Watch out, sweet thing, a change in the weather is all that you bring
–Love Spit Love
Because I have a case of the olds now, I tend to have a LOT of past to look back on. Mr. Tucker and I often reminisce about how we were young and (very) poor but despite it all, we did manage to have a good time when we were younger. A lot of it centred around friends and hanging out because that’s all we could really afford.
There were a lot of late nights with friends, drinking coffee at people’s houses, staying up all night playing games, listening to music, making music or painting, watching movies and a lot of walking and biking (we couldn’t afford bus fare). We’d go to bars and coffeehouses with change in our pockets and buy the one drink we could afford, and nothing else.
The one thing that separated me from many other people though (including Mr. Tucker) was that I was an early adopter of technology. I didn’t come by it honestly, instead I just happened to know a LOT of geeks and by virtue of knowing them, I had my first Freenet account when they were still in the B’s. I still remember when there was a magazine called MONITOR that listed all of the BBS’s in the area (of which my friends ran quite a few) as well as tech news and computer ads. At the risk of sounding misty-eyed, we were all super hopeful about how technology had the opportunity to bring the world together and how it could level the playing field for everyone to communicate.
Online you could speak to people from all over the world via IRC and usenet. I loved every moment of it and delved deep into niche communities of varying interests. I did often just stay close to home though, making friends on the Freenet IRC and staying up all night to chat with them**. We often found ourselves deciding to hop in our cars at 2am and we’d hit the 24-hour Perkins in the east end where we would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes until dawn. Those were some of my favourite years and I am still close friends with some of those people to this day.
I feel like every generation has a time that they are nostalgic for. A time where things seemed simpler, where you felt more connected with friends, before the demands of life got in the way. But of course, if we are honest with ourselves, we are only really romanticizing the good parts. I remember poverty being an absolute shackle, keeping me stressed about a series of shitty minimum wage jobs and worrying constantly about paying rent and trying to stay fed. I remember the relentless calls of the bill collectors and the awful way they would make you feel so small. It was frustrating to be bone tired and still not have money to do things. There were some genuinely horrible moments where I felt so stuck that I could barely breathe.
Strangely, my salvation came from an unlikely place: a book of the month club. Like it’s more famous cousin, Columbia House (full disclosure, I also had CH!) was for music, BOTMC was for books (obvz). The premise of all these club was the same: get X amount of products for a Y amount of money and then promise to buy Z amount of products at the regular price. For those of you young enough not to know, these companies practiced what is known as negative option billing. That means if you didn’t send in a postcard saying you didn’t want that month’s selection, you got sent the selection and were billed for it (usually, at a higher price than retail). Being young and stupid, I regularly did not send in the cards and I ended up with a lot of books I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. One of those books was The Tightwad Gazette II. It changed my life.
Arguably, the TWGII is the least interesting of the three TWGs but it opened my mind to this radical idea: you could reduce your expenses by making better choices and end up with the same lifestyle for less money. Cooking at home was cheaper than eating out. You could save on your energy bills. You could buy everything you needed on the secondhand market. I know this all sounds low stakes in 2023 where every second personal finance blog extols the virtues of frugality but to 18-year-old me in the early 90s, it was a revelation. When I finally got to TWG III I discovered Your Money or Your Life in an article and my life has not been the same since.
Clearly, we know how this story ends: I retired at 42 with a disability pension. We recently paid off our house, the kids are thriving, and shortly Mr. Tucker will hopefully be retired as well.
But this means that it is also the start of a new story, which we will start with a wee bit of a segue… in the next post, to be released on Wednesday, August 9th.
*with apologies to Kevin J Thornton
** Freenet had this thing where it eventually moved to only giving you 2 hours a day in 1 hour increments – and then it would kick you off and you would have to call back. It had become so popular that in order to balance the load, you could only have unlimited time between 11pm and 7am so we all hopped on during the unlimited time.