What’s behind the picture of four coffee cups?

Post college, I was in an extremely low paying job—same as I had been throughout college—living on my own in what my niece would refer to as a “dinky” apartment with second hand furniture, paying off my student loan, trying to figure out what life after college was supposed to be. There ought to be a college course taught on that topic: Successfully surviving senioritis and transitioning to the real world. 

I’d gotten through four years having taken up neither pot smoking (The drug du jour in the late seventies.) or coffee (The legal drug du jour of 95% of college students, always, at least until Red Bull was invented.) I progressed to adding scoops of instant coffee to boiling water and inhaling the bouquet—hey, does that count as snorting caffeine? Hmmm, that never occurred to me until now. I loved the aroma of coffee from childhood when I’d awaken early in the morning and hear the percolator going as my dad got ready for work. The scent of brewing grounds would waft down the hallway to the room I shared with Seester and all was right with the world.

Having begun tentatively sipping coffee to actually wanting to drink it, I found I needed proper, pretty cups. Wandering in the grocery store one night after another grueling twelve-hour day working in retail management (only masochists need apply), I spotted this foursome tucked on the back of a shelf. The whimsy of the birds struck my fancy. I put one in my cart.

As I was attempting to negotiate a pay raise with my female boss, asking how anyone was expected to live on my wage and carry the responsibility of running a store, she responded, “Ask your parents for help.” My jaw truly did drop at the same moment one of those gasps of shock escaped my lips. I blurted out, “You’re kidding, right? I’m a college graduate and you expect me to ask my parents for help?”

It took me four pay periods to add one cup per market trip to my kitchen. They cost less than $3.00 a piece.

Not too long after I’d accumulated these gems, a casual friend was visiting. We were, surprise, having coffee before work. She hadn’t finished hers and announced, “I’ll just take this with me and return your cup later.” I said, “No, you won’t. Those are my good cups.” I yanked a random mug from the cupboard and dumped her brew into it. She was affronted, but so was I. It was an attitudinal trait in each of us. I had been supporting myself for ten years, eking by, while she had married rich while her income was spent on whatever stuff she wanted.

Every time I pull one of these bird-decorated cups from the cupboard to make tea—they are the perfect size for a cuppa—I smile. Thirty years later and they still strike a cord of pleasure in me.

The cups remind me that I’d rather spend less money on possessions, tending to what I own with care, keeping the same items for longer rather than constantly buying new ones. The money I’ve saved over the years has gone instead to spending time with family and friends and traveling adventures.

Learning money management

Around 1995, I read a great book—How to Get What You Want in Life with the Money You Already Have. It’s long out of print and some of the techniques are surely dated, however, I’ve continued to use the same principles of logical frugality over the years and they’ve served me well. I boast that the first year I put the simple practices into play, I took a three-week vacation that was ninety percent paid for in advance. Now that was a relaxing way to travel!

While husband never read the book, he has the same outlook toward money that I have. We’ll agonize over spending five dollars on something fun but unnecessary from Target because we’d rather save up for a pending trip to Hawaii. When you compound that five dollars on every trip you make to a store every week for X number of months, it adds up enough to have an impact on that vacation.

Lest you think I’ve always been rational about my purchases, I indulged in four Mikasa brandy snifters and four Mikasa wine glasses that I paid $25 each for several years ago. As my income grew did I spend more on occasionally treating myself? You betcha. But when one of those wine goblets fell over and took a crash, I didn’t bother replacing it. I have great fun at my parties by putting out an array of wine glasses—different shapes, sizes, and colors—for guests to choose from.

A few precious purchases

Lest you think I’ve always been rational about my cash, I’ll admit to some rash choices that served me well. #money #budgets Click To Tweet

Did I ever get extravagant beyond the above crystal glasses? I don’t think so. I hate clothes shopping (too many years working in that dreaded retail environment), and never got into designer clothes and can’t tell a Claiborne from a Dolce & Gabbana from a Versace. Yes, Fashion Week in Milan (See: I’m not a Fashionista) was lost on me. 

But I did, and will continue to, spend money on what brings me joy in life: travel, family, friends, organizations I support…

Once in the proverbial blue moon, we play the lottery. I have an ongoing list of philanthropic enterprises I would start or expand should we ever win. Wouldn’t it be fun to drive around with a back seat full of umbrellas and hand them out on a rainy day? Maybe I could buy an old warehouse and turn it into a writer’s retreat and host events for free. How about giving bags full of socks and food gift cards to homeless people?

Or my favorite:

Start that chain of female-owned auto repair shops, catering only—admittedly with bias—to women. This was prompted by me calling dad while I was away at school:

“The mechanic says I need a such and such on the car and it will cost this much.”

Dad, “Tell that yahoo that your car doesn’t have one of those and if he doesn’t fix it right, I’ll be driving there to deal with him myself.”

I can’t comprehend at what money level my/our lifestyle would change and we would spend money on miscellaneous whatchamacallits. If we won a million dollars would … If we won five million … thirty. Do you see where this is going? It’s so far removed from my ability to think that way that I can’t get my brain to go there so I’ll keep living this simple life. 

What the mini saga of the bird-covered coffee cups taught me was that I don’t need much to be happy and that I don’t mind waiting to get what I really like.

What’s your relationship with money? Do you have a balance between spending now and saving for later?


Read: Friendship & $20