Ink & Bourbon
Tilting at windmills. Because those windmills think they're better than us.

Poverty-Fu: Irresponsible Financial Advice for Surviving in a System Built to Bone You

This was a bad month, money wise. A combination of obligatory family trips, car repairs, and spotty business income meant that even with a 72 hour workweek on the ambulance the mortgage just – and I mean just – got paid this month.

I spent a night stewing in righteous indignation. I had just worked nearly two normal full time weeks to see the entire paycheck vanish by noon the day it went in. I could blame my employer, I could blame the fact that every raise I’ve gotten in the last decade has been swallowed and more by the increase in my health insurance premium. I could blame my creditors, who were, after all, bad at their jobs enough that they gave me credit. There should really be some consequences to that. I could complain that I’m making most of the money in the house, since the wife hurt her ankle and has a hard time wearing the heels and spinning on the pole aggravates her vertigo; the girlfriend’s fake work visa got discovered and now all she does is hide from the ICE; and the landscaping company ran my son’s ID, and found out he’s only nine and they won’t let him run the big mower any more.

I could rage about income inequality and minimum wage and general karmic injustice. I could scream about how it costs a lot of money to be poor and how nobody should work seventy two goddamn hours in a week and not have a sailboat and a second home, or at least a series of eastern European ex-wives and a spectacular drug problem to blame the poverty on. These are all issues that probably should be addressed. But fighting those problems won’t feed me or put gas in the car this week.

So I thought back to my true impoverished dirtbag days, and about how I managed to scrape up ramen and beer money and sleep inside, at least during the really cold months.

It made me feel good. Like I was actually accomplishing something. Then saw that it could also make a blog post, maybe a running series of advice to the terminally broke, pass on some tips to my fellow barrel-scrapers. I assume my readers are all poor, since they scoop up my books when they’re free, but three bucks would apparently break the bank.

The first tip is, never pay for bad financial advice. The second tip is always keep some holdout money.

After I was sure the mortgage would clear, I went to the bank and withdrew as much actual folding money as I could. Now the checking account has like thirteen bucks, but I have money in my pocket that–and this is the big, take home point–the bank can’t get at.

If an automatic payment tries to come out, or a forgotten check tries to clear, or anything, they can’t wipe me out.

Oh, they’ll get annoyed and call me and threaten my credit – which is like putting a shot across the bow of the Titanic –  and maybe even charge me a fee that will eat a chunk of next week’s paycheck, but no matter what, short of pulling a knife on me in an alley, they won’t take away my ability to put gas in the car to get to work, or my ability to feed the family so long as we don’t get sick of beans and rice.

This is not sound advice. It’s not good, long term advice. No real, accredited advisor will tell you this. Just look at the title at the top of the post. But it is important. Your money has to take care of your physical needs first, then service your debts. And the bank just doesn’t see it that way.

This is not a grand strategy for building your financial empire. This is low level, salty NCO advice on how to get through the night. Better to give up some ground now and keep the squad intact.

Because you sure as hell can’t retake it tomorrow if you don’t survive.

So that’s the lesson for today. Know when it’s time to hunker down and make it through today. Yeah, it’s winter, but think Valley Forge and not Stalingrad. Survive, don’t make any stupid heroic last stands, and hope for tomorrow, when you’ll have a chance to come back and win one.

Imagine your creditors sleeping off an hangover on Christmas morning, and you have lived long enough to sneak across the river and bayonet them.

That’s a fantasy that makes the ramen taste a little better.