Question Time: When are you broke?
Money, money, money. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down here at Househippo to talk about money. Part of that is because I’m currently in a ‘hoarding’ mode. I’m not PARTICULARLY saving for a house or anything just yet, I’m simply putting my money away into a few streams, building up my wealth. To be honest? My financial situation is a bit boring right now, but BORING means STABLE so BORING is GOOD. BUT a few weeks ago I read an article in The Billfold which really resonated with me. The question? “When are you broke?” An interesting question about how we talk about money, how we talk about money when we have it, and how we talk about money when we don’t.
To clarify, it’s been a long, long, long time since I’ve felt broke or described myself that way. But I can remember that period of my life very vividly, and sometimes I still react to things, and behave in certain ways because of how I lived during those times.
Growing up as a teenager and early twenty-something, I was always pretty good with money. This isn’t a surprise if you’ve read my blog, my debt story has always been the whole ‘good debt conundrum’ surrounding student loans, and consumer debt was never a part of my life. That doesn’t mean I was particularly GREAT with my money, but I was always conscious of my spending. During my undergrad I was always working, even juggling two part time jobs for a few semesters, so I wasn’t surprised to continue this lifestyle after university, even going so far as to manage three jobs at a time.The one thing I didn’t realize is that this multiple-job thing would become a part of my life for the next ten years. And why? Because if I didn’t, I would’ve been very, very broke.
That’s right, I was working 3+ jobs constantly throughout my twenties to battle against poverty. I prided myself on my ability to juggle multiple jobs and goals, keeping busy and keeping productive, but the reality was that after paying rent, my student loans and my (pretty small) bills, I didn’t have much left to spend.
I remember for a good few years that there were many times that I only had maybe $100 between my last paycheck of the month (the one that took rent, my loans, my internet and my phone bill) until my next paycheque. To combat this? I became such a hustler. I found all the free events, free snacks, contests, deals, free screenings, you name it! There were YEARS that I remember going to PWYC shows and drinking water, or debating a walk home so I could justify a $3.50 beer instead of money for transit. Years of taking advantage of my friends with good-paying jobs getting rid of their clothes, cat-sitting or dog-sitting in trade for food or other consumables. I remember always making the cheapest, most basic meals I could (25 different uses for canned tomatoes!) and lugging it all with me for my 12-15 hour work days (3+ jobs right?)
And most importantly? The biggest thing about being broke is that I can vividly remember having to be SICK at work, because when you don’t work a shift when you’re a part-time employee, being sick can really make a HUGE dent in your already precarious finances. I remember illness being that thing that always crept up from behind threatening to disrupt my tight-rope walk to financial security. I remember begging managers to let me stay on shift, in the back, doing something, because I couldn’t afford to lose the money. I think, of all the things that I remember from the years I was broke, that was the most disturbing thing.
That said, not all the habits I learned when I was broke were bad things. I STILL obviously bring my own lunch to work to save money, I still have a side hustle, I often will walk long distances instead of taking public transit, and I’ll budget myself accordingly. But I’m not longer AGONIZING over the difference of a few dollars. I’m no longer adding up line items of my spending in a tiny notebook to make sure I have enough to get some laundry detergent, or groceries. I’m no longer having to put money above my own health.
And honestly? None of that happened until I did my post-graduate diploma at Centennial for Corporate Communications and Public Relations. While it added some more debt to my plate, it also helped me start on a new career path and helped me shake my shift-based, contract-worker life. It was quite literally the best decision I ever made, and I certainly hope I never have to experience being broke ever again.
I think the reason I needed to share this today was to reach out to those who are still hustling. It won’t be forever. You’re not the only one. I think a healthy support system of friends in a variety of financial positions is the best way to survive it. Take advantage of the kindness of your friends. If they want to pay for dinner? Let them. If they want to give you some fancy clothes? Accept it. Never feel guilty for people wanting to give you a little break. You can always pay it forward later.