1. Courtesy of WivesOfFaith.org

    As the economy continues to stagnate, I am more often reminded of the first line from the old Steely Dan song, “Dirty Work”:

    Times are hard, you’re afraid to pay the fee, 

    So you find yourself somebody who can do the job for free…

    As money becomes more and more tight, those of us on fixed incomes (or less) are forced to deprive ourselves of more and more of the things we love but that are not essential.  You don’t really have to buy that newly-released DVD for $20 that you’ve been wanting to see; you can always watch the ones in your collection that you’ve seen a hundred times again until the new one goes on sale.  You don’t really have to take that vacation to Florida that you were planning before you lost your high-paying job and had to settle for minimum wage; you can always stay home and read a book or two (used books, of course).  Your computer is five years old and therefore obsolete, and it would be nice to replace it with one that didn’t take half an hour to load internet websites… but waiting isn’t that bad.  Your ten year old car needs several minor repairs and a few major ones (problems that always seem to arise immediately after the warranty expires); you have to drive, so you get the most immediate problems fixed and learn to deal without having interior lights, windshield wipers that work on any speed other than frantic, power windows that won’t roll down (or worse, up all the way) and that mysterious clunking sound issuing from the rear of the vehicle that doesn’t seem to affect the car’s performance at all, but sounds suspiciously like someone gagged and bound trying to kick their way out of the trunk.

    All of these little things we give up add up; they lead to stress that builds so slowly that we are unaware of it until that last little straw breaks the camel’s back, such as the spare TV in the bedroom giving up the ghost suddenly—and then you find yourself screaming at your kids or spouse for something as trivial as forgetting to fill the ice trays.

    My wife and I went through such a hard time a couple years ago; we’re in a similar situation now, only it isn’t quite as dire as the last time.  There are a lot of things we would like to replace in our home, a lot of places we would like to visit, a lot of things we’d like to do that we forgo because none of them are “essential.”  But there is one thing that we don’t need to do but insist upon doing anyway, and that is go out to dinner (or brunch) at least once every couple weeks.  The restaurants we choose aren’t pricy; nor are they fast food franchises where we could stuff ourselves on $10 or less.

    This is not wasted money.  These outings—which we often share with friends, sometimes even footing the bill—keep us sane.  Such minor pampering as having a meal served by someone who brings what we request makes us feel slightly special.  Eating in a restaurant makes us feel more a part of society, a part of something larger than ourselves, even if we don’t exchange a single word with other diners.  And as people-watchers, it’s always fun to observe our fellow diners’ response to the food the waiters bring, especially how kids react.

    I think it’s important that we all have at least one special thing that we allow ourselves, no matter how bad our financial situation becomes.  It’s a way of sneering at fate, I suppose, of saying, “No matter what you take away from me, no matter how many restrictions you place on me, I will always have this!”  Because we are so food-oriented, going out to eat is perfect for my wife and me, but maybe your stress-reducer will be to splurge on that DVD, or to take an occasional trip out of town.  Whatever it is, find a way to make it happen.  Everyone needs to feel slightly special from time to time and to waggle their tongue at fate.

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