I’m convinced that people who hand out “living on a budget” advice online and in print publications are people who have never actually lived on a budget. Seriously, am I the only one who finds the common advice insulting and condescending?
The common (BS) wisdom:
“The latte factor!”
Oh, for fuck’s sake, people. Those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck (and often not even that) are not buying $4 espresso drinks every day on our way into work. We’re not even buying $0.89 convenience store coffee. We’re making it at home. We’re buying the cheap stuff (even if that part makes us die a little inside). We’re reusing our travel mugs and not spending a single dime on our caffeine needs outside of the grocery store.
“Make your lunch!”
Seriously? We do. I bring my lunch to work every damn day, often consisting of whatever I’ve cobbled together from the pantry, since this week is a “Hmm, I can’t really afford a grocery store trip” week. There’s no takeout, no ordering in, no fancy workplace lunches. There’s a bowl of ramen or maybe some rice and beans.
“Do away with unnecessary utilities!”
I don’t have cable. I don’t have a TV. The absence of these things is not because I’m a pretentious snob, it’s because I’m poor. I don’t have a house phone. For a while, I did, because getting rid of the house phone was actually more expensive than keeping it. I do have Internet, because for a lot of the work I do, it’s a necessity. It’s far more expensive to get Internet access a la carte than it is to subscribe to a cable company’s “bundle,” but I just have that one service. I got rid of my subscription services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.). I read a lot. Books that I get from the library, because the library is free.
“Don’t use your credit cards!”
That’s all well and good, but feel free to check back with me when you’re on your third month of bare-bones bills exceeding your take-home pay and you need to gas up your (paid for and pretty beat up) car to get to work.
“Cut out frivolous spending!”
Here’s the thing. Having no money is terrible. It’s depressing, and dehumanizing, and demotivating, and sometimes, every so often, you just might need a new bottle of nail polish or to go see a movie in order to feel like a real human being again. There’s this idea that poor people don’t deserve to ever have indulgences or luxuries, but the psychological damage of never having something that brings you a little bit of joy is hard to understate. So, yes, sometimes someone who is on assistance or who lives paycheck to paycheck may do something another person sees as frivolous. Are we really so cold as a society that we want to deny people small, infrequent joys?
“Sell your stuff!”
Clearly, these people have never been through the soul-sucking shithole nightmare that is trying to sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist. It’s just not that easy. It’s not. The end.
I find that the actual “living within a budget” advice that’s useful is rarely to be found in articles that try to tell me how to live within a budget. I find more helpful advice about generating additional household revenue, using bartering to my advantage, and using my money wisely comes from conversations with people who are in the same boat. So, I know there are a bunch of us trying to squeeze every last dime. Who has some actually useful advice?