I spent the my 20s and the majority of my 30s super fucking broke and doing some incredible juggling to keep roofs over heads, etc. Utilities were shut off on the regular. Phone service? Yeah, that was gone here and there. Electricity would take priority that month. Don’t get me started on the reconnect fees if I let the water bill go past due. Again.
Coming home to the occasional 72-hour notice on my apartment door was neat. The juggling became more “creative” the couple times that happened.
I couldn’t STOMACH the thought of eating ham for the better part of two decades after the “great ham incident”, the several month span of time where all we ate was turkey-ham for our protein. I had a couple of them in the freezer left over from Food 4 Less’s “Buy a 10-25lb turkey, get all these other holiday staples FREE!” deal that I took advantage of every year to fill our fridge – and I was literally too broke to afford anything except side dishes to go with that damn ham. Turkey-ham sandwiches, turkey-ham and ramen, turkey-ham and canned corn, turkey-ham and turkey-ham…and so on.
I’d sweat a ten cent difference between cans of tomato sauce and only buy the store brand pasta because that extra dime here and there could go towards gas money.
I remain convinced I’d own faces on the show “Chopped” because of how tragically creative I once had to be with what we might have in the pantry at the end of the month to make something edible for my family.
We were the “working poor”, as I was working full-time as I always had, my husband at the time working on and off, then going to school full time, and we had three kids to clothe, feed, and pay daycare for. Most months I felt like I worked JUST to pay daycare, which, of course made me feel awful, especially when I saw the number of hours that someone else raised my kids.
I really am so fortunate that I’ve almost always been gainfully employed and that, due to a pretty flexible skillset that lent itself to multiple industries coupled with my wizardry in the art of bullshit, when laid off due to a crappy market, I was always able to jump back into the game within weeks (one time, I was unemployed for an hour and a half and ridiculously proud of that record).
Crap started turning around post-divorce from my first husband. Financial decisions were made differently, and a lot of blood, sweat, and A LOT of tears and tens of thousands of dollars later, I finally got ahead of it by my late 30s.
I still remember the day I found out my kids no longer qualified for free lunch at the public school. That was crazy. I still have the letter. This was in back in 2004. Shit, am I rich now? Whoa.
The bills were still there, but they weren’t strangling me anymore. And I was still careful. I had to be. I had a job, but when would the market fuck me over again? And would I always be so lucky in landing “the next job”? Still didn’t have health insurance and a trip to the emergency room could wreck me (again).
When I DID splurge big, it was on things that were still “bargains”. Like the lowest cost cruise Carnival offered. I think my portion was $300. Finally, travel, something a lot of my peers had been doing for years was possible, and I had a reason to get a passport! A real vacation? Holy shit.
What was amazing to me is how long lasting the effects of the way I survived my 20s and early 30s has been. I feel like, even now, I’m recovering from poverty and unwarranted expectations: Mostly my own. How much I find myself apologizing for not struggling to survive at the moment.
I’ve been out of bad debt for years. The debilitating medical bills that happened while I was uninsured are long paid.
I cried earlier this year when my credit score finally hit the 700s. Really? SEVEN hundreds? I remember the 400s. It wasn’t that long ago.
And I still have break out into a sweat in the department store when I make a decision to buy a new jacket and change my mind 15 times before I get to the register. Sometimes I actually make it out of the store with it.
I almost never own more than one pair of jeans or one bra at a time because, when I outgrow or destroy one, I have to talk myself into “splurging” for one. And even then, only when I’m desperate (fuck you, broken underwires).
I bought my first pair of rubber rain/work boots at age 47 because, before this year, I figured, “Well, I can just get wet.”
A while back, I had a panic attack on a sidewalk in Poulsbo, WA and started crying at the thought of spending over a hundred dollars on a necklace I was in love with. My husband had to look me in the eyes, talk me down, and assure me that I wasn’t being frivolous (I had just gotten my yearly bonus, I had the money for this damn necklace).
We made the decision last year to build a house on a lot that I still can’t believe we got at the price we did.
And I always feel like I have to give that disclaimer so people don’t think I somehow got a piece of property I don’t “deserve”. It’s a nice neighborhood.
And that we turned a decent profit on our last house.
When people ask about the house-build and lift an eyebrow at, for example, the nice appliances we’re buying for the kitchen, I make sure to let them know that we’re going super wicked cheap on this and this…and this. Oh and this. Oh and we’re doing this part ourselves, and…
Did they lift that eyebrow? Or was that me?
Why do I feel like I have to justify myself? I’m so not an “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” person, but I keep finding myself feeling like that broke-as-a-joke 27 year old who felt like she had to justify buying a small mocha at Starbucks once a week.
Who am I apologizing to? Whose permission am I asking?
Maybe my own.
I think another part of it is that, especially when talking to folks from older generations who don’t seem to understand that I’ve been a career woman my entire damn life, I told constantly how lucky I am that my husband has a good job.
Or asked what he thinks of purchases I make. Because that’s what women do, right? Shop? I can’t relate, but ok.
Or did I ask him if I did <insert any financial decision that was made> and/or “Oh how mad was he about spending money on the thing?”
I mean never mind that I’ve worked full time with little exception since I was sixteen, that’s cool. It’s fine. I’m not a man doing a man job. *twirls hair*
It’s an extremely foreign place to be where I’m at now because there was a time in my life where I didn’t think I’d be here because life can be a real motherfucker even if you bust your fucking butt every day.
But here I am. With my wildly reckless rubber boot purchase. They weren’t even on sale, y’all.
Having the audacity to buy pedestals for my washer and dryer so I no longer kill my metal back off while doing laundry.
Buying the $9 glass of overpriced wine that would cost me $17 for the same bottle if I bought it at the store. IT’S OK, GUYS, I USUALLY DRINK 1.5 LITER BOTTLES OF BAREFOOT PINOT GRIGIO. THAT’S LIKE ONE DOLLAR A GLASS IF I POURED AN ACTUAL SERVING OF WINE INSTEAD OF MY GIANT GLASS WHICH IS ACTUALLY WHAT I DO, BUT YEAH, BARGAIN.
Oh, yeah, we buy our meat in bulk and vacuum seal it, this ribeye isn’t as expensive as it looks. Did you know Safeway was having really huge sale? You didn’t ask, I know. But I didn’t spend THAT much.
I hate that my brain makes me do this.
Did you know that my underpants were on sale at Costco and I’ve had this shirt that I’m wearing since 2009?
Yup, we’re getting a hot tub for the new house.
I’m sorry, you probably didn’t know that wear my husband’s black socks so I don’t have to buy new socks. I still need a new bra.
When does this stop?
Check out this coupon I found.