As hopelessly naive as this sounds, for a good portion of my life, I was a pseudo bohemian enthusiast who claimed that love is all you need. I blame it on my obsession with the movie, Moulin Rouge. I was a teenager back then and unfortunately I have grown-up and have received a few bloody noses from Life. Life can be such a jerk sometimes. I believe that everyone needs to get their ass kicked once or twice, it’s humbling. I got my ass kicked metaphorically speaking, and I think that counts.
I had a slight awakening today while contemplating if I was going to wait in the two hour line to get my car detailed or if I was going to put it off until tomorrow, which I’ve been saying everyday for the last month. I smiled when I remembered the time, approximately four years ago, when I made a promise to myself. It was 2011, I had somewhat recently graduated from college, and I was planning my move to Los Angeles. The only major thing that was stopping me was my vehicle. I had a piece of shit car that somehow managed to drive me back and forth between Tampa and Savannah (where I went to college) for years, but I knew that trying to take it cross-country, would only leave me stranded on the side of the road and susceptible to being found “dead in a ditch,” which is a phrase I grew up with my Mom saying. “Call me when you get there so that I know you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere, Caitlin!”
Being the rad Dad that he is, my father gave me his old car, and bought himself a new one. Since I can remember, my Dad’s cars have always smelled like gasoline, grass and coffee. When I was growing up, he owned a landscaping company, so it made sense. Now, even though the landscape company is long gone, for some reason, his cars still always smell like gasoline, grass and coffee and has gasoline, grass and coffee in every crevice and on every possible surface of his car, plus just so much dirt. In other words, the car is filthy. It never really bothered me though, because I like how hands-on he is and that he actually uses his cars as the piece of machinery that they are, rather than the milk and honey of one’s existance. I don’t give a shit about what my car looks like, but I wasn’t too keen on not being able to wear a white t-shirt because it would get noticeably dirty simply by sitting down in my own vehicle. So, I packed that Subaru up with a desk, my clothes, some lamps and my hopes and dreams and headed off to California, promising myself that when I received my first big paycheck, I would use part of it to get my car detailed. I figured it would cost around $100.
That day never came. I was constantly struggling; drowning in financial agony. Two years later, for many reasons, surprisingly finances not being one of the main factors, I packed up that Subaru again, this time without a desk, minimal clothes, no lamps and only broken hopes and dreams (I had significantly down-sized literally and metaphorically), and drove it back across the damn country in the company of that familiar smell of gasoline, grass and coffee which were still ingrained in every crevice of the car that I never got detailed because the payday never came.
My life and attitude has significantly changed since then. I’m a pretty firm believer in you make your own happiness, and if you’re not happy then make a change. It took me a long time, because all of that is easier said than done, and I absolutely still have severe lows and that intense feeling of failure (that I think my entire generation is experiencing but that’s a topic for a later day) is constantly knocking on my attic door, but for the most part, I am in a better place mentally, and I believe a lot of that is because I am also in a slightly better place financially.
Just two years ago, I was in tears almost everyday, having panic attacks due to getting multiple phone calls a day from the banks, harrassing me about my late student loan payments. I regularly had to wait until payday to go grocery shopping, and would live off of the instant oatmeal packets and cans of tuna fish that were in the back of the pantry. Things like going to the doctor, seeing the dentist, paying for my electric bill and purchasing a pair of shoes that were required for work was a HUGE deal for me. How can one be happy when you can’t even afford the necessities required to live a day-to-day life?
I was honestly living day-to-day for a while there. Then it eventually progressed to week-to-week, and currently I would say that I live month to month. I in no way “have money,” but at least I do not need to question if I am able to go to the damn grocery store. I donate some money every month, depending on what’s going on in the world/my life. For example, this month I donated $50 to the Nepal relief, last month I donated $10 to this workout/exercise/nutritional website that I regularly use that I think provides a good service and the month before that, I donated $20 to NPR. I do what I can when I can and that makes me happy. Before, when I was living day-to-day, donating a mere $15 was just not an option, and that made me sad.
I was sitting at the car wash/detail place, and realized that money really can buy happiness. Being able to detail my car without it breaking my bank account now represents a sense of fulfillment to me, and I am happier because of it. The $80 it takes definitely makes me wince, and it is a luxury that I would never spend the money on for myself, but I am trying to sell the car so the detailing fee is necessary, but it won’t effect wether or not I can pay my telephone invoice later this day. I still can’t afford to get my tattoo finished, and I can’t afford to buy a new used car (though I need one) or shop anywhere other than Ross Dress for Less, but at least I can afford to get my teeth cleaned when needed, fill my car with gasoline and go to a “Tyler the Creator” show when he is in town, without worrying about how I’m going to also pay my water bill.
I think that the phrase should go, “Being filthy rich can’t buy you happiness.” Not that I know what it feels like to be filthy rich, but from the little wisdom I do have, I think I could agree with that statement.
Not to completely change the subject, but I think that this piece of advice is important, and it falls under the topic of money as well. Spend your money on experiences, not things! I’m going to turn that into a Caitlin Rule.
I have mostly lived this way, but I was never able to so gracefully articulate it. I am going to Australia this summer, and in fall I am going to Eastern Europe. Though I am doing both trips very frugally, I know, without a doubt, that I will be broke for at least the next two years due to this year. The Europe trip was planned first, and that was set in stone (it’s going to be with my sister and Fat Face and we are going to have the time of our lives), but before I decided on Australia with any type of certainty, I was discussing the monetary and potentially emotional set-back of the trip with my boss. I went into this whole soliloquy to which he responded by simply shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Do it. Spend your money on experiences rather than things.” Well said, sir. I now pass this wisdom onto all of you.