I bought a seven speed bicycle the other day. It is a rust bucket of a Schwinn. The seat is torn and gaping open and it will only shift into two gears: six and seven, the two most challenging gears. Of course I didn’t know about the gears when I bought it. The bicycle also had two mostly flat tires, and yet I was willing to take my chances for the five dollar price tag and the pure wind-in-my-hair joy I knew it would bring me.
The thing is, I have been on a bit of a budget. Not that I don’t always thrill over a deal, or typically have wads of cash to throw around on fancy high-dollar peddlers, but a five dollar bicycle in a tourist town, in July, well, I consider that good fortune.
I have had a lot of other good fortune lately and it has mostly coincided with my mad attempts to horde the few dollars I have to my name. Exciting as it has been to start a new job as a reporter, find my own place and start the heady task of furnishing said place, it is no inexpensive feat. Also I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet.
Upon moving into my very cozy cabin-esque apartment a little over a week ago, I took stock of what I needed, which to make the list short was: everything. To be fair, the apartment was furnished with a queen-sized bed, vintage dresser, kitchen table complete with two cushioned yet stained chairs, an orange and brown scratchy/deeply hideous loveseat, one torn and tattered green rocking chair, and a ripped footstool. I am not exactly sure why so much of the furniture is torn and stained but I chalk it up to the last tenant being a bachelor and not a serial killer.
I slowly began the hunt for my long list of household items. I spent my lunch breaks from the paper poring over every shelf in every thrift store in town, checking things off my list: silverware caddy, utensils, baskets for storage, a single plate and single bowl. I was as vigilant for deals as a hunter is for the snap of a tree branch. I got my glassware half off one day. I found forks and knives five cents apiece, along with the baskets. I accidentally bought a space heater instead of a fan, so that was a loss, but lucky for me, Cody gets so cold and windy at night that I feel like I might be swept off to Oz. And I might one day need it, probably before July is through.
I bought a cooking pot for $2 at a consignment store and a vintage turquoise hamper for $6 although, that was a bit of a splurge, but I put back the fly fishing vest for $5 that I yearned for deeply even though it made me look like a husky pre-pubescent boy. I found an electric tea kettle with a sticker that said $4 but rang up $3. I passed on things like full dishware sets or drinking cups, and chose to stick with my one plate for now and drink out of my Nalgene bottle when I was thirsty.
Also I had a vast coffee mug collection to start with, so I’ve survived. A friend slept over one night and I heard her rustling around to get a drink in the middle of the night. When she crawled back into bed with me, I apologized for my lack of dishware and she said it was alright, that she’d found a mug that said Milk. It actually says Beast.
What was left over after I paid rent, bought absolute essentials like toilet paper, dish soap and a small starter set of grocery items like bread, blueberries, yogurt and almonds—things that could not be purchased thrifting—was a meager amount. This was of course after I bought a celebratory pizza and a six pack of Blue Moon as my one indulgence to life on my own. I proceeded to eat pizza for two meals a day, four days in a row. I rationed that pizza pie like you wouldn’t believe. I even rationed the beer. There is still one bottle left.
I felt a little grim about making a grocery budget out of five dollars, but that was what I could finagle for the week. I knew the bread and blueberries could only go so far, but I also knew my mama raised me very well when it came to being thrifty. I decided I wanted some sort of sliced turkey or chicken breast because I knew I could eat that for two meals a day like I had the pizza.
I went to the grocery store where I saw sliced chicken breast was on sale for $3.98 a pound and I was beside myself, thinking I had an extra dollar to work with and I could get a whole pound of chicken when I realistically expected only half a pound. There was some debate about the sale, however and a manager was called, then another manager. I grew a little frustrated as I had my heart set on the sale price and was not backing down, though I tried to come across as friendly, I insisted the sale sticker had no date and said clear as a bell the $3.98 price.
Finally the manager handed over my sliced chicken and apologized for my long wait and all of the confusion, saying the item indeed was on sale. I started to walk over to produce to find what I could get for $1 when I noticed the sticker on my chicken said $.48 not $3.98. I stared at it thinking there was some mistake and but then I thought perhaps God was giving me a break. I was downright jubilant and found some guacamole on sale and sweet potato chips and went home and ate that for days until the chicken ran out. When the chicken was gone, I spread guacamole on toast and sprinkled parmesan and red pepper packets on top that I had left over from the pizza and washed it down with a brew.
I panicked one day when I thought I had run out of shampoo but then I remembered my bath bag where I had stowed away half empty travel size bottles of shampoos that people left in their cabins, back when I was doing housekeeping in June. I put all of the travel size bottles in my shower and calculated that I had at least two weeks before I actually needed to buy a new bottle of shampoo.
I hung out with new friends who gave me an old blender and a stash of Mason jars they had in their garage. I signed up for text alerts to get free movie codes for Redbox rentals.
I had next to no money for groceries this week until I get paid and I had called my mom one day to excitedly ask her, “did you know you can buy a single carrot?”
My mom asked why I would buy just one carrot.
“Because it was seventeen cents!” I exclaimed. “I could get two side meals out of that carrot!”
And that’s when I found my bike. That money was strictly earmarked for groceries but I had to. Hence the single carrot. The tires were low and needed to be filled and there wasn’t a single gas station that I could find that had a free air pump, though I did find one that you could pay by the minute. Or so I thought.
I had exactly one quarter left to my name that I honestly didn’t want to give up, but I really wanted to ride my new bike, so I put it in the air machine. Nothing happened. I stared at the machine, not exactly feeling dismay but wondering vaguely if I could get my quarter back, when a man nearby hopped out of his beat-up truck and asked if I needed quarters. I swatted my hand, “no. I just thought you could pay for one minute. I didn’t know you had to commit to the four minutes for a dollar. I really don’t need four minutes.”
“I have a whole bunch of quarters here,” he insisted grabbing a bunch off his dashboard and placing some in the machine while I still argued that he didn’t need to do that. Suddenly air was whooshing out of the hose and he smiled. This was the epitome of people in Wyoming, just wanting to help.
I thanked him profusely and he was gone. I filled up the tires on my bike and checked to see if my car tires needed air once I was on someone else’s quarter. I then brought my new/old Schwinn home and took her for a wind-in-my-hair, joy-filled ride. A grin was perma-plastered on my face. Even when I went uphill. Even when I realized the shifter was broke. Even when the handlebars stained my hands black.
And you know what the funny part is? Used shampoo bottles and used spatulas and coffee mugs that say Beast and rickety bikes and guacamole sandwiches and single carrots, and free movie rentals, and tattered furniture and faux wood paneling in a studio apartment that looks like the scene where the Grinch steals everything and even the mice are aghast at the nail holes and crumbs aside… well all of this doesn’t make me feel poor at all. It makes me feel quite rich.
I think I’ve finally made it.
**My good friend Ryan and sweet sister Kia helped in the way of my grocery budget funds. Without them I wouldn’t have eaten guac sammies and carrots and blueberries and almonds and pizza and Blue Moon’s, but instead would’ve had to eat s’mores fixin’s and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I am also rich in family and friends.