Selfish or Self-Fulfilling?

There’s a lot of this going around on the Internet right now (especially if you follow therapy pages like I do). All the over-givers who are sick of getting “taken advantage of” are entering their “selfish eras” and “doing me” and whatnot. And don’t take my quotation marks for sarcasm; I’m in the same boat. Someone who’s grown exhausted with choosing to over-give (because no one’s forcing us; it is our choice, we just want acknowledgement and reciprocity for it). But seeing my peers say we’re being “selfish” now, I’m realizing we’ve grossly misinterpreted what the word selfish actually means. Because all the “selfish” stuff we’re doing by focusing on ourselves now and taking care of our own wants is really the shit we should have been doing all along.

Let’s look at the dictionary definition of the word selfish: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

That’s not what taking care of yourself is. Taking care of yourself is something we’re supposed to do. We’re not entering our selfish eras devouring fresh cheeseburgers while simultaneously staring down a homeless man with no remorse. We’re not scheming to get ahead at the expense of someone else’s suffering. We’re not shamelessly flaunting our fancy new expensive purchases in front of a friend who’s struggling financially to make ends meet. We’re not inconveniencing others. We’re simply doing more of what brings us joy and alignment in our own lives and trusting our fellow adults to take responsibility for themselves in non-life-threatening situations. You know…like healthy human beings?

We’re eating better, working out more, and focusing on more self-care to improve our mental well-being, not stealing candy from children or dipping into the collection box at church.

But somewhere along the way, society got introduced the notion that if you are always looking out for everyone else, it will come back to you.

Noble, yes, but also a load of bullshit.

Sure, there’s Karma, and sure, being kind to others does benefit you, but stretching yourself thin and exhausting yourself to your own detriment to do it became the gold standard because we all knew a grandma or auntie that always looked out for everyone and was always giving, and do we remember how they lived? Usually poor, on government assistance, and didn’t go out much. Harsh, but a dose of truthful reality. We looked out for them, but still, were their lives thriving? See, the giving notion got twisted to the point where it became ideal and applauded to always give to others even at the expense of yourself. Like, if I’m walking the streets barefoot and I see a guy in a wheelchair, I should give up one of my legs type deal. Sounds a little ridiculous, no? But then, where is the limit?

The truth is, this world is full of leeches who will seek out folks with this over-giving mentality and then suck.you.dry. This mentality also blurs the line of personal responsibility. At some point, as we grow from children to adults, we learn that we must take responsibility for our own lives, actions, and their consequences. There’s a fine line between being “helpful” and enabling someone, which many people forget, and that causes a whole new slew of problems in that by your eagerness to be helpful, you actually take away the learning experience that folks need to better themselves on their own, but since someone else is always willing to do the work for them, they no longer try.

I got called selfish a LOT growing up, especially because I was an only child until I was 15 (and most only children are called selfish by default). One of my earliest standout memories of being slapped with the selfish sticker was when I was about 7 or so, and my two cousins and I were each allowed to pick out one snack from the supermarket. I chose one of those really cute applesauce 6-packs, probably a Blues-Clues variation, or some sort of limited-time variety flavor. Now, I had plans for this snack. I was ready to ration out my portions for the next few days, because that was the sort of precocious child I was. One during a reading session, one hiding under the kitchen table, one on a car ride…I had plans for this snack. But what ended up happening was my 2 cousins snarfed their stuff down in hours, then came to me with their hands out for mine. And I was made to give it to them.

I was livid at the unfairness of it. Here I am, displaying advanced life skills that most adults struggle with like delayed gratification, restraint, and frugality, and I was just expected to hand over portions of the snack I was treasuring, just because my cousins wanted it. I hadn’t coveted theirs. I hadn’t asked for any of theirs. I hadn’t partook in theirs. But I was still berated by my family and called selfish because I didn’t want to hand it over. Why were my cousins not the selfish, greedy, gluttonous ones? Why did it not matter that I was losing out here, getting an unfair portion of the snack I fairly acquired? Why was I not praised for my discipline?

Now, I’m sure my family was only trying to teach me a lesson in being giving, no matter what the circumstances, and I’m sure most parents back then wanted to raise altruistic little Gandhis, but the result today may be a bunch of exhausted, codependent people-pleasers who’ve learned that the appearance of “nice” to others is more important than being kind to ourselves.

