The Economy of Fail

When it comes to life, I’m pretty much nailing it. I’ll admit that I’ve had my share of advantages, I’m white, I’m living in the U.S. of Goddamn A, I have a loving and supportive family, my mental and physical health are mostly ok and most importantly I’m gainfully employed. In fact, I’m not bragging or nothing, but for the first time in my adult life I’m able to pay all of my bills. At age 46, I’m finally middle class (ish). Living the dream, I’m definitely living the dream.

Although what “middle class” means may be fairly subjective, trust me, when you’re there you know what it is. My life is rich with the spoils of a entry level salary. I can buy brand named peanut butter, I now get my oil changed ON TIME and I have started contributing to this strange thing called a retirement account. Bazinga! Middle class y’all! Just those few changes have my life much easier. Money isn’t everything but the tv show Good Times definitely lied to me, being broke sucks.

Before I had kids, I was the starving artist variety of poor, a low brow aficionado kinda like a female Jack Sparrow or maybe just a dead ringer for an extra in a Dexy’s Midnight Runners video. My husband at the time wasn’t much better, In fact, one of my conditions for marrying him was that he had to get a driver’s license. “You gotta go legit to marry me.” There was a point where I didn’t look trustworthy enough to walk your dog let alone have a kid. But have a kid I did, and because life is like a box of chocolates, I had twins right off the bat.

People just love to say that you don’t need money to have kids but I disagree, you need money not for the kids but for vodka. I think what these people intend to say is that the investments of love, patience and time are ultimately more significant than the investments of elegant baby accessories at Barney’s New York. I get it, Hippies but you know, it shouldn’t have taken me 20 years to get to the middle and looking back, it’s tempting to blame my kids.

I know lots of parents work full time with small children. I don’t know how the hell they do it. I can only imagine that they are in a place in their career with the type of flexibility that parenthood demands. Whatever these other people could pull together, I could not. It’s not like I was smoking crack everyday or laying on the couch watching Jerry Springer, I really was working but three kids are a huge time suck. I mean they are cute and fun and little gifts from heaven and all of that horseshit but my employers didn’t appreciate the time I needed to tend to their needs.

It’s not just the orthodontist appointments, the school events, the early release days but occasionally parents need to go to the doctor for themselves or just want to spend an afternoon alone rearranging the sock drawer. Those are luxuries that money really can buy. Money buys you time and status and an education to get a salaried job.

I pulled through the bad jobs and lean times with the help of food stamps, student loans and lots of improvasition. One summer, I used my own brand of fiscal creativity to figure out that it would be cheaper to buy a monthly gym membership than to pay my enormous gas bill. The friendly man from the gas company disconnected the gas so I didn’t have hot water all summer. No Problemo! I took showers at my new gym and had the kids shower at my ex-husband’s . I’m really not proud of that move but at the time, it seemed like the only option I had. Plus, I did work out every single day. I may be lowbrow but I don’t smell for crisssake.

Lucky for me that my kids are amazing and never complained about the things that they couldn’t have. We bought secondhand everything and kept our collective consumer priorities straight. I still paid for dance lessons, drama camp, guitar lessons and managed to go on vacations (always to visit relatives). Never the fanciest of anything but something to talk about on the first day of school. I can’t tell you how much I loved the public library which was and still is an oasis for entertainment on the cheap.

I’ve been remarried for a few years and now see all of the benefits of dual grown up salaried jobs. Mind you, my husband and I are still solidly in the five figure salary zone but I ain’t bitchin. I’m quite happy that the kids have navigated the financial aid office of their respective schools and found ways to attend college using a minimal amount of borrowed money. After years of the day to day stress of being “working poor” my family has seemed to manage the one expense that causes so much stress for almost every other family.

Still, my kids are more concerned about money than young adults should be and my daughter insists on working two part time jobs during school rather than ask me for money. And I do regret not finding a way to pay that gas bill so many years ago. The gym membership, however, was worth every penny.


Katie Anderson is a freelance writer and improv theater instructor. Her work has appeared in Alt Daily , HuffPost Parents and Anderson has written comedy for Panties in a Twist: All Female Comedy and a weekly live stage show, Second City This Week in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a practical guide for parents and caregivers of autistic individuals to be published sometime in the next few years (get off her back, it's hard to write a book). Katie holds a BA in Psychology from The Ohio State University. She lives with her academic rock star husband, one of her three kids and two very spoiled cats in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @ improvperson.

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