Necessity, Luxury, and Charity

(Note: This is not the big announcement. That’s still in the works. It should be soon, I hope. In the meantime, you get this.)

I was a student for a long time. Six years at primary school, two at intermediate, five at high school, another three years at university. By the end of those sixteen years, I was firmly in ‘student’ mode. It was all I’d ever known, really. The three years of university cemented it: learn much, earn little, and (where possible) spend less. I was lucky enough to get a weekly student allowance from the government while studying full-time. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to pay rent and buy food if I was frugal – and I was frugal. Small meals. Lots of rice and pasta. Buy the cheapest brand and ignore the condescending looks. Necessities only. No luxuries.

By my third year of uni, I’d loosened up enough to permit myself a coffee every so often. I’d seen that my budget wasn’t so tight that I couldn’t afford it. And as an introvert with a small social circle, my sanity demanded it. Coffee with my mates was an opportunity to load up on social interaction. It was my one small luxury.

After uni, I was more-or-less unemployed for eighteen months. Post-studenting was even worse than studenting: I was living at home again and earning nothing while I jobhunted. I picked up bits and pieces, menial jobs – fives days full-time here, three months part-time there. Enough to get me through while my parents smiled and encouraged me to keep applying for the job and only charged me minimal rent. More necessities only. No luxuries.

Alright, one luxury. Breakfast with the church ladies at the cafe down the road that did $5 breakfasts. The ladies went every week; I went once a fortnight or less. Five dollars wasn’t much, but it added up.

And now I’ve landed The Job. I’ve been at The Job for six weeks now, and it’s a huge shift. Not just physically, although forty-hour weeks, every week, is certainly something to get used to. Not even financially, although it’s nice having money in the bank, and it’s definitely a part of it. It’s mostly mental.

It’s a huge mental shift from “I can afford a single coffee every few weeks if I’m careful” to “I could buy a coffee every day with barely a blip on the bank account.” From “I can barely pay rent and buy food” to  “I can easily pay rent and buy food and have money left over.” From “I can hardly afford the bus” to “I’ve bought a car and can afford insurance, fuel, registration, and extras.”

But I have to be careful. Because it would be easy to go to the other extreme, to move from “I could buy coffee every day” to “I will buy coffee every day.” From “I’ve bought a car” to “But now I need a better, faster, newer car.” If a morning coffee stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity, it’s a problem.

It hasn’t been much of a problem so far. I’m a fairly frugal person, both by nature and by past necessity. But it could turn into a problem if I didn’t recognise those tendencies and check them.

That said, it’s nice having that disposable income. I remind myself that I can afford rent and food. I can afford to splash out and buy breakfast at a cafe. And because I know what it’s like to scrape by on next to nothing, I don’t confine myself to necessities and the odd luxury. I remind myself that I can afford to help people. To buy a coffee for a friend. To give a donation to someone at church who’s having a tough time financially. To buy a friend at the other end of the country a bunch of flowers to brighten her day. Some call it charity, some call it generosity, some just call it friendship.

I remind myself that I’ve been blessed with this money. And I ask myself: What’s the best way I can use it, not just to help myself but to help others?

I can afford the necessities: rent, food, loo paper.

I can afford the luxuries: coffee, a new pair of shoes.

And, perhaps even more than the luxuries, I can afford the charities.


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