Sometimes I feel like I should just hashtag my life: #Poorpeopleproblems. My definition of #poorpeopleproblems are small things that have growing consequences.
Like: don’t pay a parking ticket because you don’t have a spare $65, then it doubles when you don’t pay it in 2 weeks. Or you can’t afford to get fillings, and then the next time you’re at the dentist (some 4 years later...) and they inform you that you’ll now need crowns. I swear I’m not trying to bum you guys out.
People know I’m thrifty. I haven’t always been good with money, but I like to think that I don’t spend it frivolously. I got my first full-time job when I was 14, and was kicked out of my parents house soon after; something about having sex being an unforgivable sin or some shit.
Things got real quick, and within a month of living with my boyfriend (who was 19, and balanced out his mild cocaine habit with part time jobs at fast food restaurants. Winner.) and 16 other people in an efficiency apartment, I quit school to get a second job, so we could get a dilapidated little squat of our very own.
As a teenager, I felt really disconnected from my friends that were still in school; they had prom dresses, Spring Break trips, and lots of free time. I felt left out, and while living in my own place had its perks, I couldn’t help but pine for the ease of a sweet homelife. Small problems, like not having a valid ID, snowballed into huge obstacles to overcome, and with no one to call in for backup, it always came down to me.
But something happened: I worked hard. I was able to save money. I started going to college, meeting people that didn’t have any money, but didn’t have the bleak outlook that the career waitresses at Denny’s did. Instead of just feeling sorry for myself, I started clawing my way out of being really broke, and it had a weird side-effect: I had that whole ‘confidence’ thing that people talk about. Knowing that when the going gets weird, or crappy, I could persevere, like my spirit animal, the rat. Kidding, everyone knows that Tony Clifton is my spirit animal.
I won’t say that my college education has really given me a leg up, but the people I met, and general life lessons I learned while I was there did.
Tiny goals are okay
When I was 19, I sat down and wrote out a list of ten goals. They were simple things, like “put $20 away each paycheck for a plane ticket” or “pay every bill on time”. Setting tiny goals made me feel like I was in control, and even though it’s silly, every time I met one, I had a great sense of accomplishment, and it would help me to reach more difficult goals later on.
Breaking one big goal into smaller pieces makes it easier to tackle. I’d always wanted to travel, but getting a passport, tickets, learning the language and saving money -- were each a small goal that helped me go on a trip that ended up being all awesome and life-changing.
Know what you want
Having priorities, and goals for how I spent money made a big difference in what I was able to do with my hard-earned cash. When I had waitressing gigs, and I would realize that I’d made $500 in tips that week, and could hardly account for the bullshit small purchases I’d made with it, I became really conscious of what I needed vs wanted.
I can count the pieces of clothing I’ve bought new in the last five years on one hand. It’s not that I don’t love clothes more than certain (distant!) members of my family, but I know I can drool over the next Free People catalog I get in the mail, and try to approximate some of the outfits with thrifted or dumpster clothes.
When I fall in love with something, I try to resist the WANT/GET reaction, and take a moment to check it against whatever financial goal I have. Do I need this enough to be one week behind in saving for something bigger that I really-really want?
Live below your means
For me, this means not putting anything on a credit card that I can’t pay for in cash, and always have a tiny bit of “oh shit” money. I haven’t always stuck to this, especially during big life events, and I’ve always regretted it. I’m always looking to shave off costs -- getting rid of data on my phone, buying less-fancy shampoo, or making my own tea at home (seriously, $1.75 for TEA is Crazytown. Yes, the band.). That’s just those three little things have saved me $750 a year.
Seriously limiting how much I eat out, drive, and pay for entertainment has lead me to being more creative about life in general. I’ll go for a walk with a friend instead of getting lunch, have a few people over for a movie night instead of going to the theaters. It might not result in the most glamourous life, but when I’m debt-free in a few years, I’m pretty sure it’ll be worth it.
Suck it up and put in your time
When you’re toeing the crusty edge of poverty, it’s easy to feel like you’re never going to amount to anything, and that your job (if you are lucky enough to have one!) is lame sauce. It might be, but I try to not let my current occupation define who I am as a person, and instead think about what it gets me -- rent, groceries, maybe a bit of savings (ha).
Our society is really geared towards “Who are you, and what do you DO?”, and it always seems like my life doesn’t stack up against my friends because I still don’t have a ‘career’. But I know that in reality, most everyone is working for the weekend; no matter how awesome an occupation sounds, it’s usually about 3.5 times lamer in reality. Except anything involving circuses, I’m almost positive they’re just like a big family and it’s tits to work for one.
Bottom line: a job can be just a job, and it’s whatever you make of it. Sometimes delayed gratification is hard, especially when you’re the type to eat your marshmallow before they finish explaining what the hell is going on.
Moving out at 14 might have been a major setback financially for me. What kind of financial setbacks have you overcome? How did you do it? Learning to be self-dependent was worth it. Now I just need to learn how to accept help when I need it, and realize that you can’t eat pride.