Monday, January 11, 2010

Real Frugality

Now that I am home from a year neck deep in socialism and spending way less money than is my usual habit, I have a better idea how much money I spend on life, the universe and everything. And I am already feeling guilty about how much I want to spend--not that it will slow me down much.

In Iraq I bought exactly two meals during the entire tour: two pizzas at Ciano's. The only money I spent was for phone cards, maybe $20 a month, Internet $88 per month, and one or two lattes each day at Green Beans, $150 per month, and books, maybe $15/month.

The standard by which I compare my profligate self is my frugal wife Annalisa who spends nearly nothing--except the occasional huge amount of money to be more energy efficient, like buying a Prius or renovating our house to insulate and air seal it, plus completely change how it looks. The house is beautiful and more energy efficient now.

During the year I was gone, our lovely new home had no TV in it. My son was already excited to see me then his sister pointed out Dad would be watching TV again and Nigel was ready to declare my arrival a national holiday. "Awesome, TV," was his response to the news.

But TV is not just TV. I want to watch the Tour de France and the Formula 1 World Championship. I had a TV when I left, but it is 27 years old and has sat in a corner for a year. Most like I need a TV. Even a modest one: $400. Dish Network is on sale for one year for $24.95/ month. I am sure there are taxes and fees that bring it over $30 and a DVR system will be another $5 per month. And Dish has French-language programming for another $7 per month.

Back at home, my favorite thing to eat is bread from a bakery. I eat a loaf almost every day. I miss Starbucks at Stonemill Plaza. In fact, I miss all that stuff. I had a moment when I thought I might try to be frugal, but that falls into the category of people who think about getting in shape and then don't ride, run or go to the gym when anything else conflicts.

I am already starting to suffer from the tyranny of choice. I want choice, but every choice has a moral dimension. Should I watch car racing? Should I drink lattes? should I eat fresh bread? This three weeks of confinement to the base makes the flavor of real life all the more sharp and desirable. I may feel worse about spending money later, for right now, I can't wait. I have spent the last eight months six thousand miles from home and can't wait to eat bakery bread, watch car racing and drink designer coffee any time I want to.

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