Jul 6, 2010

Ten Dollars in my Pocket

I set out the other day to pick up the kids from school. I had ten dollars in my pocket. It was one of those new, crisp ones with the big head and the large numbers. I'm used to thinking that a ten dollar bill is something to be excited about. But on this particular day it occurred to me: That's not really enough, is it?

How many twenties do you want? The ATM machine basically asks me. I used to think that was ridiculous--my choices are 20, 40, 60, 80 or a quick hundred? A hundred dollars still seems like a lot of money to me. There shouldn't be anything quick about a hundred dollars.

But if $10 really isn't enough to get through an afternoon with the kids, then a hundred dollars isn't much anymore either.

Let's say we want to indulge in the ice cream truck--something we only do on Fridays, unless there are special circumstances (a new policy that deserves an entire essay, it's been working so well). Let's say someone's thirsty so we end up needing to buy a few Vitamin Waters? But then we want some Pringles too? What if I remember I need milk and spend $5.29 on a half gallon of organic? We're done, overdrawn, broke.

I used to begin every week with a twenty in my pocket and I'd see if it could last all week. It was a reasonable personal challenge--and it meant I was the person making bright 'let's have coffee!' eyes at other moms at drop-off early in the week, and it meant that I was the dull-eyed 'I'm just going to go home' mom by the end of the week. And I was okay with that. A goat cheese sandwich on Monday meant ramen noodles on Friday. A tangible (tasteless) consequence. And I learned to make the necessary adjustments.

But now there are so many more temptations.

We live in a vibrant neighborhood with a lot of new and exciting eateries and cafes and I'd love to be one of the people who frequents these joints. But ducking into any of these establishments for a snack with any combination of my children and/or their friends ends up draining my wallet. I'm the Johnny Appleseed of money, wandering around town leaving twenties in my wake. My new game is to see if I can walk out of my house without spending money. I'm not very good at it.

I guess it's one of the downsides of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Hooray my husband and I thought to buy a brownstone for mere pennies ten years ago! Aw shucks the neighborhood got popular and now I'm surrounded by millionaires and the kinds of exciting businesses they attract. I suppose there's plenty of money in my walls, but that's not the same as eating a fun sandwich every day.

Those of us who bought homes here years and years ago are considered pioneers. People look at us with envy in their eyes when they do the math and realize how little our houses cost us. You can usually spot a pioneer mom at the playground because she's the one with baby carrots in a bag. The envy in our eyes is aimed at their exotic coffees and aerodynamic tangerine-colored strollers.

I haven't consigned myself to the bags of vegetables yet. I don't pack up snacks to fetch my children from school. I'll pack a picnic for a baseball game, but not for pick-up. I'm just stubborn like that. I've always enjoyed a more 'where will the day take us?' kind of mentality. But with out-of-pocket dental insurance in our near future (my husband was laid off last year and the benefits are running out soon), gas prices making weekend trips something to reconsider, and three kids who go through $40 worth of organic milk a week, I think the day should just start taking us right back home where we can get our money's worth out of our cable bill, and where we can save for the important things. Like babysitters.

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