$1500 a month

I was watching an MLM mover and shaker, because that’s a bad habit I have, and she posted a question: “how much extra money each month would be life-changing?” This was a very obvious pitch to try to get people to pay her $60-$100 every month in exchange for the promise that maybe someday they could be her, but the comments were fascinating.

There was a time, about eight months after we invited MIL to live with us, when I realized that we were hemorrhaging money. It ended up costing way more to support a fully dependent adult with health issues than I expected it to, and our credit card debt had ballooned. I remember thinking, “if I could just get $10,000, we would be okay.”

I’ve always been super frugal (more accurately, I’m a cheap-ass mother fucker), but I think that might have been the rock bottom time. I was pregnant with Amelia and knew that was going to be a big expense (the birth, but also, you know, having another person around). We had just bought our soccer-mom van with a loan. We had decided to take on some extra debt – to get a lawn mower that could handle our yard, to tear down our shed and get a new one so that nobody would get accidentally crushed from rotting beams while walking into the one we had, to waterproof our basement – and we had some extra extra debt that we hadn’t yet decided on (solar panel loans). We weren’t quite at the “fuck we need to turn this ship around” point, but we were getting there.

That’s not true. We needed to turn the ship around. But I hadn’t admitted it yet, so it just kept chugging along.

This was when I started looking around in earnest for freelance jobs. I’ve always found side hustles. I spent a lot of time doing Swagbucks, and I got very good at it, but that ended up paying something like $1 an hour on average. For a couple of years, before Amazon changed its terms of service, I wrote reviews in exchange for free shit (so much free, useless shit). In graduate school, I worked at Starbucks in addition to my “full time” grad school duties. But it was at this rock bottom point that I realized I needed something more. Something a lot more.

The answers to the MLM pitch ranged from “$500 a month” to “$2,000 a month.” Most of the answers centered around $1500. Three years ago, I was in that same place. We had full time jobs, but we could not make it work. We weren’t living lavish lives – a 1300 square foot house, somewhat modest cars, secondhand everything for the kids, etc. – but we had some extenuating circumstances (dependent family members, remittances, three kids). Who doesn’t have extenuating circumstances?

There are things we can’t – or won’t – cut out. My answer has been to look for side hustles, paying gigs around the edges. And for now, that’s working out for us, but here’s the point of this post:

So many people, so many people, are in the position we were in. Stuck. $1500 a month would be life-changing. Everybody’s working, nobody’s making any progress.

I am happy to pat myself on the back for picking myself up by my bootstraps and finding other ways, but something is wrong, something is very wrong, with the current system. Maybe our culture too strongly focuses on acquiring expensive shit. Maybe our salaries are too low. Maybe it’s as simple as “financial education,” although that seems reductionist and kind of insulting to those who are struggling.

Just about everybody I know who is doing well is either working extra jobs or started out with big advantages (no student loan debt, parents who could help them, some lucky strike, etc.). Isn’t it…a little upsetting that to get ahead, you’re supposed to be born lucky or else working 60-80 hours a week?

America is one of the richest countries in the world. Our standard of living, even for people who are “poor” here, is kind of absurdly luxurious, comparatively speaking. I don’t know anybody in America who doesn’t have access to a washing machine or indoor plumbing.

Why, then, is everybody, everybody, struggling?

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