A few months ago, a meme created by a bank made the rounds on Facebook. The meme features a conversation between a person and their bank, in which the person pretends not to know where their money is going. The bank scolds them for spending on Uber, coffee, and restaurant food. The bank, one that received substantial government bailout money, was rightfully criticized for implying that the only reason a person could be poor is because they are overly self-indulgent.
The recent announcement of recovery stimulus payments has launched a whole new round of demonization of those who earn less than what society deems admirable today. Keyboard warriors rise up to announce that “those people” don’t really need that money, and wouldn’t be having these issues if they would just follow sound financial advice. But will it really help improve your finances without causing additional problems?
Never go out to eat or order delivery.
This is great advice if cooking is your passion and your work never leaves you exhausted at the end of the day. Everyone else likely tires of their own cooking after a while, comes home too worn out to cook at times, or at least occasionally wants something they do not know how to make. This advice is especially thoughtless today, when our local restaurants need us to order delivery or pickup from them in order to remain in business.
Rather than punishing yourself by declaring all food you do not make yourself off-limits, try placing reasonable limits on restaurant food consumption. Choose one reasonably priced favorite place to eat regularly, and limit others to special occasions.
Listen to free internet radio, go to the library, and give up buying books and music.
Giving up buying books and music is fine for those who are not artists and only occasionally want a new album or something to read. If you only listen to music once in a while, or read a couple of books per year, there is no need to spend money on it. Telling artists to cut down on their investment in and exposure to the arts or material that can inspire or improve their art work is like telling doctors and nurses to save their energy by not paying so much attention to medicine, or telling computer programmers to save money by borrowing someone else’s computer for an hour a day and then doing something else.
If you do truly need to cut down a bit, give up buying books and music just for the sake of collecting for a while, and limit your purchases only to those items you truly want to read or listen to, or that you need for reference for your work.
Quit going through the coffee drive through every morning
Coffee, along with avocado toast, is the favorite target of those seeking to paint all who earn less than they earn as lazy and self-indulgent. The picture they paint is of a hipster type complaining they can’t pay a basic housebold expense of $100 while holding their fifteenth ten dollar coffee house snack of the month. If you truly are spending $150 every month, and the only thing not getting paid is your $100 electric or student loan bill, then you do need to re-budget your money. But our income level and finances are impacted by several factors, both in our control and out of our control. It’s not as simple as “give up your daily trip through the Dunkin drive through, end your financial issues.”
If your drive through coffee is truly making a dent in your finances, consider making your coffee at home and buying a fun cup or mug to make it feel more like a treat. But if that coffee is not seriously hurting you, and is what’s keeping you grounded during these times, or is serving as the launch for your online job hunt, keep getting the coffee.
Give up name brand everything.
Buying off-brand and store brand items whenever possible is excellent money saving advice. No, you are not poor because you have Diet Pepsi in your fridge instead of diet Sam’s Choice Cola from Walmart. But if you do need to cut down on the grocery bill a bit, buying less expensive versions of the same thing can help you do that.
Just don’t beat yourself up during those times when you need to buy something name brand. Stores run out of things. You come across the occasional product you don’t like in the store or off brand. Grocery stores run out of cheaper items. Some things do not exist in store or off brands. Having name brand products in your house can cause your expenses to go up, but it’s not the moral failing some budget “help” articles make it out to be.
You do not need to do things like smoke cigars, buy extra clothes, wear makeup, get your nails done, decorate your house, get your exercise at the gym, have collections, or pay to take classes just for fun.
You absolutely could give up cigars, learn to mix and match the clothes you already have better, go around with your natural appearance all the time, live in a plain house, exercise at home, and never learn more than what you can by watching YouTube videos. The problem with this “give it all up” demand is that if you truly enjoy the indulgence, you will probably wind up making yourself miserable and rebelling against your own rules by blowing the money you saved and more.
Before removing all treats and indulgences from your life, ask yourself if it is hurting anyone, and if you truly enjoy it. If your cigars or nails with rhinestones and hearts or collection of black pants or Panda figurines isn’t cutting into money anyone in your family needs to eat, bathe, and sleep in a safe place, it isn’t hurting anyone. And if you truly enjoy it, cutting it out will only feel like being punished when you did nothing wrong. Cut out these things if you find you no longer enjoy them, but if they’re a little treat, there’s no need to take them away.
Make your own laundry detergent, shampoo, etc.
Recipes abound for homemade cleaning and hygiene products that claim to cost only pennies to make, but several dollars to buy. Looking over these recipes, I notice their proponents often forgot all about expiration and containers. If I make homemade shampoo for twenty-five cents a bottle, I still need to go to buy a container for that shampoo, since my old shampoo bottle will be too gummed up with the last of the product it held to be of use. And my homemade shampoo might only last a week, meaning I need to make four batches per month, for a total cost of a dollar. It would have been cheaper, not to mention much simpler, to just buy a bottle of shampoo.
Money saving advice, from memes to articles to books, often make good points, or at least give us good ideas to start our own money saving plans. But nobody is rich because they go out with their natural appearance all the time and make their own coffee, or poor because they buy DVDs or collect baskets. The idea that those without money are all just lazy and/or overly self-indulgent does nothing more than fuel harmful attitudes…and laws… that keep those with less financial resources poor while those who already have more than they could ever need gain more.