When I worked at Glide, there was continual discussion about the intramonthly rhythms of our clientele. Specifically, things were usually pretty thin at the outset of the month when people on some sort of federal or local aid received their benefit checks, then got ridiculously busy by the end of the month when people were furthest from said receipt. This was most clearly manifest in the meals line, the walking talking pulse of our organization and the homeless of San Francisco, but had ramifications in almost every other program. People were more likely to be feeling desperate and needy in the late twenties of a month than the single-digits.
I was thinking about this today as I set out to treat myself to a lunch out at a diner in downtown Highland Park – the Dish Cafe, which I’ve been meaning to try for a while. It’s the first day of February and no small part of my self-justification was the idea that my balance sheet for the month was clean and so I was etching on a blank budget page going forward. I’ve decided to stop posting actual percentage graphs of my expenditures here, largely because I think I’ve gotten a handle on the budget overall. I spend about $2,000 a month. That’s what I spent in January and what I spent in December, if one doesn’t count the extra for the laptop and luminaria supplies. I can live on $25,000 a year if I’m conscientious about sticking to a budget and am living in a pretty expensive place (as I’ve said often, Jersey puts the East Bay to shame in this category). Emily and I used to live very comfortably on $50,000 a year, but the difference between the scrimping now and the comfort then was largely about mutually shared costs, such as rent and insurance. But yeah, this works and I’m not wanting for anything. $25,000 a year. The most money I could possibly need to live out my days is $1.5 million, assuming I don’t reproduce or something. Of course assuming I make it to 91 is absurd.
This month, I will turn 31. Age has just been a number lately, increasingly one that seems spat out of a random generator. I can feel little cracks and crevices creeping into my bodily life, noticing pain or prolongation of ailment that would have bounced back more quickly in days prior. But time strikes me as ultimately being a lot like money. One can make it one’s entire focus and obsess over it and say that it is the indicator of all manner of other things. But the truth is just the opposite – it’s a trivial number that people get caught up on and has only the most tangential bearing on life. It’s true that a 91-year-old is more likely to die tomorrow than a 31-year-old, just as someone with no money is more likely to die than someone with millions. But the actual relative likelihood margins here are extremely small and the actual determining factors are entirely outside this number. Unfortunately, most of these, as with the state of one’s mood or one’s life generally, if not entirely, are outside of one’s own control, or at least largely so. But at least they are more meaningful things, like one’s role in others’ lives and others’ role in one’s, than money or time.
Thus I keep a budget, but am focusing less on every penny and dime, except to ensure that I’m not getting out of my established ranges that I’ve had for the last four months. Still, I’m tracking it enough to feel a little more motivated to give myself a break and dine amongst the public early in the month and push through on waffles and ramen late in same. Which makes me wonder, more than anything, whether restaurants (especially in this economy) have their own tangible rhythm that reverses that at Glide and other soup kitchens. Are eateries busiest at the advent of a month, or its first weekend? Do things dip to a lull at the end? Given the budgeting skills of most Americans, I’d be surprised if this actually manifests, especially since most restaurant-goers are a step higher than Glide’s clients, if only in that they are given more access to credit (debt). At the same time, this trend isn’t really manifestation of a “skill” so much as procrastination – if one were really good at budgeting, then one would be perfectly balanced in distribution of eating out, based entirely on when one most felt like it.
So we’re all a little bit the psychological adherents of time after all. But the veggie burger sure tasted good. Besides, there’s no telling how much time we’ve got left.