I bought a Ralph Lauren comforter this weekend at Marshalls. It is made of a stiff, thick cotton with pale blue stripes on one side and flowers on the other. The total on the register made me wince, but I resisted the urge to put it back.
When I got it home, my instincts were right on, the comforter was perfect. It hung over the sides of our large sleigh bed. I vowed to make my dogs sleep on the floor because Frodo sucked our last down blanket until its edges fell apart and Chewie peed the bed last week.
The month before, I spent thirty dollars on a "bed in a bag" from Anna's Linens that turned out to be too small and fifty dollars on a quilted comforter that made our bedroom look like Holly Hobbie's. The search for a low cost comforter was a natural urge because you see, I am cheap. The trait was handed down from my parents like an old dresser.
Some families try and impress people with their possessions. My family, on the other hand, has always tried to impress people with how little they paid for their possessions.
"Oh, you like the shirt? Six dollars."
"Nice necklace." "Thanks. I got it at the dollar store."
Cheap is a Mantz badge of honor.
Adrian finds this horrifying. His mom has class and style, but is thrifty and discrete. I have never heard her say how much she paid for anything.
My obsession with money is not just limited to bargain shopping. Like most people, I worry about it constantly. The worst part of being an adult is the focus on money. Everything is about money. I am constantly on Adrian about how we need more of it. When I say constantly, I mean an every day kind of constantly.
My mom is even worse. When my dad was alive, my mom and dad split the bills fifty fifty. My dad was always behind because my mom worked and he didn't. He had his social security check but there wasn't a lot left over after cigarettes, gas and his half of the rent. Add in his gambling addiction and he was perpetually broke. As a result, my dad borrowed money from my mom each month and paid her back on the first. My mom had a little notebook where she kept a tally of every cent my dad owed her per month.
"OK John, you owe me four dollars for those damn cigarettes," my mom would say as she wrote down the figure in her notebook.
My money obsession may also have something to do with the fact that I was a waitress for ten years. I was a good waitress and made decent money. If I didn't go home with at least two Benjamins in my wallet on a night shift, I was unhappy. When I waitressed at Applebee's, the restaurant stayed open until 2 a.m. and I usually worked until close to get the late post club rush. One night, a table came in at five minutes to closing and stayed until almost three a.m. They left me a dollar and a couple of quarters on a hundred dollar check (which didn't even cover the taxes I paid). I ran after them and threw their dollar and coins at their feet and said, "Here, you obviously need this more than I do."
My focus on money has had some pretty serious ramifications in my life. I majored in journalism at my junior college and was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. I loved writing and my newspaper advisor pushed me to apply to Columbia's journalism program. I researched the average salaries of reporters and decided to apply to UCR and major in English. It seemed more practical.
After graduating from UCR, I went to law school. I couldn't qualify for any private loans and my public loans barely covered USC's tuition even with my scholarship. Adrian gave me a car to drive and gas money and I stayed with him and his parents in their West Covina house to save on rent.
When the commute got to be too much, I moved in with some fellow classmates into a three bedroom apartment off of Adams and Figueroa. Our apartment had wires coming out of the walls, only one bathroom and lots of critters, but it was a steal at eleven hundred a month. Despite the low rent, I still struggled to get by and we cut coupons from the Sunday newspaper before grocery shopping. Some months, I didn't have enough for groceries and my roommate Bridget spotted me.
I figured once I graduated from law school and took a job at a fancy law firm that all my money problems would be solved. I was wrong. I was doing all right financially for a while as a private big firm lawyer with a six figure salary, yet, I was miserable.
Despite knowing right away that civil practice wasn't for me, I let money, and my fear of not having any, rule my life for six years. I went from firm to firm hoping it would get better. It didn't. Then fate intervened and I came to the public defender's office. I knew it would be hard financially. I took a fifty percent pay cut and Adrian had just graduated from dental school and wasn't even licensed yet.
Things are still not stable, two years and one loan modification later. Adrian started his own business and then his dad died and we took his mom in. Then my mom. It has been a transition. Last night, when everyone was asking what was for dinner, I thought to myself, how is it my responsibility? I want to watch the Oscars! I whispered to Adrian, "You better make them buy take-out."
The moms bought take out and we all ate together watching the Oscars. It was nice. And, that's the thing, money really shouldn't matter. At least it shouldn't matter so much that it ruins precious moments or opportunities. Those moments that you can never replace. Like spending the last two weeks of my dad's life with him. Taking my nieces for the day. Winning a jury trial. Hearing the moms laugh so hard they hold their sides.
Or a comforter that envelops you in its softness when you are at home sick in bed.