Challenges, Money

Better Bean Counting

And other budgeting jokes.

Money is incredibly weird. It’s a medium of exchange between time and stuff, between time and experiences. It tries to measure value added, tasks performed, quality, quantity, but it’s completely made up. I read David Graeber‘s “Debt: The First 5000 Years” a few summers ago, and I’ve never looked at money (or debt, or society) the same way since.

As we’re no longer living in Graeber’s historical accounts of community indebtedness, we spend a lot of time keeping track of what is owed to whom, and when.

I’ve worked since I was 12, as a mother’s helper and babysitter, before I turned 16 and signed on as a cheerful ice cream slinger at the local Baskin Robbins. The ice cream gig was the solution to a problem presented earlier in school year: the choir had been invited to sing in China the following year, and I was going to have to finance the trip myself. The trip fell through, but I kept the job until the weekend before I left for college.

I could joke that I’ve got a little dragon in me, because I have always loved to save. Maybe it’s the virtue of having a brilliant accountant for a mother, because she started me very young, with a children’s savings account at the local bank – a great deal because they gave out lollies EVERY TIME you visited. She also taught me that money takes time, and you need to think about what you’re going to do with it

When I was maybe 7 years old, I spotted a plastic, purple purse with a handle made of shiny fake jewels (chic from the beginning, y’all) while in Target with my mom. It could not have been more than $5.99, but when she told me that I had to save up for it, I was devastated but I set to work.

After a couple of weeks, I remember laying out what I considered to be a truly astonishing amount of quarters (possibly 7 whole dollars!) that I had been hoarding, and stacking them into little groups of four. I was ready. I brought my quarters back to Target on our next trip, bought the little plastic purse, and carried it proudly when we went to church that weekend.

I still have that little plastic purse buried in one of the boxes stacked in my parent’s basement. Although I’m fairly sure that I stuffed a dried flower into it at some point during high school, it still holds a special place in my memory and in my financial formation.

I’m feeling particularly grateful for the long-term commitment to saving that managed to thrive in college, because graduate school has completely cleaned me out and I’m truly scraping the bottom of my savings account. More on that later, and how the surprisingly low cost of living in Paris is making this whole grad school, international move experience possible!

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