That Money Thing

It’s uncouth to talk about money. Yet one of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is “What do you do?” And we aren’t talking about what a person does to make the world a better place or to make themselves happy. We want to know what their job is. And we know that someone who says “teacher” has a smaller income than someone who says “lawyer.” Even “lawyer” has it’s levels. “Public defender?” That’s almost as bad as “teacher.” “Prosecutor” is a bit more monied and has that sheen of absolute respectability. But what you really want to be is “corporate lawyer.” That’s where the money is. And where the money is is where you find the respect.

Right?

I found this calculator from MIT. They call it a “Living Wage Calculator,” but right on the first page they tell you it’s really the amount a family (they offer several sizes) needs to meet minimal standards of living. They break it down by city/county in each state, as New York is not going to have the same expenses as Bozeman is not going to have the same expenses as Hidalgo County, Texas.

So, for the sake of comparison, let’s go with a random place and income level. Say . . . mine. That puts us in Cumberland County, Maine. I am a family of, well, me. So according to this calculator, I can get by on $10.95 per hour if I work a full 40 hours for every single week of the year. The fact that the job I just left was paying me a salary of $920 every two weeks ($11.50 per for 80 hours) meant I was doing pretty well, right? Let’s see what the breakdown is:

Food: $3,497 annually

Divided by 52 weeks, this gives me a weekly food budget of $67.25. That’s about $3.20 per meal. Working off of their assumption that you will never eat out or order in and that you will be more likely to choose the less expensive options in the grocery store, I can see how one could make that work. Assuming you know how to cook. And you already own the necessary tools. And you’re not trying to fix or improve your health with nutritionally useful food. However, having been a single person living alone, I know that sometimes you just can’t handle another meal alone at your kitchen table. You need a meal surrounded by people. Or at least one where you don’t have to do the dishes. So you spend $15 on an omelette at Denny’s. That’s five meals worth of food, according to this budget.

Childcare: $0

It’s a good thing I’m not a single mother, because I’d have to make more than twice as much to support us.

Medical: $2,084

This covers insurance premiums, deductibles, drugs, and any medical devices. I just got new glasses. For the pair that I absolutely had to have for work, I was looking at $300 or so after the small portion my insurance would help with at the eye doctor’s. I ended up going to WalMart and got them there for $118. New insurance plan? Don’t get sick, injured, or need new glasses.

Housing: $8,100

That gives me $675 per month for rent and utilities. According to Craigslist, at this very moment in time, there are 17 possibilities within 20 miles of Bridgton, Maine in the “Apts/Housing” section. As an adult making a “living” wage, I should be able to afford an apartment, right? Right off the bat, two are seasonal. One requires the lease of the downstairs commercial space.One varies up to $681 per month plus electricity. That’s out. Two more vary in a similar manner, just higher. One is $675 without utilities. One is not an apartment, it’s just a room. One posted a weekly rate. That leaves me with a studio, a single-wide, or a one-bedroom for $600 plus utilities. Heat alone will cost more than $75. My options are two apartments for $500 plus utilities or one for $550, utilities included. None of them offer pictures. None of them appear to be professionally managed.

Transportation: $3,575

This gives you $297.92 per month or $68.75 per week. When I was commuting all the way to South Portland, I was budgeting $40 per week for gas- this is a number I can work with! Except that it also has to include car payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and snow tires.

Annual Taxes: $3,376

My thoughts on taxes require their own post. Or three.

Other: $2,146

This category includes everything else. Clothing, shampoo, phone, internet, furniture, entertainment. I have a pretty cheap phone plan at $53 per month. That is $636 annually. I just bought a pair of work pants last week that I tried very hard to find for less, but I ended up having to pay retail for because they were required. $40. I’ve been gathering cooking utensils for years, so I don’t need to buy anything, but if I did, it would be in this category. So is savings. Or it would be if there were anything left to save.

I left the job for several reasons, but one was that I had taken it under the impression that the commission piece would make up for the non-commission trial period and the minimal salary. The two commission payments I have gotten made my income $13.65 per hour and $14.15 per hour, assuming 40-hour weeks. But because I’m salary, they were starting to tell me that I needed to do the “rest of my job” by being rabidly pro-employer at after-hours business functions, and take the phone, which would give our customers 24-hour access to us, for one week out of three.

Somehow, being told that my salary-plus-commission is “pretty good”and justifies asking me to do the “rest of my job” just doesn’t make me want to be rabidly pro-employer. Not when the numbers break down to a sketchy apartment, very limited food options, the kind of vehicle that would be held together with inshallah and duct tape, and nothing left over for silly things like debt payments and savings. Assuming of course that I hadn’t already been so beaten up by similar numbers that I had been forced to move back in with my parents.

I don’t want to be rich. My debt, while significant, is not out of control. My tastes do not run to Dom Perignon and diamonds. I want to live comfortably and expect to afford retirement. If I am working 40 hours a week, I want to be able to afford hobbies to help me unwind from work. The fact that these expectations are, evidently, unreasonable is in no way the fault of myself or my generation. Yet we are handed the blame. Everything would be going much better if you handed us reasonable incomes, instead.

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