“What the hell are you eating?”
“Those frozen crab puff appetizer things from the freezer,” I reply, kicked back in my Nikes while tucked into a much-too-large SKULLY jacket. The team is gathered up in one of our conference rooms in preparation for a meeting, and I’m settling in before it begins by, as usual, stuffing my face with food.
“Aren’t those … Y’know …” My boss ends his sentence in a face that makes it look as if he’s just smelled something effluvious.
“Disgusting?” I finish for him.
“Yup, they’re terrible,” I reply, smiling mischievously as I finish off the nasty treat, its texture akin to shredded, soggy cardboard, and its flavor comparable to what I imagine raw shrimp might taste like if chewed up and spit out by a mama bird. Mmm.
He laughs. “Why are you eating it?!” He gives me a baffled, but amused look.
“Because it’s free.”
Ah, yes. “Because it’s free” is pretty much my reason for doing anything in San Francisco. “If it’s not free, get it away from me,” I always say!
… Okay, I don’t actually say that, but man, San Francisco is expensive!
Forget those $30 concerts with $14 cocktails at the bar, or those $85 brew fest events you end up spending $200 in because the food booths are so pricey. And please, friends, it’s not that I don’t want to go to your magical birthday party in Napa, but I’d rather wallow in FOMO than pay for the $200 all-you-can-drink-party-bus ticket. And if my lack of attendance means we can’t be friends anymore, so be it. Because, well …
If there’s money piled up in my savings, I will tell you I’m broke. If I’m coming to your party, there better be a bowl of potato chips and an open bar. When I see a menu where most items cost upwards of $24 USD or more, you can bet I’m hoping we’ll split the bill. And if I have to choose between eating at a nice restaurant near my work, or toasting disgusting crab puffs from the office freezer, well, I’m gonna eat the f*cking crab puffs.
This isn’t to say that I only do things if they are free, but more often than not, I am the perfect model of Cheapskate McCheaperson.
“I’m bored. Come hang out with me.” I’m texting one of my coworkers, bugging him to join me after work (my team mates are basically my family at this point; long hours at the office inevitably creates those sort of bonds).
“We could go get motorcycle gear at Scuderia?” He texts back.
“Blaaaah. Come eat with me. It’s too cold to go to Scuderia.”
“Where are you thinking?”
“… Cheri, you are a grown woman. You do not need to eat at the mall like a penniless 16-year-old. Go get real food.”
Psssh. Real food?! The mall does have real food! Have you even had the combination pork bowl from Ajisen Ramen?! Or the crispy chicken avocado salad from Buckhorn Grill?! You are robbing your tastebuds of the delight that is San Francisco mall food with your hoity-toity “I don’t eat at the mall” nonsense. It is tastebud thievery, I tell you! THIEVERY!
“You make more money than 90% of our friends, Cheri. You are not poor,” another buddy says to me over Facebook chat. He’s trying to convince me to come out for the night, attempting to battle my phobia of spending money.
“So? Everything is expensive as hell here!” I reply.
“Yeah, but you’re young. Don’t you want to have fun?”
“Sure, but I also want to save money for a rainy day. Or my future. Y’know, like for a home? Or for my one-day family?”
“So you’re just going to sit on your money forever?”
What’s wrong with not spending money?!
I like to read. I like to play video games. I like to draw. I like to work out. I like to write. And guess what? It’s all freeeeee! … Er, mostly free, anyway.
Sure, sometimes I spend money to go shopping, but when I look at my closet, I also see piles and piles and piles of clothes I don’t really need but have been too lazy to donate or sell on Ebay. When I open my shoe wardrobe, it takes me ages to sort through the heaps of high heels, boots, and sandals. And don’t even get me started on my purse wall! That’s right. My wall of purses.
I’m not “poor” by any means, but I’m not so foolish that I truly believe I might never be poor or broke ever again. So, when I do spend, I spend wisely. I spend on things I actually give a sh*t about. If I jumped on every opportunity to tromp around the city with friends and go to brunch every single weekend, I’d probably be broke. And y’know what?
Being broke sucks.
I’ve been broke before, and it is awful.
When I worked as a consultant, paychecks would, often times, arrive incredibly late. So late that I’d have to petition my landlord for extensions on my rent, or piteously reach out to Mom and Dad for small loans to get by. At one point, I was working three jobs at once on top of consulting just to pay my bills: waitressing at an upscale restaurant by the beach, bartending at a wine bar on Polk Street, and even barista-ing(?) with San Francisco’s famous Philz Coffee (thank da’ lord for my bubbly personality; I had zero service experience and was hired based on charm and trainability alone).
Many bowls of soup were spilled, several apologies made as hot coffee toppled from countertops onto nice blouses, and small tips gratefully pocketed after eight hours on my feet with no breaks hustling back and forth between chefs and tables to ensure my patrons had the best dining or drinking experiences possible. Then, it was off to my next job. Double shifts, and sometimes triples were not uncommon for me.