There were MANY other instances I was called selfish growing up, and of course I WAS at times, I WAS A CHILD. Children by nature are selfish, and that’s why adults who are selfish are seen as more childish because they haven’t matured out of the “everything revolves around me” phase. But I was an intelligent child; I didn’t lack consideration for others, and I was strongly empathetic. I don’t think I at all deserved it as the personality trait my family accused me of having. I was a big proponent of fairness. Of equality. Of everyone getting what they wanted, if they could. But we were taught that ONLY utter sacrifice of what you want is true giving, and that compromise in the fairness of all parties doesn’t count.

If you are maintaining a gym routine, weekly self-care days, improving on a hobby that brings you joy, taking a class or learning a new skill, that’s not selfish, and we need to stop acting like it is. You are not in your selfish era because you’re taking the reigns of your happiness and not expecting anyone else to do it for you. You’re living your life and investing in the most important person in it; the star of the show. The fact that we collectively see this as somehow selfish and there’s a guilt associated with it speaks volumes to society’s expectations and why so many folks can’t take care of themselves and are always expecting someone else to help them. Unless you are a parent or caretaker, you are not responsible for anyone else’s life. We are the ones in our lives who are in the easiest position to give ourselves what we want because we know what makes us happiest.

A narcissist ex once told me, “A relationship should be two people trying their best to make the other person as happy as possible.”

Awww so sweet–WRONG. First of all, sounds exactly like something a Narc would say; they want you in their pocket doing anything you can to make sure they stay happy and all their needs are met, while simultaneously throwing temper tantrums in response to your requests and trampling the boundaries you try to stand firmly on.

But it’s also unsustainable. There are just some things that another person is not capable of doing for you, that would make you happier than if you did it for yourself.

Another popular insight going around is that we shouldn’t be looking to other people to make us happy. Your source of true happiness must come from within, and not from an outside source. You have to be your own sun.

And being your own sun isn’t selfish. Tending your own garden isn’t selfish. Thinking of your own happiness, in conjunction with those around you is not selfish. The notion that we need to forsake our own needs to appear giving is a foolish one that needs to be retired, along with the idea that we even need to prove how giving we are in the first place, as if we earn some sort of floating badge attached to our human avatars that others can see, confirm, and validate us with. The fact that we actually think that by supporting ourselves in the same manner that we support everyone else is us entering our sElFiSh ErA is unhealthy, damaging, incorrect, and barf-worthy. This is not, and has never been a “Fuck everyone else’s feelings, I’m gonna do me” movement. It’s a “My needs matter just as much as everyone else’s, and I don’t need to hide them to appear ‘good'” shift.

Because what if, by considering your own needs as equally as you considered others’, it actually made things…EVEN.

Balanced?

Fair.

~Tael

Reclaiming Fried Chicken

A month or so ago, as I walked up the stairs to my apartment, I smelled the warm, homey aroma of that night’s dinner coming from my downstairs neighbors’ door. The smell of the Spanish food they cook up regularly tempts my nostrils; I almost wish they would offer up their leftovers because I would gladly take them (plus the grandma lives there, so you know it’s banging). But that particular night, my perceptive nostrils recognized the unmistakably comforting scent of homemade fried chicken, and sent a signal to my brain that made me realize I desperately missed it.

So the next day I went the grocery store and grabbed some vegetable oil and flour, whipped up a batch, and sunk my teeth into the blissful seasoned crunch that soothed my craving. And as I went to pour the leftover grease into a Chinese takeout container, I paused. I remembered when a container of used grease by my stove was as regular as the iodized table salt canister. But I no longer made fried chicken often, so what was I going to use the rest of this grease for if I saved it? Well…it was here now. Why not fry some pork chops next?

While fried chicken was one of the first things I was taught to cook on my own, there’s a few reasons why I stopped eating it regularly since my college years. The biggest one, even more so than health, is that I come from a family of Black aunties whose cooking rarely fails. When you are raised on authentic Black Auntie fried chicken, it’s hard to settle for REGULAR fried chicken. And then of course, the basement-after-church-service fried chicken. And then there was my Grandma, the head fried-chicken-making OG. Whenever we’d make the trip down from New York to Baltimore, no matter what time we arrived, even if it was 2am and she’d already gone to bed, there was always a bowl of fried chicken waiting for us on the kitchen table. That just-as-good-possibly-better-even-when-it’s-cold fried chicken. Cause anyone can be lazy enough to eat some cold fried chicken from a fast food restaurant, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. My cousin and I would sometimes sit in the backyard on a discarded dresser, escaping the sweltering, air conditionless kitchen, snacking on Grandma’s fried chicken and throwing the bones over the fence to the neighbor’s dog.

So since I grew up on the best fried chicken, I learned not to seek it out anywhere else much because it was never the same caliber. I mean, Popeyes can hold its own in terms of fast food fried chicken when you forgot to make dinner or you’re coming in from a drunken night and need a meal that consistently delivers some flavor. Then there’s what I call the “hood chicken spots”, those dingy little joints in urban areas with the cheap specials and a million items on the menu and it looks like some shit could go down at any moment (think Crown or Kennedy Fried Chicken); they actually tend to be reliable to quench a hankering, especially after a grueling church service gone on for too long. Hip-Hop Chicken and Fish chains in Baltimore gets an honorable mention as the top store-bought fried chicken I’ve ever had. But I even avoid soul food restaurants because as many as I’ve been to, their fried chicken has never been as good as Grandma’s or my aunties. Or their mac n cheese (once again, my aunties slay in this department). Most of the time, I’d just hold out and wait for the best.

But now, Grandma is gone. And I don’t see my aunts as much, and they don’t fry up chicken as much, and ever since I started eating healthier almost 9 years ago, I cut out fried and fast foods heavily. But that random, home-cooked fried chicken craving and my not-as-good-as-Grandma’s-but-still-delicious results felt soothing.

So I kept the grease. And I made pork chops a couple of nights later. And fried up some fish. And then a few weeks later, I bought some MORE vegetable oil. And I made some MORE fried chicken and fish. And I’m not worried about it because I have habits now. My food choices are superbly different now than they were before I started eating better. My body generally craves the home-cooked option before the fast food one, the baked option before the fried one, the whole food option before the processed one. The 3-ingredient butter over the 18-unpronounceable-man-made additives “spread”. Making some homemade fried chicken once or twice a month is not going to derail my wellness when I’ve built up 9 years of discipline with consistent workout routines and choosing real food over the quick option.

And the memories attached make it good for my soul. 🙂

~Tael

What Makes Healthy Attractive

Most women I know swipe left on the guy in the dating app with the shirtless bathroom-mirror selfie. Even though, 99% of the time, the guy doing it IS ripped so shouldn’t it be impressive?

Thing is, we swipe left on those guys because of what posting a shirtless bathroom-mirror selfie tends to say about personality. For men (I admit there’s a shameless double-standard when it comes to women). Look at my buff body, doesn’t this entice you? I don’t know proper lighting, that’s why there’s massive screen glare and mad shadows behind me. I never leave the house so I couldn’t get a shot at the beach where I’d naturally be shirtless, but I NEED to show you what I’m working with here to up my desirability points.

He may be showing he’s fit and healthy, but it’s giving desperate. Basic. Lowbrow.

We’re more likely to swipe right on the guy in the snug-fitting shirt that hugs his guns well. It’s not IN-YOUR-FACE, but gives an underlying confidence (I don’t need to flaunt a very obvious, conventionally attractive asset to seal the deal) as well as allowing the myriad of positive traits within the fitness tree to shine as well.

Everyone loves a body in shape, mostly because of the very obvious, visually-appealing, #1 reason that’s always focused on: it’s nice to look at. It’s sexy. It’s a plus to date someone who works out. #Fitspo is all over the Internet under the guise of health consciousness, beautiful athletic bodies at the forefront. But the non-physical, positive aspects tied into it don’t get the same shine. Taking care of your body IS one of the top pillars of health. And healthy people tend to be attractive people. For a LOT more than just looking good.

Discipline. Every adult KNOWS that routinely carving out time to put your body through physically taxing actions for the sole purpose of building strength and stamina is WORK. It’s not really considered fun. And it’s tiring. Especially while balancing work, kids, adulting. We’d rather be chilling on our couch. Controller in hand. Nomming on cookies. Sleeping. Mentally slothing out on social media. All those things that are way less work and much more appealing than getting our ass to the gym. It’s EFFORT. But at the end of the day, it’s mind over matter. I literally tell my friends I have to “catapult myself to the gym now” because I am mentally grabbing myself by the britches and slinging myself out my door before I come up with any more excuses not to (rain, sub-zero temps, and still-sore-from-last-workout are the big ones). Because often you DON’T really want to do it, but you do because you know it’s GREAT for you. Which is why it requires…

Motivation. Hella motivation. Hella self-motivation. Because while you can lean on others for encouragement and to keep you accountable, nobody can go out and get this shit done but yourself. And that’s attractive. Consistently incorporating exercise into your life for the sole purpose of improving your health and physical prowess is determination. It means you understand the concept of delayed gratification and are willing to invest in yourself for your own betterment in the long run. Motivated people, especially self-motivated people, get shit done. And it’s because they can give themselves their OWN push and aren’t afraid to face something challenging by themselves. And that motivation to push themselves comes from…

