Austerity and Clarity

There was a time when I would drop $200.00 on a Saturday easy… for nothing I particularly needed.

It seems a lifetime ago that I was a DINK (dual income no kids) and earning more than $130k per year collectively with my former spouse.  And we did the stupid shit that people with too much money do, like renovation and vacation and … $400 Alien Anthology box DVD sets.

Okay but … still have it.  Still worth it… but would I pay that for it now?  Hell no.

At 41 I remember fat years of spending in my life and years where I had to get very creative with rice and cheap vegetables.  I even learned how to turn cooked rice in my fridge into soup.  I was a rice magician because I had to be.   Post divorce income versus bills and inherited debt, I had less than $150 per month to eat and spend.   I had to make it work.

Driving from North of Toronto to Downtown Toronto and the five hour commute that nearly killed me every day … cost me $1500+ per month in gas and car expenses.   Just for the car and the privilege to drive 2.5 hours each way in bumper to bumper traffic.

The things you do when you love(d) someone.  Not a guy.  My Mother.   Dumb like that…

I packed my lunch and tried not to eat out.  But the lunch room was a gossip den and I found myself eating on a park bench in Yorkville frequently, talking to squirrels and eventually, talking to Kevin on Skype.   Sometimes I’d have charming company from a Pharmacy Technician you knew through my previous blog.   I miss her company and her sisterly like advice like an amputation.   Rahila and I still share almost every week on Facebook.

I left the College and went full time subcontract.  It was the most frightening thing I had ever done (seriously… you try it).  Four short months later I was looking for a new place to live, very much at the last minute, and I learned three valuable things:

1) Diane is the best friend any human being could ask for (she came and emergency-moved me).

2)  Selfish assholes never change.  They only manage to wear a mask when they want something from you.  Or four  years worth of something…

3) I can do absolutely anything when I am furious.


Living in a strangers house in Windsor, with veterinary bills (Diego), immigration bills (sigh) and meager living expenses forced me to buckle down even further.  During that period I mentored a young single dad in the UK and helped him grow his business (paying a contract salary of $1200 per month for several months to help him in a pinch).   I trained two writers and connected them to periodic contract writing assignments and projects with me.

I paid them first.  Then my bills.  Then my groceries.   And that’s how it should be.   People were knocking me for eating the high carb diet I was eating but no one really put two and two together.  I ate what I could afford and created income for others who needed it more than I did.

I did it through austerity.

I gave up clothes shopping and cable television, going to the movies and going out to dinner.  I cooked my own meals, planned meals around groceries I bought on sale, and fancied myself much like my Nonno when he arrived in Canada from Italy.

Drop an Italian anywhere and they can eat like a King on a dime.  I think it’s genetic.

I never told anyone how scared I was.  How as I was losing weight my clothes were hanging off me and I felt sloppy, and unfashionable… and ugly.  I mastered the ability to pair a fancy blouse with yoga pants when I had to Skype cam conference with teams I worked with in the UK, Italy and Australia.   No one could see the bargain basement yoga pants, nor the holes in them.

I spoke like I was wearing Versace.

One of the things I love so much about my husband is that he has walked the same path.  Rags, riches, rags, riches… he’s seen the full gambit of lifestyle.   He’s frugal to a fault but knows what the best whiskey and cigars are.  What the cool people are wearing and where they are taking their vacations.

He is suave and like me, looks for the little pieces of “la dolce vita” to add to our life each week, on a dime budget.

But we embrace the frugality because we are building upward and it is getting us there quickly.  True, I don’t go to concerts but we do go out to dinner on date nights.  We might go to three stores to shop frugally for groceries, but Chef Kevin and my limited cooking skills rock our little kitchen with some amazing diners that are far better than most restaurants.

We have really really really ridiculously high thread count sheets as a gift from his parents.  They make us feel posh.   My car is not the Audi I wanted, but it zips and it makes me feel cool.  It also gets 30+ miles to the gallon city and 40+ (yes forty miles++) on highway driving.

Beat that bitches!   Ecologically responsible, conserving gas and trying really hard not to get any speeding tickets or hit anyone else this year.  Oh my insurance …  it’s going to piss me off royally at renewal time, and I have already budgeted for it, sadly.

If we take the kids to the movies, we do bad things like… hit the dollar store for candy instead.  Sorry, no way am I paying $5 for a box of M&M’s.   We do buy the soda though because they are big and bad for us.

The desk and the chair I am using are pimp!  You’d love them.  Stylish corner desk with a cherry finish and a tall, black executive leather chair.  Since I could find neither for less than $300 a piece, we found them (thanks to his parents) at the Goodwill for $80 all in.

I think about that $80 well spent every day and smile.   We do that  a lot you know, find the cheaper way around without sacrificing anything.   And if some event comes up that we can’t attend, rather than make an excuse we are honest with our family and friends…

“I’m sorry but we are still catching our breath from the wedding, the move, the immigration and the two surgeries… we don’t have the money to go out right now”.

But then again, taking the kids for their first trip to the Texas State Fair?  We saved for that.   A few weeks actually so that we could do it up right for them, with expensive rides and games, carnival food and big giant soda’s (I know… I know… but it’s the Fair).

God willing things stay on track and we are able to navigate the little things that happen and the set backs together.   The next step was a new truck for Kevin.  Not brand new but new(er) and financed at the same rate as his current payment.  Done :)   He said it is “no big deal” but you know when someone is lit up from the inside?

No more beaten up truck for my husband.  One day I hope to buy him a Cadillac (although neither one of us would probably parse the money for one).  Frugal like that.

Our own “war on the wallet” has both of us living frugally, working extra hard (and long hours) to make as much as possible to take us on to the next stage.

Our house.

But for now, I am saving and creating strategies that make Kevin feel like I am a walking nerd.  I have plan A, B and straight through to Z.  It can be tiring listening to me extrapolate them all, but in his heart Kevin knows where it comes from.  I never want to feel like I have the rug pulled out from under my feet again.

Fool me once…

Kevin’s new truck? Check!  Next step … new house to rent until we can buy.  Having no credit in the USA is a huge blow to my ego but I will live.  And I’ll have flawless credit in about 24 months.  So for now, we hunker down, spend less, make more and I have fantasies about toss pillows in white faux fur that my dog will probably try to get jiggy with.

Uphill, downhill… doesn’t matter.  We’re alive and we’re together finally every day, and happy.   Our little family is building from the ground up.

And I haven’t shown my husband what I can do when I am actually confident and secure.  That’s coming.  The “settled Lori” is an entirely different beast.  Fun, social, lighthearted… away from her computer.

Next phase?  I get some tomato plants.

Cool is very much a “what you are” not “what you have”.  Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something and I would know, having walked both roads.  Trust me on it.

 Goals only happen when you work.  You can be your own epic ‘come back’ story.  Next stop?  Perhaps eggs without burning them?  Nah… better to reach for the attainable.