Tag Archives: getting by

Money Ain’t Everything

One of my favourite songs from my teen years was Cyndi Lauper’s “Money isn’t Everything.”

It feels like life comes in with built-in looped lessons, themes that repeat constantly throughout our lives. For me, money and patience are two lessons I’m forever learning about.

Money, though, is the one that causes me most grief.

Drowning piggybank, from TheDoublethink.com: http://thedoublethink.com/2009/06/how-much-to-spend-in-a-recession/

This year has probably been the most learned year on the money front for me. I’ve fixed a few things, changed my quality of life by way of making small choices, but I’ve still run into a great deal of hardship twice this year. Once during the Olympics, because you don’t realize until they arrive what a wild ride and party it is to live within, or how expensive life gets then, and, well, right now.

Having done the bad-back thing right before getting pneumonia, it’s actually been 7 weeks of consistent drain on my wallet, with little to nothing coming in, and it’s been hairy a couple times. Thank god for freezers with food in them and well-stocked pantries and beans and oatmeal, man.

But there’s a lot one can learn from hard times, even poverty.

There’s a gift in poverty, for those who are able to escape it.

I was raised by parents who’d come through a lot financially. My mother, I think, had it harder than my father — hers having been the kind of family that feared eviction on Christmas eve but returned home from mass with a giant gift box of food and clothing from the community, who slept three kids  to a single bed.

I still remember her telling me of those times, but I never “got” it. Not until the last five years.

Years ago, I was cursed to be stupid enough to fall into the “why me?” crowd when it came to being broke. I’d be jealous as shit of my friends who always got nice gifts. I felt like a victim, as stupid as that is.

I still resent people who can, and do, have all the things they want but have zero appreciation of just how fortunate they are to have it.

Some of them, if reading this, would probably have the whole “But you can earn your way out of poverty” attitude, and they’re right, to an extent. But what if you’re like me, or unluckier, where you have one year after another of illness or injury, misfortune or bad luck?

When it’s a six-month patch, you get through it and you move on. When it’s six years, or longer, it’s just an accomplishment to make it through month after month. Retirement? What? Savings? What? Survival, man.

I’m lucky, I’ve almost had it constantly be tough and hard for the last decade, but I always get by, I always make it through the hard patches. And every time I do, I’ve learned some new trick about money, some new way of saving a few pennies, but more importantly, I’ve always been able to remember that life is so much bigger and more meaningful than a balance sheet.

For those who think “time is money”, so just buy your food and work more — how? How does one magically make this more expensive, prepared, convenient food just appear? How does one afford to live spitting distance from the best job they can get?

They don’t. Not in this town, man.

There’s a reason money’s the fastest way to kill a relationship.

There’s nothing in this world we value more than money, there’s nothing that defines your life more — and nothing is more omnipresent than the reminders of just how much YOUR value is determined by the money you have or don’t have.

Try it. Wear tattered, out-of-style clothes with a bad haircut and zero accessories, carrying lousy plastic bags or beaten knapsacks, and be sure tote your insecurities and financial worry along with you, then enter into any decent shop in any reasonable area of town, and tell me you don’t FEEL your value lowering when you enter those establishments.

Or go experience the thrill of being constantly broke and listening to even your average friends talking about their new jeans or the restaurant they went out to, or the vacation they’re saving for, and try to ignore that little pang of “I wish…” that creeps up inside every time you think of small items you’d love to have.

Reminders exist everywhere of just how much you don’t have when you’re living hand-to-mouth. No matter how much peace you’ve made with your status, the constant reminders beat you down a little, just like how a single repeating drop of water can erode the hardest of stone over time.

Despite all this, the older I get, the more I appreciate that I truly value the important things in life, and through all my adversity, I’ve learned to really experience gratitude for the little things that come my way.

I love a good meal, I’m passionate about great wine, I know a gorgeous sunset can’t be bought, I savour all the little moments life gives me, when I find the time to really absorb them.

Truth be told, I’m happy there’s a recession on some levels.

When it comes to the middle class and the wealthy, I’m glad they’ve had to wake up some. I’m glad we suddenly realize there’s more in life than the mighty currency markets.

I’m saddened by those who’ve lost everything, who’ve had lives crushed by fucking assholes in the economic world who just have no concept of debt or value.

It’s so ironic. The people who “create” finance in the economic world actually have zero concept of what a real dollar is worth, of just how far — or not — a normal living wage goes.

And they’re the ones who’ve helped bring everything, and every one, down.

Still, poverty has its gifts.

Gratitude is a gift you’ll never grow tired of. There’s nothing like actually really appreciating a thing. Anything. So many people I know just shrug off little moments of generosity. How could they? Don’t they understand?

No. Not yet.

But they will.

Not having disposable income makes problems harder to solve, time harder to find, health harder to manage, and a social life harder to have.

But, with the right perspective, it can really open your eyes.

Has the recession taught you to better appreciate life? Have you really learned what you need to learn from the last two years? Have you gained insights that will define your future and always keep you cognizant of what real “worth” is?

