The Happiness of Having Enough

toothpaste

In “The Happiness Project” which I read a few weeks ago, one of the concepts that most resonated with me was the concept of “underbuying”.  That is, not buying enough of something at one time. I am not a minimalist, but I have always under bought.  I have begun to see the many ways this makes my life harder and more frustrating and ultimately feeds my unhappiness and discontent.

I can remember being a young adult — probably 23 — and finding a pair of shoes I really liked and thought were comfortable (I have struggled with finding the right shoes pretty much my whole life — but that’s another entry) and my mother was around and she remarked, “why don’t you buy several pairs of them if you like them so much”.  That concept was foreign to me. It still is.  Why would I have EXTRA of something?

I never do.  I usually have just run out of something. That is my m.o.

As a newly married woman, I remember my husband noticing that I was always needing to run to the bank machine and he would go once a week.  I would get $20.00 from the bank machine; He would get $200.  It honestly NEVER crossed my mind before then to get even $50 at once, let alone $100.  Now, as a wife, mother and two children and the person almost exclusively responsible for the purchase of everything in the house, I still only get $100 from the bank machine, and that is usually every two weeks or so.  My husband kindly asks me in between, “how much money can I give you today”.  I don’t want him to give me money; its all the same money anyway.  Hard as I try, I still rarely get alot of cash from the bank machine.  When I do have it, I don’t spend more, but I do feel better reaching into my wallet and not stressing that I might have to use my credit card for the $3 in cookies I needed for the hockey carpool.  And no, I don’t use a debit card. I’m old fashioned in that way.  Or masochistic.  Definitely masochistic.

So, I under-bank.

I also underbuy at the grocery store.  I make a menu plan and a grocery list to support it every Monday. I go to the grocery store and buy what I need for M-F usually; the weekends are often so mixed up I don’t bother. Plus, I loathe this task, and I secretly hope my husband will rescue me from the daily dinner grind on Sat-Sun; he usually does, but not without some price to be paid for his “creativity” in the kitchen.  I’ve actually been pretty proud of my organized method.  I buy what I need for the week and that’s it. I don’t spend more money than necessary. Pretty practical stuff, eh?

But that leaves me little wiggle room for change and unexpected events.  What about the fact that my children are very active and sometimes very hungry?  My 9-year old swimmer likes to eat a snack after school, then a little mini dinner before swimming and a mini-dinner after school.  My 11-year old hockey player, is ravenous after practice.  What if the weather is just right and we all head out for an afteroon of skiing? My organized “meal plan” doesn’t well account for this.  My “snack” supplies are gone before Thursday and the options up to then are paltry.

Recently, on a crazy whim, I purchased a box of 72 bagel-bites from Costco.  Yes, the underbuyer shops at Costco. Kind of confounding, no?  I remember hesitating about buying 72 bagel bites at one time. “I don’t buy them often…what if the kids don’t really like them…they’ll take up alot of freezer space…maybe for a long time”…but I did it.  They were gone in a week!  My kids loved having them, and they loved being able to say to their visiting friends, “hey, we have bagel bites, do you want them?!”  I liked having something other than the proceeds of the typical cupboard scrounge to offer.  I felt happy to be able to be generous.

I underbuy toiletries.  How many times am I squeezing out the last of the toothpaste desperately before bedtime.  Or scrounging the bathroom cabinets for the dentist provided trial size that I don’t really like but I saved for just this occasion?  Or how many times have my children come to me, “we’re out of conditioner, mom” and I show them how to eek out the last bit by adding water to it and hoping that the watered down goo will spread over their head?  How often do I end up skipping conditioner myself because I’m out and I’ve been out.  I think I learned this kind of super-economy from my mother.  She taught me the water-it-down trick. I use it often for dish soap and kitchen cleaners, too.

For the record, I’m a big believer in eeking out the last bit of a product from its container. It feels different to do that because you’re being thrifty as opposed to eeking out the last bit desperately because you don’t have any more of it.

Actually, two trips ago to Costco, I purchased a large shampoo & conditioner that I thought my kids and I could both like.  We did.  And then every time they showered, they trucked into my bathroom to “borrow” the shampoo & conditioner and every time I showered I trucked on in to their bathroom to “borrow it back”.  I did this for three weeks.  And then, while reading The Happiness Project, I thought, “Aha! I could buy another bottle each of Shampoo & Conditioner and then they could have their own set and I could have mine.  Amazing!  A simple purchase of $12 solved an annoying nightly/morning ritual for three people.

I do live in a retail-challenged area. There is no “Target” in the entire state of Vermont.  I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.  I do shop  Costco and the grocery store, and then sometimes Bed Bath & Beyond and CVS, but these are in four different towns.  It’s a pain in the ass to hit them all in one day.  One would think that this would be motivation enough to buy an abundant supply when I do go.   There’s that masochism again.

I am also an Amazon Prime shopper — you know, I paid $79 for free shipping on almost everything I want to buy. I shop this site, and others, put things in my shopping cart, and then abandon it.  Because…well, lots of reasons, usually that I don’t want to buy something I don’t need.  Or buy something I might have to ship back at my own expense if it doesn’t work out.  I offer this up as further evidence that I don’t like shopping, even online.

