A Numbers Game

“95.”

“Umm, I’m going to guess closer to 120,” my mom says and smiles.

I hop against the conveyor belt of the cashier lane. It’s a game my mom and I always play. Who can guess the closest to the total grocery bill?

“102. I win,” I say. I want to shout, but even at eight-years-old, I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

“Thank god,” my mom says, rolling her brown eyes. I follow her light brown curls (which she would tell you are dirty blond) to the parking lot.

It was just a numbers game, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized those numbers meant anything. For my mom, living paycheck to paycheck, numbers were everything.

I have to admit even as a recent graduate with small job prospects, I should be more frugal with my money, but for the first time in my life, I actually feel safe. I have a savings account, which I use as my emergency bank.

I’ve learned all of my budgeting techniques from my mom, who’s an accountant, and my dad, who spends his money on “what matters.” Of course, my mom might say the newest MacBook does not count as “what matters.”

But how long will this financial security last, I have to ask? Shouldn’t I be saving more, especially since I’m diabetic? Shouldn’t I be avoiding the carb-filled aisles at the grocery store and putting 10 percent of my paycheck into my savings account twice a month?

When I first moved out on my own, I didn’t know how to manage money. I didn’t know how much I could spend on groceries, gas, a car payment, etc. I used to tour the grocery aisles, counting my total bill in my head, adding it up as I went along.

I never spent more than $25 per week on food. I cringed when I went over $40. But then I started graduate school. I began buying in bulk to decrease annual shopping trips. I stopped counting in my head. I depended on student loans and server tips. Nothing was consistent; nothing was stable.

And now, three years later, I still don’t count in my head. I buy “quality” products. I invest in my health. I spend money on “what matters.” If that means the organic apples are going to cost $1 more per pound, then I buy the organic apples because I know the inorganic ones have some of the highest rates of pesticide residue.

I don’t trust the food on the shelves anymore than my mom trusted her paychecks would get bigger. I’m never going to be rid of diabetes. Although others are hopeful, I doubt there will be a cure in my lifetime. Too many pharmaceutical and insurance companies are making money off of those who “need” medical supplies to live.

But I can invest in my health. I can watch what I eat, try to maintain a low-carb diet for the sake of my blood sugars, exercise on a regular basis, and practice stress-relief techniques. My heart has it bad enough having to manage the ups and downs of my blood sugars. I don’t want to push it.

So I can give up shopping and be creative with my outfits. I can give up alcohol and going out multiple times per week. I can give up new things and reuse old ones instead. I’m all about upcycling and reuse, and I can give up processed foods I don’t need like the peanut butter cups I buy every once and awhile or pumpkin flax seed granola I love but which sends my blood sugars soaring.

There are other ways to play the numbers game. My mom figured it out even if it meant buying less healthy options to feed her kids. I could never be upset with her for the way I grew up. She gave up so much so that I could lead a normal life. Most people would tell you I’m not “normal” anymore; I don’t fall under the category of “healthy.”

But I disagree. I may have a malfunctioning pancreas, but I take care better of my health now than I ever did before I knew what diabetes meant. If anything, my heart will be stronger because I pay more attention to it. I have to.

“Can we have broccoli casserole with dinner tonight?” I ask my mom in the parking lot.

“Of course.” As she shuts the car trunk, a few grapes fall against the floor.

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