Back when I was in high school, Dad said I had the first dollar I ever made.
That was before Mother left us for an alcoholic truck driver named Larry. On her way out of town, she emptied my savings in its entirety — nearly $3,000 in collected pocket change I saved working after school as a waitress at a burger joint.
I’ve been playing ‘catch up’ ever since. And now that Spouser’s mortgage company has joined the extensive list of failed businesses, we’ve been a little stretched, if you don’t mind me saying so. If this were childbirth, an episiotomy would be warranted.
At our house, Spouser used to be the keeper and overseer of the checkbook, and I was doled out an allowance like a 10-year-old who had just finished cutting the grass. I guess you could say I actually do cut the grass.
Whatever money I saved, I stashed away for special things like personal trainers, pedicures or gifts for family and friends. Those days are long gone, and now I’m involved in our budgeting process.
Where we once shopped in haste and repented in leisure, now we shop like we’re gathering data for a census report. “Did you bring the coupon for that salad dressing?” Spouser asks.
“I thought YOU brought it,” I reply.
“We’ll eat salad dry again,” we both agree.
This past Christmas, I dusted off all our ‘gently used’ decorative plants and pottery to re-gift to those we couldn’t shimmy out of exchanging gifts with. I’ve already started crocheting scarves for next year.
Tonight’s the night I watch Spouser as he “clicks through” QuickBooks, trying to balance our checking account. He pauses and asks me, “You made the notation ‘D.M.’ on the electric bill; what does that mean?”
“It means ‘don’t mail,’” I reply. “We’ll have to send that one after the 16th.”
He nods and continues checking off the computer entries against his paper statement. “What is ‘S.M.’ under the Shrimp House entry?” he asks.
“It stands for ‘SEE ME,’” I respond in a serious tone. “I thought eating out was off limits; it’s not in the budget.”
Silence of the Spouser isn’t a screenplay slated for film yet, but if our situation gets any scarier, it may turn into a horror show.
At the end of each month, after renegotiating the details of our budget, we usually can’t sleep in the same room without opening a window to let out the hostility. Sometimes we decide it’s better to close the window so the neighbors won’t complain of us disturbing the peace, and we just let the hostility hit the roof.
Fortunately, daughter Mindy has moved out and is renting a place across town, approximately 18 miles from home. Frankly, that’s roughly two miles short of the 20 miles needed for us to nullify her gym contract and cancel her membership (which she never uses anyway). Just another unnecessary “click” Spouser has to make to the registry every month.
He pores over the last few entries on the statement, pauses, takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. Then he puts his glasses back on and taps a few numbers into his calculator. “Did you buy gas this week?” he asks.
“Yes, today,” I answer.
“So did I!” he says in a panic.
We both sit forward in our chairs, ready to strategize.
“I’ll just redeposit that check you gave me to pay the car insurance,” I suggest. “We’ll cover that bill next month.”
“But remember we have the rest of the termite damage repair bill to shell out,” he says.
We both sit back, defeated. Lately, by the end of the evening, we can see the handwriting on the wall. The checkbook is in the red and will probably not change in our lifetime.
We have friends in the same situation. Some have lost their homes and moved in with family.
“Mindy, have you rented the guestroom in your house yet?” I ask over the phone.
“Why, Mom?” she replies. “Know someone who’s looking?”
Maybe my mother took what she could and ran, and just maybe it will take the next generation to help me get back on my feet again. It’s just a thought.
Gina Tiano is now on Facebook! She is the author of Life in the Bike Lane, available at Amazon.com.