I am, once again, doing the kind of frantic budgeting in which having $50 left for a month’s worth of groceries is actually good news. What expenses can I cut? What do I absolutely have to spend money on? What will actually be possible without someone laughing hysterically at my income and credit history? The kind of crazy budgeting with margins so narrow that moving to Paganistan looking for better opportunities suddenly seems financially unfeasible because “Oh Gods, I’d have to buy a winter coat!”
The worst part about being poor is that other people don’t seem to understand the concept. “Let’s go out to dinner!” You explain you don’t have the money. “Oh, well then let’s go to McDonald’s!” (cue facepalm) You, engulfed with a sense of panic, pay all of your bills and fill the fridge with groceries. Once all of that is taken care of you relax for a moment before anticipating the next round of bills. Just when you get to the point where you feel quite satisfied with yourself for once again managing to survive for another month, someone comes along and makes you feel like crap for not being able to hang out at a bar or go to the movies.
So much about being poor sucks. When your car breaks down and you have to pay people to take you to the grocery store. When friends pressure or surprise you into going places you can’t afford, because they can’t seem to remember you’re poor or think you’re just miserly and exaggerating. When you’re hesitant to spend $20 in gas to drive your clunker to the city, knowing that it could potentially break down and it will cost more to tow it home the farther from home you are, you lose friends. And even the awesome friends who are there for you and you really appreciate, will often make you feel like crap unintentionally. Being poor sucks.
When I worry about money, and get into the kind of obsessive budgeting in which I worry about whether I can afford the big slicing tomatoes rather than just a couple of puny Romas this month*, I read John Cheese.
Cheese knows what it’s like to be poor. He talks about how it sucks to be charged for using your own money. About how talking to a loan officer is the most degrading thing on earth when you are poor. But my favorite article of his is The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor:
Shockingly, when you’re buying food based entirely on 1) how long it keeps and 2) how cheap it is, you wind up with shitty food. When I was growing up, we knew that the first of each month was grocery day. That’s the day that our food stamps came in. Nowadays (in the U.S., anyway) it’s all done on an ATM-type of plastic called a link card that gets reloaded with “food only” money on the first of every month. But the idea is still the same: new month, new food. So when our food money arrived, to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store and burning shitloads of gas that we couldn’t afford, we bought our entire month’s worth of groceries all at once and stored it like fucking squirrels. When you do that, you need shit that won’t spoil.
I know some of my reader’s are dealing with a sucky economy, and some of you grew up poor. So poor that eating McDonald’s was “going out for a nice meal,” and getting your cousin’s hand-me-downs was almost as good as Christmas morning. You’ll probably enjoy the John Cheese articles I linked to above. And you’ll be amazed at this: Lēoht Sceadusawol pointed out to me this morning that Ryanair charged a woman hundreds of dollars to print out her boarding passes at the airport. While Hartsfield-Jackson here in Atlanta has complimentary terminals for most airlines, I now to get to add the worry that a flying mistake could cost me my rent.
Of course, the good news is that YouTube is still free:
*When you’re poor certain foods come to represent wealth: fresh veggies, ice cream, decent cheese.