The $81 Beet Salad!

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Do you want to know the only thing worse than that moment on a dreaded group dinner when the server presents the check and someone makes the gut-wrenching suggestion to just divide the tab equally, even though you purposely ordered a small beet salad and ice water because your ass is dead broke?  Well, the only thing worse than that is the ride home where that moment is all you can think about.

Money has been tight for the past, well, 37 years or so but even more so since I made the choice to step back from pursuing short-term gratification in order to write my book.  So, I’ve gotten really great at finding ways to seclude and convince myself that I don’t need social interaction and that I’m perfectly fine sitting home alone every single night of the week, “working on my book.”  Don’t get me wrong, writing a book takes up a lot of my time and has proven to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever set out to accomplish, but I do have free time.

The truth is, I’m a pretty fun guy and I love going out for drinks with friends, trying new restaurants and having a great time.  Unfortunately, my never-ending love/hate relationship with money seems to have settled into the hate phase quite comfortably lately, which probably explains why I’m sitting here stewing at 10:39 pm, alone in my apartment on a Friday night. (I wrote this blog months ago, but have just now found the courage to share it.)

You see, I’ve got some really amazing people in my life who in spite of all my flaws, still think I’m pretty awesome too and enjoy hanging out with me.  One night, some of my favorite people invited me to a “casual dinner” and I decided that I would go and budget myself because I really enjoy spending time with them and hate the idea of letting something like money get in the way of that.  Also, these awesome people are my family.  The problem is that their idea of “casual dinner” is a bit different from mine and that’s how we got to the $81 beet salad. 

I’ll be honest, it was a pretty great beet salad, but there wasn’t even any protein like a piece of grilled chicken or some sautéed shrimp on it and it actually cost $9.50.  I know how much it cost, because I casually (methodically) scanned the menu the moment we sat down, well aware of my budgetary constraints and desperate to spend within my means, without looking like the cheap guy at the table.

Beet salads are hella fancy btw!

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being frugal and maybe if I’d been a bit more careful with the money I had during the times in my life where I actually had money, we wouldn’t be here, but that’s unfortunately was not my reality.  For years, my reality was filled with shame, guilt, anxiety and an overall feeling of humiliation for being “that guy” at a group dinner.  No, I didn’t ask for a separate check, mention that I drank water while everyone else downed 2-3 alcoholic drinks or say that maybe splitting a 7 person check 4 ways wasn’t the fairest of options, especially since the other 3 debit cards were paying for couples and my credit card was just covering my tab.

Yep, I was using a CREDIT CARD to cover my beet salad...I was definitely not winning.

As this was unfolding, my cousin even commented saying, “Oh no AJ shouldn’t have to split the check.”  I, of course, told her it was no big deal and she told me she’d Venmo me some money.  I said it was fine, hoping desperately inside that she would pull out her phone and do it immediately.  She was 3 glasses of prosecco in…I knew I was never going to see that money, but what’s worse is that I even had to think that way in the first place.

My cousin is one of the hardest working people I know.  She balances her rock star career with her life as a mother, wife, daughter, cousin, sister, and friend with an ease that never ceases to amaze me.  If she had decided to have 42 proseccos that night, I would’ve thought to myself, “Yep, she earned those.”  That’s not what upset me about this particular night.

I would gladly pay for every single person’s meal at that table without hesitation, but I just wasn't in the place financially to do so that night and that’s the most frustrating part.  It was no one’s job to consider my bank account and I never want to be a burden on anyone enjoying the fruits of their labor.  But the problem with hiding all of these realities, even from those I love is that it only further removes me from the people, places, and experiences my heart holds so dear.  That’s not the man that I was created to be, so I’m sitting here at my computer trying to get these feelings out, into words that may help me to see what changes I need to make so that I never find myself feeling like this again because this just feels gross. (Still does).

The fragility of my ego is not more important than the love I have for my family and friends, so it’s important to me that I get this out.  So many of us have known financial struggles at some point in our lives, but very few people ever talk about these things publicly.  I want to change that.  I live in a city and work in an industry full of posers trying to appear better off than they actually are and while it’s of no interest of mine to call those people out specifically, it is of interest to me to speak to those who might be struggling and say, “You are not defined by your bank account and it’s ok to speak up and say, hey, I can only afford to cover my portion of the tab tonight.” 

There is no shame in that.  I wish I’d done that the night I went to dinner with my family because there would not have been an ounce of judgment from anyone at that table.  The judgment was all in my mind, as is often the case.

I have been better at budgeting myself lately because I have long-term goals that are a priority over my short-term pleasures.  I know that paychecks are coming and I look forward to that season of my life, but not for the reasons you might think.  I’m ok living modestly…I’ve done it my entire life and have nothing to prove to a soul on this planet. 

I look forward to a day very soon where my bank account looks differently because of the freedom that will afford me.  I’m comfortable for the time being, but I will be extraordinary in the not too distant future, I am certain of that.  I can’t wait to pick up the tab without hesitation, knowing that I’ve earned the ability to do so and fought hard to rise above the only type of life I’d ever known.

I’m not going to stop ordering beet salads because they really are delicious, but you better believe in the future I'll be adding hella chicken or maybe even some grilled salmon because I’m pretty sure that’s what fancy people do and I’m all about being fancy…just not right now.  Now, I’ve still got work left to do.

Also, I'll never stay quiet about uneven check splitting again for two reasons.

1. This blog was not fun to write.

2. All the worst case scenarios really only take place in my head.  I only spend my time with people that I care about and not one of them would ever judge me for being a little frugal from time to time.

P.S. If you're looking for a great book that digs into finances and our unhealthy relationship patterns with money, I've got a couple of great reads for you!

"You Are a Badass at Making Money" by Jen Sincero

"The Science of Getting Rich" by Wallace D. Wattles

 

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