Self-love. You have to respect a person working to be the best version of themselves because they VALUE themselves. Their health and mobility is important, and a strong part of what keeps a human youthful, vibrant, and energetic through what you hope to be a long, happy life with as little medical intervention as possible. They’re empowered through a commitment to themselves, and confident. And we all know confidence is sexy. Those who love themselves take care of themselves, because they want a strong mind and body. And folks are always admired for their…

Strength. I have older women in my life with dancer’s bodies. Personal training and running marathons in their 60s. A retired grandma who continued to volunteer part-time within the education system in her 70s just to keep her mind active. Healthy mind/body/spirit is a THING, ya’ll. Another grandma was sturdy af up until her 80s. Never needed a cane, never had a hip replacement. Stayed wearing her jazzy outfits and perfume when she went out, and you couldn’t pull the wool over her eyes, even in her old age. Hell, she didn’t even exercise. Imagine how much more formidable she could have been if she had. I look up to all of them. Strength and determination are captivating. A strong body and mind are coveted. You know how they say you’re the average of your five closest friends? My four closest friends ALL make a point to incorporate exercise into our lifestyles (Hey, I’m five!). And we never once even tried to push it on each other; it just happened organically that way. Positive influence rubs off, as does negative. I see videos on social media now of ladies in their 80s deadlifting at the gym. I hope that’ll be me.

I speak from the female perspective, but it goes both ways. A man sees a woman who tends to her health as positive and attractive. She takes pride in her appearance. She’s motivated to keep herself healthy. A strong, determined partner to rear children. A smart teammate who makes healthy decisions that will benefit the family.

Good health will always look attractive because it symbolizes so much in a world where the opposite is the norm. It makes you look better, feel better, perform better. It instills the qualities of motivation, determination, discipline, strength. THOSE are the attractive qualities you can’t see right away, but are buried under the superficial surface of “fit”. A long-term commitment to one of the most important things in EVERYONE’s life is the body we live in for the time we’re here. And the commitment to care for it is not limited to gymgoers. Dancers. Runners. Rock-climbers. Those who get a walk in every morning. Cyclists. Acrobats. Sports. There’s so many ways to actively take care of your body, just by putting in a few hours out of the 168 ones we go through every week. It’ll never NOT be worth it.

Taking care of yourself is appealing. Self-esteem is enticing. Striving to continually improve oneself is engaging. Water in your system and sunlight on your face and nourishment to your soul…

Good health is attractive.

Posting shirtless bathroom-mirror selfies on a dating app is not.

~Tael

(This is not a post on dating lol. Be your best self.)

How To Not Be Broke

I’m a normal-ass person.

Well, scratch that, I’m relatively badass. But normal in what I consider the financial sense. Even though apparently over half of America lives paycheck-to-paycheck and has a credit score around 600 or lower. So statistically, I guess I’m above-average financially.

I might act urban-bougie now, probably because despite not having much, I learned frugal quality and value EARLY. If you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you’ll know I didn’t grow up with money. I wasn’t poor by any standard, but I was for sure lower-class, statistically. And what saved me from growing up on welfare in the projects was my mom’s inherent hustle-nature. Seriously; she has shamelessly haggled with small children selling hand-made crafts in Hawaii for her souvenirs on vacation. But through a life of fake addresses for better educational options, well-intentioned church connections for better living conditions, and finely-honed discount instincts for better clothing and sustenance choices, I was able to at least go to the best schools in the districts, look presentable through thrift-store clothing, and eat good off sale-priced foods and discounted goods sold from dented cans and imperfect crushed boxes (that little warehouse in Queens was like a wonderland growing up). I knew not to ask for much unless it was my birthday, Christmas, or back-to-school time (RIP to the OG WholeSale Liquidators in SoHo).

It took until I was 13-years-old when my mom was finally able to secure a co-op and we didn’t have to move around anymore; I now had my own bedroom and an address I didn’t have to lie about so my mom could utilize my student-issued bus passes and Metrocards to save money on transportation costs. Stability was nice. We were finally on the come-up.

I settled into that comfort all the way up until college, where it really hit home what adulting would entail.

I was broke.

Broke broke. While my mom was working her ass off to make sure she could put me through state-college, I was left to figure out how to survive off everything else. I couldn’t ask her for “spending money” since she was already helping me pay to go. I tried work-study jobs for meager earnings but those earnings went to necessities, like securing used textbooks off Half.com. I couldn’t even contribute $5 for Dominos $5/$5/$5 deal when my friends ordered pizza. I couldn’t afford Chinese food. I didn’t go off-campus with them to party and dine at Applebees or bar-hop. The dining hall options were gourmet and abundant to me. Sale racks at no-name mall stores were my best friend when I had a bit of cash to myself.

