Pastries or rent?

I jokingly said to my co-worker that it was a good thing pay comes before rent this month, because I might not make it. I went on about my life as usual, however. I filled up my gas tank, bought Bodhi’s medications, and hit Costco for tofu. While I was there I picked up blueberries (for salads!) and pretzels (for work snacks), too. Seriously, there were 8 items in my cart.

I got home and went online to deposit my paycheck. At which point I realized that I was actually in trouble for my rent. This floored me. I have not been that broke in…a long time. I cannot even remember the last time I was worried I might not make my rent!

And then I started thinking about the money I spent in just the last 2 days. I could have just put a few gallons of gas in my tank – my work is only 2 miles away and I usually only fill up once a month (unless I go into Boston, then twice). I could have skipped the damn blueberries or $5 worth of pretzels. I could have bought half a month of meds for Bodhi – there’s no weird insurance thing and that would have saved me $30!

Then I realized I am out of rice. Which is what the dog eats. Yes, I could go buy some kibble at the grocery store, but that would mean he’d be sick until I can get the rice. So I pulled together all the cash I could find and went to buy a bag. The Korean store I get rice from is in the next town over – not far, really, but I only go over that way once a month and it happens to be be right by my favorite pastry shop. I seriously considered going over there as I pulled out of the parking lot, thinking, “I’ll just get one little pastry.”

This is when it struck me that my thinking about money is radically out-of-sync with my financial situation.

I’m currently making a grand total of $15,000 for the year. No one is silly enough to call this a salary, rather it is considered a stipend. I took out a small “extra” student loan to keep me going while making $880 a month and paying $850 for rent. I also paid for my CSA before I came out here, with the money I was making before I moved. But these stopgaps are not working for me any more.

Here’s the thing, I have been poor before. Very poor. But apparently I have forgotten how to live that way. I have been able to buy pretty much what I want to when I wanted to for a long time. And now my foolish decision to fill up my gas tank has me worried about paying my rent.

I was telling someone today that this is a good reminder for me. I know that most of my clients are living below the poverty line, but I have forgotten what it’s like to have to juggle such little money around. I have forgotten that it is a kind of privilege to be able to drive further to get a better deal. To be able to pay a little more up front to get a lower per-use cost. That there is privilege in my going to the next town over to pay $18 for a big bag of brown rice that would cost me so much more if I had to buy it in little one pound bags from the local grocery.

Yes, I chose rent over pastries today. 


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