I need to acknowledge my relationship with money. This year, I have spent a LOT more than in previous years — and practically all on food.
I eat most of my income.
Some might say this is frivolous and that I should invest more, but investing hasn’t been possible for me for a long time, and if I keep NOT spending on food, I am doing damage; I’ve learned in the past year that I have different nutritional needs than many people, simply because my periods are so heavy. I MUST eat higher quantities of iron-rich foods in order to stay healthy, and plant-based iron, apparently, is not enough for me to stay well.
Hence, higher food spending.
But this greater spending on food comes as part of a much larger shift in how I approach life. I’ve written about some of my periods of extreme poverty before. Like so:
Taking the Leap Without a Net
What actually happens when you move abroad with no job lined up and little savings?
Food Porn: Sacrament in the Church of Social Media
One of the world’s most famous images is a picture of a meal. Could there be something magical in all our digital…
My privations have both filled my life with blessings — deeply enhancing my sense of gratitude and presence, my budgeting skills, and (especially) my resourcefulness — and left their drawbacks: most notably, stress and a knee-jerk instinct to deprive myself of anything more than barebones NEEEEEDS more than a couple times a year. See, when I was hungry in China, I measured most of my expenses — and still do, to some extent — by the metric of:
How many meals will this cost me?
That’s a shitty question. Its counterpart —
Do I really NEED this?
— is one that some will tell you is liberating and virtuous, but truth be told, minimalism is partially a mark of privilege in Western society. A luxury that the poor often can’t afford; the minimalism they’re stuck in is not the kind of minimalism that makes life unequivocally “better,” and, in fact, is often precisely part of their demoralizing, wellness-compromising struggle. Gwynne Montgomery brilliantly sums things up thus:
Minimalism is a choice. Poverty is not. When you’re getting rid of your stuff because it doesn’t “spark joy,” remember that some people don’t have anything at all that brings them any sort of joy.
The kind of “minimalism” that the poor are stuck in is not the kind that makes life unequivocally “better.” In fact, it makes life tougher, and it can leave some serious consequences — like unhealthy, survival-instinct habits — in its wake.
In my case, it did, at least…
Alas, the “Do I NEED this?” thinking of my destitute days insidiously began creeping into my social life also: if I couldn’t afford small indulgences like nice meals or new clothing, I also couldn’t afford networking events, various sorts of outings with friends, or fees for events of basically any kind. Most of all, I knew I couldn’t afford, say, doctor appointments if a sexual encounter might have required follow-up medical care. So, (un)naturally, even sex became too potentially “costly,” and I had little of it for a long time.
And all the more reason to avoid social interactions that came with a price tag if you consider that any one of those engagements could turn out to be awful. The average person’s simple “waste of money” = a colossal setback-loss to the impoverished person.
Point blank, poverty makes everything riskier, and this fact can make you more reclusive than even a natural “loner” is inclined to be. Unhealthily more so. And once you’re stuck in that kind of rut, it’s hard to get out of it.
But what choice do you really have?
Hopefully someday I’ll earn enough to save for future security. Hopefully I’ll graduate from barebones-survival, to Survival Plus™… to thriving… to Thriving-with-Some-to-Spare.
Over the past years, as things have gradually looked up — and I’ve upgraded from how-will-I-eat poverty, to Basic Poverty™ — I’ve had to retrain myself to indulge once in a while and, thereby, expand and nourish my world. Now I take the (short, no-frills) trip. I eat the cake. I have the sex. I enroll in the workshop. I agree to the social outing.
I also buy the more expensive food, if it will nourish me better. I urge the doctor to do the “unnecessary” test.
And I am better off for it.
So, why is this included in my year-end list of self-celebrations? It isn’t that I’m proud that I have more money; it’s that I’m proud that I’m able to take baby steps toward putting my well-deserved money fears aside just long enough, moment by moment — now that I have a little more to spend — to invest more in my own pleasure, personal enrichment, and health.
I started this series of posts by mentioning my increased ease with my own body. In reality, I suppose that largely came from a combination of 1) being in my 30s and understanding the transitory nature of stuff like health and youth (and regretting all the years I’d spent hiding myself away), with 2) being in the midst of a much larger process of learning to allow myself indulgences, instead of only permitting myself to make spending choices that “make sense.”
But some choices don’t make sense. And some choices that don’t make sense are life-affirming and life-supporting anyway.
I hope that you, too, can celebrate some good you’ve done for yourself this year by making a choice that didn’t make sense.
This post is part of a larger series on the ways in which I’m taking stock of my own growth in 2018. The series is introduced here: