This essay was originally posted on Almost Interestingly Enough. It has been re-printed with permission.
By Pyno Mrah
My family lives paycheck to paycheck. Every week, by about Wednesday, we’re scrambling to make it through the last few days of the week. This happens even though both of us bring in paychecks. It happens even though we both have degrees and other certifications. It happens even though my husband makes “good” money by making about double minimum wage.
We are as frugal as we can possibly be. We’ve cut back on everything. We don’t buy paper towels because they are a frivolous purchase. We buy the best toilet paper for a septic system because we can’t buy more than one ply at a time anyway. I even wash my hair only once a week to save money on shampoo and conditioner. (Which has actually turned out not so bad for my hair) We spend next to nothing on food. Seriously, how many of you can feed a family of three on half a pound of bacon and five refrigerated biscuits? And we take care of our shit too; that way we don’t have to buy new shit. How many of you have flip-flops that are six years old?…that you have worn daily for those six years?
We go without. We go hungry. Our youngest has never been to a dentist and has only seen a doctor when she needed her vaccines…she’s 9. We have next to nothing to show for all of our efforts. The only thing we will pass down to our kids is a mountain of debt.
And, no matter what, we will NEVER come out of this.
Here’s an example of why:
Towards the end of February we got our tax return. It was significantly smaller than previous years. We used almost all of it to catch up on rent that we were behind, then breathed a sigh of relief that our rent was caught back up and we were finally going to able to nudge a little ahead again.
Two weeks later we get a visit from our landlord telling us he is evicting us. We have 30 days to move….but he still expects us to pay rent for those 30 days.
Instead, we use the next month’s pay, plus the little we had left over from our tax return, to move. We found a place for under $500 a month, and pay triple that to move in. Since the place is half the size of our old one, we also have to get a storage unit for all of our tools and books. We then have to spend another $200 for a month of extermination services before we can actually move in. The deposit to change the electricity to the new place is $455. Phone is $200.
During all of this, while we are waiting for the extermination to conclude, I get pulled over for my tag lights being out; then arrested for “resisting” during the stop. Any money we had left over from moving, plus a lot more, has to be used to get me out of jail and start paying off all of costs, fines, and fees that we keep getting hit with. Including a $50 charge for the public defender I am constitutionally guaranteed if I am too poor to afford an attorney.
While this is going on, we spent three weeks without a functioning septic system because our new landlords told us to fix the problem ourselves because they don’t fix basic clogs…we had only occupied the house for 8 days when everything clogged. We spent another $200 on a plumber who told us that our “just pumped” septic tank is now 75% full and that our clog was caused by the cast iron pipes…which will continue to clog no matter what we do because that’s what cast iron pipes do. We also had to spend a lot more money than we actually have because trying to live without running water for almost a month is super expensive.
Now, because of all of that, we are about to be evicted again since all of those costs piled up at once and we had to spend our rent and the money we were going to use for few other bills to fix these new problems.
Our electricity is going to be cut off because the cost of the deposit was more than three months of electrical use, and we didn’t make enough in time to recover that loss. My phone is going to be cut off because I had to use the phone money to get through those three weeks without water. My storage unit might be lost because I won’t be able to pay all of the late charges on it. Of course, I can always let my car be repo’ed to keep the tools and books that are in my storage unit. If we lose those tools we lose any chance of making extra money…but if we lose the car we lose any chance of making our current money.
Now let me go over some of the less visible consequences. Not having running water or electricity risks child protective services coming in and taking our daughter away from us. She already lost her spot on the school honor roll because we lost track of half of her school supplies during the move. Her grades are slipping fast because she is starting to reach that point most poor kids reach where school seems pointless in the face of what she’s been through over the past few months. If we don’t get our income stabilized she’s not going to make it through school and will probably have a record (or a kid) before she finishes high school…if she finishes high school.
And things are not going to get better for us; they will only get worse. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, this is all going to cost us even more money that we don’t have and put us even further behind. And what sucks the most of that all we need to get out of this and stop having costs pile up on us is comparatively little.
All it would take for me to avoid jail, us to avoid eviction, and being able to keep our kid, is the equivalent of a month’s pay. An extra month’s pay ($2,000) and we’d start breaking even again.
But what’s going to happen now is that, since we can’t manifest that money, we’re going to keep getting further and further behind; which is going to cost us more and more money. We’ve already sold everything we could con people in to buying so we have nothing left to sell. I’m even considering going back into webcam porn to try and make a few extra dollars…but I’d have to spend money to make myself presentable enough to make any money at it, so that’s out too. We, literally, have no options left.
And we’re not alone. This isn’t something that’s happening to just us. When I went to court, I watched people plead guilty to charges they should have fought (and could have won) because they couldn’t pay the $50 to get a public defender. People were copping to jail time because they couldn’t afford the “one will be appointed to you” attorney. I watched a kid with a first time shoplifting charge, for stealing an item worth $3, leave the courtroom with almost $500 in fees and fines. I was the only person to walk out of that courtroom with less than $300 in additional fines…and that was only because I asked for a public defender. How is this justice?
All of this is stupidly unnecessary. Hard working people are making so little that they can’t even make enough to be able to keep working. They are forced to cut corners until they end up in jail/court over bullshit like having an expired license. Then, we you can’t buy your way out of those unnecessary consequences, you’ll be hit with more and more until you end up as part of our overpopulated prison system. Of course, once that happens, you won’t be able to get a job because you’ll have a record.
And it all just keeps going.
It never stops.
It just keeps piling up.
76% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. More than half of us are one minor problem away from being homeless. 46% of Americans have less than $800 in savings. 22% of those have less than $100. 21% have $0. Leaving only 3% in the up to $800 in savings category.
How do you do what you are supposed to like this?
And how are we ok with this?2