When I graduated, with about $13,000 in student loan debt (and I am supremely grateful for my mom’s help and that I chose to go to an economical SUNY at the time, otherwise, it would have been much higher), I left home directly after college and moved to Boston.

Right around the start of the recession. :/

Now I was broke without the lifeline of living at home, AND learning that since the job market SUCKED, all those promises of how easy it’d be to make it with a college degree held little weight. I tried holding down multiple jobs for awhile, but I was overworked, underpaid, and depressed (Urban Outfitters made me vow to never work retail again, and you know it’s bad when the actual customers tell you they feel sorry for you). I couldn’t even afford internet. I got two library card memberships, one for the Boston Public Library system, and one for the local town of Everett where I lived. This granted me 2 free hours of Internet a day between the two, which I used to furiously apply to as many jobs as I could to improve my living situation. I couldn’t afford to partake in any common leisure activities like movies, events, restaurants. And when my ex-husband-then-boyfriend-at-the-time couldn’t seem to keep a steady workflow of hours to pull us out of this situation either, I finally grew TIRED of being broke.

That was my catalyst.

I was tired of my family coming to visit me and not being able to do much with them because I had no money. Tired of fearing when my student loan deferral period would end and I’d have an additional bill on my hands. Tired of living a life that essentially seemed like a prison, needing to be frugal 100% of the time, with nothing to show for it. There’s no freedom in being broke. I had done it for too long, and I was sick of it.

After 2 years in Boston, I moved back to NYC where I immediately got a job on Wall Street; the best paying job I’d ever had at the time. But that was not the “cure,” simply choosing to move where the money was and make more of it. Ask all those broke lottery-winners and once-famous rappers who file for bankruptcy. I needed a plan and habits to retain the now more-money I’d be making. I needed to NOT spend more just because I had more. And luckily, my thrifty upbringing had already trained me for this.

Despite my sudden jump in salary, I made the very conscious and difficult decision to NOT be dazzled by the more-money and continue living exactly how I’d already been living, with the goal of eliminating all of my student loan debt, because I’d finally reached the point where I could no longer defer them. Even though I was sick of it, I had already been doing it for so long; I could wait another 6 months to a year and stay uncomfortable for a greater end goal to benefit my life. At least now I was consciously choosing to live broke for a real purpose, with better days on the far horizon if I could remain disciplined enough. So all that additional salary went to hacking away at my student loan debt in chunks, to pave the way to my financial freedom.

My second priority after eliminating my debt was building a cushion in my bank account and a savings account on the side, so that I’d no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck, and no emergency expense would rattle me. Fun fact: If you’re not budgeting for emergency situations, you’re doing it wrong. It takes a lot of unexpected circumstances to realize, they will always happen. I used to budget $200 a month for random shit. Someone’s going to come into town. Your friend is going to invite you to some spontaneous thing. You’ll discover an unadvertised pop-up event only active for one weekend, or you’ll suddenly discover that thing you’ve been keeping your eye on for awhile is now having a whopper sale and you need to buy it like now.

There will always be an unexpected circumstance that costs money. Plan for it.

Since I had reached the core of my “I’m sick of being broke”-ness, I was committed to achieving this goal as SOON as possible, so even though I was technically no longer broke, I still lived like I was, until I had eliminated my debt and amassed enough of a financial cushion to finally be able to breathe easy.

Even now, I still choose to be economical. Just because you have money, does not mean you have to spend it. Most folks are bad at simply holding onto the money that they already have. If you’re shit with less money, you’re still gonna be shit with greater gobs of money. And yes, we can cry foul at the government and capitalism and unfair labor practices, but at the end of the day we’re still broke and we still need tactics to get around a system that exists and ain’t really going nowhere.

Learn to chase value.

I know everybody’s momma (Black ones anyway) said a variation of the phrase “There’s food at home. You got [eating out] money?” I never thought that phrase would make so much sense now.

