Last year, my husband walked into our floral shop and said, “What can I get for nine dollars?” This Valentine’s Day was better. Not because I got a third rose or because we’ve risen above poverty level (although I did, and we have), but because we’re at peace, mostly, with what we can’t have.
We date in coffee shops, on hiking trails, in our unfinished living room (not no mo’. It stinks.). Last night we branched out (he made me) and we went out – for food.
And there we were, glaringly uncultured in a Japanese restaurant, trying to figure out what to do with the soup, surrounded by younger couples (we feel like babies – I forget that couples come littler than us), apparently bored by our chef’s flying knife show and ordering extras for their rare steaks.
I still haven’t stifled the knee-jerk reaction of feeling inferior around people with money – not just the filet mignons and extra noodles of the world – but those who can go to the dentist, whose cars predictably start. But we’re doing it together. There’s a camaraderie in that alone. Like it’s our secret that we wrap our change, glue our shoes back together – that we’re slowly mastering the art of the dirt cheap life.
It’s embarrassing to require a budget meeting every time someone asks us to split a pizza, but the first principle of the dirt cheap life is to savor small things.
That’s because something about small things makes them big things and makes life rich. If you can afford a quarter pound of coffee beans and a trip to the library, you are rich.
(Actually, if you can afford a warm bed and clean water, you’re rich, though by the standards of the whole world and not your neighbors’.)
If you have a dog who keeps you warm when you freeze to shrink your electric bill, you are rich, even if she kicks you in the face in her dreams. If you can take phone calls, sleep in, take a hike, use all your limbs, savor good food or small steps in a new and right and hard direction, friend, you are rich.
When we make my student loan payment every month I comfort myself with the proverb: knowledge is better than riches. (It had better be.) For Christmas I received a dog calendar, featuring quotations about how having a dog makes you rich even if you’re poor by every other standard. I like that calendar.
In this phase of uncertainty (life, side of extra uncertainty please) and radical choices that jeopardize our last threads of imagined security (I quit my job), it is good to remember that we have enough, that life is more than money and the image of security and responsibility that it lends – and that there are good reasons to dive headlong into the unknown.