“And all your money won’t another minute buy.” — Kansas, “Dust in the Wind”
When I had no money, I was brave. When you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to lose. Then again, the word “brave” can also be the positive-spin way to say “foolhardy,” or “naïve.”
Here’s an example: When I graduated from college and left Santa Barbara to drive to Spokane, Washington for law school (sight unseen, I might add), I had $300 to my name. That $300 was the last paycheck I received from my job as a cocktail waitress. I had no credit cards. I was driving a previously-red but now mostly-orange, 1974 Ford Maverick, which was loaded to the ceiling with my stuff, barely leaving enough room for me to sit behind the steering wheel. Strapped to the top of the car were a dining table, ironing board, and a pair of mannequin legs that I considered to be “artsy.” When I pulled into my friend Maria’s driveway in Seattle, she said, “The ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ come to mind.”
But, let’s rewind to the beginning of the journey. On its best day, “the Mav” got about 10 miles to the gallon. Fully loaded, it would only get worse. My dear friend, Mike Banuelos, took me to lunch in Goleta to say goodbye. He said, “Tammy, I’m really worried about you getting all the way to Spokane on $300. How are you going to pay for gas? How will you pay for hotel rooms along the way? Once you get to Spokane, school won’t start for another week; how will you rent an apartment or buy groceries? What if the Mav breaks down?” I could only reply, “It’ll work out somehow.” When I was making a comfortable income as an attorney, I wouldn’t go away on a day trip with only $300!
I didn’t know it at the time, but the next thing Mike did saved me, literally and figuratively. He said, “I’m going to give you my credit card to buy gas for the trip. You can pay me back when you get your student loan check.” I thanked him and said, “But your name is Michael Banuelos, and I’m a pale white chick; what if they won’t take it?” He scribbled, “I, Michael Banuelos, give Tammy permission to use my credit card” on a piece of paper. Don’t you just love Mike? I sure do.
Back then, there was no paying at the pump. You paid inside. I used that card all the way to Spokane, and no one ever blinked an eye. That is, until I arrived in Spokane. The cashier eyed the card, then me, then the card again, and said, “You don’t look like a Michael Banuelos.” I said, “I’m not, but he wrote me a note!” The cashier glanced over the scribbled note, saying, “Oh, okay.”
By the time I got to Spokane, $200 in cash remained. With a down payment of $150 I sweet-talked my way into a derelict slum of an apartment in a converted house, promising to pay the rest when school started, spent $50 on groceries, and waited out the week for that precious student loan check.
Was I brave, or foolhardy?
Either way, here’s what I have learned about money and bravery, or the lack thereof. The money I made at the height of my career did not induce a sense of contentment. I either took it for granted, or I had a generalized feeling of discontent – of wanting even more, and fearing losing it all. The fear of loss paralyzed me, keeping me working in an industry for which I was no longer passionate. How did I medicate that fear and distract myself from those feelings of discontent? I bought things. Lots of pretty things.
The fear was so pervasive, and I didn’t even realize it.
We are constantly bombarded by advertising telling us to “treat ourselves.” Hair products promise us we’re worth it. Fast food joints remind us we deserve a break today and we can have it our way. Bargain stores tell us we can live better with their cheap, plastic shite. As consumers, we develop a sense of entitlement. Why shouldn’t we possess the ultimate driving machine, the genuine article, the best a man can get? But, it’s a trap, and many of us never find our way out.
By creating this new existence, I am getting off the Rampant Consumer merry-go-round. Today I confess I was one psychological mishap away from being a hoarder. It is time for me to live a more modest lifestyle (and I admit that what is modest for me may be extravagant for you; it’s all relative). I will endeavor to value experiences and relationships over things. I will remind myself that my character was not forged by handbags or shoes. I will embark on this journey knowing that my most precious possession is time. Unstructured, unadulterated time. And no one can buy that.