You watched this ‘reality’ show about extreme couponing where the people collect piles of newspapers and sort and research and then buy sixteen boxes of spaghetti noodles to save $5. They are doing it all wrong. First of all, anyone who eats sixteen boxes of spaghetti before the expiration date is going to have the kind of problems that $5 won’t fix.
More important, though, the way to save money is not to stock up but to pare down. This struck you the first time someone said you look like you live in your car. Back then you were commuting over an hour to college. Then you went straight to your lame job. Anything you needed for the day had to be packed. So, yeah. You kept snacks and drinks in your car for between classes, took your laptop everywhere, had a sweatshirt, extra shoes, and a couple changes of clothes.
Why, you thought, should I pay rent on a third of an apartment? Yours was the smallest room anyway. Not much bigger than a car. BAM! Now you live in a mobile unit. You can drive close to the college and park under the welcoming parking lot lights of a Walmart. Miss all the morning traffic. Wake up, use the store bathroom to change clothes, brush your teeth, and you are on your way.
Eating fast food adds up quickly. A downside of not having a kitchen in your car. But why do you need a kitchen when so many restaurants have kitchens? Have too much food? Why should you spend time grocery shopping, dicing, measuring, preparing, eating, cleaning up, when there is an obvious solution. Some people call it dumpster diving. At first even you were unsure. Would you have to climb inside a smelly dumpster? Would you get stuck inside? Would you find a dead body like in all those crime shows? But, now that you live in your car, you can drive around and spy on your local favorite restaurants. Follow a pattern. That’s using your college education.
Take Luigi’s Pizza, for instance. A pizza bar, they call themselves. All kinds of pizza pies set in a row like a salad bar and customers can take a slice of this or a slice of that. Clean up is a kid in a cheap uniform dumping uneaten slices into a garbage bag. Their back door opens into an alley. Nothing to stop anyone from walking down the alley, maybe hanging out against the wall. About 40 minutes past closing time, the door opens and the bag gets tossed. A bag that ends up in your car. You’ve had pretty good luck finding the bag full of pizza, but not always. Opening the other bags of trash, even if you don’t have to dig in them, requires finding a bathroom to wash your hands. Purell won’t do for that kind of stench.
Food and shelter costs are down, but the human spirit becomes bored. The soul longs for luxury and comfort. This is the third leg of your master savings plan. Head to model homes for a day of relaxation without the clean up. You find it easy to spot these neighborhoods. Built in radiating circles away from the city, a model stands alone, maybe a couple wooden frames going up on the other side of the street. The freshly mowed corn fields look like a military haircut. The subdivisions all have names like Meadow Bright and Lark’s Landing and Whispering Glen. You walk in there, take a water from the fridge, a cookie from the plate. Sometimes, the most desperate places will have cheese and crackers with little red moons of pepperoni around the outside of the platter.
“Please sign in,” the realtor says. You do. With a fake e-mail address. The toilets upstairs are all wrapped up like Christmas presents. If you want to use one, you must go down to the basement. That’s alright. After a tour, you always settle in the basement anyway. In these houses, the basements are like a whole different house. They are the recreation rooms of the imagination. Helped by the fake glasses of wine placed strategically about. You like to turn these upside down. Watch for reaction.
When the real estate agent comes looking for you—leaning back in the easy chair or settled into the movie theater room showing a new release—he or she will have a tentative smile.
No, you’ll say, you don’t need anything.
Maybe the agent, if crass, will ask if you have enough money to be here.
Of course, you say, I’ve been saving.