August 22, 2010

Responsible decisions cost money

Some of you have probably read the recent articles in the New York Times and Salon attacking 20-somethings for delaying financial independence so they can bum around like contemptible slackers. Apparently my generation would rather mooch off our helpless parents than move out, get married, and have children like goddamn adults. Because we're lazy, selfish losers. I'd been meaning to complain about these articles on my blog, but Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent response so I'll just link to it.

I will add that even though I make enough money to live on my own -- barely -- I've had to deal with baby boomers and other Successful Americans criticizing me for not making choices that cost money. For example, my parents expect me to go to the dentist every year, to get my car inspected and repaired every year, to put aside money for emergencies, and so on. I would like to do all of that, but I cannot afford any of those things because I'm dead broke and in debt. So in their minds I'm irresponsibly not taking care of my teeth or my car or my finances -- but to me, it's just not an option because food and shelter come first.

Similarly, my parents will sometimes suggest that I make purchases that I can't afford, because "you'll use it all the time." And I agree that I would, but that doesn't mean I can afford it. Being poor means you can't always make responsible decisions. You can't afford car repairs even though the rattle makes you nervous. You can't go to the dentist even though you're worried about cavities. You can't buy things that you legitimately need and would legitimately use all the time.

Then when something happens -- the car explodes, a tooth gets infected, the computer breaks and there's no money for repairs -- poor people get criticized because they didn't take better care of those things. If they had just taken the car in for regular maintenance… if they had just put money aside each month… if they had never spent a cent on entertainment...

Poor people are constantly judged for making bad decisions, for failing to pay important bills. It's easy for comfortable people to shake their heads and think "They aren't smart about money like I am." But they don't have to look at a long list of needs and decide whether the last $500 goes to food, shelter, healthcare, car repairs, the electric bill, or (ha ha) savings.


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