Six Months of Austerity: Bonus Time
My family financial history comes back to me as an adult in tiny vivid flashes: For instance, our grocery budget for four people was $100 a week, a number that still astonishes me. While there wasn’t a huge amount of transparency about money matters with my folks, I guess I figured out the basics because I was a nosey kid. I knew that payday was Thursday (this is the best time to ask for something I neeeeeeeeeeded), and I remember peeking at my dad’s paycheck once when I was a young teen working at my dad’s company. But what was very clear to me, then and now was bonus time.
At Christmas and in April, my dad and his business partner doled out bonuses to their employees and themselves. That’s when we’d get a new fence, or an on-sale above ground pool that we put up with the help of our neighbors, or go out to dinner. As I got older, and as his company grew, bonus time meant vacation time or the mailing of tuition payments. It was as if things were getting played pretty close to the belt most of the time, and bonuses were for extras. It was the time my dad could be as generous as he wanted to be. I’ve got his deep seeded generosity in me. I’ve got this big Beowulfian sense of hospitality—I want everyone’s cup full at all times. If I were pressed, I would tell you that the character trait I find most deplorable in others is selfishness: stingy, miserly, bean counting, “Well, I only had a salad” people irk me. Hard. That’s a pretty tough prejudice to reconcile when you’re working on your thrift game. The only difference between my dad and me is that I’ve never learned how to turn off giving when times are lean.
Bonuses, even though they are taxed at an incredibly high rate, always feel like free money to me. These are the times I, too, can be as generous as I want. When I get bonuses I give to charity. I buy gifts. I host huge, elaborate, boozy, dinner parties (my Christmas party is the stuff of legend). But somehow in the last year I’ve been able to turn down the people-pleasing give give GIVE voice in my head and be generous to myself. And so, this spring, when I got my end-of-tax-season bonus, instead of paying down credit card debt (as I had done with my Christmas bonus) I said, fuck it, what do I want? What’s going to make me better? It was perfectly timed with an amazing family friend extending an invite to me to stay with them in their home in Corsica. And so there it went: half to a plane ticket, and half in an envelope under my bed for spending money (this is how I was budgeting pre-austerity).
A reader from here commented on a photo I posted of the dreamiest part of this Corsican villa (a built-in pizza oven) and asked, “Wait, when does this year of deprivation start?!?!?” and my stomach dropped. I felt like a total fraud for a second. Who on earth was I to tell anyone on the internet about boot-strap tightening while I worked on my tan (this is just when my freckles get real close together)? But you know what? While I bought that ticket in a pre-austerity world, I will tell you now that I wouldn’t change a thing. It was the first grown-up vacation I’ve ever had, and in those two sunny, pasta-filled weeks I learned a whole lot about myself, and money, and the life I want. (This is standard privileged white lady Eat, Pray, Love, bullshit, I know, but bear with me.)
I paid for this trip entirely in cash, credit cards unscathed. It was actually within my budget. I didn’t buy any stuff (except for fancy sardines for my girl gang and a sarong for my mom because she watched my tiny dog). I didn’t eat anywhere fancy, instead, I cooked and was cooked for around a family table that expanded to feed whomever was around. Meals were simple and amazing. I took the most budget-friendly, 24-hour million-connection flights to get there and home. My phone got dropped in the sea and so, I wasn’t glued to it. I took an actual vacation from the job that runs my life. It knocked me into the actualization that I had never taken a trip where I wasn’t anxious to be in contact with some knucklehead beau back home. Not this time, my time was all mine and I was generous with it. I napped after a big lunch. I didn’t turn on a TV once. I read. The largest portion of my spending was for boat trips to tiny private beaches, groceries, and wine (you wanna talk about VALUE? We bought barrels of good Corsican rosé for about $4 a liter direct from the vintners).
Most importantly, I realized that the more I got my shit together, financially, the more I’d be able to travel. I mean real, airplane, culturally immersive, not for a wedding travel. I think that I had done the same thing my dad had tried to do with his bonuses: to give us experiences that would last, like summers swimming in the backyard and painting pottery in Mexico. A good vacation is like bonus time, where you get to be with people you like and eat and drink get tan legs if you want them. I’m home now, packing my lunch every day (it’s not pasta), and taking the bus (it’s not a boat) a little less begrudgingly because now I know what a bonus can do.
Upon crunching the numbers, I was astonished that I had somehow managed to make big payments on both major credit cards and sock away some savings! My goals for the month are to work on getting a better rate on my student loan, figuring out how to pay back more principal, and to find a better way to monitor my credit score.
Accountability, By the Numbers:
Opening Balance: $3,999.38
Closing Balance: $3,497.38
Opening Balance: $4,261.84
Closing Balance: $3,723.77
Student Loan – 7%
Opening Balance: $93,000
Took it out of forbearance and made my first payment in 6 months.
Experian Credit Score
Opening Balance: $0
Closing Balance: $ 275.42
“Six Months of Austerity” is a series following Megan as she gets her finances back in order.
Megan W. Moore is a lover of spreadsheets, dim sum, and dad jams. She excels at side projects, Diane Rehm impressions, and high kicking. She’s spending the next six months trying to get her financials shit together. She blogs about snacks, spending, and body positivity over at foodiecantfail.com