Sometimes I still have moments of intense panic and despair, but I’m getting better at getting over them quickly.
First of all, I realized that my goal of extreme self-denial to become more financially secure is just going to make me miserable and suck all the joy out of living. I’m comparing myself to a few people I know and/or may be related to, who have incomes that are more than double the national median. Why in the world would I compare myself to them? Not only do I not share their incomes, I also don’t share their values in most cases.
Similarly, comparing myself to the savings habits of immigrants is also not very realistic. The one thing I am not willing to do is live in a really crappy or small place in a bad neighborhood just to save lots of money. Sure, I could probably cut my rent nearly in half if I got a two-bedroom place and made all 3 kids bunk up in the same room. I could save a shit ton of money if I lived in a place that was falling apart. But we’d be miserable.
I don’t have the savings habits of immigrants and as such I also don’t have similarly large amounts of money saved. And honestly, I’m in good company: everything I’ve read shows that most Americans are in a similar boat as I am, if not worse off. The fact is that most of us have relatively stagnant wages, especially compared to astronomically rising health care costs. If you happen to need a lot of healthcare like I do, it’s going to be even harder to really get ahead.
In truth, my life is pretty great. The MS factor is really hard; there’s no doubt about that. I spend a lot of time in pain. But I live in a beautiful house with a great landlord in an internationally diverse neighborhood. I just got a newish car last year (2 years old) and it was exactly the kind I wanted.
My kids finally all have their own bedrooms, something they had wanted all their lives. I have great, intelligent kids who are both interesting and kind. We have enough food. We have little luxuries the family enjoys like high speed Internet and a family plan on Spotify premium.
I didn’t move here to suffer more so that I could save more money. Honestly I probably could have done that in my hometown, since there was no shortage of entire blocks full of rundown houses for rent for not much more than my car payment. My kids might have been at risk for random drive-by shootings and my husband at risk of chronic unemployment, but hey, I could have rented a whole house for less than $500 a month!
I wanted a better life where things weren’t so miserable. Why would I intentionally pursue more misery just to save money? That’s not me–even if my eyes are open to the possible consequences of not doing so.
On top of all this, I’ve been married almost 24 years to someone who still makes me laugh and still has interesting things to discuss with me. He helps me out, especially when my MS is acting up, but still sees me as kind of a badass overall anyway. We got through the distancing from our respective religions. While he still considers himself a non-practicing Catholic, he completely accepts me for my reversion to what I always was (save for the last few very weird years): a spiritual mystic, Buddhist-influenced humanist who really doesn’t want much to do with Christianity.
He is interesting and smart and hilarious and hardworking, the one constant I can count on. To be truly known and loved anyway is one of the best things there is.
So maybe I won’t ever be able to be so strict with my expenses that I’ll never have to worry about money again. Maybe I don’t want to give up everything that brings me a little joy in hopes of maybe someday paying off my student loans a little sooner.
But in the meantime there’s really so much good about my life and I want to appreciate it, instead of comparing myself to people whose lifestyles I probably can never have (the wealthy ones) or whose lifestyles I probably wouldn’t want.