Recession Journal Part II: Broke or Poor?
Photo: Poor People's Wealth
As the inauguration of a new president gets into full swing, I think about something President-elect Barack Obama said during his campaign that probably won’t make the history books and may even perhaps get lost in years of records of his riveting oration.
He said “We’ve been living beyond our means and we're going to have to make some adjustments."
The hardest part will be adjusting our minds. So much of how we spend, how we feel, what we use our money for and the lengths to which we will go to feel a high when we have no money is all a matter of perception. The more grateful you are for your station and the less you want, generally the better off you are.
This is illustrated plainly in the story of Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard, a couple who are both high school social studies teachers and decided they’d live on a dollar per day as an experiment. Mind you, in America, living on a dollar a day is impossible but they did it by buying corn meal and oats, making their own bread and other third-world confections. Soon they realized that they spent just as much time as they saved money and ended up donating money they made from blogging about the impossible feat. It was kind of like “whew glad we don’t live in Kenya.”
But it was an exercise with meaning for them and they got the word out and elicited some thought.One to grow on here. Being frugal is a luxury you can afford when you ease up on, well luxuries.
While there is nothing more demoralizing than watching nearly your whole check go toward bills, it’s also an opportunity to look at why this is happening and change your life.
And before cats get at me on the comments section wondering what the relevance of this post is, know that I’ve been broke as well as poor and I’m speaking from experience. Breaking habits and not counting pennies is the first step.
Let me break it down for you real quick. When you’re middle-class and you’ve screwed yourself up in the game money wise, you learn fast that from a relativity stand point, being broke is actually worse than being poor - at least in your spoiled mind - and you learn the subtle differences.
When you’re poor, you might go to the local tienda, convenience store, 99 cents store or what have you and get two weeks worth of corn meal, some taco mix and a gang of beef and or meat of some kind, maybe some rice, a big can of beans. You eat what you eat, you eat what you can, you listen to the radio, watch pirated TV, just sit outside and people watch, you drink malt-liquor, a trip to faded land that costs less than $2.
In short, you dance or Kool-Aid your travails away. You’re poor, you know no difference, you know no better and you often don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Broke is: ‘Naw can’t go to the club this week,’ gotta catch you later. Poor is: Man, I can’t feed my family. This is why we must understand fundamentally while some of our exercises in saving go for naught and why when things turn around, we forget our lessons.
Unfortunately in America just eat one bite from the tree of knowledge, just one trip out of town, just one spending spree, just one feel of fine fabric, one morsel of Kobe steak can actually program your hard drive in a way that’s hard to undo.Sit in a restaurant with no television once in a while you can easily graduate into the purgatory of being broke because you’re constantly fulfilling wants and then find that your needs still aren’t being met.
It’s the classic carrot on a stick that is the American dream. It’s where most of us live, the check-to-check middle class, striving for the luxuries in between commutes, watching premium channels, paying bills for ancillary items that are of no necessity whatsoever. But then you get stuck in your purchased identity as your cost of living rises with your standard of living.
One can certainly go from Ground Chuck to Filet Mignon but it’s hard, if not impossible to go back, not back for a week or two but habitually back, back through the portal of simpler times, when money or the lack thereof didn’t rule the day.
For those of you who are Horatio Alger or just went from ashy to classy or became the first in your family to graduate college, I think now is the time to get back to basics and more important, figure out what your basics are.