When I made the choice to start digging myself out of debt, my lifestyle changed drastically. I was no longer able to go out for dinner and drinks with friends. I couldn’t go enjoy fun workout classes. I had to spend hours meticulously planning cheap meals so I wouldn’t go over my budget. My wardrobe consisted of only the most essential items. I didn’t even have a TV, let alone cable. Living this way was difficult, but what made it really unpleasant was the jealousy that arose every time I saw my friends out and having fun when I was relegated to spending my money on bills — groceries, utilities, mortgage, credit card debt, and medical fees.
One day, my friend and I were dress shopping for a wedding we were both attending in a few weeks. She tried on dresses, looked at jewelry, all the while talking about the pre-wedding festivities that I wasn’t going to because of budget constraints. I planned to wear the same dress I had worn for the last three weddings. I even stressed over buying a wedding gift.
I wanted to say “screw the budget” and get something new, even though I couldn’t afford it. I wanted to change my RSVP for the bachelorette party to yes, lounge around a pool all weekend, eating out and drinking champagne and not worrying about how much it was going to cost. I was so jealous of my friend, because that was exactly what she was about to do.
When I was living on a tight budget, there was always something to be jealous about. I spent my days working at the mall, where I was surrounded by people shopping all day long as I brown-bagged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I didn’t want to shell out $5 for a hot pretzel from the food court. It became harder and harder for me to be happy for others, because my knee-jerk reaction was to be jealous instead.
Shortly before the wedding, I went on a women’s spiritual retreat with my grandmother (which she had graciously paid for me to attend). During one of our workshops, we were instructed to make a list of things we were grateful for. The list was supposed to be 10 items, but before our workshop ended, I came up with 50. I continued working on it throughout the day, and the list grew into the hundreds. I realized I had so much to be grateful for, even when it didn’t feel that way.
When I returned home, I bought a journal and committed to writing down three things I was thankful for each day. The things didn’t have to be grandiose, like the air we breathe or the love of my family or the gift of existence. I could be grateful for a particularly beautiful flower growing in the middle of the sidewalk, or a kind exchange with a stranger. Knowing that I pledged to write down my gratitude each day heightened my awareness as I moved through the world. Instead of focusing on all the things I didn’t have, I looked out for things to be grateful for.
I attended my friend’s wedding, and instead of feeling insecure that my gift wasn’t good enough, or being upset that I couldn’t afford to buy a fancy new dress, I was blown away with gratitude for the opportunity to witness my friends’ love. I was grateful for the amazing weather, the gorgeous details, the delicious food, good conversation and dancing.
My gratitude journal is a practice I still keep today, and it continues to keep my jealousy at bay. There will always be someone with more than me. There will always be things I can’t afford to do. But my life will also always be filled with beautiful things to be grateful for, as long as I remember to look for them.