A Many-Patterned Strangeness

I likely ought to be working on NaNo stuff or Patreon stuff or any number of other Stuffs, but it’s been a wee while since I updated here, and I’d like to get back into the habit of blogging more. (They said, for the fourteenth time in the past year without actually doing it.)

We’ve now been in Glasgow for almost two months. We have a flat and bank accounts and internet (at long last!). I’m drinking copious amounts of tea (which here is available most often in packages of 150-200 bags–take notes, America and your 20-bag boxes). I wanted to reflect a little on the changes since the move.

I also feel a little awkward doing so, because things have been bleak in the States. (Today, however, there was good news to wake up to, as well as no small amount of schadenfreude that that horrid bathroom bill author in Virginia lost the state rep race to a trans woman.)

  1. My mental health is better. Full stop. I almost don’t even need to elaborate. It’s just BETTER. I wake up in the morning happy. I get silly swells of emotional whatsit just walking down Dumbarton Road here in Partick, even if someone didn’t clean up after their dog or whatever. The air smells better here. It’s cleared away the fog. I rest easy knowing we’re in the bosom of Nicola Sturgeon and her dogged defence of Scotland’s social systems. I have also, no fewer than three times, seen a non-binary gender option on *official forms*. The option to chose MY ACTUAL TITLE instead of getting shoehorned into binary terms. The Glasgow City Council was one, for fuck’s sake.
  2. I have a GP literally across the street. No, really. I can walk out the door of our building, keep going, and run right into it. My healthcare is taken care of. I got two prescriptions filled in September. You go to the pharmacy, they fill them, they hand them to you, you leave. Notice anything missing in that list? I didn’t leave anything out. I read an essay yesterday that a friend shared, by a man expressing absolute love for his best friend, who moved in with them when his wife got cancer. There was a line in that essay that will fucking haunt me. He said: I juggled money because nobody would die if we didn’t pay our taxes, so the hospitals and surgeons came first. (Essay here.) That is something that should never be said, especially so casually as to basically be a throwaway statement in passing. America’s healthcare is criminal. That’s all.
  3. I am doing things I have wanted to do for ages. Not just living here, but I found a Gaelic class thanks to a friend, and it’s a 24 week course that transitions into more units, and basically the whole time Monsieur is at pharmacy school, I’m going to be learning Gaelic, hopefully to fluency over the next few years. Not only is this a massive bucket list item for me, but it’s good job security, as it’s a highly sought skill here. My classmates are a wide spectrum of ages, a few from the islands whose parents are native speakers, others who want to get in touch with older roots, and the class itself is taught with the Ùlpan method that originated in the Middle East, wherein everything is taught in the target language with very, very little explanation in English. I AM FUCKING ECSTATIC.
  4. I’m reading more. I’ve read more books in the past two months than I read in the past year. I’m rereading the Wheel of Time. I’m reading ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders. I just finished THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES by Rebecca Podos. I’m excited about books again.
  5. I’m writing more. More importantly, I’m wanting to. I’ve been utterly crushed by the industry for the past couple years. I’ve been constantly battling the nihilism of “what’s even the point of submitting”, which isn’t healthy? Really not healthy.
  6. I feel safer. This isn’t really an illusion. It is safer here, physically and psychically, for someone like me. Just in general, really. Again, I’m serious. Crime happens here. Violent crime happens. But the drop off in odds for it to happen is so stark it’s a cliff, moving from America to here.
  7. I’m exploring my world. We went to Loch Lomond. Canoed. Talked shit to some ducks. Sailed about with some swans. Walked at twilight and watched the stars come out in a perfectly clear sky. I reunited with Jordan after six long years. I finally got to meet his amazing dog Dougie! I’ve reconnected with old friends and connected with new ones. I get to finally meet a Welsh friend in person next week, and more folks on Friday! Went to a neighbour’s party! (Hi Sara! COME HANG WITH THE CATS AND BRING YOUR SISTER.) I miss some Stateside people so much it hurts, but I can’t wait to show them around my home here.
  8. I’m playing. Playing! Sometimes that’s video games and sometimes it’s wandering about charity shops or finding new Pokemon around Glasgow or painting (!!!) or learning to KNIT or any number of other things.

This is a good place to be. A good place. I am so thankful to be here that I get all weepy and emotional at random moments during the day and then get embarrassed and SHUT UP WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT.

