In 2004, when my dad died, he left my brothers and I with a few bucks. Knowing nothing about money I put a bit aside, and then proceeded to spend like a mad woman for the next few years, ad nauseam. You know when the rich tell you that money makes them feel “empty” inside, and that it can’t buy happiness? Bullshit. I was deliriously happy. In fact, I was so happy and so self-focused that I didn’t once think to donate any of that cash to a worthy cause, to the homeless, to the environment. Nothing. Sadly, all my money went to Eli Tahari, Roberto Cavalli and Valentino. It went to a heated bathroom floor and a shower stall with talavera tiles. Two trips across country and one to Spain. It went to other more meaningful places too: lavish gifts for the family, dinners out, ridiculously expensive gifts for transient boyfriends.
But all that’s another story. Blah, blah, blah. Truth is, in a sense, I had no purpose, whether I realized it or not.
But then a miraculous thing happened when I lost it all– and I did lose it all, like one loses her breath breathing in anticipation of being told, “Just kidding! It’s all still there.”–when I really lost it all, except my pay check (and even that was cut in half!) something in me changed. I didn’t fall a part, or go into debt, or lose my sense of self. Instead, for the first time, I woke up and recognized the value of all that money. Oh! We only truly appreciate something until after it’s gone. I immediately paid off any balance on credit cards, I changed my lifestyle drastically and I tightened up my budget– I washed my own car, ate out less, cancelled my subscriptions, and said goodbye to the landscapers, handymen and cleaning ladies (OK, I admit, I kept the cleaning lady…but I worked her into the budget). But definitely no more Netflix, Weigh Watcher’s or monthly spa treatments. I even…dare I say it…got rid of the Audi.
In the wake of all this loss and financial restructuring, I added something to the budget for the first time, something that most people don’t add when they lose money: a budget for donating. Now that I had so little myself, I recognized the value in giving. Of course, I was clumsy at first. In the beginning, I donated frivolously: NPR, WHYY, Rutgers University. Then I donated foolishly: a light bulb company that claimed to help keep the blind in business (A gazillion light bulbs later I found out this was a scam). Finally, I made donations that made sense: I drove bags of winter coats, toiletries and money to a battered women’s shelter. I donated hundreds of self-help books to a halfway house for alcoholics, and I stuffed goody bags with fruits, raisins, juice boxes, chocolate and WaWa gift cards to be handed out to the homeless. It made me feel good. It made me feel privileged. What’s more, it made me feel as though I had a purpose.
Money is a strange bird. And only when you have it and then lose it do you recognize how important it is to share it, to do good with it. Then again, maybe that’s just me. Maybe I needed to be taught the value of money in a harsher way. Because honestly, there’s an amazing amount of donating that still goes on,despite this tough economy. The money raised during marathons, the gifts given to children with cancer, the bricks bought to save a life. People are inherently generous. And every day I see it, I am inspired to do more.
And so tomorrow, marks the first annual goody bag gift giving adventure in Philly. D and I will be taking these bags and handing them out to those in need. I was able to raise $220 this year. I got a late start. But maybe next year, we can do a little better.