Today I found myself stressing about finances — again.
All I can think about is how much I am in debt, how much time it will get out of debt, and what to do if my current job ends. My partner and I are not struggling, but the weight of future years and figuring out how much we need to save if we are to retire is becoming heavier.
This can lead to a whirlwind of stressing about the future, of regret for not having saved more earlier, of worrying about how to spend in the present.
The gratitude in the present
Breathing, I try to be grateful, knowing that will pull me into the present. In the last month of trying to name things I’ve been grateful for, I’ve found it’s easier to be grateful for things when there’s contrast (more grateful for a shower when you are cold, more grateful for food when you are hungry). With that in mind, instead of focusing on how little I have, I made a conscious effort to think of what I have in contrast to when I was young.
When I was young
When I was young, we had p&j sandwiches for lunch each day. We went to restaurants only on our birthdays (and sometimes, on special occasions, McDonalds). For dinner we had hamburger helper, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, cheeseburger pie, and on very special occasions pancakes or hamburgers.
Treats, such as Coca Pebbles, M&Ms, Snickers, were rare. We were allowed the sweet cereals on weekends, but even then if you didn’t wake up early enough the box could be completely empty from other ambitious siblings.
We were allowed to watch TV only on Sundays, and that was to watch football. If we wanted to watch a movie, we had to decide what to watch between the five of us, and we often ended up watching the same VCR tape over and over again (Maverick, While You Were Sleeping, Shanghai Noon, The Princess Bride, The Prince of Egypt).
When we finally bought a computer, it had to be shared amongst seven of us. That meant we had to be incredibly vigilant to reserve our spot if we wanted to use it. We were only allowed to play computer games, and not allowed to search the web (only for research purposes).
There was only one bathroom. Which meant very long lines on Sunday morning and a rule against locking the door when taking a shower.
My clothes were all hand-me-downs from family and family-friends. It always incredibly exciting when a whole box of colorful clothes showed up to dig through. Sometimes there’d be arguments on who could have what, the pecking order of age always ensued (as a middle child, I was lucky — my baby sister — not so much).
We never went on a plane, but drove where we could. The van would be packed with all of us in it, and inevitably on the long rides one of us would get car sick and scramble to pullover.
It’s a bit funny, because these things were just part of life. Not good, not bad, just were. I never thought that we had less, which is a big part from the love of our parents and them never talking about finances in front of us.
There were hints of feeling like we had less, but only from visiting friends’ bigger homes or friends visiting other parts of the country by plane.
I think for what we did have less in materials, we definitely made up for in the adventure/love/being that we were as a family.
Present: My Rich, Luxurious Life
I’m currently stressed about finances, but, choosing to look at my life in contrast to what was before, it’s odd that I am stressed. It seems actually quite rich and luxurious.
I’m currently in a stable job making the same that my father did for a family of seven.
I’ve been on a dozen plane trips, and lived in several parts of the world. My younger self who dreamed of being in a plane would be thrilled to hear this.
Whenever I want to buy a sweet I can. I can also eat it without stressing that anyone else will eat it before me.
I can buy new clothes for myself (that actually fit me), and when I do choose to buy hand-me-downs in the form of thrifted items, I do so by choice.
I get to eat more healthily as I have more knowledge of what to eat and can afford to purchase non-bulk items.
I live in a house with two bathrooms, and I never have to wait or lock the door when taking a shower.
My boyfriend and I get take out every weekend, not every year.
I can watch practically anything I want to watch, and rarely watch reruns of something. I now also don’t have to rewind tapes or have a movie stop halfway because of a scratch (that was so frustrating).
What’s odd is that, from the material side of things, my life is much richer, but I don’t feel richer.
When we didn’t have much and I didn’t know it, I felt much richer than I do now. I think part of this is because you get to used to what you have, and part of it is because my life is lonelier than it was before — there are simply less people and community around me.
My younger self would’ve been proud of me. It would be difficult to explain to her that the gnawing feeling of wanting more, that I know she feels and wrestles with, still remains in her older self.