Last week I discovered how dreadful it feels to fall off the wagon.
This month we are micro-budgeting. Being married for a year brings congratulations and anniversary cards and a great deal of smugness, but also annual bills: several insurance renewals later, our bank account is whimpering in panic. After a fairly depressing session with our whizzy budget spreadsheet, we realised that coming out even this month would require curtailing spending…three days previously. The debit card was immediately off-limits. I had noble visions of it becoming all dusty and decrepit in my purse.
Now, I am not a compulsive spender. I inherited my mother’s love of buying things combined with my father’s reluctance to part with any money, an uncomfortable jostly combination which usually means I buy small things on a semi-regular basis. Food, mostly. I’m not a compulsive eater either, but buying food ticks all the boxes: gratification of buying something shiny-wrappered, procurement of a sugary pick-me-up in the 3pm doldrums, and reassurance that the purchase is, after all, only 60p, so doesn’t really count. Money leaks from my purse in trickles, not bursts. I am a dripping-tap consumer.
On Tuesday my long-suffering mascara finally ran dry, and I managed to convince Tim that buying a replacement was an immediate necessity. He doesn’t understand makeup, but he does understand the depths of my vanity, so agreed. I headed to Boots, all a-quiver, to make the purchase. Joy! Rapture! The one I wanted was £8.30 instead of the £10 I had expected. That’s when I had a Wicked Idea.
I am daily faced with trial of eating sandwiches for lunch – I don’t much enjoy eating sandwiches, but they’re by far the easiest thing to fit in a lunchbox – and that day had a marmalade sandwich waiting for me back at work. I don’t know whether you’ve ever contemplated marmalade sandwiches when hungry: the marmalade can be as zesty as you please, but it doesn’t fill the soul with glee. Clutching the £8.30 mascara in my sweaty hand, I suddenly thought: I could spend the remaining £1.70 on something else. Something delicious and shiny-wrappered. Something that, most importantly, emphatically was not a marmalade sandwich. The money was already as good as spent, since I’d set aside £10. I headed to the food aisle without a second thought. After deliberating for a few minutes, my stomach called out to a tomato and basil chicken pasta salad. It was £2.80, which did not add up to £10, but by this point I was beyond reason – I feverishly handed over my debit card, which was not even slightly dusty, and scuttled off to the car with my spoils.
Oh, what a tub of deliciousness. The chicken, so chickeny and tender. The pasta, tangy with mayonnaise. The basil, so fragrant. I sat in the car and snaffled it all, and yet, from around the second mouthful, something else came stealing onto my taste buds. It was the taste of shame. Suddenly £2.80 seemed a ludicrous sum to pay for lunch I didn’t need. I thought guiltily of the marmalade sandwich waiting in my lunchbox – I could either choke it down on a full stomach, or surreptitiously throw it away and let Tim assume I’d eaten it. Then hide the Boots receipt. Then pretend my mascara had cost £11.10, and insist that this was a normal price for such an item. All these deceptions seemed to compound the offence of buying the chicken pasta salad in the first place.
I squirmed all the way back to work, then cracked and confessed via text message. Tim was not as horrified as I was; he did not, either, seem very surprised. But I felt like an alcoholic who’d broken all the virtuous promises made at her first AA meeting.
It seems that lunch is my new Achilles heel. The wages of sin might be death, so the Bible says, but the wages of chicken pasta salads are guilt and indigestion.