Being Poor

When I was little, getting 20 bucks was like winning the lottery! I never had money other than the weekly allowance of 5 bucks I got every Friday. The wild fantasies of what those 20 dollars could get me would make me salivate and agonize over how best to spend and use the money. I remember going over a spread sheet with my Dad about what it would take for me to live off of the bare minimum in order to buy more Barbies. We puzzled over how one could save a ton of cash by living as simply as possible. I told him I could eat carrots for a week and that would save all the grocery money. He looked at me with amusement. “Really? You’d just eat carrots for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” Yep. I loved carrots. Totally made sense, especially if I could buy more Barbies with the money I wasn’t spending.

At the theatre where I was working, I’d make my life work on $150 a month. That meant I had 150 bucks to spend on drinks, clothes, gas for my car, and whatever else I needed. Thankfully I was on food stamps so I didn’t need to buy groceries. I budgeted down to the dollar, recording everything I spent money on and sweating the end of the apprenticeship when I had 70 dollars for the 14 hour drive get me back to New York City.

The other Apprentices and I would swap stories of resourcefulness, “make sure you buy beans from this Kroger, not the one on Bardstown Road.” And: “Freddie’s is a bit cheaper than Magnolia Bar.” At banquets we’d raid the buffet tables, shoveling food into take-home boxes, ecstatic about having good, home cooked food to eat for the next few days. I’d lend my car to actors who were visiting, knowing that if they borrowed my car they’d fill the tank with gas.

When I got some money for christmas that year I felt like the little kid who got the 20 bucks. This means I can finally buy new underwear! I CAN! I don’t need the stained, threadbare, ripped undies I’ve been holding on to anymore! Now, I can make-out with that guy I really like and not get embarrassed when he sees my nasty bra. Wahoo! I’ll only live off of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beers for the next two weeks so I can save up enough to buy a new shirt. Totally makes sense.

Being “Poor” is a limit to what one can do, and therefore, creativity and resourcefulness can be practiced more. I learned a lot the year I was broke, and am so grateful for the ability to travel and take classes with the money I make now, with only a relatively small amount of budgeting and planning.

November 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm by Natalie Allen