I had originally intended to give up cosmetics this week. Having started last week and been thwarted by a chest cold, I decided I’d try anew when I would actually be leaving my house. But, while I’m devoted to my liquid eyeliner with a loyalty generally reserved only for deities, giving up cable TV wasn’t actually all that hard and I decided I wanted a slightly less vapid challenge this week. The Universe, bitchy leprechaun that it is, served up my next challenge on a platter this morning.
I met a friend for a Brunch-and-Wander in one of Portland’s art districts this afternoon. The point of the walk was to pester the local storefronts with my fancy little 100% recycled, vegan-soy-ink business cards in hopes of garnering new clients, but as I wandered from storefront to storefront, my spending finger got a little itchy. A new store opened up with adorable Dia de los Muertos items. An art gallery had an amazing painting that wasn’t too expensive. There was a shoe store with styles so sweet they made my teeth hurt. Yet, I didn’t spend a dime. In general, not buying “stuff” isn’t that hard for me — I’m not much of a collector. All-in-all, it was pretty easy to walk away empty-handed, and I had a heckuva good time congratulating myself on not being a consumer tool of the man. And then I lost my wallet. Holy Jeebus-Humping-Blind-Screaming Panic. Without ID or a bank card, it’d be DAYS before I was able to access my funds. The mere thought was terrifying. As I skittered back towards the last place I remembered having it, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if I didn’t have any funds to access at all?
Sure, it’s easy not to spend when you have the choice, but what kind of anxiety does it produce when you don’t? It’s moments like these, when you’re faced with the loss of what you have, that you realize how much you take for granted that you have it. I know from being poor. I did my time as a kid licking S&H stamps, standing in line for government cheese and wearing polyester bell-bottoms that were two sizes too small. In the 80’s. In the LATE 80’s. And I did my time as a 20-something, working three mall jobs just to make rent on my cockroach infested studio apartment lovingly deemed “Syringe Court.” But it’s been a long time since I’ve been hand-to-mouth, and I’ve gotten soft. I’m addicted to instant gratification and I’ve started to make the concept of money interchangable with the concept of freedom. And that’s a danger point.
So, tomorrow I fill up my tank with gas, I go to the grocery store with a well-thought-out list, and that’s that. I will spend nothing else for the entire week. Not a single solitary penny. On anything. No matter what. If there’s an emergency, I’ll have to figure it out. Beg, borrow, though I will draw the line at stealing. If I run out of gas, I walk. If I run out of food, I go without.
To up the ante: If I’m invited to something social, I can’t say no. I have to say I have no money and propose an alternative activity. If they offer to pay for me, I have to swallow my pride and say yes. This is to challenge classist shame within myself and to remember what it’s like to have to ask for help or confess being skint.