I’ve always had a slightly twisted relationship with money. Being the child of immigrants, with both of my parents supporting their families back home, I really witnessed first-hand an extreme emphasis and focus on money throughout my life. My father in particular, had such a hunger and survivalist drive. Then again, I suppose when you have a brother with a gambling/high risk business/debt problem and a sister contemplating prostitution to pay back family debts, I suppose earning money isn’t just some silly game about buying fancy cars or nice clothes.
My strongest money habits center around being frugal (sales, coupons, negotiations, etc.) and saving. I remember though, that I’ve never wanted to be beholden to money. Like at times, I felt my mother got overly conservative and paranoid about money. She seemed to me rather stingy and unable to let loose and enjoy small things that money could afford her. For example, whenever she and my father went on cruises to far destinations across the world, she never wanted to spend money on excursions or extra tours. It was almost as if she wanted to arrive and then do absolutely nothing that would cost money.
As I near 40, I see hints of both parents in my spending habits. Like my father, I splurge on things I use daily or things that are tied to professional development or health: technology, classes/conferences, a nice elliptical machine for my parents. I also like to spend on travel and experiences. I spend but I also try not to be extravagant or wasteful or overly indulgent. I remember once I got so upset at J, bc he was buying all kinds of items that felt excessive: a nice fancy leather-bound notebook or laptop case or yet another device or yet another fancy, handcrafted stationery item… For me, I think the environmental engineering side stresses about unused, older, replaced items suddenly being rendered obsolete and going into the landfill. But J once explained to me that for him, every new item represents his hope to live life differently, to reignite his curiosity/creativity, to try and feel more inspired or more motivated. If it costs $200 to have him feel joy or energy again, that’s a small price to pay. I mean, on one hand, from a cynic’s perspective, isn’t this the ultimate indoctrination of advertising/marketing? And yet, I felt sorry that in some way my warnings or criticisms came across as attempts to squelch or stem his opportunities for joy. Ugh. He works really hard, and if these purchases don’t force us to sacrifice security or our lifestyle, I need to chill the fuck out. You see, I inherited this kind of unease/irrational austerity from my mother. For the most part, Bubbey buys what he wants when he wants. On the back end, I then “rebalance” the expenses by purging unused items in the house, either posting things on Freecycle or selling shit on Ebay. Bubbey calls my modest earnings from these resales “Bubbey Bucks.” It’s a mild form of regaining control I think. I’m always playing mental games on myself.
So a couple weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch in an almost catatonic state, home alone, pissed about work and flipping through the channels. I came across QVC. I’d never really been a fan of shopping channels, but on occasion, I sometimes got sucked in by the makeup/skincare demos. On this particular night, I just started wondering about the sellers’ personalities. How are they getting people to tune in, you know? I mean, some audiences tune in to watch specific hosts. What a weird but intriguing thing. So the segment for the hour was Dooney & Bourke purses. I didn’t like any of the selections, but I was curious enough to go online and browse the rest of the collection. Long story short, I came across Oryany purses, and their company spokeswoman. She’s this beautiful petite (and pregnant) brunette, and somehow she made all the bags look good. I thought it was interesting too how she and the host played off of each other– they managed to squeeze in all the product descriptions and details plus answer audience calls in the allotted time. This rep had apparently been with the company for 14 years and Oryany even designed a bag named after her! I started thinking: wow, what a fun job it must be to design purses: learning about fabrics, materials, features, accessories. Sigh. I wish I had a fun job.
For the next couple of hours, I researched Oryany bags, watching all the YouTube videos for each model. By the end, I finally whittled things down to two bags. I put them into the shopping cart and then left. I do that sometimes: I put shit into online carts and sometimes I never return. It’s like that Amazon Wish list maybe? I don’t really know the psychology behind it all. A few days later, I told John I was thinking about a new purse, but it was pricier than my usual range. It took another several days before I finally pressed Buy. Sometimes buying things for myself just feels weird: unjustified and ridiculously self-indulgent. The new bag arrived last week. It’s nicely designed with the construction and compartments. I don’t absolutely love the color, but it’s a practical neutral tone. One day soon maybe I will cut off the tags and keep the damn thing. Haha.
A couple days after my purse splurge, J was flipping through the channels and once again, we found ourselves on QVC. Fuck, really? Well, the segment was on the NuWave Pro Plus oven! Of course, I was instantly sucked in to the demos of all the different things you could cook with the NuWave. I was reminded of all the successful meals I had had with that thing. Then the host announced that NuWave was the day’s special value. Fuck man. $90 for the Pro Plus with an extender ring and a bunch of extras! J said we should get it, but the pragmatic side of me reasoned: it’s a redundant appliance; it takes up so much counter space; I need to just learn to make things in the new range! Then Bubbey said: do you remember how much joy the NuWave brought you? You loved that thing! You’ve tried to make all your dishes in the new range, but stuff never comes out as good. I think mostly he was talking about my Beijing duck. He said, it’s only $90. If that helps you get out of your funk and regain your confidence with cooking again, isn’t that money well spent? I thought back to what Bubbey had explained to me long ago. Consumerism is an opportunity to change a life trajectory: it’s a shot at joy. Fine, the marketers win this time.
My NuWave arrived earlier this week. And the very next night, my inaugural dish was the Morton’s tri-tip roast. I had never actually made this dish in the NuWave before (we usually use the oven): I was concerned about fucking it up with tweaked settings, but I took a stab: I cut up potatoes and carrots, placed the roast on top fat side up, and pressed Cook Time –> 55 –> Start. Fuck man, the meat came out perfect. Then I made rice in my pressure cooker. Seriously, between the pressure cooker and NuWave, I am back in business! My bud T came over for dinner, and for the first time in a very long while, I felt accomplished and successful. Finally, I kicked ass at something.