I opened my desk drawer the other day and found a gift that I have been saving and had completely forgotten about. I immediately identified my tendency to “conserve” and started thinking about the other things in my life that I keep a tight grip on.
I’m that person who gets a gift card and saves it “for a special occasion” (unless of course it expires, in which case I am ruthless about using it before its expiration date). I got a gift card for a massage in 2008 that I finally used in 2011. The massage was nice.
When I get a groupon or a discount for yoga or other fitness classes at a snazzy studio, it takes me forever to go through it. I have a gym membership that includes group exercise, and if there’s a day that I can’t make one of their classes I often go without instead of using one of my classes on the pass.
My last life definitely took place in the depression, because I am manic about making everything go a loooooong way. I use the least amount of toothpaste, soap, hair product, etc that I can get away with. In fact, when I first started dating my sweetie I was appalled by how much toothpaste he used. I am ashamed to admit there may have been a time when I shouted “WHY DO YOU USE SO MUCH SOAP?????”
I suppose if that my major aggravation with him, our relationship is pretty safe.
I spent a small fortune on a teeny bottle of truffle oil to bring back from Umbria this summer. The smell is delicious, and I never want to use it on a dish that has so much flavor that the truffles will be overpowered. Who knows when the next time will be that I return to Assisi? So I am very careful with my truffle oil. (I am slightly more liberal with my balsamic vinegar).
I have no idea where this habit of clutching comes from. Actually, I know where it comes from: a desperate fear that there won’t be enough, that someday “things” will be gone, but I don’t know where that fear comes from, or why I am so scared to live without the duckie post-its that I never use.
In this regard, the fear of losing is understandable. Between my singing and teaching I am what my doctor classifies as a “professional voice user”, and there’s only so much voice to go around. There have been times when I have had to alter my day to make sure that I would be able to sing or speak.
A few years ago I had to go to almost a year of “voice therapy”, retraining myself to use my singing and speaking voice in more efficient ways. This was all paid for by insurance in the halcyon days before the recession.
There’s an interesting idea that opera singer Leontyne Price promotes regarding the amount of stress that we put on our voices and how that affects longevity. We’re advised to “sing on the interest, not on the capital”. Which leads us to the last thing I tend to conserve…
A few years ago I called my mother from a bus stop as I often do when I am taking public transportation. This night was notable in that the temperature was near the single digits. I mentioned to my mom that I had thought about taking a cab, but it was $12 so I was waiting for the bus in the cold.
She laughingly yelled at me: “You work so hard! What do you earn that money for? Get in a taxi!” I took her advice.
There is something wise in saving money, to be sure. I often have an easier time being generous with donations than I do spending a comparable amount of money on myself. Like many people, I’ll treat myself to a coffee here or there, but when it comes to a big purchase (like the new mattress I’ve needed for about five years) I just can’t bring myself to make the investment. I’ve always been the kid who saved her allowance, and it’s a habit I can’t break.
The problems with this are apparent. What I call “conservation” can often be stinginess instead. Sometimes I delay gratification so long that I never get to enjoy something to which I have a right. To be melodramatic, what if I die without ever using my duckie post-its?
As in all things, I’m trying to find a balance between saving what I need and spending myself as I ought. There’s a time to keep and a time to cast away. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my attempts to meet God in prayer and in people, it’s that God is always spending. God is lavish, showering us with graces that can never be depleted. When my wisdom lapses into stinginess I know that I’m not following the example of our good God who is always abundant.
Is your inclination to save or to spend? Has either of those ever gotten you into trouble?
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