I haven’t had a whole lot of dreams come true before. This list is a bunch of really, really big ones.

So yeah. Life’s good here. We’re going to Paris for our anniversary (aka Christmas/Boxing Day). We’re going to Inverness for my birthday (Monsieur surprised me). I got to speak Gaelic with humans for the first time ever after fourteen years of desperately wanting to learn. I’m about to hit the mystical age of 33. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually looking forward to my birthday.

Here’s a bunch of pictures, including lotsa selfies because why not. ENJOY.

Whole 30 Update: 10 Days In

Fruits and vegetables from a farmers market. c...
Fruits and vegetables from a farmers market. circa 2007, USA, California, Long Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago, I told you how Spouse and I were embarking on a 30-day dietary shift. We are ten days in, and I thought I’d give you a report on how we’re doing.

I am still sick.

Two weeks ago, I was just starting this awful crapgasm of illness. Last night my head stuffed up like someone had poured snot into it, and my ears feel like I took a bicycle pump to them. I need to go back to the doctor, stat. Persistent cough, achy muscles, I feel like I’m just getting sick all over again. Just when I was starting to get better.

I have lost about a full size. (So has Spouse.)

We’re not weighing ourselves, but my trousers are fitting looser, and I feel smaller. We’ll see in a couple weeks.

Spouse is bored with our food.

Which means we need to bump up the creativity if we’re going to be eating this way for another 20 days. Tonight we’re having pork chops and ratatouille. That should be a nice switcheroo.

That’s it for now. If you have any menu ideas that fit the Whole 30 guidelines (no dairy, grains, legumes, or added sugar), let me know!

 

Tough Love

After writing yesterday’s dismal blog post and spending a blur of a night at work miserable (mostly due to my entire lack of voice and making very little money), I was feeling a bit like this:

120312115545
Pity party supplies courtesy of Kristin McFarland.

But yesterday some help arrived in the form of advice (both from you all in the comments and from a cousin who is a financial planner) and a loan. So we should be able to reach the surface this week and stop feeling like we are drowning. My cousin is lending us what we need, and without sharing too many details, we basically don’t have to pay it back — it will be repaid in the future by something else.

His condition is that we go through our finances with him in total, and I think I’m more grateful for his advice than the money. We needed help figuring out where we’re bleeding money and where we are holding ourselves back. We also needed a professional to give us some tough love. My cousin was able to pinpoint several of those areas in just one email.

I’ve always been a planner, and there is a chance (I’m not admitting anything) that I am a closet control freak. Maybe not a control freak, but I hate feeling like I’m surviving at the whims of others like I hate the smell of artichokes. And I reeeeally hate the smell of artichokes. Makes me urp.

So here’s what I’m going to do in the next month to get us from “back on track” to “moving forward:”

hauling
hauling (Photo credit: gato-gato-gato)

1. Pick up shifts. Lots of shifts.

We need to greet the New Year with more than a squeak. We need to greet the New Year with rent on the first and all our bills on time with room to spare. Ambitious? Yeah. But picking up at least a shift a week will help with it. I’ve already picked up one for this week. I’m going to try for another.

1-08-06 christmas tree 011
1-08-06 christmas tree 011 (Photo credit: takfoto)

2. No Christmas presents under the tree. 

None. We can’t afford it, and the holidays will come back around in a year. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, we can make up for it next year. The biggest gift we can give ourselves this year is peace of mind. We’ll spend our day off on the 25th celebrating our marriage with a good meal and honouring our commitment to building a better life for ourselves.

Plus, if the world ends on the 21st, all that money spent on presents would be wasted anyway.

help wanted
help wanted (Photo credit: kandyjaxx)

3. Second jobs.

Neither of us work 40 hours a week right now because we just don’t get the hours, and because Spouse’s music school job cut his hours, it means the steady income in our household has been halved. We both need to pick up something on the side.

For me, it means trying to get my foot in the door at Cracked, pitching articles and hoping they pick a couple of them up. If I can find something else a couple days a week, I’ll do that too. Anything for a boost in income to get our debt paid down and our bills ahead of the game. For Spouse, it will probably mean getting something else a couple days a week and consolidating his lessons so they’re not spread out over 7 days and getting more clients. It’s not going to be easy. But the hard fact is that if we were both working 40 hours a week, we would be more than fine.