Have you used it to remember what life is really about — the world and people around us, moments in time, laughter, and creation? Have you learned to be kinder to others and generous in thought, action, and words, when finances fail you? Have you learned to be understanding of the trials others face and the compromises they need to make just to make it through their weeks?

It’s not too late to learn those lessons now.

A Sly Smile Kinda Morning

The sky is an iridescent grey, at once inspiring and eerie.

My day is stretched before me with a loose idea of all the things I have to do, mostly of the meetings-and-appointments sort. A murky mess sits at the bottom of a mug I wish was filled with fresh black coffee. I just shrug at its emptiness and type on.

Inside, calmness has settled in. A calmness I probably haven’t felt in a number of years.

It began yesterday morning with a kind of prescient feeling about how much I could or would get done during the day. I blew that out of the water and settled my to-do list with great authority, meeting and beating all aspirations for the day.

At the end, I decided I’d finally take a look at my finances. For the first month of my unemployment I’ve applied the Ostirich Approach to my situation — only after I’d taken a hard look at the bottom line of what I would need to live on each month, and had the vague notion I might be okay until June. Then, I buried my head, spent as little as possible, and just did my shit, with the assumption that Spending Almost Nothing was all I needed to do.

Much of what I did spend was covered by “found” money — gifts from a couple kind people. (You fucking rock.)

I knew when the month started it would be tight and was 95% sure I would either be deferring my loan payment or telling my landlord I needed an extra week to pay the rent. I mean, the reality is, the first month of unemployment is ALWAYS the hardest.

I was in the situation of having had a bad-spending winter, followed by the Olympics crushing my savings, and had NO idea that a complete lay-off loomed. I thought I’d lose a day of work a week — I was praying for it — as we’d applied for the Workshare program (spreading a lay-off throughout the company, with the government paying 55% of the one day a week each employee gives up).

I never thought I’d be laid off entirely this year. And after a year spent rehabbing a back injury and two years of having to replace entire wardrobes with every season due to weight-loss, and that I’ve been making lower-middle-class income in one of the world’s most expensive cities… well, yeah, no savings either.

But…

But I managed to get enough ducks in a row as soon as the “OMG, lay-offs might be coming” fear that hit around March 24th, before finding out on the 25th that I would be entirely laid off, likely the next day, that I sort of had a fighting chance.

I was also insistent with my employer that the additional 3 days of work at the end of March would make the difference between me surviving until June at least.

And it did.

I finally scrounged up everything I had last night — not including a little emergency money I’ve set aside or what’s on my Visa — and know I can pay rent AND groceries until the middle of the month, without even receiving my government employment insurance benefit. AND I keep what little safety net I have intact.

That changes everything.

I feel like it’s the stamp of approval. “Go forth, Steff,” it says. “All will be well.”

I know, I’m supposed to be all embarrassed that my money’s this tight.

I’m supposed to be ashamed.

Wealth is a sign of success and position and talent and brains, isn’t it?

Fuck you.

Fuck ANYONE who thinks I need to be ashamed that things have been so close.

I’ve NEVER been irresponsible with money. All I’ve been guilty of is being average with money. At my income, spending an additional 10% every month cripples you in a hurry.

I am NOT my adversity. FUCK that.

Try losing 70 pounds and having to buy new wardrobes every three months, or getting so severely injured you spend a month laying on a floor and for months have to take cabs and pay 20% more in groceries  just for the convenience, because you’re in too much pain to bus from a further, cheaper store.

That I’m even paying rent tomorrow without any interceding forces makes me more proud than you’ll ever fucking know.

Fuck anyone who thinks money and whether someone gets through a jam financially is a reflection at all of that person’s intelligence, ability, talent, or resilience. Money is as much about luck and selective adversity as it is savings abilities.

Some people just have more things to overcome. In my life, money was always the villain. That line between getting by and barely surviving is thinner than most people might realize.

For once, money doesn’t feel like my villain anymore.

I’ve got rent, baby. And food. And I’m gonna buy me some wine and a steak tonight to celebrate.

[shaking head]

Yeah. I don’t know… I feel like I have to say more:

So many of you need to feel what kissing poverty is like. You need to feel how much it hurts inside when you’re terrified about paying the rent or you’re sure you’ve got to resort to drastic measures to get by. You need to know what it’s like to think hope is too expensive a luxury for your position. You need to imagine what that fear’s like when it’s not just you it affects.

You need to know how hard it is when money’s not within your grasp. Everyone needs to feel that.

I hope I never feel it again. And I hope I always remember that pain. I hope I always have the empathy I wish more people had shown me earlier — but so many are showing me, even showering me with, now.

Today is a day of gratitude, goodness, and calm. For me, at least. You? You can choose that, too.

Take a minute to think about what you really have, and pray you never come close to losing it.

Some fears aren’t fit for anyone. But gratitude is one-size-fits-all.

Beyond the talk of money? My future’s looking great. What a ride this summer will be. Stay tuned.

PS: Methinks unemployment might’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me. Wait’ll you get a load of me, baby.