It was f*cking tough. Being a server is really hard, you guys. My wrists and fingers ached constantly, my feet perpetually hurt, and I stopped caring if I had worn the same pair of jeans to the restaurant or coffee shop 2 weeks in a row — I was too tired to care, and at the end of the night, all that mattered was counting my tips and praying I had enough to make it to the next month.
I was depressed. Depressed because I knew I was smarter than that. Sad because I knew what I was capable of. Upset because being a server makes sense for some people, but it didn’t make sense for me. I was good at it, sure, but I knew my own potential, and not being able to see that potential realized absolutely killed me. It wasn’t just that I felt I was wasting my skills, but that I feared for my future, too. Who would want to date a waitress/bartender/barista? How could I ever support a family on this paycheck, working these hours? I felt worthless. All of my accomplishments, my stacked resume, my amazing achievements — all of it felt useless.
I spent a lot of nights crying, feeling like a total piece of sh*t.
And then I got a call from SKULLY.
It wasn’t a full-time position. Not at first. But it was something. It was a rainbow of an opportunity, and the pot of gold at the end was a full-time position with a company that had an amazing story driving it, and I wanted that gold.
I dropped all three serving jobs to pursue my SKULLY contract, and I kicked ass. I worked well over the amount I was paid for, driven by this mad intent to prove my worth, not just to SKULLY, but to myself.
And somewhere in the process, I fell in love with my team. Because it wasn’t just me who wanted to prove myself — we all did. Each of us was in love with what we were doing because each of us was hired to fill roles we absolutely excelled in, for a company we 100% believed in. Being surrounded by this sort of passion and brilliance every day is intoxicating, and I was (and am) hooked.
Following my month-long contract, I was rewarded with a full-time position. My friends congratulated me. My parents called to tell me they loved me. But through it all, I felt scared. Scared because it was such an amazing opportunity, and it frightened me to think that one day, I might lose it. You don’t go from working 3 serving gigs and several consulting positions to the land of stability just like that — there had to be a catch.
So, full-time position in hand, I worked even harder. You think you like me now?! I thought. Just wait and see what I can do! In my full-time role, I attacked new challenges head-on, blowing expectations out of the water and exceeding goals where I could. I worked longer. More efficiently. I stopped getting sleep (much to the concern of my superiors who advised me several times to take it easy and get some rest), but I was addicted to the hustle, and no way in hell was something as simple as sleeping going to get in my way. SKULLY’s success became my success, and I was determined to see the company succeed.
Three months later, I got a promotion. And that scared me even more. It meant that SKULLY believed in me. That, heck, they liked me, they wanted to keep me on board, and they wanted to see what else I could do.
Promote me, will you?! I thought. You want to see what I can do with more responsibility?! I’ll show you, and I’ll make it look easy, too!
So I did. And I am. And god damn it, I’m going to continue doing it, and I’m never going to stop, because that’s what happens when you’re finally doing something you love for a living. In times where I roll my eyes playfully when being given a task, or moments when I whine about how much work I have to do, it’s only because secretly, work is my crack, and it is the most rewarding feeling in the world to feel useful, and to feel like I’m making a difference by contributing in a way that no one else can.
So yes, I’m making money now. And yes, I’m blessed.
At heart, I will always be a cheap-skate.
Just because I’m doing well financially now and am successful today doesn’t mean I’ll always be. I feel safer with a cushion to fall back on, especially knowing how hard it is to find a well-paying job in the first place. I know the value of money, and I know how hard it is to earn. And I definitely work hard. I come from a humble background, with humble roots, with parents who constantly have their noses to the grind. We don’t come from family money, and we’ve been broke more often than we’ve been rich.
Thus, I am cheap.
And y’know what? I don’t think being a cheap-skate is so bad. Being a cheap-skate has made me more grateful, more thankful for everything I have, and more appreciative of everything I’m given. Being a cheap-skate has made me more generous. Because I know how rough it can be, I consciously put effort into charity work, in donations, in attempting to brighten the lives of the people around me in simple ways, and in tipping the sh*t out of my baristas and servers. I make it rain on them hoes! … Hos? I’m not sure what the plural form of “ho” is.
So, I say let me enjoy my soggy frozen crab puffs. And please, don’t mind me while I slurp down my $7 mall ramen with gusto. If you want to treat me to something “better”, I will accept your generosity with overwhelming graciousness and thanks, but in the meanwhile, don’t cry for me for not living large — I am content with and grateful for what I have.
And I will never stop working hard to earn more.
PS. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thank you to my family for seeing me through the hardest two years of my life, for always being there for me, and for loving me unconditionally. Thank you to my friends for reaching out to me in times where I needed companionship the most, and being smart enough to recognize when I was too prideful to ask for love and affection. Thank you SKULLY for recognizing my potential, for giving me a chance, for scaring me in the best way possible, and for motivating me to learn, to grow, and to believe in myself. And thank you to my wonderful boyfriend who couldn’t care less if I was a waitress or a billionaire, and who appreciates me no matter what. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Thank you.