And of course, after spending an hour waiting in line with a two year old and a four year old at the comcast building, and finally getting things worked out, I returned home to just such a comment, which I'm sure was written in the nicest possible anonymous way (but then again, it can be hard for a blogger to attribute niceness to a questionable comment when it's anonymous... I do tend to give posters who leave a name more of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to that sort of thing), but that offered food for the thought for the rest of the day, ultimately culminating in this post as an explanation of sorts. Forgive me if the explanation is somewhat jumbled.
Tone is hard to decipher online in a comment box, and there's certainly a good chance that aforementioned anonymous commenter doesn't fall into the category that I'm about to describe, but the comment did bring to mind a trend that I've seen more and more of late, that I find... disheartening. Again, yesterdays comment didn't directly embody this sentiment, but it got me thinking about it and in that way inspired this morning's post.
You see, in comment boxes around the web, articles, and facebook status updates, I see a tendency to rant about the choices that we see other people making as we go about our daily lives. The comments I'm thinking of usually involve a certain measure of self righteousness, that make us feel good about our own choices, while expressing disgust over what someone else is spending their money on. "Can you believe that that obviously poor family with little kids was wasting their money eating fast food? Don't they know that they can buy nutritionally rich items at a grocery store for much less and make much healthier meals, that will last much longer, for the same price?" Or "Today I saw a poor family with a shopping cart full of junk!" which seems to be a frequent point of commiseration I see in comments on political articles.
I understand that many of us are frustrated about what's going on politically in our country right now. We're frustrated because there are people who take advantage of the system. We're frustrated because the system is broken and no one seems to know how to fix it and because "make it bigger" doesn't seem like an awesome fix for repairing deep underlying flaws and that the problems will likely be magnified if we handle them by throwing money at them and hoping they go away. I get that. I really do.
Yet, at the same time, my soul feels sick when I see the lack of charity which seems to be the go-to emotion when observing our fellow man these days. It's almost like we go out looking for the worst in the people around us, hoping they'll confirm our outrage at a system that is far from perfect and justify the anger that we feel with the politicians who will likely amplify the problem.
So worry about what's going on in our country. Pray. Speak out. Rally. Vote. Offer your fellow man a hand up and show him that "charity" doesn't have to come from the government. And the next time you see someone who's making a spending decision that you think is unwise, pause, say a little prayer for them and for yourself, and try not to rush to a conclusion that might be true, but just as well, may not be. Maybe that mom taking her kids out to fast food slaves over a hot stove all month and now they're going out for a treat.
The other half of my reaction to yesterday's comment, was an inspiration to start writing more again on frugal living and what I do around here to scrimp and save. I used to write about it quite a bit more when I regularly posted my "living on a little" series, but the last year or so has been so hectic that all of my formerly "regularly scheduled posts" have disappeared. I think at least trying to pick up where I left off would be helpful... although I'm not sure how consistent any regular post will be at the moment since things are going to be a little bit crazy around here in the coming months.
And to answer the question of "how can you afford a luxury item like cable..." Here goes... because for some reason, I do feel compelled to justify the expense and explain how it came about:
I scrimp and save and clip coupons and spend hours online looking at sales so that, when I go to the store, I can knock a $600 bill down to $20 (although our stockpile was so big when we left California that I was able to take a year off of couponing and even after giving away 3/4 of my stash to charity and yet we were able to live of the remnants until now.. and so two weeks ago I began buying papers again).
I make much of what we need: knitting, crocheting and sewing whenever my hands aren't busy cooking and cleaning and wiping little faces. The girls both need new sweaters and long sleeved shirts and I'm scavenging material from old sweaters that I haven't fit into in years to make them, rather than paying $17 for the ones on sale at the local store. And when it was time to buy baby boy clothes? I went to Once Upon a Child during one of their super sales and bought an entire baby boy wardrobe for $80 (which filled a dresser with outfits that were 0-9 months).
I've learned to use many, many different kinds of beans in unusual ways so that my family doesn't even realize that they aren't eating meat unless it's pointed out (the right seasonings can go a long way!). And I cook gigantic batches of food (often bulking said food up by adding beans to it) to save money. I grate and mix and blend and make our own cleaning supplies. I make nearly all the gifts we give the girls. And over the course of our marriage I've grown hundreds of vegetable plants so that we were giving away vegetables by the bag full, even when we were scrimping and saving to get by, because we couldn't keep up with our gardens bounty (and thankfully, with a yard again, I'll be able to kick start growing our own food after winter again).
I run three stores and stay up late working on them Every. Single. Night. I can literally count the days I've "taken off" from "work" in the past five months on one hand, although this pregnancy does mean I'm working around 30-40 hours a week instead of 50-60 (my body just won't buy that I don't need sleep these days). And, yes, I look around the house at night and wonder if I'll ever catch up and make it the way I'd like it to be from the picture that I've somehow come up with in my head (usually one room matches... and I give the others up as a loss until the next day, when said clean room is messy and another room gets to be clean...).
I guess you could say that I do more than some to get by, but far less than others. I certainly see ways that I could cut back... and struggle with feeling guilty about not mustering the energy to do more or with having the self control to say "no" more often when I buy something that is a treat of some kind.
But the thing is, when I knew that my husband, who generally asks for nothing for himself, really, really wanted cable so that he could see the local games and the Red Sox and Patriots games that he'd be missing without it I thought... yeah... you know what... I'll make a few more snoods each month. I mean, the guy leaves in the morning, comes home for dinner and then studies until midnight, pretty much every single night. Maybe it would be nice if he could take two hours off to watch a game on Saturday... And hey, it will help distract me when I'm tired and sore and everyone is in bed or studying and I still have four more hours of work to do... And so I suggested that it was his birthday present, since much of the time we don't do presents for the adults in our little family. I'll admit it... splurged on something entirely unnecessary.
And yes... I still felt guilty about buying it, which was probably why yesterday's comment did bother me and why I wrote this post today... because it is "a luxury" that we could do without. But sometimes, when you spend the rest of the time getting by, one little unnecessary "luxury" can really mean a lot.