When Dustin was in Iraq, he got paid on the 10th of every month. It was hard, at first, to only get paid once a month and honestly I hated the 9th more than any day of the month. After a while, though, it was easy to fall into a routine of paying the bills on the 10th, putting so much into the savings account (a laughable thought now) and knowing that I had so many dollars until the 10th rolled around again. I grew to love that routine. I grew to cherish my ability to make it work to the point where the 9th became my most loved day of the month, because there was still plenty of money left to live, or to put away, or to possibly spend on something frivolous (what?!).
After 18 months of Dustin's contract in Iraq, we had amassed some wares that we had only dreamed of: a car that actually ran, bedroom furniture that wasn't broken and older than me, a digital camera from this decade, a basic-level e-reader, and a mediocre laptop that allowed Dustin to stay in touch with me from the desert and prevented him from completely going batshit crazy whilst confined to a base in the middle of a war-torn country. These things aren't luxuries to most people, but when I get up every morning and see a new wardrobe in my bedroom, I'm still slightly amazed that I was fiscally able and actually allowed to go to a store, pick out what I wanted, and buy it with cash that I had in my checking account. Since I struck out on my own with Dustin, I was sure that something as seemingly small as this would be for other people, as if Ikea was a place for us to buy candles and lingonberries, but nothing else. This is the stuff of which American dreams are made, right?
These are not crazy credit purchases like my the people my age are making: houses that are too large for their families with mortgages that they can barely afford, cars that are shiny status symbols with names like Audi, Saab or Acura, and clothes and bedding from Pottery Barn and Jack and Jill for their toddlers that are too young to know the difference (or care) between items from these overpriced chain boutiques and those that came from the Salvation Army's half-price day (the greatest day of the week, by the way). I felt a little smug about my own sense of restraint at my age: about paying our credit cards (fixtures of time when money was completely gone) down instead of racking them up, paying over on my student loan bills so that maybe I could have them paid off before I retired, working full-time at a temp job that I hated when I didn't technically "need," to because money was okay for once.
I felt like a real adult singing, "you're going to make it after all!"
When Dustin got home from Iraq, he was on unemployment for a decent amount of time, but it was okay. The savings was there, he made as much as one could make on unemployment and we were living modestly and even managed to pay off one of Dustin's student loans in this time (hooray!). Then Dustin got a job with a company that repairs large pieces of equipment for an hourly sum that was laughable to someone with his skill and experience. It was okay, though, they assured him, it wouldn't always be like this and they could see him rising through the ranks of the company, and let's face it, no one was beating down the door to give him a job that paid what he deserved. I got hired on full-time at my temp job and got a "raise," that made our pays about equal. We lived, but I could feel myself drilling down, down and further down into the seemingly endless depths of depression (a result of a job that I loathed) that only a fierce cocktail of psychopharmaceuticals rescue me from. I had doctor's co-pays, hospital bills, pharmacy co-pay after co-pay and the 70% of nothing that comes from a three week stint of Short-Term Disability. The first weeks of this year were a mess...a mess that I'm not sure we'll ever recover from.
The late winter was rough but the summer seems to be rougher. The savings is low now, a result of buying groceries, paying credit card bills, and having a fussy feline that needed 1,000 dollars worth of medical care and now requires prescription food and a eagle-eye to make sure that he doesn't die.I got a new job within my company, but it pays less when you factor in all of the overtime I'm not working. But I should be glad, right? My time is so valuable that I should cherish not working thirteen hour days and crying at my desk, RIGHT?!
Let's face reality: my time has become increasingly less valuable as these hot months roll on and by back-to-school, I may be hocking school shoes or bookbags three nights a week at some crappy retail job to compensate. Who needs sleep anyway?
Maybe I should've bought a bunch of things that I couldn't afford so that at least I'd have the things to fall back on instead of having a stack of bills that have a decent chunk taken from them, but are nowhere near paid-off. Maybe my age group has it all right: buy now, figure it out later and leave the debt for your toddlers.
Maybe I shouldn't have treated myself to that makeup two years ago.
The choices that I have to make now for Dustin and I are those that two people that make well above minimum wage should never have to make. How long can I go without that prescription? What happens if we consistently eat carbohydrates because they're cheaper than vegetables and fruit? That medical procedure isn't absolutely necessary, is it? I'm more inclined to believe that this really is the stuff of which American Dreams are made.