It's been 5 days since my $0-spending challenge began. I have to say, it's been... interesting. There are so many ways that small amounts of money become integral to the day-to-day socializing of life.
Grabbing a quick lunch after a playdate at the park, for instance, or having an evening coffee with friends. I do this all the time, several times a week, without ever thinking about it. I drive to my mom's house for a morning visit on the days she works from home and almost always pick up a Starbucks on the way.
As if I would somehow be unwelcome if I didn't come bearing a treat? As if my friends wouldn't want me there if I wasn't buying a drink and some pie?
Not spending money is proving to be much more than just a financial endeavor. There's a completely emotional side to it that I am really struggling with, that I was almost totally unaware of.
When I worked in Denver, at a PR agency downtown, I was living paycheck-to-paycheck in an apartment I could not afford with a lifestyle that was completely outside my realm of maintenance. I desperately wanted to fit in with the "cool kids" at the agency, and every day would find myself tagging along on these $20 lunches at expensive restaurants, just so I could hang out and try and get the in-crowd jokes.
It was very much like high school, only with cocktails and Biaggi's instead of Dr. Pepper and Burger King.
And every day, I'd be the only one writing a check; everyone else paid with credit cards or cash. They'd tease me about how annoying it was to have to get my own separate check, I'd blush and make some muttered comment about forgetting to hit the ATM.
The truth was that my check book could have bounced to the moon with all the bad checks I was writing. The truth was that I couldn't hit the ATM because my account was perpetually overdrawn. The truth was that there wasn't a credit card company out there that would have me, I was so deep in debt and late fees.
So I wrote checks for everything, the bank cleared them and then added another $20 fee against my account. It was a mess. I was a mess. I had no ability to prioritize the luxuries of life, like lunches out every day, against the necessities of life, like paying my rent.
I lost that job, by the way. I never fit in and the harder I tried, the more of an awkward wannabe I became. Buying social time with my co-workers didn't get me anywhere except back into my mom's basement with a stack of bills I couldn't pay.
The point here is that I have always confused having money with having a social life. At this point in my life, with this little experiment, I am finally coming to understand that I don't need to pay in order to spend time with the people I care about and, more importantly, who care about me. Sure, it's nice to meet friends for lunch, but the reality is, they'll still be my friends if I can't.