Second Nature

By Caroline Misner

Second Nature

I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And trust me, no matter what anyone else tells you about money not being able to buy happiness, rich is better. Much better.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the era of The Great Depression and today’s dismal economic turmoil. Eight decades ago our grandparents and great-grandparents were told to tighten their belts, to use it up, wear it out or do without. Today, in an age of technology unheard of in those days and with eco-friendly this and that, we’re told to reduce, reuse, recycle. Sage advice most of us have followed until it has become second nature.

Many old habits have become second nature to me since the company I work for has downsized, eliminating my hours by nearly half. Actually, the company didn’t downsize; the company “restructured.” It seems as though new euphemisms have cropped up recently to soften the blow. Now you’re not unemployed. You’re “reassessing your career options.” You’re not holding a garage sale or selling unwanted clutter on e-bay. You’re “generating a supplemental income.” And you’re certainly not broke. You are merely “monetarily challenged.”

Well, I haven’t been this monetarily challenged since I first got married over twenty years ago. Jerry and I were young, spry and eager to make our marks in the world. Sure it was hard. Like most young couples we worked at entry level jobs, drove a beat up old clunker with chronic mechanical problems and wallowed in debt that included hefty tuition fees. But we managed, and somehow, it didn’t seem to bother us that much. We cut corners whenever we could: we clipped coupons, ate a lot of macaroni and cheese and only went to the movies on Two Dollar Tuesdays. We scrimped, we saved, we scrounged and eventually we saved up enough money for Jerry to buy into an electronics parts business.

Then the heady days of prosperity began. The company became an instant success. We were able to pay off our debts and not only buy our dream house, but also a cute vacation cottage in the woods. We travelled, stayed at fancy resorts and ate at the best restaurants in the country. I even had a Scandinavian nanny to help me with kids while they were growing up.

Then slowly the prosperity began to dwindle like a contracting balloon. With the advent of new technology, the electronics parts business was gradually becoming obsolete. Our stocks suddenly weren’t worth what they once were. A few disastrous investments sealed our fate. By the time our kids reached their teens, I was back to work again and supplementing our income with freelance writing jobs.

We’re not destitute – not by any stretch of the imagination. Though we certainly can’t afford the hedonistic lifestyle we enjoyed a few years ago. I find myself falling into old habits I haven’t practiced since my early twenties. I collect old bottles for spare change that I roll up and cash in for pocket money. I clip coupons and scan the paper every Friday evening for the following week’s bargains. I compare prices.

And it’s not that bad. In an odd way, these old habits that were second nature to me so many years ago are somehow comforting. It’s akin to putting on your old wedding dress from two decades ago and marveling that it still fits. That after all you have been through in life, a small part of you is still youthful.

I just hope the dress doesn’t become too comfortable.

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