Today is Superbowl Sunday! For one evening only, I can go to the gym and have my pick of the machines or swan through the grocery store because the sportsball fans are all at home, cheering for brightly costumed performers to make the ball go. They all better bring their A-game today, Ken. Defense really has to step it up today! It’s all led up to this. This is a very physical game, Todd. That’s right, Ken. They just have to make it through all four acts. At intermission, someone will sing a song, people will scream, and whichever team is losing will really up their game when they come back. Commercial highlights will flood the Facebooks over the next week. It’s a very exciting time to be a sports fan, Ken.
My dad’s birthday was last week, so I spent the day with him. I cleaned furniture and two bathrooms, as he’s in the process of moving, and sorted out his kitchen cabinets while he took care of bills and paperwork. Having someone there helps motivate him to do tedious tasks like that. He knew the offer of dinner to celebrate his birthday was on the table, but he preferred to spend the day usefully. That was fine by me. I also enjoy feeling productive.
It’s funny how different people can be while also being so similar. My dad and I have differing views on many things, and I’d argue that he’s an extrovert (see above about filing paperwork) while I couldn’t be happier spending time on my own. But we share the same love languages (quality time and acts of service) and a keen interest in making the most of our money.
Someone once told me, “A poor person can never be rich.” I didn’t understand what he meant at that time, but I do now. People learn to pinch pennies in times of financial dearth, but when they’ve gotten past that and have money, they tend to hold onto those frugal habits. Not everyone, obviously, but my dad and I are certainly among that frugal crowd. We make the most of stores like Aldi, overstock and bargain outlets, and thrift shops. We have enough of a head for math and budgeting that we can balance our finances even in tight times. It’s because of that frugality my dad instilled in me that I am able to live right now – unemployed for the last year because “any minute now” I’ll have to drop everything and get to England when the Home Office approves my visa. I’ve been living modestly for most of my adult life, building my savings and only investing in things that I needed rather than wanted. Healthy food, proper bedding, and gentle skincare among them. Almost every piece of clothing I own, except undergarments, is from a thrift store (Many still had the tags on them!). My gym membership at Planet Fitness costs less than $15 per month – a worthy investment. And my brew my own coffee. Even springing for flavored creamers, syrups, and whipped cream at the grocery store is cheaper than getting Starbucks twice. Twice! Seriously. I keep track of these things. Haha! All this goes back to my dad helping me understand the value of money and the high cost of not doing things yourself.
Since I was quite small, we’ve visited family in North Carolina every couple years. While there, we always hit the flea markets and antique shops. The experience is equal parts hunting for hidden treasures and admiring items as we would in a museum. It’s a pleasure to take a tour of the past through well-loved pieces of furniture, art, and artifacts of everyday life. Part of the experience of these places was seeing something I liked, wanting to buy it, and my dad telling me to wait until we looked around the entire store/market. This was an important lesson in fighting instant gratification. Sometimes I realized I didn’t actually want the item by the time I’d gone through the entire store; I was just excited to see it. Even now, I do that with myself when I go shopping. I put a treat or desired item in my shopping cart and push it around while I shop. At the end of the trip just before I check out, I reevaluate if I really want that item. Often, I find I’m satisfied without it. I just wanted to be told “yes” in that moment. So, I put it back and only buy what I really need. By telling myself I can have something but must wait a few minutes, I get the thrill of the new acquisition often without needing to spend the money on it.
It’s interesting what sticks with people. My dad was my number 1 supporter when I applied for the Master’s program for British literature. I was the first person in our family to go beyond a bachelor’s degree. When my health crashed and my appendix and gall bladder had to be removed during grad school, I was forced to take Incompletes in all my classes. I considered taking the next semester off to complete those courses rather than catch up while taking more classes. My dad and my mentoring professor cautioned me that most people who “take a break” from college never go back. It was a tough decision and a tough semester, but I pushed through because he believed I could.
I mulled over these recollections as I scrubbed and sorted in a quiet, sweaty sort of peace. Someone’s birthday isn’t about what YOU want to give them; it’s about what they need to get. And last week my dad needed some quality time and to feel productive. I’m happy I was about to provide a bit of that.