OK, people, let’s see a show of hands.  How many of you have been sure, at one time or another, that you will not have enough money?  That you will go totally, utterly, under-the-freeway-overpass, cardboard-box-living broke? 

Well, meet me behind the appliance store, because I know I’m going to need that refrigerator box (and I’ll gladly pick up an extra one for you). 

There’s no evidence in my past to support that contention, no reason to fear this eventuality.  I’ve never lived in a refrigerator box, although I have suffered the humiliation of having to borrow money from friends or family.  I’ve also juggled bills, cut back on spending, and felt a bit sorry for myself when restaurant meals and vacations got cut from the budget.  And I survived.

So why is that fear always present?

My lizard brain clearly doesn’t have enough to do, now that all the giant man-eating dinosaurs have been priced out of our neighborhood. The trick is recognizing the panic for what it is, and finding a way to learn from it.  Learning how to live with uncertainty is probably a worthwhile skill, considering how even the most stable situations are inherently unstable, if you believe, as I do, the Buddhist view that nothing is permanent.

The next best tool, best employed after attempting to make things worse, is humor.

I once tried to pick a fight with my husband, whose transgression was pouring coffee beans directly into the grinder.  “You have to MEASURE it!!  Why aren’t you MEASURING IT???”  I screeched.  To our mutual surprise, I immediately began laughing, and added, “Because if you don’t MEASURE it, we’ll go broke, one coffee bean at a time!”

When I feel the panic rise, tightening my throat and constricting my breathing, I have to name it (“panic…anxiety…running out of money”), inhale deeply, and ask myself, “Am I okay right now?  Is there another meal coming my way, a safe place to sleep?”  When I remember that I’m not alone in the world, and I’m not fighting for survival, it’s easier to know how fortunate I am.  No one is lobbing shells at my house or burying mines on Forest Drive, which I travel in my own car, on my way to buy groceries from fully stocked shelves.

Even when the checking account seems depleted, I can choose to feel wealthy and grateful for my life as it is.  And instantly, as if I’ve just won the lottery, I’m rich.


7 Responses to Going Broke

  1. I just love the coffee beans story. I believe I had a similar breakdown over the flagrant use of band-aids in my home. Fortunately I started laughing, too…a great way to break my own cycle of nuttiness and realize one extra band-aid wasn’t going to destroy all of my carefully crafted budgetary plans 🙂

  2. Wendy says:

    Loved this, Amy. Loved the sentiment and how you wrote it and how it made me laugh AND totally be there with you all at the same time. (can I have the SMEG refrigerator carton?… it would just be such a stylish choice if I need to live out of a box…) And I feel more relaxed and less alone and less needful to panic having read it. Glorious.

  3. […] isn’t, I will be stealing sheets from neighborhood clotheslines to use as curtains in my cozy refrigerator box beneath the overpass. I got a chance, once again, to witness the destructive force of my Inner Comparinator, which made […]

  4. […] means that I will potentially come away with no money at all.  How is it that I could go from fear of living under the overpass to giving away a substantial sum of money without feeling any fear at […]

  5. Minnie says:

    But, it could happen, couldn’t it? It seems to have happened to others, ergo my brain extrapolates that it could happen to me, too. Oh well, I suppose if other people have survived the experience, I will, too.

    • amysteindler says:

      Ah, dearest Minnie, you are right on all counts. The question is, what makes us focus on the potential for disaster? We come by it honestly, say the neurobiologists, because our survival equipment is constantly on the lookout for danger. But we project so far into the future that we overlook the clear and present danger of missing out on the small joys we’re given each day, and the opportunities to take small steps toward a different outcome.

  6. […] someone like me, with an actively frantic money lizard, a home renovation represents the mother of all sanity tests.  While I wasn’t worried about the […]

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