Phrases like TGIF or Monday morning blues always make me frown. There is quite a bit of disrespect associated with such statements, because the opportunity to be gainfully employed is a privilege. Ask this to someone who has been unemployed, even if for a few months, and has always feared being on a dependent visa and not being allowed to work. Sometimes, people do it because other people do it, aping doesn’t take much thinking after all. However, that is not the purpose of this post.
A certain Friday months ago, sometime in February or March, the adviser told me that if nothing works out and I am unable to find a job, he might be willing to postpone my graduation, but would cut down my salary by a significant percentage. This was obviously a temporary arrangement, more so that I could legally remain in status and keep working. Money was a shortage in the lab, so this was not one of those cases of advisers exploiting students and getting work done while paying them less. This was the opposite actually. I had nothing but gratitude for him, who understood it is not possible for me to stay here unemployed. But a reduced salary? Students do not make much as it is.
For the first time in many years, I started to notice the prices of things around me. I used to do that, almost a decade ago. Since MS Office and Excel was not in vogue then, I had a hard bound notebook where I used t write down my expenses- bus fares, food, buying stationery, etc. At the end of every month, I used to calculate my expenses and draw fancy charts and graphs to compare them. This had more to do with my love for numbers and graphs than anything else. Although I earned some money through math, science and English tuitions, I knew my dad was always there to take care of any major expenses. But that was a decade ago.
Now, I was looking at a possibility, even a temporary one, of having a slash in my salary. I started noticing the price of milk and fruits at the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I was not planning to cut down on food and start living a life of misery. All I am saying is that the future possibility of a salary cut made me notice things in more detail. For example, if you asked me how much milk cost me, I could tell you a range, but not the exact amount. I have never compared organic versus non-organic vegetables, I just bought whatever looked good. I knew saving $20 weekly in grocery bills wasn’t going to make me richer.
That day, I first noticed the sign at the gas station with the price of gas. Again, I could tell you a range if you asked me, but I was surprised that I had actually not noticed the exact price of gas before. I know many people who use iphone apps to compare gas prices and always go to the cheaper gas stations. I always thought that it is not worth my time and effort, saving a few cents in a few gallons of oil. I know friends who never refill a full tank, and have a weekly budget. I have never thought that would be something I am doing.
For the first time, I came home and made a spreadsheet of how much I spend on phone bills, car insurance, internet, utilities, etc. I started thinking of what I should do if I run out of money. Sell my car? It was a depressing thought, since I am very closely attached to my car. But selling my car would also mean no fuel costs, no insurance costs, and even no speeding tickets. Two months ago, I got a speeding ticket. It did hurt, shelling out $125 as a penalty. Maybe I should have been more careful.
Just the possibility of a salary cut made me notice all those things I did not care about before. I have never thought how much a tank of fuel would cost if I made an impulsive weekend trip to DC. I have never thought how much this brand would cost me versus that brand. I paid more rent to live in an apartment with a big kitchen, French windows, and hardwood floors compared to carpet.
That was months ago. Between then and now, I found a job, graduated, and today is my last day here. Tomorrow, I am driving halfway across the country to my new city. What happened between now and then, and how things worked out is something I will save for future posts. So thank God it is Friday today, not because tomorrow is a weekend and I do not have to work, but because tomorrow will mark the beginning of a new chapter of my life, and will bring in lots of possibilities of a better life.