I have a complicated relationship with money. I want it more than it wants me.
I’m not saying that I’m poor. Far from it. Compared with most of the world I am enormously well paid. And yet like a lot of Americans, I’m convinced that things would be better if I had just a little more.
Or a lot more. I sometimes think that being rich — filthy rich, obscenely rich — would be nice. I know they say money changes a person, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take. Maybe I’m the exception that would prove the rule. Or maybe the change would make me even better.
That’s why I occasionally play the lottery. But only when the payoff is big, over $200 million or so. Otherwise, why bother? I don’t cross the street for less than $200 million.
Every time I buy my numbers, I recite a silent incantation to the unseen powers that influence our vast universe. It goes like this:
“Dear unseen powers that influence our vast universe, I promise that after the luxury cars, the yacht, the beach house, the lake house, the ski cottage, the city bolt-hole, the fractional jet ownership, the Patek Philippe chronometer, the 50-megapixel Hasselblad, the closet full of custom-made shoes, the personal hyperbaric chamber, the jeroboams of Dom Perignon, the Amazon Prime membership, the tame ocelot in a diamond-studded collar, I will use my winnings for the good of humanity. If you, in your infinite wisdom, should deem me worthy, please let the randomly oscillating, numbered Ping-Pong balls fall my way.”
They never do.
Fine. I will have to learn to live within my means.
When it comes to household finances, I would describe myself as an abstract expressionist. That is, I paint my budget in broad swaths of fiscal color, like a Mark Rothko canvas, rather than with the precise, carefully applied details of a Norman Rockwell.
The problem with this style of monetary policy is that you never know exactly where you are. I figure as long as I don’t accidentally buy a helicopter I should be okay.
Somehow, though, I’m always buying helicopters. Not real helicopters. What I mean is, every year some sort of expensive, unforeseen emergency crops up: A bathroom floods, the alternator craps out on the car, a punky tree has to be taken down, the house has to be repainted . . . .
I suppose if you’re really good with money, you don’t see these as “unforeseen.” You save for a rainy day because you understand that it always rains eventually.
Denied a lottery fortune, I do try to be prudent. Lately, whenever I worry about my finances, I tell myself, “Well, at least this isn’t 2012.”
That was the year we spent too much money. We replaced our crumbling driveway. We redid the basement bathroom. We took several airplane trips and capped the year with a transatlantic crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2 to celebrate my 50th birthday.
We saw on the brochure that there was going to be a Royal Ascot-themed dinner aboard the ship. I felt I should dress appropriately. I Googled pictures of the British royal family and saw that the men wear what’s called morning dress for that. I found a used charcoal cutaway coat on eBay for $70. I poached the trousers from a chalk-stripe suit I already owned. A dress shirt and tie were easy enough.
That just left the vest: dove-gray fabric, double-breasted, with pockets and two rows of buttons. I couldn’t find one anywhere, and if you’re going to pretend you’re at a horse race while you’re on a cruise ship, you may as well have the right vest.
Which is how I found myself handing a photo of Prince Harry that I’d printed off the Internet to an L Street tailor. Do I now regret spending $500 for a piece of clothing that, barring an invitation to a wedding at Buckingham Palace, I will wear exactly once in my life?
Oh, yes. Yes, I do.
My Lovely Wife decided recently that we’re getting new storm windows. I’m not sure why we need them. Sure, the winter wind whistles through the current ones, but I can always put on my waistcoat and throw another lottery ticket on the fire.
8 For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.