About once a year, my honey and I tally up all the frequent flier points we've accumulated in the previous 12 months on our credit card, and instead of buying a plane ticket or two, we cash in the points for goods we might not normally purchase otherwise. This year, we exchanged them for two sizeable gift certificates to Sears. Sears is by no means our favorite store, but it's pretty practical: sensible shoes, electronics, over-priced and under-classy jewelry. This summer we bought some home entertainment items which we had been delaying the purchase of for years, some Dockers for him and some everyday work clothes for me. We have one gift card left.
Holiday season is upon us.
I'm always a bit conflicted and usually discontented when the hungry retail gods wind up the holiday grinder. I hate that they want to make us their bitches, but by the same token, I do like the idea of having a season of gift giving, so I want to buy things for people that they need and want. I refuse to surrender to the "your loved ones don't know they're loved unless you purchase the newest, shiniest toy" guilt. Bite me, annual gift guides!! I don't have the urge at all, actually. ... but I digress. (And frankly, Niamh, since you live in Shropshire, you don't have Thanksgiving, so you don't know how horrid it is to watch your countrymen turn on a dime from "day of humble gratitude" to "pre-dawn greedy mongrel," so anything I can say on that will be lost on you.)
The point is this, even though we had already agreed to use our remaining gift card to purchase our holiday gifts with, I'm worried about money, these days. Okay: everyone's getting something from Sears, like it or not. Fine. There's free money, I don't have to worry about. But we're also trying to buy a house. And I'm trying to finish up school. And we just got a freaking dentist's bill in the mail the other day for $200. I was supposed to call about it today, but by the time I had time, it was 5, already. Every little penny feels like it stings right now. My parking fine was supposed to be $30 - that's what the ONE ticket I found on my car said. When I went online to pay it today, it turns out they issued me a separate ticket which apparently didn't physically make it to me which drives the price up to $55. When I called about that, the automated message said customer service reps wouldn't be available until mid-December, roughly when my fine is due. I still need new boots for the snow this winter and new windshield wipers. My honey needs some more shirts, and frankly all of my sweaters are too small these days. (I swear it's because my chest has grown, I'm not fattening up!) This would all suck anyway, but it sucks so much harder now that we're trying to buy a house ... in one of the steepest real estate markets in the country. It makes me want to scream.
My one consolation - and maybe it's bizarrely more comforting anyway - is this: I've been broke before, and I've been okay. When I was a teenager and had to live in basically two pairs of blue jeans and had to superglue the soles of my shoes back on because we couldn't buy new ones, I was still okay. In fact, I was more imaginative: I hijacked my mothers' old clothes from the 60s and made them hip again, I'd take my Dad's old clipboards from college, re-vandalize them and voila, I'd have a new school supply. We're not that badly off. I guess after a few years of no longer worrying about whether I'd have enough money for this month's bills and a dinner out with friends, I'd gotten used to it. I was so used to it that I was getting out of the habit of waiting until I desperately needed something before I'd replace it. If I needed shoes soon, I'd go buy them, I wouldn't wait until they fell apart in the rain. Goodness knows I never want to NOT make ends meet anymore, I just have to remember how not to want things anymore.