Affording a Good, If Not the Best, Me

An update on my Best Self.

Photo credit: Mary-Lynn (cropped), CC BY 2.0.

About a year ago, I wrote an article wondering if I would ever be able to afford my best self. Now, when I think about the question, I feel like I have a very firm answer.

No. Or at least not any time soon.

I wrote my original article while reflecting on my financial state and thinking about the new year. I was staring down a list of goals and inevitably tallying up the costs that would come with each line item, should I try to accomplish them. Nothing on the list was outrageous, but a lot of it was difficult, especially when I had recently taken a sizable pay cut and was facing a good amount of credit card debt, something I’d never really had before.

A lot of this year has been about cutting back and trying to get a little more realistic about my finances. I cancelled my FreshDirect shipping subscription, choosing instead to brave crowds at Trader Joe’s after work and supplement my nutrition with the bodegas in our neighborhood. I am now very qualified to be a contestant on The Price Is Right, considering how much I’ve compared the pricing of produce and dairy items at all the stores accessible to us. I stopped buying stuff for myself almost entirely, trying to keep any purchases outside of our weekly expenses to under $20 and only spending money after thinking it over for a few days. I also started making sure I brought food to my office for lunch pretty much every day, making dining out a rarity.

A lot of this year has been about cutting back and trying to get a little more realistic about my finances.

Even after cutting back on expenses, there have been times where money was tight and the fridge was almost empty, a stark contrast to the way I always tried to keep a well-stocked kitchen when I was working seven days a week. While buying household essentials in bulk is undeniably cheaper, sometimes I just didn’t have the money to buy items before I needed them—which was hard for my proactive, future-thinking brain to accept. Sometimes my bank account dipped below thresholds that were comfortable for me. Sometimes this discomfort turned into stress dreams about teeth falling out or getting lost in a maze of public bathrooms. Waking up panicked over a dream where I had to take a shower in a communal bathroom without flip-flops is definitely not my best self.

This is all to say that things were challenging, but there were also positive things that came out of being pressed financially. In the absence of my retail job, I pushed myself to write more for pay and was able to place articles at The Washington Post and Extra Crispy, two sites I love. I was also able to find both copyediting and transcription gigs that gave me a little extra cash when I needed it most. I’ve also been incredibly thankful for the generosity of friends and family, who have always lent their support and picked up the occasional dinner check.

Things were humming along, stressful but manageable, until the end of the summer when my boyfriend and I experienced some personal tragedies. Losing loved ones and dealing with the aftermath was hard emotionally, but I felt even more helpless because I wasn’t able to contribute much financially. In those difficult times, I really wished I had money, if only to try to make some aspect of the process easier. It seemed ridiculous to be pinching pennies in the face of something much bigger and life-changing. But I also couldn’t allow myself to backslide.

In the aftermath of a cruel, cruel summer, I think back on where I am and what I can afford, and I realize I was asking the wrong question. It’s not about finding out how much I’d have to make to be able to afford to be the best version of me; instead, I should be asking myself how I can be the best version of me based on what I can afford at any given time. Regardless of whether or not my fridge is stocked or I can afford new clothes or I can treat everyone to dinner in a time of crisis, if I can still make a good meal, avoid looking like a sewer person, and be there for my loved ones, then I can still be someone I’m proud of. I may not be the best, but I can be good.

I should be asking myself how I can be the best version of me based on what I can afford at any given time.

The other day, I was looking at the list of goals I made at the end of last year and, surprisingly, a lot of the things were crossed off. We didn’t accomplish some of the big goals on there or even some of the goals that we had thought were most important, but we still managed to do things we wanted to do. Somewhere, in another timeline, there might be a version of me that has enough money to be a very stable, best version of myself with a good amount of savings and disposable income. For now, in this world, I am just not there yet—and getting there will be a long road. Still, I’m going to make the best of what I’m given. I am lucky that, even when what I have doesn’t translate to dollars, it still amounts to a lot.


Kimberly Lew is a published playwright and blogger living in Brooklyn. She, thankfully, has not seen a praying mantid in her apartment in the last 24 hours. Check her out at www.kimberlylew.com.

This article is an update to The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”