Aim for thrift and gratitude

Joey checked out more library books than she can read. Again.

After I lost my job, my house went into foreclosure. I’m living in an apartment, scraping by. The money I spent on my education was a waste. I earn less now than I did the summer before I started at UC Davis. I feel like I made all the wrong choices in life, and I’m only 33.

What if your choices were correct, but your expectations were off the mark? A friend of mine believes the biggest problem people have while scaling the ladder of success is a tendency to compare themselves to the person above them. How would your perspective change if you glanced back at the person climbing up the ladder behind you and then considered your position (and offered a hand)? You might be seized by an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having a roof over your head, good health and a paycheck.

Years ago, when I visited a small village in Brazil, a man about your age approached me. “You are an American?” he asked.

When I nodded, he said, “You are so lucky. In America, when you flip the light switch, you have electricity. When you turn the faucet, clean water pours out, and it’s your choice—hot or cold!” I was, and still am, humbled by his words. Are you? We take so much for granted in these United States.

While you count your blessings, review your attitude about degrees. University educations are sold as prerequisites for securing work. Here’s the truth: A degree does not guarantee future employment. It is preparation for possible employment. I prefer the old-fashioned notion that a university should help shape you into a well-rounded person—a curious, open-minded, compassionate, erudite lifelong learner. That’s right; education can be more than career training.

If money is tight, challenge yourself to live on less. Impossible? Most people who feel entitled to more waste money on things they don’t need or could do without. We splurge and tell ourselves we deserve it because we work such long hours or for such low wages. What if you told yourself that you deserve to find a way to make your current situation work for you? Instead of feeling like the problem engulfs you, you could expand into a more creative way to live.

My son is getting married. His fiancée has invited my two daughters and one niece (who lives with us) to be bridesmaids. All of these girls are still in college. Each works part time, so that means we are paying for their dresses. My son’s fiancée knew this, but still picked out $150 dresses! How can I talk to this girl without creating future problems? Or should I just shut up and go along? I hate paying for dresses my girls will never wear again.

Why not host an ugly-dress party for your niece and daughters and their friends after the wedding? Just kidding. Here’s my advice: Tell the bridesmaids to pay half the cost of their dresses. Accepting the responsibility of being a bridesmaid involves making a financial investment. It’s best they learn that lesson now, or somebody’s mama will be complaining about one of your girls in the future.

A really gross guy hits on me at the laundromat every week. I’ve tried being pleasant but distant. I’ve tried ignoring him. Nothing works. Ideas?

Have you tried being direct? “If you’re trying to hit on me, I’m not at all interested.” Yeah, ouch, but the truth might be the cleanup he needs. You could also buy a few pairs of men’s boxer shorts and toss them into your load. It’s an unmistakable hint.

Meditation of the Week

Jazz singer Kim Nalley was extraordinary as the lead in <i>Ella: The American Dream</i>, the musical she wrote about the career of Ella Fitzgerald and recently performed at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. When Ella worries she is not attractive enough to succeed, a club manager says, “You don’t have to be beautiful. You have magic.” Ah, charisma. When does yours shine?