It’s been awhile since I’ve been broke. Really broke. I used to be really broke all the time. Really broke was the norm. Even the first few years after I began working full time, really broke was still the norm—not all the time, but certainly that last week—or two—of the month. It wasn’t really a question of being overdrawn at the end of the month, but of how much and how many of those 35 dollar a pop penalties I’d accrued.
I’ve got some good stories from the old broke days, most of which are quite embarrassing—one of the best involving eating the half-a-sandwich someone left on their plate at a restaurant, only to have them return for it as I took my final bite.
Those days are over, thanks to the influence of my lovely wife Liz, and I now end most months with some manner of surplus, and we’ve managed to squirrel away into savings more than I ever thought I’d have at one time. Ever.
But this last month, it being the first month, after the maternity leave and all, that we dropped to one paycheck, plus Christmas and infant rearing and all that, things got a bit tight. Which made Liz’s birthday and the acquirement of the accompanying gifts a bit tricky.
For my birthday, Liz had printed and framed pictures of me and the baby, and my plan was to do the same for her, plus make prints of all the baby pictures (hundreds) we had uploaded from camera to computer and (hundreds more) we had taken with our phones; all of which I did, though with work and baby and book and teaching I didn’t actually get all the pieces put together until day of.
Now Liz’s birthday was the 30th. Payday the 31st. Here’s what I was working with as I made my way to Walgreen’s: a twenty dollar bill (last of the 200 I’d taken from savings that week); 28 dollars on the debit card, most of which came from the 41 dollars in coins I’d deposited after spending the previous Saturday hunting down and rolling every quarter, nickel, and dime on the property; and 87 dollars of balance left on a credit card.
I knew that the pictures I’d ordered weren’t going to be cheap. I couldn’t remember, at the time, the exact amount, but I was thinking like sixty or seventy dollars. Leaving me enough, I estimated, for the six frames I needed for the six enlargements I’d had made.
I teach English. I don’t really do math. Now after picking up the pictures I very well could’ve added their price to the prices of the frames I was picking out before heading to the register, but I was operating more on feel, and I felt as if the 87 dollars on the credit card would cover the pictures and the frames. Plus one of those canned Starbucks drinks I grabbed from the little refrigerator by the register.
When the register display finally stopped at 130 dollars, I wasn’t panicked. I figured you could split it up. Like at Target. But the nice little old lady who works at the Walgreen’s—and is very nice but takes a really long time to do everything—not only didn’t think I could split it up but had no idea what on Earth I meant by split it up. So I started to just leave. Then I went back and asked the nice old lady to just keep my bag there for a while and I’d be back.
First I went across the street and tried to use this ATM card I had for the savings account. But I couldn’t remember the pin. Business hours were slipping away, and my one true love’s birthday was in jeopardy. I thought really hard—again, I don’t do math—and figured out how it had to go down.
I went back and had the little old lady take everything out of the bag. She tried to start with the Starbucks drink. I said Let’s put that back, which I did. We started instead with the pictures. When she got to eighty-something dollars, I stopped her and slid the credit card. Then the frames. When she got nearly to twenty-eight, I stopped her again, and ran the debit card. The last two frames rang up at sixteen dollars. I went back and got my Starbucks drink.
And returned home, gifts as yet unassembled but in stow, to my Lizzie, whose love, even in such times, makes me rich.
P.S. Someone may do the math on this post, and it won’t be right.