By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer
My papers were squared on the tabletop; spacing between the piles looked measured. I told myself neatness counts. A dollar store calculator represented the tight budget in review. Red pens, highlighters and pencils completed another pile. An iced glass of Diet Coke dripped condensation which the bank statement collected.
Money. Budget. Although neither of those are four-letter words, they are topics that elicit a litany of amazingly profane vocabulary.
In our household, our funds are carefully assigned to categories in the attempt to delude ourselves into thinking we are financially prepared for any emergency. Our monthly bills are in a column, our annual expenses are in another list, and we actually have an emergency “ON” account, which stands for “Oh Nuts!” Any fiscal calamity that makes us wail “Oh Nuts!” is potentially covered by this special savings.
We revisit these accounts regularly to make adjustments because one day I am certain we will not be surprised by the disparity between our outflow and income. Household accounting seems black and white. Money cannot be manufactured from air, although centuries of alchemists certainly tried their skill at turning base metals into gold.
Books, classes and TV shows are available to help the average American stretch the power of the mighty dollar, and when we complete our weekly task of rationalizing our meager spending, I feel proud. In fact, I have considered buying a tiara with the profits. But, no matter how hard I work, I cannot seem to transfer this budgeting skill to the calendar.
I am fully aware that I cannot buy that frivolous craft organizer or pretty purse because I do not have the money. In fact, I often repeat this mantra while shopping: “I cannot spend what I do not have!” So what makes me think that I can commit unavailable time by saying “Yes” to another activity? A watch, wand or magical powers that could slow time would almost be more valuable to me than all the riches of the world.
I have a calendar. I have more than one, in fact. I have the paper one that is usually shoved in my purse or ubiquitous tote. I use it as a quick check and to jot reminders. It’s also beautifully adorned with birthday prompts and holiday stickers just because I like pretty things. We also have an online version. My husband and I are equally responsible for reserving dates and making sure we are not overbooked.
But what we consistently fail to consider is the taxable time associated with any activity. Like the financial budget, there are always unexpected expenses. We build them into the numbers. Food is really food plus tax. An additional 10 percent is always calculated into home renovation costs for the unexpected. So making adjustments is not unfamiliar to me. Yet I forget to factor the time needed to get ready and travel to any destination, in addition to the hours spent enjoying our activity. I simply forget over half the calculation.
Saying “Yes” to making a poster takes less than a second, and the promised artwork is gorgeous in my head: vibrant colors, glitter, straight lines and completed in less than an hour. Seriously? What am I, delusional? Gathering the supplies takes more than an hour because I have yet to recognize that I do not live in a bubble. As quickly as I can assemble my materials, my children can find use for them and they are scattered to the four messy corners of the house.
Field trips, dinners, meetings, classes, play dates, in addition to sleeping, eating and cleaning, all take far more time than I have. How in the world can I read anything, ever, AND do laundry? Is it realistic to actually cook dinner while paying attention to the children? Grocery shopping not only cuts into my savings but also naptime. It’s obvious that I do not have a clear, or even foggy, understanding of time.
While perusing the Internet for craft ideas, which apparently I have no time to complete, I often stumble upon blogs, updated daily by working mothers who have 12 children under the age of seven. They not only make the crafts I covet, but they invent them, all while preparing healthy gourmet meals, tending to the garden, changing the oil in the car and learning Mandarin. In this electronic age, they can brag about all their accomplishments far too easily.
While I can weave a respectable budget out of numbers, columns and highlighters, I fail desperately with a schedule.
The hands move in giant circles on that clock, but other than documenting the passage of time, it only succeeds in making me dizzy. Which, of course, requires another nap. Which may or may not take valuable time from my daily activities. But I have no idea because I have no sense of time. Or direction, but I am pretty sure that’s unrelated.
At least I can tell you where to buy cheap bread.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.