November 20, 2004

Budget Conscience

It sucks not having as much money as I'm used to (or as I used to).

I don't regret my current job, nor the friendly relationships I have made with my coworkers. People grumble about their jobs all the time. It's mostly a stress reliever, I think. Sometimes you just gotta vent. I just wish I made a bit more money.

Making a livable wage is technically all I need, but I think my mind has become used to making a little more than I need, and having some left over for long-term savings or for some short-term enjoyment. However, over the past year or so, I have started to finally "feel the pinch" as my paycheque has gone just a little bit lower than before.

I guess I had my personal equivalent to the "dot com boom", working for some high-tech startups that paid me fairly well to do what I loved. The downside of having all that lovely disposable income was the periodic stress of knowing that the company that gave me those fatty paycheques could go toes up in six months. This uncertainty, coupled with the lack of structure in small companies leads to stress and fear.

Sure, I'm grateful as hell to have a job today, even if I can't sock away as much into the old RRSP as I used to. It doesn't take much to remember the dry, coppery taste of unemployment, and not having many prospects. I told myself after being laid off a few times that, if at all possible, I would seek an opportunity that could be long-term and stable. It's unrealistsic really, but I intended to not get laid off again. I wanted a better level of job security.

I'm reminded daily of people who literally have almost nothing compared to me. Really, I'm lucky as hell to have a stable job, a warm and loving partner and home and relatively good health.

So, I do consider myself to be fortunate. One day, work will end for me. One day I will be too old or sick to work. When that happens, I will become dependent on my long-term savings. I have only been able to invest a little bit each month, at the expense (literally) of my monthly budget. But nobody else is going to pay me when I get old and grey (I'm assuming OAP or CPP will not be dependable in another 30 years), so I must try to save as much as I can.

So, it's belt-tightening time, and I must do some kind of budget and plug any holes in my pockets.

As I think about this more, I can bring even more perspective to my situation:

When I was 19, and just beginning my Foundation (first) year at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, I had very little income. My friend Coniah and his family graciously let me rent their townhome for a meager $200 per month, and between this and some part-time jobs I was usually able to scrape together what I needed - not always, mind you, but most of the time (did I mention that Coniah's family were gracious?).

That first year was a real bitch. I worked part-time washing dishes at the Pantry restaurant, and made another $75 to $100 per month setting out the lawn sprinklers in my townhouse complex. That second job saved my bacon: the Pantry only paid me about $4.35 an hour. I think I got a raise up to $4.65 after about six months of scrubbing dishes and urinals. My Dad and my dear old Aunty Molly helped me with tuition that first year too, but by April I was flat broke. Later, I applied for a student loan for the following year, amounting to a whopping $3000. My Dad's voice echoed in my head, warning me not to get into debt.

Back then, my meals often consisted of eating the same oatmeal for a few days at a time in the morning (a big bag of it was cheap) and eating the same elbow macaroni in the evening (same reason). I used teabags for twice as many cups of tea as they were meant for, and when I ran out of margarine, I spread mayonnaise on my morning toast until I had used that all up.

Compared to all that, trimming my current monthly budget now isn't such a big deal. I think I can cut down on cell phone use, visit Starbucks a bit less and maybe even pack a lunch once in a while.

I've also decided that belt tightening should not lessen my contributions to the homeless guy that I see almost everyday, nor to the Union Gospel Mission. No matter how bad off you may be, there is always someone who could use your help.

Two bucks given to a homeless person beats the hell out of two bucks worth of coffee.

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