Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sixty Dollar Lobster

“ONE thing that’s always bothered me,” Mom begins...

We’re all a bit tipsy from wine. A lot tipsy. This is our welcome home dinner. We’ve finished appetizers, the main course and dessert. Dad, Silvia, Alexa & Dylan have already left and now it’s just Mom, Tom, Bob and I sipping wine and chatting by candlelight. We’re talking about everything from the hellacious move to the drive cross-country, to our time in Iowa and everything we’ve learned along the way.

“It’s always bothered me and I’ve never said anything,” Mom says then looks at Bob and waits. For permission, I suppose.

“And I’m just going to come out and say it,” she continues. Then pauses again.

“Go ahead,” Bob says with a hint of curiosity.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. You can say anything to me,” Bob assures her.

Uh oh. Now I’m getting worried. What could she possibly say? You never should have bought the house. That’s my first thought. But we’ve already said that ourselves. So, no. Wouldn’t be that. Then what? What one thing has always bothered her that she hasn’t already said? She looks at Tom, then back to Bob, aims and fires:

“The sixty dollar lobster.”

Bob and I exchange a look. What is she talking about? The sixty dollar lobster? What lobster?

“Last April when we were in Ft. Lauderdale for Stephie’s play we went to dinner on opening night and you ordered a $60 lobster! Never in my life have I seen anyone spend so much money on an entree without batting an eye!”

Ohhhhhhh. The $60 lobster. Actually, I still only vaguely remember. I remember the restaurant. I remember that it was a celebratory dinner. I remember I had pasta.

“It was actually surf & turf. Lobster and steak,” Bob helps.

That’s right. Surf & Turf. Now I remember. I remember thinking, yikes, when he ordered it. I agree with Mom. She’s right, $60 is a lot to spend on an entrée. But don’t lots of people spend more than that on a bottle of wine? And Bob was making good money at the time. Working extremely hard. If he wanted Surf & Turf on this special occasion, shouldn’t he be able to order it? I think that’s probably about the justification that went through my mind at that dinner.

“Surf & Turf,” Mom continues, “Okay. Right. I just couldn’t believe it. Especially because I always pick the most inexpensive thing on the menu. That lobster," she says, "To me it was a sign.”

I look at Bob, worried that this will upset him. But it doesn’t. He hears it. I'm relieved. And impressed.

Mom says that it occurred as if he were showing off. Bob says he can understand how she would see it that way but that he was just thinking of it as a very special occasion. The opening night of my play. Me, I understand Mom’s thinking because I am her carbon copy and also always select the least expensive item on the menu.

Mom tells Bob that she’s relieved that she could get that off her chest because it’s just always bothered her.

“It really bothered her,” Tom adds.

“It just really did,” says Mom.

That’s when I start laughing.

Everyone looks at me.

“I was just thinking,” I say, “that out of everything it’s the $60 lobster that bothered you. Not the $130,000 house renovation. But the $60 lobster.”

And we all start laughing. At the absurdity of it all. And the relief that we can talk about this without sore feelings.

It’s interesting, actually. The biggest spending problem we had, in my mind, is that we were blind. It certainly wasn’t one $60 lobster (sorry, Surf & Turf) that sent us spiraling out of control. It’s that we were blind to ALL of our spending and never prepared for the worst case scenario. If to Mom the lobster was a sign to us it was a symptom. Perhaps focusing on the lobster was easier than digesting, so to speak, the entirety of our spending. We justified our remodel because we truly believed we’d get a return on every penny we put into the house. But we overextended and didn’t plan for the worst. It is a lot to digest. It’s hard enough for us to digest, let alone our parents.

The relief, I suppose, is that it’s in the past. And that we are acting responsibly, learning and are open and willing to talk about our errors. Too many could’ve, would’ve & should’ves to count.

We recently did short debt counseling class and the strongest points made for people in our situation are:

1. KNOW where you went wrong

2. KNOW how you spend your money

3. DON'T borrow until you’re debt free. Just don’t.

We haven’t used a credit card in about nine months. Maybe more. We don’t plan on borrowing anything until we’re completely out of debt. We are actually very anti-credit in all regards and are looking at how to live the rest of our lives without it. Perhaps that’s an over-correction and possibly temporary. Credit is fine for those who manage it, pay off the balance every month. But our recent track record doesn’t support that we are those kinds of people. So we’re staying away. Like a new non-smoker... we’re steering clear of the smoking section.

And maybe, just maybe it’s okay to have that $60 Surf & Turf if you budget for it and it’s a special occasion splurge. But wouldn’t it taste so much sweeter if you had it for free? Or at a discount? There are ways. I’m bound and determined to live responsibly and well on less.

This $60 lobster conversation made me so grateful for the kind of open & honest communication we have in my family and that Bob is so willing to hear such a difficult communication. It also made me wonder...

What’s MY $60 lobster?

What's yours?

P.S. Thanks, Mom, for your honesty! And thanks, Bob, for being great!

While we're on the subject...
Here are some pretty great websites/blogs that I've recently discovered on the topic of living well on less & being debt-free (in no particular order):

-My Open Wallet – An anonymous New Yorker tells the world how much money she earns, spends, and saves.

-Finally Frugal – The bumpy road to financial independence

-Cents to Get Debt-Free – One family’s quest at getting the cents to get free from any and all debt!

-The Minimalist – Everything about less

-Living Well on Less – Saving money without losing luxury

-Make Love, Not Debt – A relationship finance blog

The Surf & Turf picture is from the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse website

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Joel Kelderman said...

One distinction that I've been taught is a difference between credit and debt. With credit the asset is worth more than the amount owed and therefore you are not held prisoner by it. At any time you can sell the asset and be out from under the amount of the loans. With credit you are in control. Debt is everything else. Debt is bad and credit is usually a good thing when used productively.

Kim Hooper said...

Oh, I love this post! And I can't wait to check out the links you recommended :) I'm a lot like your mom (and probably like you). I order according to cost. My almost-ex-husband is a splurger. This was a major issue with us. I never realized how much I pinched pennies until I noticed the anxiety rising within when he'd throw down $100 at dinner. I think there is a middleground. And, as you said, life can be enjoyed and celebrated in lots of ways. It's just so amusing that your mom fixated on the $60 lobster. With all the fights I'd have with my ex about money, that's something like what I would do: "But, you spent $300 on DVDs!" It's funny what we latch onto...

Phoebe @ GettingFreedom said...

I loved this post! I'm sure if I really thought about it, I could come up with a lot of $60 lobsters from a few years ago.

I also really enjoyed reading the comment by Joe Kelderman above. While I can see the suppossed difference between credit and debt--all in all they are both the same. You are a prisoner to credit every month when you make that payment. It controls you every single month until it is paid off.

Thanks for the linky love! You're great. :)

Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

Joel, your point is extremely valid. You're right- it's an important distinction. The issue for us is that we have lots of bad debt. Bad, bad debt. Go-to-your-room-and-never-come-out kind of debt.

Kim, thanks for your comment. I'm glad you can relate. And yes, check out those links!

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