The Waterfront Market in Deira, Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

If I thought the new coronavirus had already upended my life in five weeks, I was wrong. Very wrong. Week 6 brought the biggest upending of them all: a salary cut.

No, it was not entirely unexpected. It’s just that I believed it wouldn’t happen. There was a hint, a month ago, during one morning meeting. We were discussing the impact of salary cuts, and my boss cheekily said: “It could happen here too.” We laughed it away. More because we didn’t want to believe it.

Now that my salary is slashed, what do I do? Frankly, it hasn’t really sunk in. But I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. I am thinking with a bit more clarity after the rude shock.

The first thought was my son’s university fees. There’s one more semester to go. The university closure has killed his part-time job, and he needs more support.

A bigger expense waits down the line: my daughter’s undergraduate admission. I want to be fair: my daughter gets the same treatment as my son. So if my son went abroad for undergrad studies, my daughter too should get the same opportunity. I hope the pay cut doesn’t derail my plans.

How do I live on a reduced income? For someone like me with a pathological aversion to saving, this is a tough prospect. My motto has always been to ‘live in the moment’. Carpe Diem. For you don’t know what tomorrow brings. Mind you, that approach has always been tough on my home budget. I could never balance it, let alone record a surplus. And yet, we’ve gotten along all these years.

But this new reality, with less money to live on, is a bit daunting. Well, they say you start with small things. Incremental reductions to every expense will translate into a major cut in expenses. Good idea. Will it work for me? I decided to give it a try.

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I had a bright idea this morning. Let me start the cuts with the coffee. No more of the expensive organic Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans or freshly ground coffee. Tea is cheaper. My wife concurred. I wasn’t surprised because she prefers tea. But she had a surprise up her sleeve.

“Why don’t YOU make tea today,” she asked. “Masala tea would be nice.” I was caught off-guard. I always thought I was the better cook in the house. Never mind, what my wife and kids think. I AM the better cook. But masala tea? Not my thing. But it’s a matter of pride. Gotta do it.

I set the water and milk to boil. Threw in a few pieces of roughly chopped ginger. Some crushed cardamom pods. Cinnamon? No, I’ll skip it. Brewed. Served. And…it was exactly the way I wanted: thick and frothy; the colour and flavours rich. Maybe we’ll make it a regular fare. The tea, I mean. Not me making it.

What other expenses can be trimmed? Food. Maybe, we will eat fewer eggs. The chicken will now have to be a once a week treat. Eating out is no longer an option. Online orders from the restaurants will have to wait until the weekend. Grocery runs to be reduced to once a week, even after the restrictions are lifted.

Weekend baking must stop. This Friday will be the last one. I will bake some oatmeal cookies. A final flourish. There are some rolled oats left.

Shopping will have to be more disciplined. My shopping that is. When my wife gives me a list of 10 items, I return from the supermarket with 20. Why? Well, my wife forgets to list the bread and nuts. And I could use some juice. Some sultanas and dried fruits for the weekend bake maybe. Can’t expect my wife to remember everything.

OK. The truth is, I’m a shopaholic. For instance, I have more T-shirts in my closet than I need. Especially for one who wears tees only on the weekends. And shoes. I don’t like to repeat a pair during a week. Well, no more T-shirts or shoes.

What else can be done? I could ask the realtors to delay cashing my rent cheques. I can also seek to defer the EMI payments on my bank loan for a couple of months. Will they agree? I can always try. A repayment holiday in extraordinary times is surely reasonable.

Anyway, it’s time to be thrifty. Everything counts. I AM going to do it. At the end of four months, maybe, just maybe, I would have finally learned to save. Every cloud…silver lining…etc etc...