Thursday, March 29, 2012

Caught short

PCH at the end of Sunset Boulevard
Yesterday, for reasons of poor planning, forgetfulness and just plain boneheadedness, I found myself out in the world with nothing in my pocket but $7 dollars in cash. No cards, no checkbook, no nothing.

It was a full day - I had an eight-hour day at work, followed by my evening class, and wouldn't make it home until 9:30 pm.

Before work, I had an appointment at the doctor's office to give blood in preparation for a general check-up next month - so I got out of the house earlier than usual. Rushed, I forgot to pack a lunch, and due to the bloodwork, I had fasted since the previous evening.

So there I was, at the doctor's office. Hungry for breakfast; looking ahead for lunch and a quick dinner between work and class, when suddenly I realized I had only $7 dollars in cash.

What to do? Well, first was the parking meter. Lucky me - there was still 35 minutes of time on it when I pulled in. Thank you, kind soul whoever you are! I plugged another quarter in and had enough time for my appointment.

Lunch - I felt foolish,  knowing that back home in the fridge were some good Moroccan chicken leftovers, or cold cuts to make a sandwich. But those were eight miles behind me. What to do? The nearby supermarket had Lean Cuisine meals on sale for $2 each. OK - there's lunch, and I still have $5 - maybe enough for a falafel sandwich before class?

And then my car's Low Fuel light went on, about four miles from my office.

Do the math. My owner's manual says there's a reserve of about 1.7 gallons when the low fuel light goes on. If my car averages 27 miles per gallon in the city, this gives me about 46 miles. My commute is 10 miles one way. It's about 3 miles from my office to my college.

4 - miles from when the light went on to my office
3 - miles from my office to school
13 miles from school to my home.

20 miles to make it home. I could gas up the following morning, but I'd have to drive 6 miles back out of the canyon to the nearest gas station, which means if I want to use that $5 to buy myself some dinner, I'm betting on my car being able to go 26 miles before refueling.

But does my car really get that kind of mileage? What if I'm wrong about the amount of the reserve?  If I ran out of gas, it would probably be in the canyon, on a winding mountain road in the middle of nowhere. And doesn't it do bad things to your car to run out of gas?

So I put my remaining $5 in the gas-tank, and waited until I got home from class at 9:30 pm to think about dinner.

I'm fortunate. I have a good job, my husband has a good job. Postponing one dinner - forgoing fast food and waiting to eat home-cooked food, actually - is not a hard choice. My commute - despite the mountain road - is not as long as that of some of my co-workers and classmates. And I was caught short entirely due to my own foolishness and forgetfulness.

But spending just one day caught short brought home to me what a lot of people go through on a regular basis - even when they plan ahead and don't make mistakes.

Old sign at the same station - remember those days?
At one time in my life, I counted every penny until payday, and sometimes there were short days. In the 1970s, when I lived in New York, it made a difference in my weekly budget to take the PATH trains uptown, for $0.30, instead of the subway, for $0.50. Packing a lunch meant the difference between eating and going hungry - and often it had to be peanut butter instead of cold cuts.

When I was in class last night, a lingering cough made me think about getting a bottled water from the vending machine during break. But - oops! I had no money, so a sip from the drinking fountain had to do.

Some people practice these economies regularly even when they're not cut short - saving against future bad times. Me, I guess I've gotten a little complacent and forgot what it's like.

This was no big crisis for me - I was able to fill my car the next day, and I remembered to bring my lunch. Heck - I could have even gone out to lunch. But a lot of people are finding themselves short these days, with a bad economy and unemployment. Some folks have to skip meals to get by - or feed family members who need the nutrition more than they do. Running out of money for gas can be a real fear for some - and as prices rise, it gets worse.

How are you coping with the economy?  Do you manage your money more carefully nowadays? Do you pinch your pennies - whether through need or simply out of caution? Have you had to change your lifestyle to manage?


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Now that my husband is retired, I think harder about money spent at the grocery store. We were always rather frugal, but that was a family hobby. Now it feels like more of a necessity. And I confess: I don't like that feeling!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

How are you coping with the economy?

Not as well as I used to.

smalltownme said...

I used to be able to put aside a little savings every month, but things cost so much more now that I can't do that any more. My husband got his first raise in over 5 years but it's still not enough to cover the higher costs.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I don't think it was "foolishness and forgetfulness"... you're neither foolish nor forgetful. I think you just needed to put your capabilities to the test!

I've never been an extravagant spender, but, that being said, I eat out less often these days, and I hit the pubs less frequently.

cactus petunia said...

It seem that no matter how hard I work, there's never enough to go around.