If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.
One’s economic situation has long been used as a point of shame or pride in…well, I’m guessing in every society. And, by “long been used,” I probably mean “always been used.” This is the first of what will be two entries on economic class as it concerns me. This one is the one that is most obvious, because being poor was probably the first economic class to be shamed for their situation.
For about the first 16 years of my life, my family lived below the poverty line. And then I pretty much fell right back down below that once I was on my own. I have mostly lived there. If the poverty line were the limbo pole, I’d mainly be winning.
Because I was raised that way and because my parents made sure to teach me about budgeting and priorities, I was pretty well as ready as I could be for living below the line. I also learned how to work hard, how to keep what I owned in good repair, and a variety of other skills and habits that help. My parents also did all they could to prioritise my education. A lot of people never get any of that.
Plus, I’ve been really lucky; I’ve never been so far below the line that I didn’t have a roof over my head (which let me have reliable contact information for potential employers, a place to do homework, and somewhere to keep myself and my clothes clean) or something to eat. And, related to a lot of poverty and homelessness issues, I also had enough of a handle on my mental health issues that those didn’t get in the way of work and education and taking care of myself.
I want to point out that there are a lot of broken things in the way the world works that can push a person underwater financially and/or hold them there. (I’ll spare you a list, because you probably either are already aware and as angry about it as I am or you profit from the reality and don’t want to hear about it.) Some poor people got there due to their own bad choices; most, in my experience, were born there and had no actual chance to get out or got there due to the ways society is broken. Judging another human as less worthy because they have less money or they are less good and/or lucky with their money is a reprehensible thing. If you’re one of those who would judge…I just have no interest in dealing with you.
Since I’m clearly not ashamed of being poor much of my life and obviously think it’s people who want me to be ashamed who should be ashamed, I figure I’ll talk instead about some of the impacts that being poor has had on me that I find interesting. (So, just a few of them, not an exhaustive list at all.)
The main impact on my social life has been that so much of what people do for fun costs money. And friends who aren’t poor often don’t think about the fact that the amount they consider small is the same amount that I can eat off of for a week. It’s a good thing I’m reclusive, but it sure sucks given that I do actually enjoy my friends. This isn’t about my friends being jerks; studies have shown that, even if they used to be less well off, people are really crap at keeping the reality of less-well off people’s finances in mind.
The impact on my belongings has had two aspects I wouldn’t expect. Sure, you’d expect that I’m a fan of sales, that I look for ways to get deals, that I’m careful about what I buy. But you might not have immediately jumped to “I was a pack rat for a long while because I was afraid that I might need everything I could get my hands on.” I wouldn’t get rid of things unless they were thoroughly unusable because things cost money and what if I needed things? It took me a long while to realise it wasn’t doing me any good, possibly doing some harm, and that it showed a lack of faith in my proven capacity to take care of myself. Sure, something could go horribly wrong, but I feel like I’m respecting myself by not being a pack rat (and no longer at serious risk of being a hoarder). Also, it is really awesome not to have all that useless stuff. In fact, once I actually feel like I have time for more projects, I’ll enjoy doing another round of clearing things out. I don’t have extra that you’d notice, but I now feel great when I keep it light, make it lighter.
The other aspect of being poor’s impact on my belongings is that I have a hard time spending money. If it’s going to cost more than £20 or $20 (yes, I know, those two aren’t equal; that’s just where my brain gets hung up), I have to talk myself into it. If it’s something regular (like a recurring bill), I only have to do it once, but I probably check back in with myself once in a while. But for…food or clothes or fun or anything at all…I take quite a bit of time making sure I think it’s a good buy, and then I have to talk myself into it. And then, after I spend the money, I have to talk myself out of guilt. You might think that sounds handy, but it’s really a massive pain. Stop and think about how many times you spend £20/$20 or more. Now, imagine it feeling like a big deal every time. Yeah.
I’m actually doing much better, because it used to be any expense that wasn’t totally necessary…until I had a friend a few years ago give me a talking to over not wanting to spend money on a chocolate bar, assuring me that “if $2 is really going to leave you unable to pay a bill, you can come get it from me.” Much thanks to that friend for making my life less hellish. But, given I’m not entirely better, thanks to those of you who are patient when, for instance, it takes me ages to choose what I want to order off a menu. I guarantee that it feels even less fun in my head that it does to you, waiting for me to choose my meal.
And finally…One might hope for some kind of awesome break in the arts, but it’s much easier to commit oneself to pursuing the arts—rather than pursuing increasingly large paychecks from normal jobs—if one is already used to not having much. So, yeah, having been poor means I’m not really scared of at least a certain level of poor. The manner to which I am accustomed isn’t exactly posh, so there’s a little more room in what I do outside of art to keep myself in that manner. Not a bad side effect of being poor.
Fortunately, I don’t get any sense of my self-worth from money. Not being poor definitely has perks, but being poor isn’t anything I can ever recall being ashamed of. Sorry to disappoint you, people who think your money makes you better than me. I’m totally as good as you.
Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).