22 February 2011

Low income stress

Seriously, I'm like a deer in the headlights. Since when can a lawyer not get enough paying work to pay the most basic of monthly bills?

Having this bare, bare trickle of an income is on my mind constantly. I have a lot of safety-net help from friends and family, so my bills are paid and my groceries are bought and my daughter has new clothes and dentist appointments. But I don't know how actual poor people do it. I wake up stressed; I worry while I apply for lawyering and non-lawyering jobs, run errands, and get my daughter to and from school; I worry while I do the daily housework chores and get ready for bed; and then I try to fall asleep, stressed because another day went by with zero acknowledgments or call-backs for work.

I've been without any real income since 2006. In the past four years, the only new clothes I've bought for myself have been one pair of sneakers, three business casual tops, and two interview-caliber suits. It's pretty damned bourgeois to complain about it, but christ, I'd like to get a new-to-me winter parka sometime, or go all girly on that Zappos website and get some Frye boots, or businesswear pumps that aren't seven years out of style. I grew up solidly middle class. I don't mind buying used -- there are very good environmental reasons, as well as obvious fiscal reasons to do so -- but new things sure are nice.

It's a petty complaint, but it's something that goes toward my self-image anyway. I don't like dressing shabby, even if I'm only running errands or hanging with friends in a casual environment. Though I know the brands, styles, and sizes that fit me correctly, second-hand clothes don't ever fit quite as well as new clothes. Feeling sloppy all the time, every day grinds me down. Maybe it's the last piece of Southern American culture that still sticks with me; I never did feel right wearing athletic shoes for anything but athletics.

And then there's the sinking feeling I get when I find an unrepairable hole in a pair of trousers, or a scratch on the vamp of a shoe that won't rub out with polishing. "Rats," I think; "I thought I'd be able to get another year out of these." On bad days I try to remember how much I paid for the item, how long ago I bought it, how many times I figure I've worn it, and amortize the cost. On better days, I amuse myself by figuring that I bought the shoes with the damaged vamp in 1994, so adjusting the numbers for inflation would probably be significant.

But otherwise it's a daily, constant source of stress. How do moms without any help get through not having any income? Or health insurance for treating ulcers? Antacid tablets are cheap, at least.

1 comment:

Frank said...

A wise man (who was otherwise a jerk) once said to me, "When you have money problems, they drive all other problems out of your mind."

I can't help. But I understand and sympathize.