Saturday, August 16, 2008

Frugal Living - One-Time Adventure Vs. Way Of Life?

Today, I received our church bulletin in the mail and was looking through it. They are already assembling a youth group for next summer, to come out to Mexico and build a house there over the course of a week or two. It's for all ages and the parents are welcome to come along and help. Perfect opportunity for CB, I thought to myself and had already opened my mouth to ask him if he wanted to go, when it hit me.

I don't want to go. I hadn't realized it before, but I am horrified at the prospect. I don't want to share a room with other women; I don't want to share a bathroom with twenty other people; I'm afraid of working in the heat; and I'm afraid of working at a construction site.

You know why? Because I've done it all before.

I never had a room all to myself until I was 37 or 38. First, my parents and I shared the only room in the apartment where I grew up; then I lived on campus and had roommates. Boy, did I have roommates. At any given moment, I had from two to four other girls living in the same room with me. Two of my roommates actually turned out to be a couple. Then I graduated and moved to another town for work. Back then in the USSR, you pretty much couldn't rent or own. I'm sure somewhere out there, there were exceptions; but not in our town. My living arrangements were three girls to a room. I lived like that for two years; then I got an apartment all to myself. I lived there alone for a month or two, then Mr. Goldie joined me. Then we had a baby. Then another. Before I knew it, there were three people sharing a room and poor Mr. Goldie sleeping in the kitchen. Then we came here and lived in a sequence of two-bedroom apartments. Long story short, a few years ago I said I needed a room of my own and converted our little guest room into my bedroom. I'm sitting in that room as I type this.

In college, I had odd jobs and all of them were hard, physical work, because I was an idiot and couldn't find myself a cushy job for the life of me. One job was at a factory where I had to work a 40-hour week and we had strict hours. I almost flunked out of college that spring; apparently, full-time job and full-time study don't mix that well. I worked at a construction site one summer, and sucked at it. Turns out, I cannot hold a shovel or a hammer correctly. It also appears that, no matter how I try, I cannot shovel or hammer fast enough. Another job was working at a coat check. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Turned out I was expected to do the work of four people. I also hadn't realized that in winter in Russia, most people wear coats that are incredibly heavy. I did well, but it took me forever to get my energy back after each work day.

So now, I am terrified at the very thought of doing any of that again. If I had grown up comfortably middle-class American, I guess it would've been a fun adventure for me; as it is, it would be reliving the worst moments of my life.

This leads me to the posts I read on V's site on frugal living. V seems to be a big proponent of living small and in close quarters. I see how this can feel like fun, with the added benefit of low bills, if you hadn't done it all your life before. Live in your own room all your life, move into a trailer for a change, move out two years later and remember it fondly as a fun experience you once had. That'll work to an extent. I am not sure, by the way, how even that will work in a family with children. I saw for myself how living in a small space affected my children, especially LilProgrammer, who has mild Aspergers and is not all that thrilled to be around people every minute of the day. In our Russian apartment, the three-year-old LilProgrammer used to lock himself in the shower with his building blocks and Legos, so he could play without being bothered. He suffered and was afraid of his baby brother. I'm not even going to start on what living in a small apartment did to my marriage. No low bills are worth it.

As I see it, frugal living is only fun until it starts to defeat the purpose, which, again as I see it, is to stay out of debt; or cut the expenses in one category so you can spend more in another that you deem more important; or allow your family to save for the future, thus providing a sense of security. Either way the end goal is to keep your family happy. (If your end goal is something else, like sitting on a pile of money just for the heck of it, then get off this site and find professional help. I cannot help you.) If your family is cramped and miserable, and all its members are hating each other, then I don't care how much you save, you're doing something wrong. I am a big proponent of a golden medium in all things.

Plus, you don't want to scar your children for life so that, when they're forty, they pass up on a fun charity trip because they are scared shitless of sharing a room with other people again.

The Goldie has spoken at 5:40 PM

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