Cooking is one of the biggest things that got me through broke times. Maybe I couldn’t get a pizza or splurge on Applebees, but I could at least make sure I ate good. I do not cook for presentation, nor to impress anyone or post my culinary masterpieces on a Facebook food group or Instagram (unless I did a damn good job). Some of those internet recipes got too many damn ingredients and I leave out 1/4-1/3 of the shit and make modified versions, just because I don’t want to spend money on the extra herbs and spices and juices that will go bad in a week cause I didn’t have anything else to use them on. I mostly cook for UTILITY. Because I need to eat. Does it take work? Sure does. Is it economical as hell? YES AF. So I put in the work to do it. My boyfriend ordered ONE gourmet pizza one night a couple of months ago, and the shit came out to $40 with taxes and delivery fees and such (Delivery fees have SKYROCKETED since Covid). For ONE PIE. I strongly urged him to reconsider. But he really wanted to try this pizza. Shit was smaller than the average large pie when it arrived. Now, was it delicious and hearty? Yeah. But 2 weeks prior, I’d gotten a pie from Papa John’s WITH cheesy bread and honey chipotle chicken tenders on the side for $30. Value.

Leftovers. Leftovers. Leftovers. If I have leftovers at home, 95% I am eating at home. And in the unlikely 5% of the time that I eat out with leftovers at home, I’m coming back to the leftovers somehow the next day. I will eat the same leftovers for 4 days straight, and if I get bored, cook something more so that I can rotate between the new thing and old leftovers until ALL THE THINGS ARE GONE. I do not like to waste food. Food gone bad is money in the trash. Likewise, if I buy a 16 oz soda, you will find my container at various levels of completion throughout the day, possibly even several days. Ask my cousins. Or my boyfriend who witnesses me place opened cans of Mountain Dew back in the fridge regularly, or drink leftover cups of juice still out from the day before. I don’t like to waste drink either.

I ate grits, eggs, and a banana for breakfast every day for a whole week straight last month. A grain, a protein, a fruit. Nothing fancy. Takes about 10 minutes total to prepare from start to finish. An autopilot breakfast that’s wholesome. $2.50 for a dozen eggs at the supermarket. About the same for a 5-pack of bananas from Whole Foods. $2.99 for a container of grits that’ll last you quite some time. $10 got me a week and beyond’s worth of breakfast. You cannot knock the value.

Awhile back I discovered that the Duane Reade chain in NYC carries 6-pack paper towels and 12-pack toilet paper for $5 each. Five…dollars…each. And not some cheap $1 store brand or like Angel Soft masquerading itself to be better than it is. It’s SCOTT. The nearest Duane Reade is 1 block and 2 avenues down from my apartment. My nearest grocery store is around the corner. If you’re wondering whether I make the longer trek each month for the better price, I hope the answer is crystal clear. I could pay $6 for 4 rolls at my local grocer, or I could get some damn exercise. Bruh, last time I went there they had BOGO if you had the store card (which I sure as hell do). I paid $7.50 for 24 rolls of toilet paper. This shit might last me half a year.

Value.

A couple of months ago, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My friend cautioned me not to buy tickets online in advance, because then you couldn’t use your New Yorker discount. Cool. We got there and realized the line to buy tickets using our discount was practically as long as the line to get into the museum. Took at least another 25 minutes. So pretty much almost an hour in total wait to get into the museum on cheap tickets. But that wait meant I got to “donate” $10 for my ticket instead of the full price of $25. And my friend admitted, she simply donated $1. I wish we’d been in line together, because seeing her do it would have rubbed some thrifty courage on me to halve my donation further.

I’m not a “shopper” and it’s not something I do in my spare time for fun either. I only buy new clothes or footwear if I need a replacement, a specific item for a purpose, or if the targeted ads on my social media and website browsing show me a sparkling rare item that aligns with my soul (those algorithms have gotten REALLY good). Because of this, I rarely make impulsive purchases. If I’m going to buy something, I make sure I really want the thing. I’ve never been someone who will just go “Oh, I’ll just return it if it doesn’t look good.” It is not always economical to repackage an item, ship it back, and wait for a refund with shipping costs possibly deducted. Because of this, I rarely return anything and can’t remember the last time I’ve regretted making a purchase. Additionally, commit to always at least looking for a way to NOT pay full-price, whether it’s shopping at TJ Maxx/Marshalls, waiting for emails advertising 50% off the site, or doing a quick Retailmenot.com search for coupon codes. The Sale section of anywhere is your friend; I can’t believe I ever thought SALE was a dirty word. I legit used to cringe and check if anyone was watching when my mom would go straight for it.

I pay $20/month for a Blink membership; one of the cheapest gym memberships you can get in the city (it even lets you bring a guest!). Blink, because the bottom of the barrel gym is Planet Fitness and I at least have standards. I get my free weights and machines in a safe and clean environment and I craft my own workout regimen, without having to pay extra for plush towels to wipe the sweat off my face, Kiehl’s lotion in the bathrooms, or fancy classes.

