Since today is my wedding day, I have a guest post from a fire blast from the past, Breeder Tojo.
I wrote this essay back in 2008 as an assignment for my Sociology class. We were to write about our hypothetical lives where we worked at Walmart, the apparent standard of low-income jobs, (eye rollout) and had a take home pay of $800 a month.
First, I must inform you that besides a little reformatting, the essay remains mostly unedited. Reading it now, I can see it is horribly written, terribly edited and just reads like someone trying to meet a page requirement. It also seems poorly researched and really whiny. I hope that my writing has changed a lot since then. (Please let me know if it hasn’t.)
It is an interesting look into my 21-year-old mindset to see what I understood about personal finances. I just really had no clue. It reminds me of a trainer battling without understanding pokémon types. They know how to cause damage, but they don’t understand why the same attack’s strength differs when attacking different pokémon.
My name is Breeder Tojo and I earn about $800.00 a month after taxes. It is debated whether or not I’m shortly above or below the poverty line. Either way, I am not rich. I live in Moorhead, MN in a one person studio apartment. I work at Walmart and am limited to working the night shift, from 10pm until 6am, for minimum wage. I get two days off a week but I spend that time reading books that I have rented from the public library. I don’t know many people and keep mainly to myself. I live by my budget. My budget helps me make this amount of income function in a way that I can live well. I am going to briefly write about my budget, what I do to stay positive and my biggest issue with my wealth.
My budget has now become comfortable to me over the years. I have learned how to use it to the best of my ability and it functions well. It might not be the best way to divide my expenses but it has worked thus far. My rent, cell phone bill, Matbus ticket and my health insurance do not change monthly. I do have a few expenses such as food, heat, electricity and laundry that vary with the month. Some of these expenses fluctuate from month to month depending on the month. For example in the summer months my heat bill is lower than in the winter. I also run more in the summer and have extra laundry.
Its strength and weakness is that I have some expenses that I don’t use that budgeted money. These areas include whether or not I buy new clothes or if I need more batteries, light bulbs, garbage bags or toilet paper. When I don’t use it, I try to place it in an emergency fund. If I can save it then this overage becomes one strength of my budget. However, many times I use that emergency money as “free” money. In these cases I may use it as fun money where I use it to eat out in a restaurant, go to the bars or visit the local adult book store. However, later when I need that money for food or health care, I don’t have it and I need to reevaluate my budget. I try to lessen my fun money while my money is redistributed because I have already had that treat.
I used to include money set aside for health care in that category of potential “free” money, but lately I have been trying to save it incase something happens to me. I have a really nice health insurance plan with MinnesotaCare where I don’t have to pay a whole lot for the copay. I’m starting to get nervous about my health because for the longest time I have not felt very sick and never visit the doctor. I’m not as worried about the health insurance paying for a visit as I am for all the money I am losing while sick. Usually I work sick, but there was two evenings when I couldn’t keep food down and I couldn’t move. I had to call in sick and lost that two day’s worth of pay. I’m trying to prepare for a time when I might need to stay home sick for a week. If I continue to save that money up, it will become a solid emergency fund incase I am fired.
Living poor can be rough at times, but I have adapted. I’m not happy all of the time, such as when I can’t do the activities I want to, but force myself to get over it. One of the ways I do this is by getting a few nice items occasionally. I usually do it by purchasing a really nice toothbrush, shampoo or piece of clothing. I usually treat myself to what I see as really nice products when I know I’m not going to be buying more in less than a month.
The one “luxury” that I have earned I first learned about in early 2005, the Nintendo DS. By saving ten dollars a month for twenty eight months, I was able to purchase one. While saving, Christmas happened twice and drained my fund. Also, my grandmother died in April 2006 and I had to travel to Montana on a Greyhound which dug into much of my DS money as well as from other expenses. I also needed a new cell phone after mine died. It took me a little extra time but I finally got a Nintendo DS in May 2007 with a game. This money had to come from my fun money, which meant that for those twenty-eight months I couldn’t do a whole lot of fun activities. I had to keep reminding myself that it would be a great form of entertainment. I got it and then had some more incentive to save up for a Nintendo Wii. Since I knew I could do it. As of November 2008 I have saved $150.00 toward my Nintendo Wii. Christmas will soon hit me again, but I think I will have enough money in a year and a half unless there are more surprises. Plus, Wii Sports is included with the Wii and I can play that until I can purchase a game.
My biggest grievance is the traveling I must do during a day to go to work, the store or the library. I live in an apartment in southern Moorhead which is about two blocks away from the bus stop. With my monthly bus pass I can get almost anywhere I need to but it takes a lot longer than if I had a car. I spend hours getting to work on the buses. First I board my first bus at the Safari Theatre at 8pm, two hours before I need to be at work. I then ride the bus until the Main Street stop where I wait for thirty minutes until I am picked up by my second bus at 9:17pm. Then arrive at K-Mart at 9:31pm and walk the last four blocks. I have just used two hours of my life of which I am not being paid for, just to get to work.
After work is another long quest for my house. After work I get on my first bus at 6:45am and ride it until we arrive at 7:24am. My second bus arrives at 7:47am and I ride it until the Marriott about 7:58am. Then I transfer to my final bus at leaves the Marriott at 7:58am. This transfer is a quick one and when I make it, I get off the bus at Safari about 8:07am and make it home by 8:30am. On days that I miss the bus, I walk instead of waiting an hour to catch the next bus that goes in my direction. I then make it home about 8:45am. This is only a daily schedule during a regular working week.
With all of these transfers and layovers, I get a lot of reading done. Other days I play my Nintendo DS. I do more reading in the winter than in summer because I’m afraid of the damage that the cold will do to the Nintendo DS. Even though it is really cold in the winter, I bundle up a lot with layers of clothes. Some people think I’m crazy for it, but once I’m on the bus, I can thaw and I warm myself up for my next layover. There are also many passenger shelters along my route.
On some winter mornings and evenings, if it is really cold I walk to another pick up spot along the route. I have learned that by walking to a later destination of my bus I can warm up my body with exercise and occupy my time while I wait. The problem with this is that sometimes I miss my buses and end up walking all the way to my destination. I am an impatient person and am not going to wait an hour for a bus when I can walk and get there. I don’t care if it is cold out and I need to walk. I would much rather be walking outside in the cold for an hour than waiting in the cold. As for the summer, I don’t mind missing the bus because I enjoy the summer weather.
Over these years I have become comfortable living this way. I want to be able to spend like the other people I see around. I think about saving money for a car but they are expensive and saving money is difficult for me. Some people ask why I don’t try to escape my poverty. I tell them I am trying, but I just can’t do it.
Sources: www.alltel.com, www.apartmentshq.com, www.matbus.com, www.dhs.state.mn.us, www.mapquest.com
What artifacts from your early days of personal finances do you have laying around? How have you and your finances evolved since then?
Why You’re Failing at Frugality- Pretend to be Poor
9 Things the Rich Do That the Poor Do Not- Life And My Finances