Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Out of the shadows

Last night I was pretty upset when a blog I had been working on about my new "spending diet" suddenly disappeared off the screen. I think it was a sign that writing about not buying a $2 book or an H&M sweater is full of sacrifice is very insipid and not something to which most of America could relate in a time when many Americans are out of work, losing their home or trying to put food on the table.

That said, I was distraught over technology taking my words away. So when my sweet, loving second child came in to give me a hug and tell me it would be OK, I did wrong thing -- I lashed out. "No TV for you tonight until you bring up that science grade." No matter that it was already 9:30 p.m. or that she simply wanted to distract me by offering to watch a "Friends" episode.

She quietly disappeared to her room where 20 minutes later I found her teary-eyed to offer an apology. It was too late really. Her compassion had been met with hostility. She just wanted to be left alone and I couldn't really blame her.

A little about this second child. She arrived three years after her sibling, the golden first-born whom doctors deemed "exceptionally superior" (or something along those lines) at birth. This child adored the older one, crawling to his room and banging on the door with her little toddler fist. We often joke that the older one raised the second one, spending hours together in make believe land with Barbies, toys and fantasy games.

Still, the younger one knew at a young age that she would have to forge her own path. When we put her in the gifted program so she would have equal opportunities as her sibling, she was really too young to protest. It wasn't until she switched schools in 6th grade that we saw that she had different social needs, individual talents and strengths and glaring social needs. Additionally, she didn't need to be labeled as "gifted" to show her intelligence, dry wit or writing skills.

Then came middle school. Suddenly the sweet, quiet little sister was growing into her own skin. She talked back and held her own in intellectual arguments thrown out by her self-labeled nerdy sibling. She talked in depth about an Edgar Allan Poe poem she read in school. She played all sports, joined choir and leadership and developed a fashion sense not held by anyone else in the immediate family, complete with hair straighteners (yes two), designer sweatpants and most recently, self-tanners.

Still, she was the one who could make us all laugh after dinner with silly songs on the ukulele about wiggly toes and jokes about talking muffins. The second born was the one who recently announced she wanted to  be, not a fashion model, but a special education teacher. Go figure?

She is the one I watch TV with, the one I paint my toes with and the one who gives me hugs even when I'm grumpy and mean.

Look out world. My second born is getting ready to fly!


Going on a spending diet

Like many Americans, I recently realized that if you spend more money than you bring in through a paycheck you will go into debt. This is a new experience for me because 1) my husband is German and debt is really not part of his DNA; 2) I learned the hard way in college that a free credit card in the mail does not really mean free when you figure in the 19% interest that comes with it and 3) one can always justify a purchase if you try hard enough...especially shoes!

The costs added up slowly...too much eating out, 6 months of karate lessons, political fundraisers, medical co-payments, unexpected tree removal after a storm, another mindless trip to Target and -- the most necessary expense we should have been saving for all along -- tickets to Peru.

As the Visa bill climbed close to our limit, my husband and I discussed yet again the whole formula about only buying what you need vs. what you want. I figured it should be simple. The whole living frugally thing is an ironic industry in itself with PBS shows, self-help books and Oprahesque coolness. I have a good income, my car is paid for and yet...

When I found myself over spring break vacation coveting little doo-dads and jewelry in northern California gifts shops and art galleries, I literally had to walk out. I tried in vain to justify it. To me, buying something on vacation is like helping the local economy. A visiting thank you note if you would. Not to buy something would, well, just be plain rude!

But no, this time I would be strong. Even the "Friends of the Library" book sale with $2 bestseller hardbacks did not break me. I thought if I saved $2 a day for a year I could almost have enough for two plane tickets to see my family in Oklahoma. It was really hard being an avid reader but gosh darn it it I did it! This must be what it feels like to say no to dessert while on that new protein diet. Or to meet friends for coffee instead of cocktails after you've decided to go on the wagon.

Now I know some people may resent the fact that I even have money to save. I am a bleeding heart and support my local nonprofits and help out where I can. I realize there are people out there who are struggling to make ends meet, put food on the table and who are losing jobs and homes. Let me say this: I am grateful not to be one of those people...today. I know that in a flash of fate my family and I could end up broke and wishing we had $2 for bread or a half gallon of milk. But for now, I'm going to count my blessings and my pennies and stay on my savings diet!