I’m not a shopper. I am an underbuyer.  How nice it would be to have enough of things in the house.  Enough food for the ability to whip up cookies or scones for the school PTO event, the new neighbors who moved in, for the children and their friends after school, for those apres-ski/ride Sundays when everyone is too tired to think about dinner, let alone buy it.   How nice would it be to have plenty of shampoo and conditioner and razors and toothpaste. It’s not like we’re never going to need any of those things?!

So, as with most things, awareness is step one.  I need to work on decluttering the freezer — to make room for more food, and decluttering the linen closet to make room for more toiletries.  I have access to Costco and the cash flow to buy extras of things we use.  It’s not natural, but now I have a new reason to fight the underbuying tendancy:

the happiness of having enough of what we need, and to be generous and to feel like I have fulfilled my family’s needs!

 

 

2012 State-of-the-Union

Since President Obama issued his State-of-the-Union address yesterday, I’ve been feeling like having one too.   And, having visited the financial planner yesterday, it seems no better time than to make some bold statements about 2012.

1. I will find a source of income this year.  After all, I now know that with the financial plan we’re working on, given existing income sources and adjustments for income, my kids will be able to go to a decent college, eating in a fancy dining hall, and sleeping in a dormitory that’s probably nicer than home, all with a hefty subsidy from mom & dad, but we will spend retirement eating ramen-noodles from our walkers wearing the same clothes I wear now. Seriously, I’ve always known I needed to return to work. I’ve wanted to return to work. I’ve tried to find something that suits me. But now it’s time to buckle down!  I don’t mind the ramen-noodles really (see below), but I’m gonna want to buy myself a nice pair of boots, or dear g-o-d, take a vacation to someplace warm when I’m old!

2. We will plan our expenses carefully. This is a tough one.  I am married to mr. spontaneity who’s alter ego is mr. end-cap (as in he shops from the promotional end-caps despite my advice that better deals are found deeper in the aisle).  I do usually benefit from his spontaneity.  The end-caps? Ah, we really have enough cereal.

I will make an effort to fix more things rather than replace them, whenever possible. We must plan our vacations far enough out that we budget the expenses. We have this sailboat we must equip for it’s first season (what was I thinking?) and now we must plan out what we want to spend and not just spend it all in the month of June as we launch it.  I will attempt to purchase items from craigslist — I really do need a new desk, but maybe not a brand-new desk!

3. I will try to like cooking.  After all, if I like it,  won’t I want to do more of it? And that will lead to fewer meals out.  Really, I have to learn to cook like I’m a working mom. You know, cook a big meal on the weekend and package it out as a few meals and freeze.  Perhaps a little less of “oh, what can I pull together now that it’s 4:30 and I have to feed my kids”. I really miss my single days where eating a bowl of couscous in front on the TV at 8pm was dinner. No prep. No forethought. Virtually no dishes. That was the life.  And it was 15 years ago, so really, it’s time I got my sh** together.

4. I will continue to exercise and keep myself healthy.  A cortisone shot on Friday might make this seem more doable.  But really, no excuses.  If we’re going to have to work until we’re 70 years old (which we will) then we’d better be healthy.    So on days when I don’t feel like navigating icy sidewalks to run, let me remember that I have to make this body last a long time. Next time something doesn’t work right, I’m going to see a doctor rather than just wait it out. I’ve learned a painful (literally!) lesson with this rotator-cuff.  Feet hurt? See a doctor.  I don’t want to be 70 and crippled with arthritis while I’m trying to run the cash register at the grocery store.

5. I will unclutter our lives to make it easier to live the simple life we want.  It seems a never-ending job.  Yesterday, I pulled out a box of my grandmother’s teacup collection from the basement.  If these teacups made me happy, I’d have them on the shelf. They are, instead, part of a vast collection of dead-relative memorabilia.  It occurred to me yesterday, that if I got rid of my dead-relative collections, we might have room to display our own special memories from my own special family. Nuff said.  I plan to learn unclutter AND make money by selling stuff on ebay and craigslist.  I think I might be able to make a dent in my annual income by clearing out so much stuff.

6.  A little more discipline, maybe? So, how do I make all this happen? I will have to spend less time RIGHT HERE with my friend the computer.  We have lunch together, snack, spend many days listening to music and window-shopping.  Time to get a little distance, my friend. No offense.

I’m feeling hopeful and a little bit overwhelmed.  One day at a time, isn’t that the mantra?

 

The Place Where Everything Changed

I happened to mention my Train-Wreck metaphor for our life to Russ yesterday. And I just sorta slipped in that I posted something on this blog. I wasn’t sure he cared much for this.  But I cushioned the news with the retelling of the intro — that I love our life but that it makes me crazy sometimes. Yeah, something like that.

He had sort of a bemused look on his face. I thought it best to ignore it. Continue reading

The Train-Wreck

I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with my own life and marriage.  I love that Russ and I feel like we can do anything, go anywhere, that our kids will roll with just about anything, that slim odds or challenging logistics are never deal-breakers; I hate that we are so f*cking disorganized that we eitiher do WAAY too much at once or we miss every good opportunity because we’re still chasing down a stupid slim odd. Continue reading

Raging Madness

I write three blogs with varying regularity. I can’t decide which blog is more appropriate for this post: the one about adapting to Vermont, the one about parenting, or the one titled “managing the madness”. This one feels like it should be in the latter, but that one is focused on a different source of madness, and the first, it could go in because it’s got to do with living here, but it’s also about our life, and how it colors our life, as people and as parents. Continue reading