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Embracing the gift of “enough”

Some days, it takes a lot to make it through the day. And then, sometimes, I wonder why the universe is smiling on me so much.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit heavy about money. We just had a long-overdue month-long trip to Ireland and the UK, to visit family – it doesn’t even count as spending money, in my mind; it’s an investment in relationships, including with my own family. But it was a lot of money. Added to house debt, plans to walk the Camino – a 10-year goal I’m finally determined to achieve because life is too short – celebrating my husband’s 50th birthday . . . It can feel like I don’t have enough, especially when freelancing often is an experience of “feast or famine.”

Recently, though, I have had a couple opportunities drop in my lap, unexpectedly. One is the result of a rather short relationship built out of what I thought was a spam email about a year ago. I’m not quite sure how things will turn out with this, so that’s all I’ll say about the actual opportunity. Except that I took a chance a year ago, and the client is taking a chance on me.

I was raised in an environment of “not enough” – we didn’t have enough money. I didn’t often get new clothes (I wore the neighbour’s hand-me-downs, mostly); we didn’t take vacations. My parents were subsistence farmers, so you can imagine how every penny counted.

I think we’re trained from an early age to think of money that way. Even through adulthood, marriage, house ownership, it always felt to me like there was never enough money. I’d envy friends who, with no qualms, spent $90 on new shoes. I’d dream of a new car to replace my old beater, or extended vacations to exotic places.

While I usually hated getting hand-me-down clothes, I began shopping for secondhand clothes when I was 15. I’ve never stopped. Years of watching my mom make lists, cut coupons, check weekly flyers for deals, painstakingly checking the receipts from the store to make sure she hadn’t overpaid on anything, never spending on frivolous items – this was the training ground of my financial life.

The truth is, though, that I’ve always had enough.

I remember shopping for groceries in my first year of university. I’d walked to the store near me with $20 in my pocket. That’s all I had for that week’s groceries. I carefully did my shopping. I probably had a couple coupons to reduce the final amount even more. I watched carefully as the cashier rang through each item, noting the total as it increased incrementally. I had $20. The bill came to $19.98. Breathing a sigh of relief, I carried the groceries and the two pennies home, and marveled at how close I’d come to the embarrassment of having to put something back because I didn’t have enough to pay for it all. I would have been mortified.

Over the years, I began to have a bit more money, and splurged on better brands because they worked better or tasted better. I developed a perception that, in many cases, you get what you pay for, so if you pay a little more, you’ll get better quality, or a stupendous meal, instead of something that was just alright or that stopped working after two uses.

I began to savour life, and you know what? I still had “enough.”

I read this book, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, and in it she talks about having an attitude of abundance. The test is to think of all the gifts, all the “enough” you have, and view your finances with the same lens. It has changed my thinking about our bank accounts. I should note that I’ve always worried less about our finances than my husband – not that I’m a big spender, but I am well-acquainted with denying myself luxuries, and having hard conversations with myself about whether a purchase is a want or a need (thanks, Mom).

These gifts of “enough,” these jobs that drop in my lap, will help me contribute to the household income, yes (I currently work at about .05 per cent of my former income; it’s a big adjustment to our ability to pay off the mortgage quickly), but they also add a lot more – they move me further down the road of determining my purpose in the world at age 50. As long as my income is increasing – no matter how slowly – it helps keep things together.

But also, in a way, I feel like these opportunities are the universe telling me that my Camino walk is the right thing to do. Although I already have most of the money saved, I will be able to travel with enough money in the bank for emergencies (praying, though, there are none). Although it’s often said, “The Camino provides,” I can still savour life. And my journey will be my own.

Perhaps my tastes are more expensive now, but honestly, we don’t drive a flashy car – we only have one, a beat-up rickety Toyota Matrix that’s already eight years old – we don’t have TVs in every room, X-Boxes, or the latest iPhones. We don’t take vacations every year, and rarely overseas. We choose to give our kids experiences, rather than things. They’re not keen on that approach, on the days when they want a better smartphone, but I remind them that we just spent a month in Ireland with family, or that they’ve travelled across the country or to South America and Europe with a youth development organization. If they want the “things,” they can save for them.

So, who knows how things will pan out? The key for me will be juggling all the balls, keeping them in the air at one time, without allowing anything to fall (keep in mind, I’m also chief cook and laundress, taskmaster and child herder at home – it’s a lot of balls). I am grateful for this work, and for the journey that keeps my feet dusty, my fingers and brain working, and incremental improvements to our bank account.

The Camino provides.

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