03-17-2009_uhaul-300x206
03-17-2009_uhaul-300×206 (Photo credit: David Guo’s Master)

4. Plan for a relocation.

We know we won’t be able to buy a house here, probably ever if we’re honest. The job market may be marginally better in Maryland/DC than in other places, but the cost of living is so much higher that we could take a significant pay cut elsewhere and still have more of a buffer of income. For instance, salaries in Buffalo are 12% lower than here, but the cost of living is a whopping 37% lower there than here. That’s a difference of 25%.

I’m going to start looking for Jobs (capitalised for a reason, meaning not serving tables jobs) in the summer and see what I find. The sad truth is that if I can find a decent paying job in a city like Buffalo, it would be as much as Spouse and I make now combined, with more purchasing power.

So it’s Monday. It’s a new day. I didn’t wake up with a new lease on life, per say, but I woke up with a little less of a rained on feeling. And my voice has returned from wherever it slunk off to on Thursday. Something about literally being unable to speak doesn’t help feelings of helplessness.

Thank you to everyone who left me comments yesterday and your well-wishes. We will figure it out. I’ll keep trying to get published. I’ll bounce back. I always do.

I just needed a little tough love.

December Brings…

English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. *...
English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. * Additional noise reduction performed by Diliff. Original image by Luc Viatour. Français : L’éclipse totale de soleil en 1999 faite en France. * Réduction du bruit réalisée par Diliff. Image d’origine Luc Viatour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up this morning with a strange, between-times sense that November was Over, but not really grasping What Came Next.

November seemed like the longest of months this year, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Last year, with NaNo, it flew by. I was barely beginning to dive into one story than I bid the 30th goodbye with a new story racing through the gates.

Willow Kitty is doing laps on the couch, Buffy Puppy is gnawing on one of her beloved bones, and I feel at once like November has been all of 2012 and none of it at the same time. It’s an odd feeling.

But it is December, and with December comes some newness. A change of pace.

Today Spouse and I begin the Whole 30, as I mentioned a couple days ago.

We both had our morning weigh-in — the last before the New Year! Spouse was at 242.8. I was at 182 even. We won’t be touching the scale until New Year’s Eve.

People at work know what I’m doing this month. I spent last night trying not to talk (my voice is a sad memory right now due to my bronchitis and coughing) and hunting around our menu for things I can eat at work during the Whole 30. The verdict was that I’ll be eating a lot of salad and modified burgers. Even the chicken is marinated in beer, which contains both gluten and sugar. Plus, you know. Beer. And alcohol this month is a no-go.

This will be perfect timing, as well — we’ll finish up on the 30th and celebrate with our tickets to see Louis C.K. in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve!

I’ve gotten several questions about how and what I will possibly eat if I won’t be eating grains, dairy, and sugar — and how I’ll cope with the horrible devastating lack without alcohol.

Fear not, gentle viewers.

For instance, breakfast today will look quite normal. Centre-cut rasher of bacon, scrambled eggs, and an orange.

Lunch will be my homemade chicken soup, full of tomatoes, carrots, celery, kale, onion, and garlic. Hearty and delicious.

And dinner will be a bit of a trial, because I’m going to a TGIO (Thank Gods Its Over) party for NaNo at Red Lobster. I’ll find something I can eat.

I’m not fussed about eating this way for a month. I’m curious to see what the results will be, and I already have an inkling that they will be good. In the last few days, Spouse and I have already sort of begun eating this way. Results? Less bloating, two pounds down on the scale. In three days of not even doing it that well.

Tomorrow’s dinner will I think be: seared turkey patties with herbs and onion over a bed of steamed kale with lemon and clarified butter (which is the one dairy exception allowed), and a crunchy salad of peas and pine nuts.

That sounds pretty tasty to me.

Instead of milk, we’re drinking unsweetened almond milk this month. We’ve also bought lots of tea (green tea and vanilla rooibos) and stocked up on fruit. I have a feeling that we’ll not only be eating better, but we’ll be spending less money on food because we’ll be eating at home instead of elsewhere.

If you’re all interested, I’ll post a few recipes over the next few weeks. With the New Year, you can expect a new and improved Emmie, ready to bust out some slick moves for the zombie apocalypse. In the spirit of the Whole 30 and ZAP, I might even do a post on edible plants. 🙂

Wish us fortitude and good choices!

