March 22, 2003

Thrift

For the last six weeks or more, I’ve managed to live an extremely thrifty lifestyle. It’s amazing what simply not having any disposable cash can do for you. And by that I mean no cash whatsoever. No credit cards, no overdraft, nothing. Yes, it’s that bad.

I’m sitting here, watching Gulf War, Part Two, take place on CNN in front of me. I’ve just been shopping with my friend Richard, who has been kind enough to help me out with some groceries for the rest of the month of March. I’m at one of those awkward points in my life, where I’m in a lousy place financially, partly through my own lack of planning, and partly through circumstances where I simply haven’t been paid money that I’ve been owed. That, and the fact that my cupboards have now been emptied as I search for every last piece of food in a desperate attempt to assuage the hunger pangs, has meant that I’ve finally swallowed my pride (which doesn’t go far in terms of assuaging aforesaid hunger) and asked for help from my friends. Which they have been kind enough to supply.

For the last six weeks or more, I’ve managed to live an extremely thrifty lifestyle. It’s amazing what simply not having any disposable cash can do for you. And by that I mean no cash whatsoever. No credit cards, no overdraft, nothing. Yes, it’s that bad.

So as I look at the night sky of Baghdad, with all it’s pretty anti-aircraft tracer fire, and the soon to resume explosions as various buildings there fall to the might of the staggering US forces, I realise that it’s not that bad for me. It’s bad, but not that bad. I have a roof over my head that’s not about to be mistaken for a military installation. I have a throat infection, and the hardest part about sorting that out was asking a friend to help me go buy antibiotics. Getting the antibiotics was remarkably easy. Even though when I did go, it was after hours, all I had to do was get the pharmacist to call my GP at home, take a telephone prescription, and watch gratefully as the friend’s credit card was handed over to purchase the drugs.

There wasn’t any shadow of a doubt that the drugs were available, or that I might be killed by an airborne bomb on the way to getting the drugs. The phone network works, and so the pharmacist had no problem securing the prescription. The credit card network works, so it was easy to pay for them. It’s all these little things that me think that being in a war zone may really be horrible.

Don’t get me wrong. I refer to myself as a liberal. Not a bleeding-heart liberal, but a liberal nonetheless. I truly believe that Saddam Hussein is not a good world citizen, and that he isn’t telling the truth about the capabilities of his weapons programme. That said, I also feel that he wouldn’t think twice about using weapons of mass destruction against the US and the rest of the world if he felt it was necessary. In my world view, there are some people in this world that you can trust to have the power to wipe everyone out, and there are some you can’t. I’m no sure about Bush having his finger on the button, but I definitely know that given the choice between him and Saddam, I’d vote for the button to be installed in the White House every time.

So where am I going with this? Well, it struck me that if I could manage to live my life this frugally all the time, how much spare cash would I have? I did a strict budget, and figured out that about one third of my salary is potentially available as disposable income. Which is weird because the phrase disposable income always conjures up an image of cash going straight into the garbage. Which in effect, I guess it does. You’re exchanging it for memories, not goods, most of the time, so there’s nothing tangible to show for it. Not that memories are bad. And I guess you’d only want to have tangible goods all the time, if what mainly concerned you, was what other people thought. Because then you could take the goods and show them off. But fuck ‘em. My memories are worth way more than that. And frequently, knowing my friends and the kind of stuff we get up to, those memories result in fantastic dinner time conversations.

Now I should mention that that one third of my income is assuming that I have no debt to service. Which unfortunately, is not the case. I haven’t yet worked out how much of it goes to interest repayment, but it’s probably sizeable. And when you include the capital repayments, it effectively eats up all that disposable income. So what happens? You end up still spending some money on fun and entertainment, except it’s not really money, it’s credit, ironically named, because it’s really debt that your accruing.

And this system works for a while, assuming that you have a regular income. You know there’s a problem, and you keep it somewhat under control, by servicing the debt regularly, and then just accruing more debt. Which the banks and credit companies love because they’re able to show movement on your accounts, and they know you’re not welching, and they’re able to charge you more interest every month.

The trouble is, the moment you stop earning regular income, it all falls apart. Which is what started happening a few months ago when my previous employer seemed unable to fulfil his salary obligations to me, and then ceased to fulfil such obligations entirely in January this year.

So for six weeks I sat on my arse at home, trusting that it would all work out. I’d gotten to the stage where I slept extra long hours, just so that I wouldn’t have to be awake to think about what was going on.

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  :::  a Written ritual performed at 03:54 PM   :::