Tag Archives: financial insecurity

Downward spiral

6 Aug

A few days ago I had to make a call I dread making….a call to the Internal Revenue Service. Like many Americans I have a healthy fear of the IRS but unlike most Americans my fear is not based in fiction but reality. Thanks to several years of self employment the Spousal Unit and I owe a chunk of change, aside from the time they levied our bank account, overall they have worked with us. Though I must say having your bank account levied even temporarily is no fun.

Anyway I got a notice in the mail the other day which was strange because I had recently spoken to them about our account. So I placed the call and after waiting 40 minutes to get a human on the phone, I got the worker who clearly was offended that his colleagues had been working with us. Despite the hard proof in front of him that in the seven years we have lived in Maine, our income by and large has been reduced greatly, he asked why did we owe?

Now on second thought that is a seemingly innocent question and as I have done in the past I explained how we ended up in Maine and all the things that have popped up that have created this debt with the IRS…but Mister Man was not having it though in the end the reality is that at present we owe more than we even earned last year meaning there is not a lot he can do since the reason we got the notice was more due to a computer error than anything else. Shit, even the IRS computers recognize when a person can’t pay….

But in retelling the story to my husband I was reminded of a story I read a few days ago, basically the data shows when folks are laid off from good paying jobs it can take years to earn what you used to and in some cases you never earn what you once made. While we were not laid off when we moved here, in fact it was family issues that brought us here, the fact is in 7 years aside from one year where the Spousal Unit came close to earning what he once made when we were in Chicago, the other years have been a downward spiral.

Funny thing is when people lose a good income, your bills don’t suddenly get reduced (wouldn’t that be nice!) instead you have to figure out how to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and pay off that bitch Sallie Mae, and her distant cousins Visa and Mastercard if you were a member of the middle class as we were for many years.  Of course many in the educated middle class end up going the route of my husband and join that class of consultants and freelancers…a group that even now I think is not reflected in the unemployed or underemployed numbers. Folks who can still pretend at least on the surface that life is good even when they know deep in their hearts they are leaning on Visa and MasterCard to subsidize the income they really don’t have….no while everyone loves to believe we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps the truth is one you get knocked down financially, you need a lot more than bootstraps to get up and avoid the financial death spiral.

Finance 101 for the poor…

3 Jun

I work with the poor, I have for many years. While its emotionally rewarding work to make a difference in the lives of others, truth is I don’t make much money. Over the years many of my coworkers despite their degrees have not been much better off than the clients we serve. At one shelter I used to work at in Chicago, one of my coworkers often had to grab a bag of food from the shelves we fed folks from since he often ran short before payday.

Over the years, the only coworkers I have had who were not financially struggling were ones who were either partnered to partners who earned a good income or the do-gooders who came from well off families, otherwise folks were broke. Lets just say no one goes into social services for the money.

Regular readers know I am struggling with cash, in part I work in a low paying but rewarding field and despite the fact that I am management, I know for a fact that a management position at a burger flipping gig, would pay me more. But I love my work and thankfully when the economy picks up my side business should pick back up as well.

So with all this talk of money, I found myself sitting in a class last night on financial management. Now the class was for our clients, problem is none of our clients showed up instead those who showed up were fellow service providers. See we make no money and need help.

Problem was that the class assumed everyone was solidly middle class and merely bad at managing money and needed to rethink their relationship to money. However the supposed target audience is not middle class, these are folks who if they do work are working at minimum wage gigs, type of gigs that don’t offer any extra money.

Which leads to my vent….how come there are no financial management classes for folks with no money? Look, bulk shopping does indeed save money. I know because normally I tend to stock up and thanks to that stocking up for the last few months, I have been eating out of my deep freezer thus keeping my grocery costs down with money so tight.

Problem is now that I am running a grand short every month, stocking up is not something I can do…sort of like my clients. Yet the teacher of the class despite saying anyone can benefit from her class, had a lack of understanding about how the poor truly live.

Another example was that if you save $100 a year, in3-4 years that can turn into thousands of dollars. See eventually you can get yourself a sewing machine and sew your clothes, maybe even some crafts to sell. Buy a deep freezer, and stock up and so on.

Look, really poor people have a tendency to not only suffer from a lack of cash, in many cases they suffer from a lack of time….its easy to get a handle on your cash if the problem is you are eating too many meals out and just wasting money. Problem is for the truly poor and look while my cash is tight, even I will acknowledge I am not poor…I just feel like it. The truly poor suffer from a al around lack of resources and that includes time.

