By the term religious life in the title of this post, I mean a form of life found in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some other Christian communities, a life often lived in community and marked by vows or promises, usually of poverty, chastity and obedience. (Similar forms of life, of course, are found outside the Christian tradition.) Think monk, nun, friar and so on. Although some communities have different vows, often related to a specific mission, or somewhat varying interpretations of the three common ones, that doesn't matter for the purposes of this post.
I spent three decades as a member of a Roman Catholic religious community, the Discalced Carmelite Friars, as regular readers know. I spent the years 1972 to 2004 basically paying little attention to the price of most things. Sometimes found myself in the role of the person doing grocery shopping for the community, but I had little ongoing contact with ordinary living expenses. Another friar in the community took care of paying bills and making community purchases. For the limited personal expenditures I made on my own, with a small weekly stipend provided by the community, I tended to shop thrift stores and discount outlets. (I did not get a salary as such from the community and all my earnings for various things went directly into the community purse.) I took my personal vow of poverty quite seriously and did not buy much.
When I left the monastery in 2004, with no pension or financial assistance (beyond being kept on their health insurance for a year, which was very generous), I was making a very small salary. Friends introduced me to larger and better thrift stores, but in general I continued to do without what I did not absolutely need and to spend little on what I did.
Tom and I are very comfortably off when it comes to finances, but we are both ... frugal, shall we say. (He and Michelangelo are the ones who introduced me to those better thrift stores, after all.) When we eat out, I instinctively look for the less expensive items on the menu. When we go shopping for something for the apartment -- most recently furniture for the balcony -- I find that we automatically look at the lower end of the price range. It is, as the GEICO commercials say, what we do.
I realized the other day, however, that we can easily afford to pay more and that this gives us more options.
More relaxed, I turned my attention to some of those other choices. When I looked at the prices, however, I was horrified to see that people spend hundreds of dollars for a single patio chair, that a set of two chairs and a table can cost more than my first car. Admittedly inflation accounts for much/most of this, but I still get sticker shock.
I don't exactly blame my thirty years in the monastery for this. No one is to blame. But that culture inadvertently prevented/protected me from noticing how things were changing around me.
Even now I save the rubber bands that wrap the greenery on green onions and save them in a cup on the kitchen counter. I keep the plastic ties from bread wrappers in the same cup. There are probably paper clips in my desk supplies that I have been using for a decade.
Now you know another part of my dark story.