Abstractly, I always know that I’m in a privileged position. But once in a while, it really smacks me in the face. This weekend contained a face-smacking instance.
How it started
A friend of mine is having a supremely hard time right now and I have the distinct feeling her partner isn’t going to get her anything on February 14th.
Now, I’m not all that into Valentine’s Day. I don’t think my friend is even all that into Valentine’s Day.
But I feel like this is a year where she needs to have someone show her that they care. That she deserves a reminder of just how much affection and appreciation she’s due.
So I decided to get special chocolates (she has some dietary restrictions) and I made a funny/smutty card on Zazzle. I’m going to drop them off on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe Galentine’s Day. I haven’t decided.
While I ended up finding everything for just under $20, initially I only found online stores where the sweets and shipping would’ve come to about $42.
And while the frugal side of me would’ve winced, I was absolutely going to plunk down that much to try to make her smile during a really crappy time.
Which is when it struck me just how lucky I am. Because at no point during my search for chocolate did I have to stop and think, “Where will the money come from?”
An extremely fortunate position
I’m acutely aware of just how privileged I am to not have to wonder that — even when we’re not in a strangled job market. So I just want to stop and acknowledge how lucky I am to have, not just enough, but enough and then some.
Before anyone says anything: Yes, I do actively monitor and try to control my spending to keep my saving rate high; and yes, I make a concerted effort to least try to earn my generous pay. So the situation isn’t (completely) magically bestowed on me.
But a lot of people have to work much harder at jobs that pay significantly less. What’s worse, a lot of them — including those with work that takes a physical toll, from standing all day to lifting heavy things to plenty of other things I am literally incapable of doing sustainably — don’t even end the month with a surplus. No matter how good they are with money, the cost of living eats up all of their funds.
Meanwhile, I fell into a job thanks to my mom randomly mentioning something to someone she was interviewing for a story. And not only is my employer a good boss, he’s generous. So in many regards, much of my current situation is just pure good luck.
Thus I try to periodically remind myself how lucky am I.
The true benefit
And of course, the real privilege isn’t the ability to buy something for someone on a whim. Though certainly that’s nice.
No, the real advantage is the lack of stress when I budget every month. And it’s extra pronounced when unexpected expenses pop up.
Because I’m in a good financial place, I don’t freak out when the mechanic or an HVAC guy tells me pricey repairs are necessary. I can just shrug and say, “Okay, do what ya gotta do.”
In two months, I had $2,200 in car and HVAC repairs. But I didn’t have to worry where the money would come from or which credit card I’d finance it on. I didn’t have to ask which items really needed doing and which I could put off a little while longer.
I just thought, “Well, the savings account is gonna take a hit. But that’s what it’s there for.”
It wasn’t always like this
While in the last decade, I did stress about money — especially when I was married and especially when we had big expenses, like Tim’s dental implants — most of that time, I’ve known we’d be okay. For example, when we had almost no savings after buying the house, a few unexpected expenses did have to go on the card. It worried me, but I knew we’d be able to pay them off relatively quickly.
And that type of stress is an entirely different beast from what I had in the early days with Tim.
Back then, life was a perpetual stomachache. Yes, he ostensibly made $30,000 and later $35,000 (which seemed like a fortune at the time). But he missed a fair amount of work due to his health issues. And those health issues came with a number of bills.
Plus there was the matter of the $20,000 in student loan debt and $12,000 in oral surgery that couldn’t be put off. And then the steroids making him gain weight enough that twice we had to buy him new jeans. And then there were the mounting dermatologist copays thanks to near-constant MRSA infections.
After he got laid off, we were living on about $3,600 a month combined — and only because I’d found some at-home, part-time work I could do for $1,000 a month. Meanwhile, rent was $700 and Tim’s $500 high-risk insurance. And we were still trying to pay down debt. Meanwhile, his worsening health issues meant the doctor bills only increased.
So I spent ages 28 to 32 incredibly stressed. I’d work and rework the budget in my head. Sometimes it would keep me up at night, and I’d have to get up and write out a budget that would make ends meet. Usually by reducing certain categories to levels that weren’t realistic.
But at least it would calm me down in the short-term. Of course, later when the budget was busted, I was even more stressed.
Those four years were exhausting. And when we finally had enough money to pay off the remaining debt, I felt like I could actually breathe again. And I try to make sure I never take those breaths for granted.
Of course, living with Tim wasn’t cheap. I’d buy things to placate him or one in a while, he’d spend unnecessarily. And there was the $600 to $700 of “alternative therapy”* every month.
But even with all that, most months we could put away money. So when our car was declared totaled after an accident six years ago, we were able to pay $14,000 out of pocket for an almost-new one. Barely able, but able.
Thus my stress was a completely different sort than the early days. Still not great for me, but a far cry from the desperation and hopelessness that comes with opening another bill you know will have to go on the credit card.
*I guess I can admit it now: It was medical marijuana. It was the only thing that stopped his entire body from itching constantly, and later it helped with his fibromyalgia pain. I didn’t admit it here because people have Opinions about such things, and I frankly didn’t want to get into it. We had tried many things, it was the only one that worked. So I was stuck with the hefty bill.
Even better now
And of course, things only got better for me financially after the divorce. I’ve been able to actually start saving in earnest for retirement and still build up savings.
Which means I could get my friend Christine — who so sweetly dropped off stuff on my birthday — some cupcakes for her birthday. And that I can get my friend some chocolates and a card that will hopefully make her smile. And that every year I can make my mom’s birthday gift some wonderful-but-overpriced pears that are beyond-words-amazing in the midst of a cold, dark Alaska winter with paltry produce offerings.
I can do all of these things without worrying about the credit card bill, without having to cut something from somewhere else in the budget. And that I can do this and still make charitable donations (if perhaps less than I should, I’m working on it).
So I am truly privileged. And I hope I never, ever forget that. And that my friend likes the chocolate.
Have you had a recent “Wow, I’m lucky” moment?