Today, my husband and I will meet with our accountant to do our small business and personal taxes. In preparation, I filled out that little booklet the accountant sends out. It was sobering.
This year, my husband and I, combined, earned significantly less than my salary alone at my last newspaper job. I quit that job years ago when our family business was doing well and freelance work was plentiful.
Then the recession hit and decimated both print journalism and our business.
Three years ago, we had enough money to pay cash for a plot of land. This year, the payroll company at our family-owned business didn’t withhold any federal income taxes from my check because I didn’t make enough to warrant it.
I’m not sorry. If I hadn’t quit, I would surely have been laid off by now. And, honestly, I hadn’t realized the extent of the decline of our fortunes. If anything, I have gained a deeper sense of gratitude over the past two years, thanks to the program.
Sure, we had to cut back. We got rid of all non-essential services. We didn’t go out to any swanky restaurants or take vacations. For the past two years, I haven’t bought any new clothes. I used to be a frequent flier at Amazon. The only new books I bought in the last two years came courtesy of a gift certificate I got for Christmas. I can’t tell you how excited it made me.
But I hardly felt impoverished. We entertained at home more. Got acquainted with the 10 cent books at the public library’s Book Barn. I may not have found the latest best sellers, but I discovered books and authors I might never have tried otherwise.
If we needed anything, we eventually found it at the senior center thrift store. And if I may say so, I love my new leather boots all the more because they cost me $2.
The boom years meant we fared better than many people. We are frugal at heart, and don’t like debt. So we didn’t have much debt beyond our mortgage. And the national credit crisis, which hit just as we began building, meant we had to pay for construction of the new house only as we could save the money, so we didn't take on more.
It meant doing much of the work ourselves, and being flexible enough with our vision to take advantage of materials when we found them at fire-sale prices. But we found great satisfaction in doing that.
There was one awkward moment when we ran into a group of people we knew. They said we should all get together for dinner. Yes, we should, we chimed in, then wondered how on earth we would manage that.
Instead of waiting for a dinner invitation, we took the initiative and invited everyone over for a fancy brunch. I made Dutch babies, basically giant, lemon sugar-dusted popovers; baked eggs with spinach and ham; fresh grapefruit and bacon.
But the brunch cost us next to nothing. Flour and eggs are relatively inexpensive, and the only thing we had to buy was the spinach. We had everything else in the pantry or freezer. The grapefruit came fresh-picked from our neighbor’s tree. We handed out bags of lemons from our own. It was a wonderful morning and we both agreed we enjoyed it more than a fancy dinner we couldn’t afford.
We still manage breakfast a couple of times a month at our favorite local restaurant. We split the chicken fried steak. My husband eats the chicken fried, and I eat the eggs and pancake that come with. With milk and coffee the check comes to $12, with a tip.
And if we really want to splurge, there’s a nice little BYOB where we can split an excellent pizza, a couple of salads and the best apple pie in the state. Our check never runs more than $25.
Sometimes the business felt tenuous. Once, we’ve had to collect outstanding debt to make payroll. But we’ve always found the money when we needed it. We’ve sold some things, but we didn’t need them anyway. They were easy to let go.
Our lives still feel rich. We still have our home. And we have each other. Every day, I thank God for what we have. It’s my take on a gratitude list. Every day that list grows longer. And every day I refuse to live in fear because today I have faith, and a program. I may not always follow it exactly, but I have it.