Some Americans are too poor to have a savings account and I am one of them

Mary Duncan
Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

Save. Spend. Give.

Those are the things I should be instilling into my own daughter right now when it comes to money management.

Put a third of your money in savings first, a third of the money is yours to spend, and give a third away to charity.

Clearly, this idea was formed by someone who had enough money after all their bills at the end of the month to Save and Give, because those two things are generally the last on my mind when it comes to my money.

I’ve always been poor.

Ever since I moved out of my parent’s middle-class neighborhood as a teen, I have lived on the poorer side of life.

I made poor decisions, like not going to college right out of high school, and not finishing college when I attended as a new mother.

Some may say I shouldn’t have brought a child into a poor household but I thought we had a lot of love to give and I’ve always been telling myself that things would get better.

But for years, things didn’t get better.

I was a waitress for years until I got a desk job for six years, but then that boss almost led me to a nervous breakdown and I went back to waitressing because sometimes I feel like it’s the only thing I’m qualified to do.

I tell myself waitressing is “good money” when I can come home with five hundred dollars a week, and to a poor person, that is good money.

It’s really good money.

But I’ve always lived paycheck to paycheck.

Or, while waitressing, week by week, day by day.

Living paycheck to paycheck means having just enough money to get your bills covered, eat, and maybe spend a little on yourself or go out to dinner or a movie a couple of times before the paycheck is gone and you’re waiting with bated breath for another one.

Living paycheck to paycheck leaves no room for savings if you’re going to actually live a life.

“Well, why don’t you stop eating out and going to movies then?”

Because it would lower the quality of my and my child’s life if we were stuck at home constantly, and make being poor feel even worse than it already does.

Because poor people consider their “leftover” money to be a fleeting thing, not to be saved, but to be spent quickly before another bill comes along to snatch it away.

“Extra” money means time for haircuts, or new shoes, or new clothes so that we can give the appearance of not being poor.

“Extra” money means I can take my kid the carnival or go with a friend to a wine tasting and just for a day feel like I’m not poor.

My money’s spent before it’s earned.

When you have debt on top of being poor, which I do, all my money is spent before it’s even earned.

Sometimes “extra” money gets thrown at debt, but not usually, because I look at debt as just another hole that I will eventually crawl my way out of if I’m lucky.

I try not to worry about it too much, because what I am going to do?

You can’t squeeze water from a stone.

But when you’re poor, you know where every cent of your money is and where it will be going at all times.

You know exactly the cumulative cost of your bills and how much “extra” you will have over, and then you start thinking of what you can do with the extra that month.

You don’t think of saving.

At least, I don’t think of saving.

Do you?

At this point, I can finally imagine having savings.

I’m still living with my parents trying to get out of my debt hole, and trying to get to the place where I earn enough money to move back out.

I know I’ll need around 2.5 to 3 thousand to move out when it comes to first, last month, and security deposit for rent, and the thought of me saving that money right now is laughable.

Right now, almost all of my money is going to bills and debt, and the “extra” is for my daughter and me to have a semblance of a normal life.

But, finally, I am doing better.

Finally, I was able to put some money into my lonely, empty savings account, and the accomplishment I felt at being able to do that was amazing.

But I know I have to do better.

Even if I put an extra fifty dollars a week in a savings account it will start adding up, but it’s hard to part with while I have it. It’s hard to let it sit there going unspent when there are so many times I have to say “Maybe another time,” because I can’t afford something.

I don’t want my daughter to feel the burden of growing up poor, though she might feel it without realizing it, and I’m afraid now she feels it more now that she’s going to school in my parent’s affluent community, in which I feel we don’t belong.

So, every month, I’ll start trying to save more.

I’ll start by saving $50 a week and see how I feel about that by the end of the month.

Because right now I have $455 in my checking account and six more days until I get paid.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like that’s doing okay.

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I write about the weird complexities of relationships to make a better life for me and my daughter through words.

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