I recently posted our September food expenditures, commenting on our eating and shopping habits. The very best response I received came not on the blog itself, but from my close friend Katrina, who wrote in a recent letter: My mother would love your blogs about your food budget—and then she'd try to beat them so I'm glad I didn't have to see that. I turned to Warren and said "June Lofgren was a formidable cook." And she was. Katrina's words brought back a lot of warm memories about her mother and long ago times spent in their home, enjoying June's hospitality.
The same post also brought a pert rejoinder from reader Ellen Goldstein, who commented exuberantly on her own lifestyle choices ranging from parking to food. It was a great glimpse at how she approaches money and budgets, and I grinned when I read it.
All the same, I felt I was being scolded a bit, or at least challenged (as in "oh come on, now") when she wrote "Perhaps having such control over your finances gives [you] satisfaction."
Ouch! Do I detect a hint that I am a bit obsessed and should lighten up?
My first comment is that neither my husband nor I go to great lengths to be deliberately frugal. Neither of us hunch Scrooge-like over the ledger, counting the pennies and begrudging the lump of coal for the fire gone cold. Nor are we adopting frugality as a chic lifestyle. It is, as Warren said in response to reading the comments, "just the way we are."
My second observation is that, like Ellen, I do not hesitate to enjoy now what I own rather than setting it aside for some future day that may never come. My case in point is the complete set of gold-rimmed china that my uncle sent his younger sisters from Occupied Japan. My aunt and my mother kept their respective halves of the set boxed and untouched for decades. When I received the entire set, I proceeded to use it, sometimes daily. I was famous in my young mother days for serving toddlers on the china (they never broke a piece); I was famous in later days for hauling it out for pizza.
My third response is that there is an unspoken assumption in the gentle chiding. The unspoken assumption is that I have the means to not have to be concerned about money.
It has been a long time since I have written about our finances, but here is the short version. We have enough by any standard. We pay our bills monthly; we have no credit debt, not even a mortgage. (The lack of mortgage is because my husband purchased his house out of his parents' estates with a portion of his share, not because we were frugal and paid off a joint mortgage early.) The lights are on, we have heat in the winter, we eat well (if inexpensively), and we have suitable wardrobes.
That being said, we are not flush with extra money. Extra money? We are not flush, period. Both of us have modest incomes. Money is not so tight that spending an extra $100.00 a month on food would sink us, but we would still feel it.
As I type these words, I juggle in my head the financial landscape of the next few months. I am still in the process of replacing my car, presently relying on using Warren's when available or my dad's truck when not. Dad's truck is not a monster gas guzzler, but it still drinks heartily at the pump and my out of pocket gas expenses are higher right now. As soon as we get past the next few weeks, Warren and I can buckle down and search more seriously, but we had to get the season launched (last weekend) and have to get an out of town concert (tonight) over first. Because of jobs and treatment schedules, not to mention how I feel on any given day, our search windows are fairly narrow. I am looking at cars 10-12 years old, preferably under $2500 or, even better, under $2000. That amount will empty my emergency account and I may still end up borrowing from Warren.
Buying the car, a necessity for my job, will push a return trip to Oregon farther into the future.
But wait, there's more. December brings new insurance premium deductions from my paycheck. January resets my out of pocket and annual medical deductibles back to zero. This coming year, both the premiums and the deductibles are higher; the former modestly, the latter by quite a bit. With a trip to Mayo potentially looming in early 2017, I'll be paying some hefty amounts right out of the gate in 2017.
So our money landscape is layered and challenging.
But you know what? I don't care. We have enough. Enough is plenty. Enough means I do not feel deprived. Nor miserly. Nor miserable.
Maybe it is my Depression-era mentality. The stories my beloved Grandma Skatzes told me of raising her family through those years made a huge impression on me as a child. As my Aunt Ginger ages and tells me her memories, she has added even more details and depth to those tales. By the standards of that era, we are flush.
Maybe it is my work at court and with the Legal Clinic. In both environments, I take as a reality that many have to scrape, and scrape hard, to keep a roof over their heads and many more manage to keep food on the table only with the help of our local food pantries. That makes my "enough" look like a fortune.
And maybe it is because I have a lot bigger challenges facing me in the next few months than worrying about money.
In Matchless, a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, "The Little Match Girl," Gregory Maguire captures what I am trying to say so clumsily: The family was still hard pressed for money, and dreamed of savory treats to eat, but they had the warmth of each other, and enough on which to live, and in most parts of the world that is called plenty.
We have plenty. We always have plenty. And sometimes I serve it up on gold-rimmed china.