birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Free and Clear

When I was about 24, my parents helped me buy a car. It was very generous of them. They handed me a stack of cash, which I didn't think to look at very carefully before I headed to the car dealership.

I decided on a used blue Honda Civic with 40,000 miles on it. I headed into the back of the dealership with the car salesman to sign the paperwork. I handed over the cash, which must have amounted to a few thousand dollars. As he counted it, he got a funny look on his face. "Was this money...buried or something?" he said. "It smells all mildewy and it feels funny."

The mildew smell wafted over to me. "Um. I don't think so?" I answered. He shrugged, and kept on counting. When I got home, I asked my mom about it. It turned out that yes, it had been buried, in our backyard. They had buried it in case Y2K became a thing, six or seven years before I went to buy the car.

I felt annoyed, disgusted, and partly amused by this. Annoyed because I had felt embarrassed in front of the car salesman. Disgusted because it was the latest manifestation of what I perceived as my mom's quirky, selective paranoia, the same paranoia that will not allow her to share any of her account passwords with any of us, even if it would just make things more convenient. And amused because who does that?

I admired their conviction, too, I guess. They really wanted us to be safe in case some disaster happened, and they were willing to be eccentric weirdos to do it.

My parents have always been careful with money. I remember being in college and breaking something like a phone charger, and telling her that it was fine, I could just buy a new one. It really upset her when I said that. She said she didn't understand this attitude of just replacing things instead of taking care of them. I didn't understand why she was so perturbed.

Now, I care a little more about consumerism and I try to buy less stuff. But in all honesty, I wish I was in a better financial situation overall. Part of it is that I don't make a ton of money, although it's enough for one person. The other part of it is that I was really dumb in my 20s and early 30s and accumulated some credit card debt, about $10,000 worth. Now, most of my discretionary income goes to my credit card debt and to therapy.

I keep a running debt balance on a post-it in easy view of my computer. It helps remind me that I do not have extra money to spend, even if it seems like I do. That I won't have money to spend until I get out of this damn debt. I try not to shame myself too much, but be conscious of what I'm spending money on. I do feel shame, though. I'm 36. I feel like I should have a savings account with three months rent in it, and maximize my retirement account. I do contribute to my retirement, to the max that my company will match. But I know it's not enough.

Thinking about this always gives me a tightened feeling across my chest and a sinking feeling in my stomach. In reality, nothing is wrong in this moment. I have enough. But the debt looms over me.

What I would do if I did have real discretionary income: travel. Buy a high-quality keyboard for my apartment. Get an air conditioner. Go on meditation retreats more often, and pay for a single room. Eat cool fancy dinners.

I actually think that's about it. I don't want much. Just to be free and clear, more than anything. So the tightening and sinking would go away. I bet it would feel lighter. I could stop obsessively checking my budget spreadsheet, and plan SCUBA trips instead.

Ahhhhh. It sounds lovely.

The Nest

My Two Housemates