Sick, Psyched, and Avgolemeno

I’ve officially got one day before I have to go back to work for six, and I decided that I’m going to try and cram everything I can into getting better today.

I hate being sick, but I would rather have a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (over 100 F!) than have head/sinus congestion. It makes my head feel like this:

Thank gods there are no Oompa-Loompas running amok around my head though.

Also, I’m sorry, Johnny, but the original was waaaay better.

Gene Wilder for the win.

But I digress.

A couple days ago, I had some funny things happen. The sore throat part wasn’t funny. I was sitting at home, trying to get myself together to send out some more queries. So I went on Twitter and poked around one one of my top agent’s Twitter feeds — only to discover that this agent was also sick. And that this agent tweeted that avgolomeno will kick the most severe cold.

Always looking for a way to get my head to stop feeling like this:

English: A hot air balloon in flight at the Mi...
English: A hot air balloon in flight at the Mid-Hudson Valley balloon festival along the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…I tweeted back a “Thanks for the tip, feeling cruddy, going to rustle up the recipe now!”

To which this agent responded by tweeting me the entire recipe, 140 characters at a time. Um. How to ensure a random, unpublished writer will sing your praises forever in a nutshell. Even if this person rejects my query, I will never raise an agent-themed voodoo doll. I promise.

So that happened.

I also sent out a query to this person and mentioned it, which might have been stupid on my part, but I really am thankful for A: such a surprising response and B: a new Greek chicken soup to make.

With work yesterday and a little last minute game of chicken with our rent cheque, I didn’t have the money a chance to get to the store, but I made it today and picked up the ingredients.

You need:

And when I shake my maracas, they go “chick-chicky-boom, chick-chicky-boom.”

And ironically:

I’ll leave the “what came first” jokes to you.

You also need these:

INTRUDERS!

Whoops. My Mucinex and Advil totally photo-bombed my recipe picture here.

Let’s try that again:

Much better.

Anyhoo, I’m embarking on this recipe as we speak.

Wish me antibodies.

But wait, you say. You covered sick and avgolemeno, but you left out that other bit.

Oh, psyched? Yes, yes. That’s coming.

Shrike Query Update 1.2

I woke up yesterday, drank some coffee, puttered about for a few minutes. Then, just as I was ready to leave for work, I discovered an email from an agent (12 hours after I sent her a query). It contained my first request for a partial, which means she liked the first chapter enough to want more. And boy, are those words, “I would like to see more of Shrike” lovely words to see when you’re sick and heading off to work a double shift.

It resulted in a happy dance. And it got me through the day. 🙂

Lessons from this week to share:

-Trust your gut (and your published friends) when it comes to your query letter.

-Agents are people (except the Shark, but she’s a lovely Shark). They are busy with other things besides reading queries. Like having babies (YAY for this agent! She’s so kind and I’m ever so happy for her — even though it means my query will likely remain unanswered. BABY!) and getting married and getting sick and taking care of their existing clients.

-They can be pretty cool, as evidenced by the recipe.

So don’t hate them, even if they reject your work. They’re not rejecting YOU. (Unless of course, you stalk them and they have to file a restraining order. Then they’re rejecting you.)

First request for Shrike — may come to nothing. Who knows? But it’s a great sign.

I’ll let you know how my soup turns out.

Glass in a Minefield

Today is sort of my day off.

And yet the words seem to be stuck somewhere, jammed in my knuckles on the way to the keyboard. I could make a list of everything that needs to be done yesterday. (Cou-this blog-gh.) Somehow I have an inkling that it would be less than helpful.

My normally underwhelming life has taken a turn for the over, between finances and bills that line up with not-so-polite sniffs and a week without income during my job switch. Okay, so I made $24. That’s barely half a tank of gas. Hovering just behind my right ear is the rewrite of my novel. I’d like to think the last few maundering weeks have been ideas stewing in my head like a crock pot full of glory, ready to serve themselves up into bestseller history the second the timer goes off.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, Scottish castle
Move over, Jo Rowling. I claim this one. (Just kidding. Eilean Donan is way too public.)

No, chances are a few more rewrites and a lot more tooth gnashing stands between me and any real changes in my finances, though this new job will help significantly. So what do I do? Buckle in and dig down? Mix up some metaphors? Nope.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins, Blueberry muffins, baking
I turn to the dark side.

I make muffins.

