I grew up eating government cheese and wearing Dollar General jelly shoes that gave me bleeding blisters. When I was very young we raised pigs to slaughter and stored homegrown root vegetables next to the coal in the basement to make it through the winter. We were sustainable chic before it was hipster. When you’re six you think breakfast for dinner once a week is an awesome treat. When you grow up you realize eggs and chipped beef gravy at 6 pm just means you’re fucking poor. Especially when you went to the chicken coop and picked the eggs yourself.
I’m no stranger to stretching a dollar, it’s practically tattooed on my DNA, but lately it feels like that dollar might finally snap from the pressure. Particularly tonight, eating a frittata (which is just eggs disguised as fancy schmanzy) that has to last for at least three more meals. Add in the vision of my completely empty wine racks, 20 slots looking painfully lonely, and my stress alien Fred is readying a Rockefeller mansion in my shoulder blades. This time there’s no Russian Rubdown to tear down his walls. In fact, financial anxiety is his best building material, far stronger than any brick.
I remarked on the dejected visage of my wine racks to an acquaintance because they look so abandoned I almost hear a crest fallen wah-waahh echoing in my head. He seemed incredulous, spouting “But you have a Real People Job.” Yeah. And Real People Bills. Like a Real People Mortgage in a single income house. Which led to an almost lecture about the recommended ratio of income to living expense that I promptly cut off. The recommended ratio is 28% of your income before taxes. My mortgage is 25%. Suck it my friend. Don’t try to Suze Orman me. Unless you’re bringing me wine ….. Then we can budget together over a nice Pinot all you want.
So, how did I get here with racks bare of the grapes most magic elixir, rifling through the sock drawer to find the pair with the least amount of holes? It’s not like HSN is my catnip. There’s no secret hoard of ShamWows and Slap-Chops in my house. The bumper of my paid off car is held in place by zip-ties and I’ve collected a lovely pile of broken off parts … like the handle of the glove box. And the door. The idea of clothes, shoe or purse shopping for “fun” horrifies me. It would be my 10th circle of Hell. Right next to the 9th circle where I’m forced to StairMaster my way to nowhere while Aqua’s Barbie Girl plays on an endless loop. Google it. You’ll hear why. The racks are bare and I continue to wear bras with at least one wayward bent hook, whose only purpose now is to dig into my back rather than “hook”, because I spend my money like a responsible adult and pay the bills first. Fuck Adulting. Where are the bubbles? Oh. Right. I keep them on the bookshelf just in case I’m in a Fuck Adulting kind of mood.
By all outward appearances I’m financially stable. People assume I have my proverbial shit together. And I do for the most part. My bills are paid on time without fail. I keep an anal retentive, Type A spreadsheet of my debt to track its decline and identify exactly when and why it may raise instead. Like a new boiler. New windows to replace the improperly sealed and leaking ones the previous owners DIYed (Bob Villa they were not). The contractor. The plumber. The contractor again. We’ve become great pals, me and the contractor. Not besties like my bug guy who helped with the Ants in the Dishwasher but first name friends. Where one friend hands over a giant check to the other friend.
I chose the Single Girl Mortgage. I knew it would be hard. But what was the other option? Stay in an apartment that raises the rent every year in perpetuity, waiting on some imaginary white knight to help me slay the financial dragon? I’ll take the hard road alone over the one not taken out of fear for the tangled underbrush any day.
I am getting it done in Single Girl Strong fashion but sometimes Fred likes to remind me all it would take is one serious setback to rip the rug out. I feel far from stable. It’s a constant subtle wearing, like a river current beating a rock until its worn smooth. The winter months are whitewater. The gas bill goes from $15 to $150. Fresh food is more expensive. Bills I only pay annually or bi-annually roll in. Normally I have more than adequate savings to cover, which is exactly why I have two savings accounts. One for emergencies and big things that I try not to touch. One for the once to twice a year expenses or to cover a month slightly short. Don’t Suze Orman me because I Suze Orman myself constantly. Since January I’ve pretty much emptied those accounts. I paid my bills. Then I paid my contractor. Then I paid off my emergency credit card with my emergency savings for vacation expenses that were supposed to be someone else’s responsibility (and thus also fortifying the strength of my control and trust issues—hello crunchy shell). After it had already been raided for some unexpected car expenses. I don’t need the handle to the glove box. I do need tires in a Northeastern winter. This leaves the reserves dry and me holding my breath nothing breaks until the tax refund comes in and the coffers can be replenished. There’s $22.53 left in my checking account until the next payday. Next week. Fred is strapping on a hard hat and measuring for an Olympic size pool straight down my lower back.
I know I’m not poverty stricken. I own a lovely, cozy home. I am fed. I am clothed. I have indoor plumbing and healthcare. Tiny Logic Person with her clipboard is back (learn all about her when One Flew Outta the Cuckoo’s Wreath), shaking her head at my First World Whining. I am lucky and grateful to live in a place in the world where a single, smart woman has even a chance to own property. It could be worse. It has been worse in my own life. But living paycheck to paycheck has my stress alien Fred getting out the backhoe and digging another foundation. He really wants that pool.
I could get a roommate. It has been suggested but a decade living alone does not make for reticent space sharing. As a pseudo vegetarian (maybe from the pig slaughtering in my impressionable years, draw your own conclusions), if I’m letting someone slide salami into the crisper of my actual refrigerator it’s going to be someone who is sliding the salami into my proverbial crisper. Yes. That was a sex joke about who I would choose to live with in case a reader’s Puritanical roots were confused. Proceed. Spring is coming. Utilities will go down. The refund should be in within the next two weeks. So, for now I’ll just continue with coupon clipping and muttering to myself as I keep a running tally on my calculator down the grocery store aisles. I am that shopper. I’ll forgo craft beer. And brand name laundry detergent. And turn to this guy:
Yes. I’ve turned to boxed wine. He’s budget friendly. Four bottles in one box! He’s the 1 am booty call of wine that makes me feel a little slummy. He’s fulfilling a need but like my dirty little secret affair, tapped and waiting in my fridge. Good thing I have no shame. I already love a good wine with a screw off cap. It was just a matter of time before I stepped over to the wrong side of the tracks. Whatever it takes to keep this budget on track…