Of necessity, about 15 years ago I read "The Tightwad Gazette", a newsletter by Amy Dacyczyn, which had been compiled into a book-actually, 3 books. Along with ideas for spending less, she wrote about the ways that we think about and use our money.
Her "feast or famine" observation caught my attention. She demonstrated how we tend to spend freely when we have money, with the inevitable consequence of feeling deprived when funds became low- forcing a change in our spending habits, resulting in a sense of being "poor". For some this was a weekly cycle (payday spending), for others, monthly or following any kind of windfall- a bonus check, a tax refund, proceeds of a sale etc. But it isn't our income level, she argued, that make us feel deprived- it is the up and down level of our spending habits.
A more satisfying way to live, she continued, is to keep our spending levels as even as possible. Whatever our income, spending similarly through good times and bad enables us to better weather the leaner times without feeling deprived, while learning to appreciate those things that we do have. This, she correctly stated, is the habit of many of the most wealthy folks- those multi-bizillionaires that drive their cars for 20 years before replacing them with a similar, practical model, for example.
It does make sense, and I have to say that her books truly helped us to get through those super lean years, not just in terms of finding ways to eat and clothe ourselves on a budget, but also in learning new perpectives- the many ways, for instance, that frugal choices are also often better environmental choices and better lifestyle choices. Frugal choices also lead to a simplified lifestlye, reducing stress, emphasizing connections to family and friends, leading to a greater sense of well-being. Frugal choices are also choices- which you can make and own. Doing this prior to finding yourself in desperate times gives you more control and that, also, increases your sense of general satisfaction.
Having very little money needn't mean failure, though our culture can make it seem so. Some people still associate wealth with "hard work and success" rather than the luck and circumstance that they really are. I shouldn't have to try to convince anyone that the "poor" work damn hard too. And success means something so disassociated from a bank account that it's hard to believe how caught up in that lie Americans have become.
But I digress.
My point was- feast or famine. Well, back when I first needed to understand these things I had to pull through some very rough years. It made me determined to continue living frugally in order to better prepare to weather another famine, should that happen. And we did so, for a few years.
But steady paychecks have a lulling effect and old habits crept back- buying pizza instead of making it, shopping at the mall for the kids (though the same exact clothes were available at the Salvation Army for pennies on the dollar- but took longer to find), renting movies instead of making the trip to the library before closing time. In short, we got lazy.
And losing the hard-won perspective of the lean times was simply, ultimately, foolish.
Because here we are again. Fortunately, this time we don't have to worry about the kids, just us. And we are no strangers to doing without. The good news is that we've been here before and we know we'll be okay. Not really a big deal, in the long run. We still have everything we need- food enough, if dull and repetitious (oh yay, pasta and beans again). We have a gorgeous place to live, walk, run, and hang out in (being poor in Sussex county is so much easier than being poor in Essex county- I gotta say). We have each other, and healthy, thriving children. We have four cars, and two that actually work, most of the time. We have tools for fixing things, a sewing machine, a coffee maker, the internet. It's enough. Really, when you think about it, it is more than enough.
Which brings me to the folks in Pakistan. When the floods came, they lost what little they had- their homes. Made of mud. When your home is made of mud, and you get flooded, there's no going back in and cleaning up after the water recedes. It's gone. Complete, total devastation. You are now living on the ground, with the sky as your roof. In mud. It is hard to imagine. That is one reason I chose to help these people by doing the 5k and raising funds for them. I wasn't sure what kind of response I might get, given the anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan sentiment these days, but I figured I'd go ahead and do what I really wanted to do anyway. I have family there- not family I've ever met, and not blood-related- but family nevertheless. Which made it seem even more of the right choice. And as I said before- to paraphrase Mother Theresa (not my favorite lady but since so many of you love her) "We all belong to each other".
And here is what happened. People gave. People supported me. People who love me, and people who don't even know me. People from my past and my present. Work people, church people, school people, Essex county people, Sussex county people, old friends, new friends and family people. I was and am awed and humbled folks would contribute for this and help me to have a successful run and fundraiser. And I thank you all for this, for giving your money but also for the opening of your heart that had to take place first. I hope that you are all in a wonderful feast time of your life, and that it goes on forever, but I also know that if you are or ever will be in a famine time- you will be ok. Better than ok. By sheer virtue of living here- luck and circumstance- you will have more than the flood victims have, even in your worst times- and because your hearts are open you will also have the love of family and friends no matter what. So thank you. Blessings.
The final tally (as of today) is $264.25. I'm sending it out today, and I'm thrilled to be able- thank you all.