m out and about these days, in the places where middle-class suburbanites go, I see me. Women of a certain (middle+) age, wearing virtually the same clothing (capris because, hello, no way we’re wearing shorts), sandals, a top (sleeveless or tank, if the arms can handle it, or a colored tee or maybe a peasant-type top). We have one of a couple hairstyles…mostly short, mostly the same few colors (because there really aren’t a lot of choices on the shelf), mostly trying to hide the fact that we have much less hair than we used to.

We all get called “ma’am” regularly, and while we still don’t like it, we’re used to it. Most of us get called Mom. Some of us even get called Grandma. When we’re with a man, he’s likely gray, slightly paunchy, wearing the standard guy uniform of something khaki with some kind of golf or tee-shirt, and sandals, tennies, or loafers.

It’s not so much that I’m trying to fit in anymore. It’s just that, at this age and with this body, I just do. We certain-agers all look alike. Sure, there are the few standouts among us who can still rock the shorts, or the skinny jeans, or the yoga pants, or whatever the latest trendy look is. But for most of us, we’ve accepted we’ll never be “that size” again, and happily delude ourselves by ignoring the fact  that today’s sizes are at least two (or five) sizes bigger than the same size used to be. (No lie, we found a fabulous two-piece dress among my mother’s things — sleeveless, sparkly dark green. I didn’t remember her wearing it, but my sisters did. It’s marked only with a size tag — 14. It fits like a 4, meaning I can’t fit into it. We all kept marveling about how thin my mom was for most of her life. She always said I, her 7th and last child, was the one who ruined her figure. Sorry, Mum.)

Looking back, I think this trend toward homogeneity starts in one’s 30’s and just keeps getting stronger — right up until we’re all wearing stretch pants (not the good kind) and big flowery blouses and sensible shoes. I was reading an article in Pitt’s alumni magazine the other day about a group of college friends who stayed friends for 40+ years. And yes, in their group picture, posing with their wives, they all pretty much looked alike.

I’m mostly OK with it — there’s comfort in sameness. Security, even. Belonging. It’s probably why I always wanted to fit in, to have a place in the crowd.

Now I do. I’m middle-age-ish woman No. 42,239,471. Smile when you see me — everywhere.

uniform

It’s sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.
~ Brigitte Bardot

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