I lied to the sales chick at Ulta. As I reached for the trial-size foundation in my usual brand of make-up, she asked, “Are you going on a trip?” The question seemed very random and it caught me off-guard. She sensed my confusion and explained, “The trial-size foundation is great for travel. I assume that you aren’t new to this line since you seem to know what you want, and a lot of our regular customers buy the trial-size for travel.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” I said. “I’m traveling.”
“Where are you going?”
“Just a short trip. To the Eastern Shore.” I guess that’s a half-truth. I am planning a trip to the Eastern Shore. For one day. In February. Yes, hardly a reason to be buying travel-size anything since I won’t be packing a suitcase, but it’s true.
“Oh, lucky you! I love weekend getaways. Where are you staying?”
“With a friend.” Yep, another lie. You see how when you lie about something stupid and meaningless it just turns into a conversation that begets more lying?
The real reason that I was buying the trial-size foundation is that it is on sale and I have very little cash for luxuries these days. I have a hard time justifying a make-up purchase and yet, my skin is still so oily (yeah, at 46!) that to go without make-up would cause my skin to break-out. I figure I can make this one little tiny trial-size tub last a long, long time if I use it sparsely. No one with reading glasses and crow’s feet should have pimples—ever.
I find our current cash-crunch so embarrassing that I’m lying a lot these days—and then justifying the lie by saying it was a matter of omission or a half-truth.
Here’s an example: Why isn’t my son in pre-school?
Lie: “He just didn’t seem ready and so we’ve decided to keep him at home for another year.”
Truth: We can’t afford the tuition.
Half-truth justification: He is a little immature and doesn’t seem overly eager to begin his academic career.
The one time I was very open with a friend and said, “We can’t afford the tuition right now,” she suggested that we apply for financial aid. “If you qualify for free lunch in the public schools, you will qualify for tuition assistance,” she said—trying to be helpful. Free lunch? Gulp.
Well, no, we would definitely NOT qualify for free-lunch. My husband is earning a very comfortable salary, and if you look at our over-all assets, we own a lot of real estate. Come tax time, Uncle Sam considers us rich. Our problem isn’t income—it’s outflow.
When my mother-in-law moved in with us, we took over her income which consists of my father-in-law’s social security and a small pension. And we took over her expenses—the mortgage of the house she is no longer living in and the cost of hiring help. The help is 15-hours of granny-care per week that allows me to leave the house to do fun stuff like clean out the house my mother-in-law isn’t living in. (Yeah, don’t you wish you were me?) We also paid off some of the minor debt she and my late father-in-law had accumulated.
Her income doesn’t quite cover the mortgage and the granny-care. Plus, there are a lot of expenses that come from owning a house that no one is living in—the lawn service, the home-owner’s association fees, the taxes, and even utilities.
Then, there are the expenses we never anticipated. In July, we got a notice from the electric company comparing our power consumption to that of a year ago. We were using 44% more electricity. The oil company sent us a similar notice in February. Yes, just from adding one extra person to our household.
Add all this to the havoc created by the rental properties we own—remember that sink hole and the tenant who was suing us? And yep, we have been operating in the red for over a year now. We are broke. We have liquidated savings accounts and run up a bit of credit card debt. We are living paycheck-to-paycheck for the first time in our seven year marriage.
I feel pretty helpless about it. I used to say that I was a stay-at-home-mom by choice meaning that my previous salary would have covered childcare and provided us with some income, but since we didn’t need that income, I opted to stay home with my children. Now, I think, “Well, I could go back to work, but would I find a job that would cover childcare AND full-time granny-care AND the other expenses associated with having a job, like transportation? Hmmm, I doubt it. Eldercare is expensive.” So, now, I am in that pathetic position of saying, “I can’t afford to work.”
The only things I can really do are cut expenses wherever I can and get my mother-in-law’s house rented. Well, the house is vacant, painted and repaired, and ready for some wonderful family to fork over the big bucks to move in. We have a realtor who is diligently working on it.
Yes, for months now, whenever we have discussed finances, the conversation has always turned to that house and how things will be easier once the house is rented. A year ago, our goal was to rent the house so that we could hire more granny-care. Now, we just want to pay off the debt that we’ve accumulated this past year and rebuild our savings. I may even cut our current granny-care hours in half—not because I relish the opportunity to play nurse-maid, but because we need to save some money.
As I joke about selling off the family silver and whine about how I can’t afford to get my Mercedes fixed, I think I have a pretty good idea of how the fallen southern gentry felt following the Civil War. I’m ready to do my best Scarlet O’Hara impression here. “With God as my witness, I will never buy the store brand paper towels again!”
Of course, I can’t say that this experience hasn’t been without its lessons.
The greatest lesson is that old saying “Money can’t buy happiness” is a lie. I’m a lot happier when I have money. What money can’t buy is joy, and joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. Joy, on the other hand, is something you feel in your soul that is completely separate from circumstances. Believe me, I am NOT happy when I look at my bank balance, but seeing that pitiful little number, does NOT steal my joy. I won’t let it.
Secondly, I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think about poverty. I grew up poor. The reason the well-meaning suggestion about free-lunch stung is that I grew up as a recipient of free-lunch and faced a lot of prejudice because of it. Teachers used to make all the free-lunch kids go last in line. Was it a punishment for having parents that they thought were inadequate? Was it a way of continuing segregation after it was no longer legal since most of the free-lunch kids were black? Was it meant to shame us into doing better once we were out in the world earning our own money? I don’t know, but it was one of the things that shaped my youthful understanding of the world and deeply engrained the lie that money had the power to increased or decreased the value of a person.
Thanks to this past year, I understand that finances are fluid. Money ebbs and flows. Just because you have it now, it doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Broke today? Things may turn around for you tomorrow. It happens. And all of that is okay because your value as a human being doesn’t rest of the size of your bank account.
You can do things to safe-guard your financial future. You can get an education–I have a master’s degree. My husband has two. You can be painfully frugal–even before all this happened, I was shopping thrift shops, consignment events and the outlets because the mall always gave me sticker shock. You can make good investments, and still, sink-holes happen. And that’s okay–it’s an opportunity to test your joy and live on faith. When I think of it that way, operating in the red is a gift.
Now, back to that scene in Ulta. I think the next time the sales chick asks, “Going on a trip?” I’m going to tell the truth. “No, I just can’t afford the regular size foundation. Want to hook me up with some free samples?”
(Oh, and the part about having a Mercedes that we can’t afford to fix is true. Mice made a home under the hood and chewed through some of the wiring. The engine runs but the dash board is dead, windows don’t work, and it has no headlights or blinkers. It’s a bit of a hazard to drive—especially at night.)