Thirteen years ago, I won a thousand dollars. It was a really stunning event for me, one of those people who never wins anything. It was a Mother’s Day contest run by a website called ClubMom (which I believe evolved into CafeMom). Every day, for a whole month, you could submit an online entry form and hope to either win a daily prize or the big grand prize at the end of the month. I bookmarked the entry form and dutifully entered every day.
I was absolutely shocked to get an email one day telling me that I had won a daily prize: $500. I actually didn’t even believe it at first, not until I saw my name listed as one of the daily winners about a week later. I was even more shocked – dumbfounded might be a better word – to find out I had won another $500 a week or so later. I didn’t even know you could win more than one daily prize! All I can imagine is that this was in the early days of the website and not many people knew it existed, or perhaps not as many people went back and filled out the entry form every single day. (It’s kind of a pain in the ass – I personally hate when you have to enter a contest every day for weeks on end…but I still do it because, hey, it sometimes pays off!)
So it was all very exciting, and I printed off the pages that showed my name as a winner (I still have them tucked away in my file cabinet somewhere). I didn’t know how long it might take to get the money, or if I really would get it. Sure enough, though, about a month later I had a slip in my mailbox telling me I had a certified letter that I needed to sign for…and there they were, two checks for $500 each.
I started thinking about this because last night, as we looked at our non-winning lottery ticket, I pondered whether I would use a cash windfall for something fun or use it towards our massive debt. The debt was winning out, because that’s what I’ve been doing the past few years; any time we get some unexpected cash (mainly from an eBay sale that’s more successful than we expected) I use the money to pay bills. I was telling myself that I just don’t have it in me to splurge with unexpected money. And then I remembered the thousand dollars.
When I cashed those checks, the first thing I did was give each of the kids $100 to spend. They were little at the time; this was May of 2000, so Eric was nine, about to turn ten the next month, and Paige was five and a half. This was a lot of money for two little kids, and it was so fun to see their faces as they shopped and bought whatever they wanted.
I spent the rest on a family vacation. We never, ever took vacations; we just couldn’t afford it. Even $800 wasn’t much to spend on a vacation for a family of four. But I lucked out and found a cute cabin right on Lake Michigan and we spent a whole week that summer in Muskegon, Michigan with the kids and our dog, Toby. It was low-key, fun and relaxing – we went fishing, played in the lake, went to a local Fourth of July celebration. I never regretted spending that money on the family.
Yesterday Dave and I were talking about the fact that we’ve never been on a plane together. Neither of us has been on a plane in a long, long time – for me, it was the summer of 1998. It’s been even longer for Dave. I have no idea what it’s even like to board a plane now, with all the restrictions and security measures. But one of these days we’ll do it – we’ll take a plane ride together, see some sights, take a vacation. For now, we vacation in place and spend imaginary windfalls. I’d like to think that if I come into some money like that again, I could spend some of it on fun like I did back in 2000. :-)