On poverty – Molly K. Mitchell

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Molly K. Mitchell
On poverty Molly K Mitchell


I’ve been here before

Thursday morning I woke up and my bank account was overdrawn.

It felt unforgivable. I’ve worked so hard to get to a position where I could stop worrying about being overdrawn, overstrapped, overwrought. Over. I’ve worked many jobs, then one big one, then a couple extra on top of the one big one to pay for things.

Then this month my son started college, my house needed some electrical work, we had to finish paying off a bathroom repair that after several iterations turned into a remodel, and a check I was expecting from one of my side jobs didn’t come. Things got tight. I thought we had it under control: I’ve been constantly balancing the “checkbook” which is actually a fantastic budgeting app (shoutout to youneedabudget.com), and by Wednesday night I thought I thought we were in the clear, because we got paid Friday.

And then a check that didn’t get put in the app when it was written (for dog boarding for when we dropped my son off at college, if you want to judge my spending habits) hit the account, and I woke up to a very unpleasant surprise.

I know in my head that this is not a real problem. I have overdraft protection, the check went through, they charged us $5, everything was fine. Moreover, we think the big house expenses have slowed for now, and we will be paying the rest of our portion of my son’s tuition with different money we have saved. It was really an immediate account problem, not an overall cash problem.

I know we’re very, very lucky and that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to shrug off an unexpected expense so easily. I’ve been in a place where I couldn’t shrug it off myself more than once.

I don’t feel lucky. It’s been five days, and I can still feel the sinking feeling from when I saw that automated email from my bank. The balance was below zero. I had failed.

It’s hard to write this — my friends and family know me as a hoopy frood who knows where her towel is, and they especially know me as a person who knows what she’s doing around money. I’m usually the one who can afford to pay at restaurants. My wife and I are homeowners. We have a CSA, and probably too many pets; we’re putting a kid through college. We have worked very, very hard to get to stability, and I don’t like thinking about giving it up.

I have a lot of feelings around money. I grew up very poor, and was even poorer during my heterosexual experiment days, so I know exactly what an overdrawn account with bills due feels like. I have borrowed. I have begged. I have played music on the street for rent money, I have laughed at a debt collector when they finally got me on the phone, and I have written bad checks to buy food for children.

So I know that I’m lucky. An account fumble on the day before payday is nothing, is a middle class problem, is sad and annoying but not devastating.

But because I have a history, it feels worse, like falling.

Just one of too many pets



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