Words don’t always mean the same thing.
“I’m broke until the end of the month,” I said.
She looked worried and started to root around in her purse. “Do you need money for food? Will your power get shut off?”
I shook my head. I had food on my shelves and in my fridge. My bills were paid. I actually had money in my account, but just enough for what I had to buy for that week. I didn’t have extra for movies or ordering pizza.
And then I remembered when she’d told me once that she was broke. That she didn’t have enough ramen to last until she got paid. That she wasn’t sure if she’d run out of gas on the way to work. That the gas company was sending bills in the red envelope.
I was middle-class white guy broke. She was working-class woman broke.
In the United States we like to pretend that socioeconomic class doesn’t exist. We like to pretend that the amount of wealth you have doesn’t make a difference to who you are.
But it does.
Even when you’re both “broke.”
Plus, I often measure at least my own financial progress by “How big of a debit that I forgot about can hit my account and it’s just inconvenient rather than panic inducing?”
I’ve been in situations where even a single unaccounted for dollar would cause a panic. But as things became more stable and we got ahead, where an unplanned $20 would be a hassle, but unplanned $100 would be a panic. Then, thankfully, getting to the point where an unplanned $100 is an annoyance and it’s the $300 check I thought the school cashed 2 months ago that causes panic.
Don’t know if I’ll ever get the point where I no longer need to pay such close attention, so the occasional annoyance and panic will still happen. None of it is easy, but it’s definitely an issue of degrees. It does feel good to at least move past the point where I make sure to go to the gas station that only authorizes $1 and doesn’t process the full charge for several days in order to stretch that little bit more to payday (or even worse, when I’d have to save that dollar to help buy a box of cereal to feed the kids for a couple more days and walk to work instead).
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