This is part one in a two-part series on why I pout and stomp my feet over discipline and frugality. Can you relate? Maybe this little bit of introspection will help you out too.
Starbucks should rename their house coffee and call it the “Cowboy Blend.” I poured an inch of cream in mine today, but I can’t tell. It still tastes black as night.
I’m normally a foofy latte kind of girl, but today I went for the straight brew. I don’t know why, nostalgia maybe, because drinking this coffee reminds be of living in Boston.
The furniture gallery I worked at in Boston was right next to a Starbucks. And the stock boy (though he wasn’t really a “boy,” he was a man in his 40’s, it just doesn’t sound right to say “stock man”) was keen on being my friend. He was a Starbucks junkie. Every day at 9:30 and again at 1:30 he’d brush past my desk on his way out the door, and say “Starbucks?” in his heavy Mass accent (you can hear it, can’t you). I couldn’t protest. And I also couldn’t pay, because he wouldn’t let me. He was sweet.
I would sip my free hot (thick!) coffee from my desk on the showroom floor, looking out at the snow-filled parking lot, the Northeastern sun already making its descent at such an early winter hour. At times that weather brought such a sense of dread to this sun-loving desert rat.
We were just transplants there you know. Young, newly married, living in Boston while A-Rob was getting his master’s degree.
On some accounts, we were living a dream. A-Rob was attending his dream school and studying with his heroes. And I was fulfilling my dream to live in a “real” city. Moving there was just the dose of adventure we needed as 25-year-old newlyweds.
But 10 weeks into this marriage and our exciting new life, we found out we were going to be parents.
And the night we learned we were pregnant was the same night we realized we weren’t making enough money to survive. Oops.
Rent was high, and my income was low. A-Rob’s school schedule was too heavy for him to have a job. All of our wedding money had been spent on 2 month’s worth of rent. Our savings were depleting rapidly.
At that point, we had a choice to make: we drop out, or we press on. Dropping out would mean negating all of the hard work and effort we put into getting there. It would mean letting go of the career opportunities that having a master’s degree from this school would provide.
But most of all, it meant giving up on a dream. So we chose to hunker down, and press on.
I eventually was promoted at my job and earned a little more money. A-Rob found a part time job at the college computer lab. We took out another student loan to cover our living expenses. Eventually daycare took away half of my paycheck, and rent took the other half.
We lived tightly.
But probably not as tightly as we should have.
Living on a small budget was nothing new to me. I’d done it in my undergrad days, and post-college while saving up for a six month excursion. During those times though, I knew the penny pinching wasn’t permanent. I knew I would eventually graduate, get a job, and be able to afford things, like toilet paper. If you view something as temporary, it’s not as hard to swallow.
If I’d had my head on straight, I would have seen our Boston grad school circumstances as temporary too. We could have buckled down, scrimped and saved, and made it by on what we earned.
But no, in my mind we weren’t poor grad students, we were newlyweds, and we had a kitchen full of expensive wedding gifts to prove it, darn it. I was a “young professional” living in a hip city. Most of all, we were grown ups. Grown up enough to have babies, even.
Weren’t we ENTITLED to live like newlywed young professional grown up parents-to-be? All of our married friends from back home were doing it. Wasn’t it supposed to be our season of life too?
I remember one day piling into the warm Starbucks storefront around the corner from our house and ordering a decaf pumpkin spice latte (aka pregnancy drink), wearing my down-to-the-ankles wool trench coat that was getting ever tighter as my belly was growing ever bigger, and feeling…guilty.
Because I knew we couldn’t afford that coffee. Just like I knew we couldn’t afford all of our dinners out, or A-Rob’s weekly trips to Virgin Records, or those $4 pints of Ben and Jerry’s from the corner market. I knew we needed to be eating “Mac-N-Cheese Casserole,” as my co-worker had described his grad school budget meals. But we weren’t. And our growing credit card balances were showing it.
It’s hard to explain the feeling, but it hurt deep in my gut to not be able to afford those little things. It didn’t go with my vision of how life should have been at this time in our lives. So I ignored the feeling, and spent anyways. I was living off of what I felt I was entitled to, whether we had the budget to back it up or not.
I think it’s that same feeling that crops up and spurs me to rebellion whenever “common financial wisdom” says I need to give up coffee, or dinners out, or ice cream, or the little things in life.
I don’t want to revisit that feeling again. Especially if I don’t have to.