There’s a lot of freedom in living below your means. I decline purchases that I feel aren’t worth it with ease. Self-restraint comes easily to me, with an ironclad will against monetary peer pressure. One day I looked up and was no longer waiting for my next paycheck. “Oh, we got paid today?” became a regular reaction for me. I barely glance at grocery receipts because I have my practices on autopilot to keep my spending in moderation. I splurge on cool shit I could only dream of as a child, like freaking Zelda backpacks, Mickey Mouse sweaters, and all those cool immersive art exhibits without checking if I can afford it (I can, because I made it so). Or real vacations, random excursions, experiences that are only around for a limited time. Buying popcorn and snacks at the movie theater is non-negotiable to me (buying snacks pretty much anywhere has become my bougie non-negotiable), to the point where I don’t even sneak the 16oz bottles of soda into the theaters anymore. I BUY MOVIE THEATER SODA NOW. Sometimes I add NACHOS and Buncha Crunch too, when I’m feeling particularly baller.

I’ve taken trips back to Boston just to enjoy all the shit I couldn’t when I lived there, and eat at all the places I could only wistfully gaze at back then. I reached my goal of being able to live on my own in Manhattan, contributing to retirement accounts, with an online savings account I never touch, and a Robinhood account I opened a year ago to play around with, though I’ve lost $900 in the stock market (thanks a lot, WallStreetBets).

I never borrow money from anyone because I feel like if I don’t have the money for something, I probably should not be buying it. Instead, I have credit cards to “borrow from myself” and I never let my credit card debt go higher than what I have in my checking account, meaning, I could pay it all off and wipe the slate clean if needed. And if I find the scales tipping and my spending so much that my credit card bill is growing at a faster rate that I can pay off (without dipping into any savings or losing my checking account cushion, then I start cutting back on my spending until I can “pay myself back” accordingly. Because finding the balance between living a satisfying life and retaining as much of my money as possible, to me, is worth the prevention methods of ever returning to those dark days. I’ve done too much work to go backwards. I had an ex who used to brag about how well he could survive off $40 until the next paycheck, after his expenses had ate up his entire check in a matter of days. I ain’t about that life.

Last week, I discovered an untransferred $75 sitting in my Venmo account that I forgot was in there.

That’s the life I’m ’bout.

So, how badly enough do you not want to be broke? Enough to REALLY suffer through it with a goal to overcome it? To sacrifice a lot of the things you enjoy for a lengthy period of time if it means financial freedom comes of it? To keep a little bit of your broke past with you by holding onto habits you used to roll your eyes at your mom for with your mission in mind? You’d be surprised at the things you become capable of when you’re really sick of something.

What’s your catalyst? Or what will it be?

~Tael

(Eyes on the prize)

I Deserve a Bed

I’ve mentioned before that I used to hate vacations.

There was no Disneyworld or cruise trips for me growing up. A “vacation” for my family generally meant squishing 5-6 peeps into one car for a journey that lasted anywhere from 3 to 12 hours, the destination being a family member’s house where you were either sleeping with your mom, piling into bed with 2-3 other cousins, or preparing a pallet on the floor. I can only recall one weekend beach trip that was considered luxurious, simply because it was the one time we actually got to stay in a hotel.

I have no regrets, nor resentment about this. But now, I have the independence and luxury of being able to pay for a flight (and sweet Jesus, I will pick that route of transportation over a road trip any day) and hotel accommodations for a leisurely excursion.

I come from a large family. The type where you will NEVER remember that random aunt you see once every 7 years, and you cannot keep track of who’s a first cousin, second cousin, or just a “cousin” that’s apparently related by blood somehow OR just grew up with all your other cousins so they’re kind of like a Ditto. And now many of THEM had their own kids so our family tree probably looks like a periodic table of chaos. Do you also come from a big family where you piled into bed with your cousins during family getaways, or shared a room with siblings growing up? And then you got a certain age and left all that behind right? Only in my family, they don’t leave it behind.

Last Labor Day weekend, me and my “immediate” fam took a little weekend trip. Five of us in one hotel room, all adults, aged 20, 32, 35, 55, and 56, respectively.

Two to each Queen bed, was the general agreed upon consensus, with my mom saying she’d bring along her air mattress. Not exactly ideal, but since it was only for 2 nights, I agreed. Until we arrived at the hotel and my mom revealed, OOPS, she forgot the air mattress, and the hotel could not provide us with an extra rollaway.

My mom volunteered to sleep on the tiny uncomfortable mini-couch against the wall like it was nothing. But in a low voice my cousin warned me, “You know she’s going to sneak into bed with you and your sister in the middle of the night, right?”

