rice and beans

Photos: Thinkstock

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Eating for a week on the amount of your breakfast bill.
At the age of 27, I had managed to get a job, and an apartment and checking account, all of which gave me the mistaken idea that, fiscally speaking, I knew what I was doing. Then came that fateful week in October of 1998, when I ran into a few unexpected hiccups. I had faced much worse before (for example, the terrifying hospital bill I was forced to pay at age 23 for going to the emergency room without health insurance, or the time I was mugged and lost everything, including my passport); so, in comparison, these problems felt trivial and embarrassing. And yet, they had added up: I bought way, way, way too many vintage handbags at thrift stores; my dog Leonard ate my neighbor's antique shoehorn (requiring a trip to the vet) and the check from my freelance work did not arrive. Other people might break out the credit card. But I only had one—and it was maxed out (I was in my twenties!). So, for a week, I lived on Goya beans and sack rice from the 99-cent store. I walked to friends' houses, instead of taking the bus or driving, even when the walk took two hours. If I wanted something, I wrote it down on a list for the day to come when I had more than 10 bucks to spend in a week. And guess what? It was not only not at all fun, it was also anxiety-provoking, exhausting and embarrassing. But it wasn't...impossible. I could do it, I realized, if I had to. Further, once the emergency was over, I could put away $10 a week for all those people in the world who live on $10 a week or month...not for the duration of a meltdown, but for a lifetime.