Chapter 13 – Bill of the People

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Dark clouds, silver linings. The first day I began this no-shopping experiment I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. A few days later a snow emergency was declared; no driving allowed. And now the latest: car accident.

Rental car reimbursement is not part of my insurance coverage, so understandably, I’m reluctant to ‘spend.’

It’s Day #25, and while I have a flexible life — I mostly consult, write or edit, much of it doable from home, and the classes I teach haven’t yet started — not having a car is an inconvenience. It’s not horrible, not unbearable, just challenging.

BUY ANOTHER

And herein lies the rub. I’ve come to realize that convenience fuels many of my purchases. If I were better organized, or not so lazy, or more focused and diligent, I wouldn’t lose things. Misplacing items has become something of a lifestyle ‘choice’ for me; I carry scissors around, use them, don’t put them back, then when I need them again…oops.

When it’s a small ticket item — tape, glue, a screwdriver — I go out and buy another.

And that leads me to this week’s big purchase: an e-book of an actual book I already own.

I was reading Annie Dillard’s “The Writer’s Life” for a book club, and with a couple of days to go and the book still unfinished, I discovered I’d misplaced my paperback copy. Since books are allowed on my no-spending plan (I can spend up to $20 each month) and since I have a disorganized personal library, I forked over $7.99 for a version on Kindle. (The added benefit — I said for every book that came into my home, I’d have to give up three to make room; fortunately e-books are not included.) Thus far I’ve spent $17 of my monthly book allowance, but it hurts to see one-third eaten up simply because I’m careless.

MULTIPLE STUFF

Not being able to locate my paperback copy was a lesson in organization. As I clean out, I see all the multiple ‘stuff’ I’ve purchased over the years. Now that I don’t automatically replace misplaced small-ticket items, I’m more mindful of putting stuff away that I use and keeping track of essentials.

When it’s a big ticket item I can’t find, like my iPhone, I endure. Okay, the more honest word is suffer, but I put up with it. I had a six-month old iPhone that I misplaced a while back, and I couldn’t find it for weeks. So I did without. Yes, in this modern age, with all the conveniences — no, pretty much necessities — a smartphone offers, I did without.

Once I emotionally let go and accepted this phoneless state, I was surprisingly okay.

It wasn’t okay for anyone who wanted to get in touch with me.

By week six, a friend showed up on my doorstep.

“Enough bullshit,” he said. “Take my phone. Activate it. Use it for as long as you need. Give it back to me when you find your phone.”

So I did. I used it for four weeks before my phone turned up; it had slipped into the attached back pillow on my couch through a hole I’d never noticed before. I must have laid it behind me while watching TV. Careless. To this day, on my list of Apple devices I have authorized and deactivated, there it is: Ben’s iPhone.

TWENTY OR LESS

I suppose if I had a seven-figure income I’d drop $800 to replace an iPhone without a second thought, much as I’d drop $4 to buy a new tape dispenser. Until I started this no-shopping thing, I had an  self-limiting amount that defaulted to $20: if something was twenty or less, I didn’t hesitate. Much.

There’s irony there if you think about it. Andrew Jackson, the populist president who allegedly represented the rights of the common man, is on that bill. The twenty is the bill of the people.

Once in a while I come into a fifty, mostly when someone pays me cash, but having a $50 bill in my wallet is rare. Carrying that denomination makes me nervous. Ulysses S. Grant, a president I’d be hard-pressed to recognize out of context, is the face featured on the fifty.

Do you know who’s on the hundred? I had to look this up. It’s Benjamin Franklin. I never have $100 dollar bills. Who carries them around? Here’s who…and bear with me as it involves a long story.

UNFORTUNATE HISTORY

There’s a house in my neighborhood with an unfortunate history. The original longtime owners divorced late in life and sold it to a young couple with kids.

Couple #2 lived there for a handful of years until they vanished one night, making their final house payment via what my phone-friend Ben calls “jingle mail” — sending the keys to the mortgage company.

Couple #3 I never even met, but they apparently made improvements and flipped the house. The house, I might add, was said to have been listed and sold via Craigslist.

Owner #4 paid cash — way way over the home’s assessed value and the neighborhood value. I never saw the wife, but the husband was a tough guy. On most days, 5-6 big SUVs with tinted windows sat in the driveway. When their owners came out, they were as big as the cars. Owner #4 told neighbors he was a former bodybuilder and entrepreneur who sold protein supplements.

He had two dogs kept in a fenced-in yard.  One day the larger, fiercer one dug its way out, ran after, and attacked my 14-pound dog, splitting her eyelid. After a back-and-forth with my husband, #4 agreed to pay the vet bills. Next evening, when we came by with a copy after dinner, he didn’t answer the door. My husband stuck the paper in the doorway.

TOLD YOU SO

Next morning it was in the mailbox. Folded up, two $100 bills inside.

“Seriously? Who has hundred dollar bills just lying around the house?” I asked my husband. Not really a question. “He’s gotta be a drug dealer.”

“That’s not fair. You don’t know the guy.”

“I know that I don’t carry hundred dollar bills. No one in this neighborhood does.”

Three months later, I woke up one morning and saw five police vehicles parked outside his house. The biggest drug bust in the area on record.

I told you so.

SIX TWEEZERS

To his credit, a neighbor who’d been inside #4’s home said it was sparsely furnished. No evidence of a woman’s touch. Looked like a man cave. You wouldn’t have known he had a wife based on the decor.

Obviously he didn’t have four staplers, or five tape dispensers, or six tweezers. If he overspent, it wasn’t on junk. Which goes to show you that those who manage their money well don’t fritter it away on the small stuff.

This is not a blog post to convince you to become a drug dealer.

But it did get me thinking about how so many of us rely on credit cards and don’t use cash. Since I teach classes and workshops, I am often paid in cash by those who walk in the door because it’s convenient. And so I carry it around, same as my drug dealer neighbor whose livelihood revolved around cash.

My earnings don’t compare to his. A lot fewer people want to write than get high.

But it’s all about scale. And now that I’m earning less and not shopping, I’m more likely to keep company with Washington, Lincoln and Hamilton than Jackson.

ALL THAT PAPER

It’s much harder to spend twenty Washingtons than one Jackson. When all that paper slips through your hands you experience a twinge of regret. Likewise when you use plastic you don’t see your wallet thin out — so you don’t feel it ’til the bills are due.

Frivolous spending has much in common with rebuying items you already own. When you’re mindful of what you’re doing, you see the waste — and stop.

So I’m sitting at home waiting for the claims adjuster to call to let me know about my car. But in a world full of temptation to spend, I don’t mind being on self-imposed house arrest. At least there’s no bail.

 

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