“Yo, my wallet’s fat and full of ones
Yeah, it’s all about the Washingtons, that’s right”
–Weird Al Yankovic, Whatever You Like
I tend to think its a good thing when people with money have to learn to live with less. Money can be powerfully corrosive and ego-inflating, and can wall a person off from many of the realities of life that constrain most everyone else. I’ve never known a person with too much money who didn’t become a better, more empathetic person by losing some of it.
But I didn’t mean me. I’ve never had too much money.
As it happens, there’s a curious conundrum I’ve discovered recently: when you do less of your day job to do creative work, you have less money to spend on….your creative work. So when I decided to make a series of wildlife/writing/photography trips, I knew I had to do some math. I think we can do this, I told Travis, as long as we don’t eat.
We’re already used to doing things like sleeping on the ground and eschewing showers for days at a time, so much of the economizing we needed to do wasn’t painful. But I like to eat. I like to be able to eat what I want, when I want, and I’m not crazy about the idea of not having a budget for restaurant meals on the road. My days of taking long hikes or going rock climbing with half a pack of Skittles in my pocket for lunch are long over. I also have a weakness for good hotels on the road to our destination. But I also like a challenge. If there’s an opportunity to prove how tough I am by passing up the good hotels for the Fleabag Arms, I’ll take it.
We started the trip out on a weak foot. Immediately after we left the airport where we dropped off his parents, Travis turned to me. “You hungry?”
I nodded. “But we have to hit a grocery store,” I said wearily. “No restaurants.” He smiled a little. “Guess what. I have a Subway gift card.”
“What? You holding out on me?” I was secretly pleased. “Where did you get it?”
“I answered the most questions correctly at our company 401(k) meeting.” He explained that he had been able to say exactly how much return there would be on a particular forty year investment. Travis is a marriage and family therapist, and also, oddly enough, a bit of a math savant. He scored so strongly on the math section of his entrance exams for grad school that the professors were curious why he would want to enter a primarily verbal career. But this was the first time that his mental arithmetic skills had yielded a quantifiable benefit. I was impressed at his resourcefulness.
To maximize the value of the card and economize even further, we ordered a foot-long meatball sub and split it. Travis ordered onions on his side. The sandwich maker must have liked him better or something, because the cut on the sandwich was roughly sixty-forty. As I was examining the divided sandwich, one of the precious meatballs tumbled out of my half, splashed the seatbelt with marinara, and lodged between the seat and the console. I yelped in disappointment, as the wayward meatball constituted about a third of my entire lunch. Clearly the margin for error would be substantially narrower on these trips. I reached into the bag I’d brought from home and supplemented the missing meatball with stale tortilla chips. I felt tougher already.