On Bodega Flowers and Little Luxuries

What we give up, and what we keep—for as long as possible.

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For a while my Sunday mornings looked like this:

  • Wake up.
  • Make and drink first cup of coffee.
  • Walk a few blocks to the nearest Walgreens and buy paper towel, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, anything I’ve run out of.
  • On the way back home, stop by the bagel shop and buy a bagel.
  • Stop by a bodega and buy a $5 bouquet of bodega flowers.

When I would get home, I’d open all the curtains, arrange the bouquet of flowers in a far-too-nice-for-me vase I took home from a work event last year, and eat my bagel with another cup of coffee while reading a book or magazine. I’d turn my phone and laptop off and put them away for a few minutes, except for maybe a quick Instagram photo.

This is pretty much my definition of bliss.

In August, I became a full-time freelance writer. From August until the end February, I had two regular jobs that promised a certain amount of work and a certain amount of pay each week — it was like having two part-time jobs, and together the pay added up to more than any full-time job I’ve had before. But I lost one of those jobs at the end of February, and now I’m finding that my workload — and my cashflow — is unpredictable, and nowhere near as high as I’d like it to be. I’m pitching much more than usual, and I’ve picked up babysitting and pet sitting and Craigslist studies to fill the gaps while I look for another reliable part-time freelance gig. These all pay well enough, but the problem is that I don’t know how often I can count on them.

My bagel and bodega flowers cost less than $10. That means about half an hour’s worth of work at my regular freelance job, or about forty minutes of babysitting. I’ve written freelance articles for anywhere from free to $200 — $10 could be a full piece, or it could be a hundred words. But it isn’t about how much of my time, or my words, that $10 is worth — it’s about knowing how much of my time and how many of my words I’ll be able to sell this month.

Right now, I have no idea how much work I’ll get, or how much I’ll earn.

My response to this financial insecurity has been to become hypervigilant about my spending. I now write down and add up every $1 water bottle at the bodega, every tip at the bar, every quarter I put in the laundromat, to make sure that I’m not spending more than I’m making. For the first few weeks after I lost the job, I kept up my bodega flower habit, but soon, the anxiety of not knowing when my next pitch would get accepted (and, for that matter, if a pitch gets accepted, when the payment will arrive), or when I’d next be asked to babysit made me stop almost all my little luxuries.

Some of the changes were fairly easy to make: I started setting extra alarms so I’d wake up in time to have coffee and breakfast at home instead of rushing out the door without eating and paying a few bucks for a coffee and pastry at work. I cancelled my Birchbox subscription. I made plans to share a bottle of wine at home with a friend instead of going out to a bar.

The bodega flowers were one of the last to go, but go they did. For now, I’m saying goodbye to my flowers, but I’m looking forward to the moment when I’m able to buy them again. Maybe they’ll become an occasional treat when I get more work than usual in a week, or a way to celebrate when a freelance payment arrives. But when I do buy them again, they’ll feel like even more of a luxury than before.

Erika W. Smith is writer/editor/feminist/fangirl in Brooklyn. BUST Magazine digital editorial director + Femsplain featured contributor. Follow her on Twitter @erikawynn.

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