Trying to Get Ahead

September 25, 2015

There’s only one thing for it: when the rent in Seattle isn’t going down anytime soon and my paycheck remains steady, I’m going to have to curb my spending if I want to save anything for the future. Most of the time, I’m unconcerned with how I spend money on food, but in this case, trying to stay well fed and indulging in snacks and eating out will be my undoing. Here’s the monthly breakdown:

Rent: $850
Utilities: $150
Food: ~$800
Entertainment (books, movies, going out): $200

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I’ve really let my credit card balance get ahead of me this year. In 2012, I was debt free. Then I stopped freelancing for a few months to travel and let a little debt pile up. I had started to discover the benefits of earning points and keeping track of my mileage programs. Then I tried to make a go of things in Boston, only to be turned down for job after job until I couldn’t afford to stay. When an opportunity came up in San Francisco, even a temporary one, I seized it and moved to one of the most expensive cities in the country.

2013 was half work, half travel. I believe I was out of debt again, but the lack of a reasonable salary in Peru made expenses add up. However, I think my trouble really started last year, when I accepted a position in San Francisco under the expectation my salary and per diem would be comparable to that the year prior; they weren’t. When your rent is 50-70% of your paycheck, you have to be willing to scale back on other aspects of your life. I wasn’t. I stubbornly clung to the falsehood that anyone working a job well above minimum wage, even in an expensive city, could get ahead. Because that is America, and that is how the economy is supposed to work. In addition, I was trying to make a stable life: find a girl, establish a group of friends, remember clerks’ names at the supermarket.

The economy doesn’t work that way here. I’ll admit I’m entirely to blame for the predicament I’m in, but unlike university students who are straddled with loans all at once, my expenses crept up on me by simply living an ordinary life; I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on travel when I had points and redemptions. Most of my debt was accrued in California by eating healthy foods, sleeping in my own bed, and paying bills.

Nowadays, being unemployed for only a few months can mean financial disaster. Even if you know the system and how to escape it – e.g. hopping on a flight to Thailand – trying to make a life for yourself in America often seems like it isn’t worth the risk.

One Response to Trying to Get Ahead

  1. Earl on October 1, 2015 at 5:50 am

    It’s such a trap. If one is willing to immerse oneself fully. Register that car, get insurance, work the 9-5, pay off the credit card bills, sign the lease, pay off the college loans…It can be done. But if you want any sort of flexibility beyond two weeks of unpaid vacation time a year, it’s damn near impossible. Not having a US-based phone number makes my life all sorts of difficult already, as if adding a different country calling code was that shady. I love my country but I hate living there.

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