Every week I eat lunch with a good friend of mine. Today I got a text from her reading: “If we eat together today-can we eat out? My house is a disaster”
REWIND: When this tradition began, we would usually eat at a little Mexican spot in town. After a few weeks, I requested that we eat in at her house instead since she works from home and her home is near my work.
I quite liked the local mexi place, and in all actuality it is closer to work than my friend’s house. But even for a cheap place, it isn’t cheaper than eating in.
FAST FORWARD: I just stared at the text trying to formulate some reasonable answer. For 20 or 30 minutes I fumbled around my keyboard, typing and erasing. I didn’t want to make her feel bad for suggesting an idea of which I’m not able to partake, but neither did I want to spawn pity or force her into an uncomfortable corner where she must permit me into her disaster area.
Finally I came up with this: “Where did you have in mind? Pretty much the reason I always want to eat in is because we just can’t afford to eat out right now.”
Big sigh.. feelings of guilt.. the heavy remembrance that our debt is truly more than I make in a whole year.
This was the first time I really had to confront the constraints that our finances bind us in. Let me be clear, this is not the first time I’ve turned down plans or given up online shopping, but it is the first time I had to openly admit to someone outside of my house that we literally don’t have enough money to do something many people do every day.
Recently at a work-thing, I struck up a conversation with a girl who works for one of our partners. She was telling me about the job she worked before this one. Her comment went something like this:
“Yeah, I was only making $— a year, and that is NOTHING!”
Turns out I make exactly $— a year.
At least I have benefits.
I think my point is that our poor-dom is relative. Relative to taste and culture and expectation. If we weren’t in debt from student loans, we would be getting by in the black. Yes we eat in and yes we use power strips to reduce our energy bill and yes all my winter sweaters have that nubby-look like they’ve been worn too many times.
But we eat vegetables and get all the major networks on our antenna.
We are not poor; I refuse that term in acknowledgement of the great percentages of this world starving, weather-beaten, and cold. So who am I to complain about debt as I bake cakes and sleep in a warm bed? Well, I’m not complaining.
Did I feel a little bad about telling my friend I couldn’t eat out today? Yes. Did I feel bad because I reject my socioeconomic status which prevents such a luxury? No, no I do not think entirely so. It would be a lie to say there isn’t a grain of that in my young mind somewhere. But, the paramount feeling I had in that text exchange, was the fear that my friend would feel poorly about suggesting an activity I couldn’t afford.
Learning to live with debt and accepting the ramifications of a low-income lifestyle has been a growing and stretching process. It has been the greatest teacher of priority, endurance, and creativity.
And ultimately, the lesson has been gratefulness; loving what we do have and forgetting what we don’t.
I can’t buy Givenchy eye creams and sometimes I cry because we’re out of Guinness for the month. But I make a really mean pumpkin muffin with ingredients bought entirely from Aldi.
Just another story of learning that the best things in life are free. But it’s my story. What’s yours? What are you grateful for today?