And he was right. That half-chaise lounger was not fit for sleeping and that’s why she’d offered so flippantly. She’d just wake up stiff and order me and my sister, half-asleep, to make room for her. The thought filled me with dread.

“Three can fit in a bed, just do head to toe. I don’t care,” my aunt said.

The thing is, I care. I care deeply. I don’t WANT to do head to toe.

Sleep is very high on my priority list. I still have an old-school pillowtop mattress, with an additional egg crate topper at home. I read reviews on the sheets I buy. I have a white noise machine for ambient sound. Blackout curtains in my room. I’m very good at getting my 8 hours every night. An unexpected three to a bed, head to toe, in a hotel room I contributed to paying for, is not on my agenda. Even in a hostel, you get your own bed.

“Would you feel comfortable sleeping with your cousin so that me and your mom and sister can all sleep in the other bed?”

While he’s 100% my closest cousin and like a brother to me to me, he is also well over 200 pounds and we’d surely end up touching. The last time we slept in a bed together, I was probably around 11-years-old. So I asserted myself honestly and said “No, I would not feel comfortable with that.”

They seemed surprised at this.

I calmly stated that we should find the nearest Target and simply purchase an air mattress. My mother seemed exasperated at this plan, and the fact that I would want to seek out a way to sleep more comfortably. In a snippy tone, she stated she didn’t want to pay $40 for an air mattress. But I insisted I would pay for it. We found one for $21, self inflatable and everything. And lo and behold, once we had it back at the hotel room, it was my mother who requested to sleep on it, leaving me to one of the beds with my sister.

Fine. That’s fine. I slept with my sister for the two nights. Both her, and my cousin on the other side of the room, snore. Luckily I’d had the foresight to bring my white noise machine to help a little. And I was woken much earlier than I would have liked by their conversing the next day, because hey, one room. I wouldn’t call it “relaxing”.

Now, my mom has 7 siblings. And for them growing up, at least 3-4 girls shared a room, and a bed as well. They grew up with virtually no privacy and no boundaries. Then they got married and had kids pretty quickly…and they still don’t blink twice if 3 of the sisters have to climb into bed with each other, even at their age now.

But up until I was 15, I was an only child. And while we did move around a lot when I was a kid, for the time we were settled, I had my own room and all the luxuries of space of an only child. I was often called spoiled and selfish by my family because of it. While I loved my cousins dearly and cherished my time with them, I also loved my snacks dearly and felt it unfair to share the spoils I’d carefully obtained and allocated after they’d decimated their own with little self-control or discipline. It was like I’d already learned how to be resourceful and thrive in a capitalist environment, but my elders tried to spread the allocation to those who didn’t work for it.

As I grew into adulthood, I never lost the concept of valuing what I work for and what I’ve obtained. My own quiet space. My nighttime wind-down time. I don’t live with roommates for a reason. And when planning trips in advance, I’d like to know that wherever I’m going, I’m going to have some sort of safe space that I can retreat to. A “home base”. And that includes a bed. If I know in advance that I can’t have this, I would rather not go. Gone are the days where I’d clamor with my cousins to somebody’s house and make a blanket nest on the floor, or pass out on somebody’s couch in college. It was fun then, yes, but I’m a grown woman now who values her comfort.

I often witnessed my mom enthusiastically giving up her bedroom for visitors, and hell, even I gave my bed to my older cousins who came over. I thought it was my duty and I was happy to fulfill it. Generally the unspoken rules of sleeping hierarchy I saw; if it was a married couple, you gave up your bed. If it was an elder, you gave up your bed. If it was a man, you gave up your bed. Unless he was a broke man. Those slept on the couch. But men making more money than you, you definitely gave up your bed. Eventually air mattresses and pull-out couches were brought into the mix. But even now, when someone visits my mom’s apartment from out of town, it’s my 20-year-old sister who’s displaced from her room. The common law of order.

And that’s fine. I did my time. I did my duty. But now that I’m a fully contributing member of society, I’m allowed to choose. And I shouldn’t be accused of acting like the Queen of Sheba for having a reasonable expectation of my own bed to sleep in when I pay to visit somewhere rather than engage in my family’s boundary-less climate. I shouldn’t need to be a well-paid man to be seen as important enough to get the honor of my own space offered to me.

On our most recent weekend family trip last month, when my mom got into persuasion-mode to convince me to come, I expressly stated my biggest condition beforehand. That me and my lover would absolutely have a room with our own bed to sleep in for a trip that we were paying for. It was promised and delivered. A step of achievement towards basic rights assertion.

Ask and you may receive.

~Tael