Yet as I sat in this class with my mind wandering, I found myself thinking we need former poor people (not I was a millionaire who went bankrupt and now I am wealthy folks) giving out the advice. So if you or someone you know was poor, I am talking minimum wage level of poverty and you pulled yourself up, I would love to hear your tips. I am thinking of designing a class myself for my clients and would love some input.

Off to work  I go…happy Hump Day.

A New Reality

1 Mar

I had not planned on blogging this weekend but reading this piece in today’s NY Times really left me needing to vent. In this piece the Times spoke with former executives who were used to earning decent salaries (70K and up) who now are having to take on survival jobs.

One fellow went from earning 70K to now making $12 an hour as a janitor, albeit he is working for a friend and still has health care benefits, something the average Joe who has been a janitor generally does not have. The piece showed the very human toll the current economic crisis is having on middle America. Yet while many folks may be thinking this is all new news, truth is there are many out there including yours truly who have been caught in the under-employed no benefit having world for quite a while.

Barbara Ehrenreich who is one of my favorite authors wrote about this phenomenon in her 2005 book “Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream”. For a good part of the last decade the number of folks who used to live solidly in the middle class with good jobs has been shrinking, of course thanks to easy credit it was still easy to keep up appearances and pretend you belonged even when you knew deep down you didn’t.

In the Times piece though one woman spoke of how her current loss of income and lower status job were actually harder than dealing with the loss of her mother. I will admit that this statement not only stood out to me but almost rubbed me the wrong way. Over the past 5-7 years the Spousal Unit and I have seen our own income drop lower and lower, I suppose when we get around to our taxes, we will only be a few thousand away from being eligible for low income tax credits such as Earned Income Credit, won’t be there just yet, but its ok give us another few years and we will be.

During this time I have  lost my beloved Mom and Grandma and while losing our income has been hard and at times devastating, nothing comes close to where I was 5 years ago when my mother died. Nothing. I suspect the only things that would ever be worse would be to lose my husband or kids.

In fact to equate the loss of jobs and money with our loved ones speaks volumes about us as a nation and judging from some of the heated comments that followed the NY Times piece, I am not the only one thinking this.

Look, it sucks donkey balls as my kid would say to go from a 6 figure salary and full benefits to living hand to mouth, shit I have been there, hell, I am still there. However the truth is these times reveal a lot about us and what we are made of, and in many cases out of what seems to be tragedy can come amazing growth potential.

As we move ahead as a nation in these unprecedented times, I suspect the emphasis will shift from going back where we were which I don’t see as sustainable to creating a new way of being, a simpler version of our lives yet there is potential for greater connection and inner growth.

America its time to wake up and face our new reality. Gone is $4 lattes several times a day and regular jaunts to the mall for the latest and newest gadget, instead we will spend our time chilling in the garden growing useful things and connecting to our fellow human in more meaningful ways.

Broke? Its the new trend

13 Jan

This morning as I do every morning, I woke up listening to NPR’s Marketplace. They had a guy talking about his financial life, seems 6-7 years ago, this chap was living the good life in Manhattan, earning six figures in the tech industry and basically no financial woes. Now this fellow lives in the Catskills, earns barely enough to get by, has no health insurance but in some ways is happier than he’s ever been. It appears he calls his new and some might say not improved lifestyle, living a sustainable life.

See, he gardens, composts, and is a vegetarian. I must admit I had a good chuckle while listening to this piece. Shit, it was only about 8 years ago that the spousal unit and I were in Chicago earning good money ourselves, with full coverage insurance and pretty much no financial woes. Only thing is as my life style has taken a detour, I am not calling it living a sustainable life but living a financially insecure life or as my folks used to say…I’s broke.

I love how folks like to dress shit up especially white folks, see as a working class Black woman, being broke is the way I was raised, we didn’t need fancy words to accept our condition. Yet it seems some folks do, heck today I was at the kids consignment shop and ran into a woman I know who isn’t the kind of person I would expect to see there. However times is tough so we are all looking for bargain, she looked a tad embarrassed to see me, as if I would judge her for buying her kids used shit. I see a lot of that same behavior at the local Goodwill which now on Saturdays is packed full of folks who are more used to dropping off at the Goodwill rather than shopping there.

Folks, its all good, you are not alone. Truth is many of are broke as shit these days, hell I just got off the phone with my daughter’s doctor who confessed he doesn’t have health insurance and is running tight these days. Damn, you know we are fucked when the doctor doesn’t even have health insurance. At least he can treat his own kid unlike us average folks who need his services. Of course as more of us are without insurance we can’t afford to see the doctor.

Nope, I am convinced that this season’s new fad is brokeness, all the hip and not so hip kids are participating. Yeah, you may say you are living a sustainable life but some of ya’ll are just faking the funk…as for me, I am embracing the moment.