damaged car front

Malvina’s deer damage

In 2019 my car and my teeth have eaten up most of my disposable income. More than my disposable income: the rear brake job in the spring took three months to pay off, and it’s just been joined by the front suspension job that got put off too long because, well, a deer hit Malvina Forester at the end of September as we headed home from a political work meeting (writing thank-you notes to people who’d contributed to Indivisible MVY’s #DitchMitch2020 fundraiser).

My insurance company is covering about two-thirds of the repair for that but since the work couldn’t be scheduled before mid-January I haven’t shelled anything out yet. The headlight works, the car is drivable, so I’m driving it. The delay had less to do with money than my unwillingness to contemplate one more car expense.

Meanwhile, in November, a molar in the upper-left side of my mouth (known to my dentist as #15) broke and then broke again, leaving a remnant that felt to my tongue like a particularly daunting ridge in the Himalayas. I am now on the road to an implant, which I’m told is going to cost around $3,000 total. I’ve already shelled out about a third of that for the extraction and bone graft.

Oh, and I’ve left out the dog-related expenses. Travvy’s last days did not come cheap, then there was the road trip to upstate New York to pick up puppy Tam Lin (during which the odd scraping noise began that turned out to be a sign that Malvina’s rear brakes were failing). But these exist in another budgetary dimension. At best, dental bills and car repair bills make it possible to keep moving in a forward direction, sort of like paying a toll on the toll road. Dog bills are different. Travvy, Rhodry before him, and now Tam Lin live and breathe and expand my world. Malvina Forester has a name, but she isn’t a dog.

So, a couple of observations:

(1) Recent surveys have shown that about a significant number of USians would have a hard time covering a $400 emergency expense. I am grateful that I am not one of them. I have two credit cards, money in the bank, and enough work (and, now, Social Security) to pay my usual bills. It would take a much larger expense, like a medical emergency with major rehab, to exhaust my resources.

(2) My response to the much-larger-than-usual car bills and dental bills was not to cut all non-essentials out of my budget till the plastic was paid off. Quite the contrary: I indulged myself in several non-essentials either that I’d been putting off (because I’m cheap) or that simply give me pleasure. For instance —

My ancient Birkenstock knockoffs have been in need of replacement for years. The soles were worn nearly through, and the leather had stretched enough that even on the snuggest hole the strap was sliding off my heel. Every spring, though, it was “Oh, they’ll make it through another summer.”

new brown boots

My new boots

Well, summer was well over when I saw an online ad for Earth sandals that looked good. I ordered a pair. They arrived. They fit perfectly — and because I was a first-time customer they came with a limited-time 20% off coupon. Thus incentivized (!!), I conceived a longing for a pair of Earth boots: Couldn’t I use a somewhat dressier but equally comfortable alternative to my usual hiking boots? I went back to the Earth site several times over the next week or so, and well before my coupon expired I splurged.

Somewhere in there I lost patience with my headlamp, which drained its batteries even when it wasn’t on. It’s not sandals season but it’s definitely headlamp season: Tam and I will be walking after dark most days until the spring equinox. The selection on my usual go-to sites — REI, Duluth Trading, and L.L. Bean — was daunting, but I finally settled on a Third Eye headlamp from REI, partly because it came with a cool headband.

While I was at it, I ordered new rechargeable AAA batteries — the old ones were several years old and didn’t seem to be keeping their juice very long — and a new recharger, because some slots in the old one no longer work. I hate throwing things out almost as much as I hate buying new stuff, but there comes a time . . .

See what I mean? Open the purse strings for unavoidable, less-than-pleasant expenses and the money comes flowing out for things that make me happy.

two pens in boxesFinally, the pièce de resistance, the splurge I can’t begin to justify with any appeal to necessity: the two new pens I blogged about a couple weeks ago. These pens, one a ballpoint, the other a rollerball, write beautifully, feel good in my hand, and give me pleasure to look at. Yesterday a clerk admired the flaming orange one when I pulled it out to write a check with. I’m seriously considering visiting pen maker Bill Giordano at the Edgartown Christmas craft fair this weekend to get one of his beautiful wood-grain pens.

I may have overdone it this time, but maybe not: The bills will get paid, and though there’s satisfaction in a car that runs well and a broken tooth that will eventually be replaced, I get serious pleasure from the well-made things that become part of my daily life.

A lesson I learned in the mid-1990s during a spate of unemployment: I’ve never had an eat-out budget, but at that cash-strapped time even buying a take-out muffin or bagel seemed irresponsible. Nevertheless I sometimes ventured into a deli that no longer exists, ordered a bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee, and sat down to read and eat at leisure. At some point I got to talking with the proprietor about this, and she noted that when you were the most hard up, that was when it was most important to indulge yourself — to do things for yourself that give you pleasure.

I remember her and that long-gone deli often. I’m pretty frugal, though true to my New England heritage, I’d rather spend my money on a few pricey things that last than on many cheap things that don’t. I’ve also noticed over the years that self-denial can turn into a compulsion, and when it does, it’s often accompanied by a need to censure anyone with limited income who buys something the censurer considers extravagant. If the censurers indulged themselves from time to time, maybe they’d loosen up on the rest of us.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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5 Responses to Indulgence

  1. Juleann says:

    LOVE the boots and I would consider the pens an essential tool . . . both items are well-deserved and honestly earned. I was happy to read of your “indulgences”, although more a sign of self-compassion in my book.


    • Very fine line between “indulgence” and “sign of self-compassion” 😉 — though, true, the word “indulgence” does trigger memories of the long-bygone days when the well-connected could secure the Church’s forgiveness of their sins before the sins had been committed. In the last few years “self-care” has become popular, notably among activists who are at risk of burnout. I’m for it!


  2. Ellen says:

    I applaud your indulgences — the bills WILL get paid, meanwhile don’t be cheap with yourself!


  3. Lynn Khosla says:

    Susanna – we’ve not met, but we know some people in common. I particularly enjoyed this post as 2019 has been about car repair and dental bills for me as well. You surely know one of my favorite quotes from Erasmus: “When I have a little money I buy books, and if I have any left I buy food and clothes.” Indulgences are essential to one’s well-being. Here’s to a healthy and reasonably prosperous 2020! – A Vineyard neighbor

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard that Erasmus quote before but I’d forgotten it — thanks for the reminder! It’s a sensible way to live, IMO. Here’s another funny thing: When my car gets a new dent, I notice every other vehicle on the road with dents in it. Malvina hasn’t flunked inspection (yet), but after her predecessors did, I noticed every other vehicle with a big “R” sticker in the lower-right corner of the windshield. I barely knew what a dental implant was when I learned I had to have one, but when I mentioned it to my (awesome) mechanic the other day, he said he had three implants in his future. Moral of story: Mention what’s going on in your life, even if you think it’s trivial or even embarrassing, and you’ll probably find that people you’ve known for years are dealing with the exact same thing. (We will run into each other in person one of these days!)


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