Sure, they’re really good muffins. Lemon curd and blueberry. They’re delicious. I already ate four. But unfortunately for them, they aren’t that inspirational. They sure don’t help my behemoth of a project. Now it’s already 1:20, and I have to go to work and take a test on beer and food that I feel 72% sure I will fail (the food part, not the beer part — four days isn’t much to memorize a menu).

So why am I spending my evenings watching Veronica Mars again instead of working on my rewrite? Maybe it’s because every time I sit down to write, every sentence ends up punctuated with, “Buffy! Easy!” as the puppy makes the cat squeak or “Willow, down!” as the kitten sticks her face in my breakfast. By the time they settle down, the puppy needs to go outside (or has gone inside), and I can’t remember for the life of all things fuzzy what I was doing.

Nah. I could blame them, but they’re just being babies.

It’s my own fault I’ve been so lazy lately. There’s a word for it, and that word is discouragement. If I were to scrunch my eyes shut and stick out a finger, that finger would land on an innocuous little sticky note with four lowercase letters written on it.

Yeah, that's the one.

I think I haven’t felt like working on my rewrite because of fear. I’m afraid of the mountain of debt under the carpet of our apartment. I’m afraid that this gamble I’m taking of working as a server while I try to get my writing off the ground will just make me into a 30-year-old with no real “experience” in a traditional field. I’m afraid I won’t be able to provide for my family. Those are harsh fears, sharp and cold and sterile fears. They’re fears I don’t much know how to address or conquer.

It’s  not just about the writing. It’s the other things that squeeze in on me. Each distraction, each new envelope that comes in the mail is a reminder that we’re just sprinting to catch up. Each batch of muffins seems to be made of lead. As much as I would like to believe that getting this rewrite done will change something, that belief is as fragile as looping blown glass in a minefield, and as I dance around it, I wonder which step will create the booming symphony of that glass crashing into shards.

I think I turn to baking and cooking because I have to believe that something I make with my hands can sustain us. There’s a power in that belief that can turn blown glass to diamond hardness, if I only knew how to harness it.

So for now, I’ll drink my Thai tea, eat my muffins, and fixate on the irony of the mug I chose quite by accident.

It’s All About the Money

Living beneath your means in a world that would rather you bankrupt yourself to keep up with the Joneses  can be difficult at best.

And it might be strange to think that I’m about to write a post of financial advice when my rent is eight days late and likely won’t be paid until Friday — but rest assured everything I say is very much directed right back at me and my own family. I’m going to do my best starting now to follow it.

I’ve heard the advice before: live beneath your means.

It seems like a nebulous sort of bit of advice. What does that really mean, anyway? I’ve spent a while trying to come up with something to describe it, and this is what resulted: spend your money so that there’s something left at the end of each month.

I know, W. It's a tough concept for me, too.

This is where it gets tricky. And it’s where people get somewhat prickly. Because we want nice things. We want a nice home and a nice, reliable car. We want a flatscreen and an Xbox and to Buy Things. We want to eat out and go to movies and buy our spouses and children presents Just Because.

We feel we deserve it. I feel I deserve it, and you probably do too.

The problem is, we often Can’t Afford It.

Those three little words are almost dirty ones. You know what I mean — saying them makes a bitter taste in your mouth sometimes.

I grew up very, very poor. I grew up with those words as a constant litany. And yet in spite of that, we always stretched beyond our means. It’s a rather harsh truth, but I never learned how to save. The only lesson I’ve ingrained into my being about saving is that when you save money for something, catastrophe strikes and then it’s gone. So why bother?

I didn’t realize how poor we were until I went to college. I bought my own car with my meager college savings and the promised graduation check from my grandma that I had planned to use to buy a computer. Most of my classmates at my private university had parents who paid for their cars, their tuition, and their spending money. That’s when I first felt the bitterness of having to tell my peers I couldn’t afford things.

When they asked me to join them for dinner. For skiing and snowboarding. For camping. For Spring Break trips. For movies. I had to work my way through college, and even with all the grants and loans and scholarships, I found myself broke sophomore year with expulsion looming due to my finances. If it weren’t for the extreme generosity of two of my friends and the fact that I crocheted my fingers off all autumn selling beanies and scarves, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now typing this. I don’t know what I’d be doing, or where I’d be doing it.

I’ve never learned to live within my means, let alone beneath it.

