Fixed Income Living: Creative Deprivation

The title above is taken from an article written long ago by the author of the Tightwad Gazette newsletters.  While her article speaks mainly to families with children, I believe that there’s a lesson for all of us-especially in this time of budgetary constraints and forced downsizing

Note: Occasionally I feel like this blog doesn’t have a single identity. While I think most articles address both budgetary living and the retirement/empty nest lifestyle, the nature of the beast is that some articles will be solely about retirement experiences, or solely about fixed income living. I’ll continue to write mainly about the things affecting me and those around me, and we’ll see where it goes.

The point of Amy’s article overall is that when we’re bombarded with experiences, events and opportunities, we fail to appreciate any of them in full. While once I might have argued the point, I’ve come to realize that it’s true. It’s only in the past fifty or so years that the chance to eat out every night, travel at will, or shop for everything on the planet at the local Walmart was available to most Americans. Prior to that, goods and opportunities were limited-by season, by cost or a variety of factors. The end result what that those occasional things were appreciated and savored.  Not only was each treat appreciated because of its rarity, but the nature of life was that there was empty space and time around each event.

I’ve been reminded of this article more than once lately. Most recently, on a Sunday night restaurant dinner.  When my husband and I were in Europe, we rarely went out to eat, except when we were traveling. However, I always knew, if I was worn out or hated cooking, we could go to the corner restaurant.  Once I returned to the US, it was often easier to hit Red Lobster than to cook. When I sat down and finally faced the financial music, I realized that eating out would have to be almost eliminated. I committed at the time to only eating out for special celebrations or during our annual restaurant week (when all prix fixe menus are 35.00, from the French restaurant and onward).  There have been some times in the past months when I longed to hit the Olive Garden (fortunately I have a college student who would always rather eat at home than go out).  This past week was said restaurant week.  After searching and discussion, we opted for two restaurants, one of them Jasper’s.  Food network mavens will recognize Kent as the guy who beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.

This dinner was the perfect example of how deprivation, creative or not, enhances occasional experiences. This was not only a chance for an exceptional meal from  a starred chef, but a chance to socialize with family. Because I rarely go out to eat any more, I took nothing for granted from beginning to end of this experience.   I have also shared my experience multiple times since then. In the “old days”, when we ate out a couple times a week, my reaction would have been different.  While I always appreciate good food, I would probably have not treated this experience for what it was. I took my time, savoring every course, enjoyed the five star service and treated it as what it was-a once a year experience.  In other words, I appreciate it more for the wait, the savings it took to get there, the meals at home.

Although I’ve previously written about the fact that for the most part, I consider frugality an opportunity rather than deprivation, I sometimes forget that frugality is also about being able to enjoy the small and large things to their fullest extent. It’s also about being more creative on a day to day basis (something I hope to address more in the future).

There have been many examples of this in my life lately. A movie addict, I can no longer go to movies willy nilly.  My solution is to appreciate the regular small indulgences of movies at home and save that in theater experience for those special movies that need to be seen in a theater, or special occasions where the movie hits the spot. Not too long ago I went to see the final Harry Potter movie in 3D. It was worth while, I enjoyed the entire experience from the glasses to the snacks (sorry Morrison).  But I’ve only seem four, count em four, theater movies the past year and a half (Harry, Inception, True Grit, and Cowboys and Aliens) Again, by treating the movie experience as a rare, special occasion (which it is) the wow factor is increased tenfold.

I know that many struggle with having to give up these pleasures. I have had the same problem on occasion. Some folks also seem to think that without these opportunities on a daily or weekly basis, life would be boring (the adult version of  “There’s nothing fun to do”), I’d suggest that reasonable deprivation increases creativity, as well as enhancing those limited experiences.  Rather than looking at what you can’t have, look at what you can. Can’t afford the theater?  Pull out the popcorn and Scrabble or rent a movie from Red box. As for those limited treats, experience them in a new light, using all of your senses and giving them the full attention they deserve.

Of course, if I could only address my new found philosophy to my need for ice cream, life would be different.  Until I can limit Safeway’s Gourmet Salted Butter Pecan ice cream, my regular daily trip to water aerobics will be a staple in my life………

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