A few days ago, I only had $13 in my bank account.
A friend asked me how he could get over the shame and stress of paying bills on time, so I gave him my whole personal bill-paying shame story, and my system to overcome it. This required me to say, out loud, that I only had $13 in my bank account, to illustrate how the system I use provides me with freedom.
I hesitated saying the actual number, and once I did, I questioned whether or not I should have done it. While overanalyzing it, I realized…. there’s no shame in only having $13 in your bank account. It’s only because we attach a moral standing to being rich that money things even cause any shame at all.
And I decided I would not be ashamed.
I would not be ashamed for the obvious reasons, like the fact that $13 is more than many people have, and it’s enough for 3 awesome bagel sandwiches at this coffee shop I love.
I would not be ashamed because all my bills were paid, and that $13 was just what was left from the money I could do anything I wanted with.
I would also not be ashamed because I have a full time job for which I receive regular paychecks, and I have a savings account, as well as 2 retirement accounts, so it wasn’t the last money I had in the world. In fact, the idea that I have other money available to me and am able to plan for the future is such a huge privilege in and of itself.
Most of all, however, I decided I would not be ashamed because I do not want to buy into the idea that rich people are better, or that rich is a real, tangible thing. They’re not, and it’s not. Rich is relative. You’re rich compared to some, and poor compared to others, and probably what you think of as rich and poor is more about how a person is living than how much money they actually have.
Bill paying anxiety isn’t about ‘being an adult’ (because that’s not a real thing anyway); it’s about feeling like you are not worthy, not good enough. It’s so deep and pervasive and invisible. It creates a cycle, where you avoid paying bills as they stack up, you spend money on other things even though you think you should know better, and then you’re hundreds of dollars in a hole, hating yourself.
That cycle looks very different from the other side. Companies thrive on our anxiety because where they could have gotten $50, they now have $500.
And it becomes easy for all of us to complacent and even aggressive about people on welfare, people who are without their ideal living situation, even people who are having a hard time finding work.
Because they’re not just part of a broken system, or being affected by outside circumstances… they’re actually bad people.
I am still struggling with the shame of having so little in my bank account, even though it was a few days ago, and my account’s now full again because it was just payday. Even though I know all of the above.
I’m trying to keep in mind something another friend said about this, which is that I am living within my means. It’s weird, but living within one’s means is an actual privilege, too. How backwards is that? That just to be getting by is privilege.
So I going to hold on to that, and remind myself every day that money has no bearing on the morality or worth of a person.