The Cost of a New Life: Part Two

Photo credit: slgckgc, CC BY 2.0.

Let me just say in advance, I can’t in good conscience recommend this as a tactic. But I can’t deny that it worked.

Overstock.com was supposed to contact me about the replacement cabinet dowels within a week. I hadn’t heard anything, so I gave them a call. “We emailed you a couple of days ago,” said the customer service representative, but the email had gotten lost in the depths of my spam folder, so she told me the details over the phone. “We can’t just send you the parts you need, but we have the cabinet in stock, so we can just send you another one if you want.”

“You’re just going to send me… a replacement cabinet? For free?”

Miraculously, she answered in the affirmative.

“That sounds great,” I marveled. “Yes, let’s go ahead and do that.”

So we went ahead and placed the new order, and just as we were finishing up she said, “And when you get the new cabinet, you can just open up the box, take out the parts you need, and send the cabinet back to us with the free shipping label included!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You want me to what?

“Just take what you need, and send us back the rest of the cabinet!”

“You’re gonna send me a whole cabinet but you can’t just take out the dowels and send them to me?”

“No, we can’t do that. So you take out the parts you need, and send the cabinet back to us! And if you need to arrange a UPS pickup just let us know and we’ll get that done for you.”

That was around when I burst into tears. “I don’t need a UPS pickup!” I sobbed. “I just need the stupid dowels and I thought you were sending me a whole cabinet for free and I should have known that was too good to be true, but I am in the middle of a divorce and I just want something to be simple, and I already told you that I can’t get this thing packed up and dragged down to the lobby for pickup, because I would need another person to help me, and I don’t have another person, because I am getting divorced!

Like I said. I can’t really recommend this as a tactic. But the poor CSR was so eager to get me off the phone that, as a one-time courtesy, Overstock would send me a replacement cabinet, for free, no strings attached.

See, the thing is, I’ve never needed to budget before. I knew how to budget, sure — but I never needed a strict spending plan. I kept a vague mental tally of what I was spending, and that was enough; I was rarely surprised when the credit card bill came. Even if I spent a little (or a lot) more than I anticipated, it didn’t really matter. I was a DINK: dual income, no kids, and financially comfortable.

It is really, really hard to adjust to living on one income when you’ve still got dual-income spending habits.

I like to shop. I shop when I’m happy. I shop when I’m stressed out. Occasionally I shop out of spite. On my wedding anniversary I bought $200 worth of lingerie to wear around my new apartment while drinking expensive wine, just so I could say “Look at me now — I’m living my best life, I look dynamite, and I feel great.

So, yeah, that probably wasn’t the wisest use of my money.

I know for a fact that I would absolutely be racking up hundreds of dollars in credit card debt if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have a substantial fuck-off fund. It’s not that I don’t know I’m overspending. Of course I do. But it comes down to choices. Am I going to save money, or am I going to go to dinner and a movie with friends? Am I going to save money, or am I going to buy a mattress?

“Hang on,” my therapist said, when I presented her with the latter question and a memory foam mattress that was on a massive doorbuster sale. “You haven’t had a mattress?

“I have an air mattress, I just don’t have a mattress mattress.”

“It’s okay to spend money on yourself,” she said. “If it will make you feel more settled, you should buy it.”

She was right. The mattress is comfortable, and I do feel more settled… but now I need to buy a comforter set that will fit the mattress, because the duvet I’m borrowing from my parents isn’t quite big enough, and anyway, I have to give the duvet back at the end of the summer.

It’s like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie — if you give me a mattress, I’m going to want a comforter that fits. If you give me a comforter set (and I’m talking one with a bedskirt and pillow shams and at least three decorative pillows), it’ll actually start making the bedroom look like someone lives there instead of just a transient space, which means I’ll want somewhere to sit other than the bed. If you give me a nice plush chair by the window, I’m going to want an ottoman, because I like to put my feet up. If you give me an ottoman, it means I’ll actually sit in the chair, and I’ll realize that to get natural light I’ll have to raise the blinds, and there’s another apartment building directly across the street, so I should get curtains. If you give me curtains, I’ll happily sit in the chair and read until it gets dark, at which point I’ll remember that there’s no overhead light in my bedroom, and I’ll realize that the two table lamps in the bedroom don’t quite reach to where the chair is, and I’ll move one of the lamps over, and it still won’t be quite enough, and so I’m going to want a standing lamp.

Now imagine that, but for every room in the apartment. It’s a slippery, slippery slope — and that’s just the furniture. We haven’t even talked about decorating yet!

When I moved out of my house in December, I took what I thought was a ludicrous amount of artwork. I didn’t think I’d have enough wallspace for all of it in my new apartment, but it was mine, so I took itAs it turns out, I have a lot of wallspace, so I want to acquire more art.

On one hand, that’s an expense that can wait. On the other hand, art, even more than furniture, gives a room a soul. Should I save money, or should I make this space a home?

In the end, I know I’ll always choose the latter option. It’s just a matter of waiting for the right time. I could furnish the entire apartment in one go, if I could handle watching my bank account diminish. But I can’t.

So I buy furniture in dribs and drabs. Instead of paying for full-service delivery or more expensive pieces, I buy frustrating flat-pack cabinets. Instead of filling my walls with art, I leave them open to possibility.

The same day the replacement cabinet arrived, I found a manila envelope in my mailbox with a return address that I didn’t recognize. Against all odds, it had eight extra little wooden dowels in it.

Furniture still needed:

Dresser(s)

End chairs

Couch/love seat

Curtains

Standing lamp

Furniture acquired so far:

Dresser: $0, but will need to be replaced

Three standing lamps: $202.47

Two table lamps: $54.22

Litter box/nightstand: $66.49

Kitchen island: $140.07

Kitchen shelves: $19.97

Bed and headboard: $142.49

Mattress: $388.79

Chair (bedroom): $218.69

Ottoman: $63.79

Corner cabinet: $132.99

Corner cabinet replacement: $0

Total: $1,429.97

Annie Morgan has always been a city girl at heart, and is excited to be back downtown. She lives in Philadelphia with her cat, Parker. She probably should send the Overstock.com CSRs a thank you card.


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