I had almost no money my last year of college. Many days I wondered how I would finish the year. I remember sitting in the Dean’s office, explaining to him why I needed to be let out of the mandatory campus meal plan. They wouldn’t let me out of it entirely, but they did cut it down to breakfast only, which was $2.35 a day. I made sure to never miss it.
A dear friend shared her lunch with me every day for an entire semester. Somehow there was always enough food for both of us- one day we laughed because we even had leftovers! While I was vegetarian and she was only about 70% vegetarian, she always made sure to pick items that I could eat as she went through the line. She never complained or made me feel awkward. I don’t know if she ever knew what a blessing she was to me.
Dinners I was on my own. I ate mostly macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with frozen broccoli, and peanut butter sandwiches. One day food randomly showed up on my doorstep, an abundance of leftovers from another friend who worked campus catering events. My excitement waned when I got the feeling that the person I was renting a room from was embarrassed by this; I believe she worried that other people would think she wasn’t doing well and needed help if they saw someone leaving food at her door.
What do you do when being frugal doesn’t feel so fabulous? When it’s less about challenging yourself to save and get by with less, and more about survival?
My mindset was everything during that time years ago. God allowed me to see the positives and His faithfulness in the middle of the frustration and stress.
I could look at each of the above situations in two ways. I could have been ashamed that I couldn’t afford to eat in the dining hall, but I chose to be thankful that breakfast was less than half the cost of lunch or dinner, and I made sure to eat a large meal to get my money’s worth. I could have been embarrassed by eating my friend’s lunch every day. But I received it with thanks and focused on the many wonderful, laughter-filled conversations that we would have missed out on had we not had a standing appointment at noon each weekday. I could have allowed someone else’s insecurity to make me feel less than (and I did take pity on myself for a moment), but I received the unexpected gift of fresh salad and other luxuries at my door with thankfulness.
Do I tell you this to boast about how wonderful I am at being thankful and resilient? To invoke pity? Not at all! (I had many moments of frustration, stress, and sadness that year and the following few years, when the last thing I wanted to be was thankful).
I share this to let you know that when being frugal feels like a burden or something forced upon you, I know firsthand that it can be hard to find joy in the midst of that, but that it is possible.
When in the midst of a situation that I couldn’t change and had no control over, I could either let myself be consumed by it, or I could focus on whatever was positive, no matter how small it was.
Sometimes the positives were really, really small. I knew the exact price of two vegetarian burritos plus tax at Taco Bell. The summer after I graduated college, I would dig through the cupholders in my car, collect all the loose change, and get burritos as a small reward for myself after going on a job interview (which was like going to the dentist for me). The critical, negative part of me said, your life is pathetic- you can barely afford Taco Bell. But the part that won out said, this tastes really good, and I’m so glad in this moment to have it.
We will all go through financial ups and downs. But to not be defined by what we have or don’t have, what we can afford or can’t afford, to choose to look for the positives and joy, even when they are barely noticeable- that is what makes all the difference on our life’s journey.