You try to live out your faith. You thank God every morning for your blessings and ask that you be a blessing to others. People ask you for money frequently. One friend waiting on a disability check asks for seven hundred and fifty dollars. Your writing coach borrowed thousands of dollars and paid back some before an article came out in the Los Angeles Times that she is a con artist. She scammed you out of nearly two thousand dollars. It’s not that you are rich. Well, that is relative. Compared to many people in California with a crushing cost of living, even having spare change for laundry is rich.
You are a saver. Most of your life you have saved. You live below your means. You practice gratitude, which makes you thankful for the things you have without the desire to buy more. You accept hand-me-downs. Your black leather couch that is an electric recliner was your father-in-law’s. Your favorite brown writing chair was your mother’s. Your post-modern table and chairs you bought from the estate of a couple who passed away. Your computer is second-hand. Not much in your condo came to you new. Almost everything has a story, a life before it ended up here. Other homes. Other owners. A history.
You go grocery shopping at an outlet center, it is more like an adventure than a chore. One week you buy organic carrots, the next week, beets are in their place. One week you buy white cheddar, and the following week you find mozzarella. You never know what is going to fill your refrigerator or pantry each week. When you save over one hundred dollars at the store, they announce it over the loudspeaker for all the other shoppers to hear, and they ring a large bell. You cheer loudly, yelling, “Woo-Hoo! Woo-Hoo!” You love to save.
You used to enter sweepstakes as a hobby, and you won a trip around Europe on a Harley Davidson that you and your spouse didn’t take because it was right after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 and the world seemed scarier, more threatening, and less safe. You also won a trip to New York to see the Steinway Piano factory, go to Carnegie Hall, and an exclusive after-party. You stayed in the Waldorf Astoria, and you took a picture of the menu because the burgers cost twenty-three dollars, and that was over ten years ago. You won a trip to Philadelphia, where the sponsors rented you a white limo with crushed velvet seats and disco lights. You went to the opening of Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant and had an eight-course meal each dish paired with an increasingly expensive saki. You ate blowfish, which you learned could kill you if not prepared correctly.
You like to join reward programs to receive perks and save money. You love the word, free. Free will get you to go to grand openings, grocery stores, and events that without that word, you would have avoided. You have eighty-four rolls of toilet paper stacked up in your closet because you can’t help but buy it every time it goes on sale. You have a five-gallon jug full of pennies because you pick up all the coins you see in the street. You tried department store credit cards once in your life and then quickly cut them up when you understood the actual cost of interest. You buy everything with your credit card to get reward points, but you pay it off in full each month. You make a game out of how low you can get your monthly bill.
You boil sponges that get dirty to increase their lifespan. You save bags, recycle, shop at thrift stores, share books with a wide circle of friends, walk, ride the bus, and only use about one tank of gas every three to four weeks.
So, when your friend asked you to start helping her with her bills a year ago, you did even though you knew from experience, she would never pay you back. You paid her rent with a credit card. You sent her cash she could pick up at Walmart. You tucked forty dollars into a book and sent it her way. Then you found out about the alcohol and the opioids. You started to unravel all the lies. Because you live your life in saving mode, you have the money to lend, but after months you decide not to send any more. You wonder if not helping your friend that you have known since childhood even though you can afford to is an insult to God. You decide not sending money may be better for her. She lives in her car. You struggle fiercely with what to do. You think about how rock bottom must be a myth because surely she has hit it, but continues to use.
She stops calling you. You assume her silence is anger for making the cash dry up. Her sisters keep you updated. You pray. You text her little notes. You type, “I love you.” You don’t know if she spits when she reads that or if it gives her hope. You don’t know what to do.
You think about your life; your coffee in the morning while curled up in your favorite patched quilt and an overstuffed chair. You are warm. You are comfortable. You are safe. You are content.
You start spending even less money. Your friend living on the streets without anything consumes your thoughts. She can’t have Starbucks. You won’t have Starbucks. She can’t eat a veggie burger or fries. You will eat at home every night. You start to notice that your frugal lifestyle is one of great luxury. You give up your favorite cookies. You make all the coffee, smoothies, and sandwiches at home. You realize you are extravagant and spoiled compared to your friend. No matter how frequently you say no to yourself, no matter how many dollars you trim from monthly expenses, you live so far from someone on the streets or in their car.
You discover you don’t know the first thing about sacrifice or saving.