I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately, for obvious reasons. My theme song is the Stereophonics’ live track, “Every Day I Think About Money.” A couple days back I was elated when I was able to pay for 95% of my groceries with the coin I extracted from my piggy bank. (And, yes, it really is a piggy bank. It’s an upscale pottery pig, a high-falutin’ pig, but it’s a clay porker-broker indeed.)
These days, any self-worth I have comes from me. I can’t pad things with purchases. I can’t buy a little somethin’ somethin’ to make myself feel better. Others keep trying to spend money on me, and every time they do, a little more of my pride whittles away, despite the fact that I know they’re just trying to enjoy some time with me and see me satisfied. And, yes, as Marcellus Wallace would say, that’s pride fuckin’ wit’ me.
I’ve always been a proud person. I learned it from my mother. She was broke in the three years before her death, and we didn’t have a lot of money in my teens, either, but through it all, my mother never looked destitute, and she sure as shit never acted it. I try to live up to that. Sure, I falter at times, but such is life.
It’s easy, though, when you have money to spend yourself to a supposedly better state of mind. It’s easier still to try and spend your way out of guilt towards a loved one when you’re not being the lover/parent/spouse/friend you think you ought to be. I think we’ve all done this in the past. It’s too easy to not have done it.
We like to confuse the issue and pretend it’s generosity we’re providing, but it’s really not that. It’s absolution.
Back in the day, the Catholic Church filled its coffers by selling salvation. For a lofty price, you could contact a bishop and acquire yourself a church-sanctioned piece of salvation; as if giving God money could cause him to avert his judgmental gaze from you.
Nothing’s changed. We’re still the same. We “give at the office” so we can justify all our transgressions elsewhere. We buy our lovers gifts because we don’t have the time or energy to be with them, or worse, because we’ve lied to them or betrayed them. Well, it ain’t workin’. It’s the financial equivalent of trying to pull off a Band-aid slowly. What the fuck you thinkin’, Willis?
Money may make the world go round, but it also keeps the shrinks at bay long enough to delude ourselves that things aren’t really what we know they are.
The good thing about being broke like this is that I’m forced to go inside myself more and see what it is I value about me, to try and remember the simple things in life that bring me pleasure. Lying on a sofa on a dark, warm summer night with some music playing and just the streetlight slipping in through cracks in the curtains. Finding a nice bunch of economical ingredients and creating something new and wonderful in the kitchen while still making budget. Taking the long ride home on the scooter while dangling my sandal-clad feet off the side to get a breeze through the toes. Singing to myself and switching up familiar melodies with new phrasing and note combinations. Reading a good book in the bath.
And few of those cost any money, and whatever does cost money is something I’d be spending anyhow, so I just spend it wiser, is all.
I’ve been trying to avoid going into stores for the past few months, because this money-being-tight thing isn’t a recent development — it’s just more intense now than it’s ever been. But stores are made to make us want all the things we don’t have. That’s their nature. What’s worse is there’s a science behind marketing that most people are ignorant of.
Next time you’re in a supermarket, look at how it’s laid out. The meats on one side, the veggies on the other, and to get to either, you must pass all the processed and packaged shit that comes with higher markups. The lighting’s dimmer over the processed aisles, too, by some 30%, so you have to focus more to see what you’re looking for, and in so doing, you’re more likely to purchase something you don’t need. The brightest lighting, though, is over the checkout counters so you’re hyper alert and pay the right money, plus you move and act quicker so they save time on every transaction.
I’m on hyper-vigilant stand-by mode every time I enter stores these days. I’m conscious of my knowledge of marketing and subliminal sales tricks so I can try with all my heart to not spend a dime more than necessary. And I’m also conscious in reminding myself that it’s how I live my life, not what I fill it with, that brings me joy. It’s hard. It’s really hard. I’d love to get new headphones. My toaster oven has a Mensa-issued turn-on switch that requires a secret handshake and multiple acts of finagling just to get the fucker to toast. I’ve lost so much weight that all my clothes hang on me, and my pride’s taking a hit (fuck you, Marcellus; it is what it is).
But in the recent months I’ve acquired something money could never bring me before: Resourcefulness. Self-knowledge. Strength of self. A kind of inner peace I didn’t know existed.
Yeah, I still hate the 28-year-olds driving cars worth 30 times what my scooter’s worth, but I also know the looks of envy I get from them when I pull up at a stopsign in shorts and a t-shirt on a sweltering day, tapping my feet and singing to myself under my helmet. I glance over and a grin spreads on their faces as they nod, wondering why they’ve bought into the myth of the fancy car and the big monthly payments.
We each find happiness in different ways, but I’ll tell you one thing: It ain’t on your Visa bill, baby, nor is it in the cracks of your couch.