I’m in Croatia, and it’s four in the morning. I have nowhere to sleep. I haven’t changed my clothes in five days, which is fine because I don’t actually have any other clothes to change into. This is all part of the money saving plan. Don’t book places to stay—just meet people. Don’t buy clothes—just smell bad.
This conundrum is a symptom of my only two modes of financial operation: Save, or spend. Blow it all, or starve. I’m either buying everything in sight: snacks, fancy magazines, toilet paper, fair trade coffee—or I am buying literally nothing for months on end, while compulsively hitting “refresh” on my bank account and willing the numbers to climb higher, damn it.
I don’t actually know what it means to say, “Oh, I’d love to, but that’s not in my budget.”
Could it be in my budget? I have no idea. Intelligent people have tried to explain this to me: “Budgeting is when you keep track of all your expenditures, and make sure they will total up to less than your monthly income.” Skinny people have also applied this logic to calories when trying to get me to diet. Sorry, smart people and skinny people—you have both fail in helping me.
I haven’t saved money and I am probably going to get fat.
Being on the road makes the idea of budgeting even more absurd, albeit it also makes it that much more important. If there is ever a more crucial time for an underemployed youth to save her damn money, it’s when she’s wandering around on the backroads of Whatever Country for months on end. The thing about budgeting under these circumstances, though, is that you never know what’s going to happen that night, let alone next week.
Could it be in my budget? I have no idea, because I might find the world’s tiniest hidden fish restaurant tomorrow, and want to spend $35 on a perfectly prepared filet of halibut, which means that, no, I cannot spend $35 on that new sweater today. I have to save up for the hypothetical ideal. I budget on a hope.
So, I don’t exactly “budget.” Instead, I prioritize the chance of having certain kinds of experience over owning certain types of things. I don’t buy clothes, I don’t buy gadgets. I forgo domesticity and all of its implied habits (and, thus, expenses). I work for room and board, I always remember to cook. By tolerating absolutely no material flim-flam, I retain the maximum amount of monetary cushion for saying “Yes!” to a) that sailboat ride, b) that national park, c) that live show in the park, or d.) etc. etc.
Somehow it works. Just don’t tell my parents.
Cassie Marketos is a writer traveling abroad. Photo: Klovovi