Read the title as sarcasm. Bitter, biting, bitterly biting sarcasm.
To start off, I'm broke, not poor. I think that's an important distinction to start off with, because I come from a lot of privilege (raised upper-middle class, have 2 college diplomas, solid work experience, have family and friends who can help if I'm absolutely desperate, etc). The points I'm going to address definitely can effect poor folks as well, but I don't want to pretend I have it the worst off in the world or that I fully understand poverty from anyplace but a safe distance. So read this as someone who has been well off enough to have tasted the good life, and who can conceivably get there again at some point. Don't send me donations, just let me vent.
I'm in a spot where, money-wise, we're pretty much fucked in the short term. One cell phone has been disconnected, my payments on back-taxes are bouncing, we're behind on our vehicle payments, insurance is coming out next week and I don't know if we can cover it, we don't have propane or wood for the winter that is fast-approaching and no funds to rectify that because I'm the only one of us who has been able to land a job, which is minimum-wage and can't go more than 40 hours a week. And our roommate has to move out because of events beyond their control, so rent is about to go up unless we can find someone else to move in.
Long story short - we're panicked about money. So I've been doing what so many people do in my position, and turning to the Google for some sort of inspiring article that will give me a lightbulb moment and chase away the clouds as the sun comes out.
It's times like now that I feel like I will blow up the internet if I see one more article on budgeting that replays these tired, ineffectual tropes:
1. Spend less
Wow. Just. I wish. I mean, I've been there. I have credit card debt from 5 years ago when I separated from my ex-husband and then went on a spending binge to make up for all the times I'd felt trapped. But that hasn't been the case for at least a couple years. No, I'm at the point where I'm looking at my bank account and wondering if I should pay for gas or, no wait, there's only $20 until Friday and I need to get to work, so gas it is. If I make it to Thursday on the gas I have now, maybe $10 for gas and $10 for wine, because an extra $10 isn't going to make a dent in any of my bills. At all.
2. Brown bag your lunches and no more Starbucks
I have jars of peanut butter and jam at work with loaves of bread I got on sale. Which I had to wait until my second paycheque to get, so for my first couple weeks at work my boss fed me, otherwise I wouldn't eat until I got home for supper. And the coffee I have, I made at home with grounds I took from my sister's house because she's got a Kurig, now. Don't fucking talk to me about Starbucks.
3. Cut out the extra expenditures.
I can't even pay for Netflix because my credit cards are maxed out, and I only get a mobile phone, home phone and DSL because it is paid for by my employer. We don't have firewood. I assure you, I don't have any "extras" to cut out.
4. Cut up your credit cards and live on cash only.
You know what I like to do when I have paid my credit cards enough so that I can put anything on them at all? I get Netflix. Maybe I'll celebrate with an $8 bottle of wine. But goodness knows I won't see the other end of that fairy tale until 2014 if I'm lucky.
5. Get a debt consolidation loan.
One of my favourite tv shows is Til Debt Do Us Part. I've been watching it forever, and long before I went on my post-separation spending binge. My wife and I even applied to be on their show and had been in contact with them, but just narrowly missed the casting window. So believe me when I tell you that I will burn everything you have ever loved if you ever say to my face that I should "just" apply for one. I have been declined a half-dozen times because, shocker, I don't have great credit. You know, from the credit cards I've maxed out and want help paying off through a lower-interest-than-24.99% loan.
6. Make more money
In Toronto, this was not bad advice (for me, specifically). I have the skills and experience there to make a sincerely decent wage with benefits. Where we're living now, that really is not meaningful advice. My wife hasn't gotten a single call-back for all the resumes she's been handing in for the past 2 months, and she has not just been emailing them out like many folks are able to get away with in areas with better economies. I work for a small business owner who often doesn't even make enough to pay their own bills, so a raise is really not happening. This is the reality of working in small communities that rely on seasonal tourism after the summer is over.
What do I really want? I want some financial articles that speak to the experience of folks who aren't making $100,000 a year who can pay off their debts in a year on their salary alone if they feel like cooking at home instead of dining out every night. I want banks and financial institutions to say, "Hey, you know what? You're right. We do keep telling people to get debt consolidation loans, so we'll work with you so these payments are actually manageable and you can conceivably pay them off without declaring bankruptcy." I want some recognition from all those fanciful articles that this is a tight spot that those trite words won't fix if I just "think positive". I want recognition that some economies are really seriously fucked and the people in them are pretty fucked and that there are no easy ways out for them, if any out at all.
What am I going to do about it? Well, I'm starting by calling bullshit on those articles, and by airing my dirty laundry to see if others can relate.
After that? Who knows. We'll see if I have any awe-inspiring insights to share other than, "It's all bullshit." Wish me luck.