Remembering the Good, Old Poorhouse Days
As I sit in our five-bedroom, three-bathroom, centrally-heated rental house, it feels like a lifetime ago that Peter and I were getting started on our life together in Dublin. Not our 2005 life, where we lived with his parents, but our 1995 life.
In March of 1995, I dropped out of law school and moved to Dublin to live with Peter, even though technically, we hadn't even had a first date yet. My parents, in a mind-boggling act of parental faith and love, gave me their tax refund check to pay for my ticket and living expenses until I found a job.
The first order of business was to find a place to live. We spent two nights in a lovely B&B, which I appreciated but I thought Peter was crazy for picking a place that cost 50 pounds a night when we could have gotten a double-room at a hostel for half that price. Then we spent several nights with a friend who was house-sitting.
The place we finally found was a ground-floor bedsit in a old house where Donnybrook meets Ranelagh. The bedsit was one big room that had the entrance in one corner, a double-bed with a saggy mattress in the next corner, a TV in the third corner, and a kitchen with a tiny fridge, small, sink and 2-burner electric stove/oven in the fourth corner. The other furniture consisted of two semi-comfortable relaxing chairs, which were in front of the TV, and a kitchen table with a couple chairs, which were in front of the drafty picture window. We also had a faux fireplace with an electric space heater.
What's missing in this description? Yep - a bathroom. The entire building (which had to have at least 10 bedsits) shared two bathrooms. The one on the ground floor had a toilet, sink, and giant tub that often harboured small creatures I called UCCs - Unidentified Creepy Crawlys. On the top floor was a toilet and sink in its own room and a shower in a separate room. To get hot water in the shower, you had to insert a twenty-pence coin into a box mounted on the hallway wall.
We were thrilled just to have found a place, especially since it only cost 55 pounds a week. Peter worked two days a week at a computer store and made 30 pounds a week. I soon found a job as a weekend nanny for 50 pounds a week. To say that we were poor would be a massive understatement. A big reason we were able to make ends meet is that Peter's parents did not cut off his allowance, which worked out to about 65 pounds a week.
The other reason we were able to make ends meet was that we became incredibly careful and draconian in our spending habits. I bought our groceries at the cheapest store I could find, even though it meant either a long walk or a bus ride. I used a list and a calculator to make sure I didn't go over our budget. We ate a lot of spaghetti and homemade garlic bread. We counted all of our pence carefully and often had to make decisions like walking instead of taking the bus so that we'd have change to take showers the next day.
It was a simple but happy life and I look back on those days with fondness. In the years since, we've gotten better jobs, earned more money, and been able to afford nice things and have adventurous outings. I still shopped with a list, but not the calculator. And I've never, ever had to use coins to pay for a shower. Our spending habits have relaxed although part of me will probably always be cheap and careful, even if I won the lottery tomorrow.
With all the economic doom and gloom, it's impossible not to feel pressure to rein in the spending, sock away savings, and hope that we have a cushion if things go truly pear-shaped. With that in mind, I've decided to undertake a new endeavour. My new blog Where Does It Go? is a spending diary. It's also becoming my economic conscience, as knowing that I'll have to account for my purchases makes me think twice about what I really need. I probably saved about 30 euro this weekend, just because I made myself think twice about every purchase.