I thought I was getting back on my feet this year. Yet here I sit, twenty-seven years old, with a balance of a couple thousand dollars hanging over my head for this month. Including $1100 we owe the IRS. It’s humbling. And terrifying. It’s somewhere I never wanted to be again.

So I know that there’s something I have to do differently if I want my children to have a different childhood than I did. If I want my family to succeed and not be torn apart by the crushing weights of poverty and debt.

No, not budgie. Budget. Budget. No, the word's not French.

Budget

Oh, I’ve budgeted before — sort of. I’ll get as far as lining out my finances for the month, what bills are due and when, and then that’s it. It disappears into the depths of its spiral bound notebook (of which I have several), and if you were to page through my notebooks, you’d find probably a page or two in each written in panic as I crunch numbers.

A budget is more than knowing when your bills are due and how much they’re for. A budget is a plan for paying them on time. A budget is how you know how much money you have, how much you need, and where it’s going.

Right now, according to our calculations, my husband and I make about $4000 a month. Our bills total about $3400. So where does the rest go? If I have no idea, you probably don’t know either. Either we’re not making what we think we are, or we are spending very poorly. It’s probably both.

My income fluctuates. I once made $1100 in a week. This week so far I’ve made $200 with one shift to go. That’s part of the reason we are le screwed — we haven’t learned that we never have “extra.” We have great weeks and crappy weeks, and we’ve not yet learned to balance them out with good planning. Even with steady income, this can happen due to unexpected expenses and purchases.

I wish. In real life, there's a two. That's it. Just a two. Of clubs.

Credit

I messed this up too. Some of it was due to necessity, of a surety. Some of it…not so much. The result is that I have a net worth hovering around -$70,000 between my school loans, my car loan, and my credit card debt. Somewhere along the line, many of us have been tricked into assuming that buying things on credit should be the norm.

"Assume" makes an ass out of u and me!

You need credit to buy big things, like cars and houses and yachts and mail-order brides. But for most things? Pay cash.

“But I don’t have the cash,” you say.

Exactly.

"I'm lost and alone." It's okay. Me too.

You don’t have the cash because you spent it all. Granted, sometimes it’s spent on such trivial frivolous things as food and rent, but sometimes it’s because going out to eat three times last week sounded more amusing than beating up potatoes with a masher at home.

“But I want it!”

Oh, me too. I know. I get it. But if you want it, you should pay cash for it.

*Sniffle.*

There is a way to pay cash for things. There is.

If your heart shlubbed a beat as if I just tossed it in the mud, you're just like me.

Save

How do you save if you’re broke? How do you…*swallows bile*…wait for ten months or more to get that house or laptop or new flatscreen or minibreak  to New York City to see Alan Rickman on Broadway? ALAN RICKMAN WILL LEAVE BROADWAY BY THEN!

Too bad.

First of all, if you are broke to the point of having no money left over after necessities are paid, you probably need a lifestyle downgrade. If your rent is too high, you might need to suck it up and move somewhere you can better afford. This goes for the people who bought McMansions and Lexuses they couldn’t afford as well as those of us at the shallow end of the income pool.

Somehow, we Americans (and increasingly, Europeans and Australians…aw, hell. Everybody.) got it into our heads that we need to always have more. That we need to upgrade our living situation, our functional vehicles, our wardrobes. So we push at the bounds of our income, hoping that we’ll “get by.”

I’m not getting by. Are you getting by?

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that savings has a purpose. It might take twice as long to do things this way, but I’m embarking on an experiment. I’m going to start two savings piles.

1. Squirrel Fund: Squirrels stockpile food and necessities to get by in the slim months. That way when the days of plenty run out, they still have some acorns in their hole to get by when they’re feeling hungry. This is the fund for emergencies — that unexpected car repair, that vet bill, that plane ticket to see an ailing relative. This fund does not get touched except in the case of an emergency.

2. The Treasure Chest: This is where you save for the things you want. This is the money that will buy your new flatscreen, your trip to Europe, your cruise, that rare record you want. It’s also insurance — because in the event that an emergency dwarfs even your Squirrel Fund, you’ll have something more put aside.

It doesn’t have to start with a lot, but it does require discipline, self-denial, and delayed gratification — incidentally, the antithesis of modern culture.

I’ll get back to you on whether I have what it takes to get back on my feet.

What tips do you have for living beneath your means? How have you changed your finances to ensure success?