I had an interesting conversation with a former co-worker the other day around spending habits. As someone who was recently laid off and unemployed, it’s times like these that make me happy that I have a fairly solid understanding of personal finance. But it also raised up an interesting perspective about myself that I hadn’t really thought about from a different angle: I’m a tight ass.
I hate spending money. I always have buyers regret. I almost get physically sick when making moderately big purchases. For example, my girlfriend and I went on vacation to Costa Rica a month ago. After purchasing the hotel a few months prior to leaving, I literally had trouble sleeping for about a week. What if I lost my job? What if I had to go to the hospital? What if we get into a car accident? What if the car breaks down? I felt physically sick for a week before I started to come around to the idea and to be ok with it. Even when it comes to simple things, such as buying socks, I always run into questions on whether or not I really need new socks or just want them. I take the thought process of need vs. want to the extreme often.
I’ve made very bad purchases in my past – most notably buying an Audi. While I loved that car, I made mistakes like not aggressively paying down the loan, negotiating the price, and ultimately just buying a cheaper car. I bought it because it was something elegant and I had come into a high paying job. I’m not perfect but I know now that I’ll never make that mistake again.
At the end of the day, our conversation moved towards the notion of being broke and what it meant to us. Even though this is a very generalized view I still feel like it holds true to a degree: being broke is having much less money than wished for. The key in that phrase is wished. I know people who are broke but they have income and choose to make purchases that keep them close to the red. In my eyes, being broke can be managed. I’ve been very broke before but have always found a way to leverage different avenues to get myself out of a shitty situation. It may require eating a little more lean and not have an excessive lifestyle but it doesn’t mean being hungry. To me, being physically hungry for food and not having a way to get food is what makes people change. Being physically hungry creates a visceral reaction – a human nature reaction – that makes you never want to be hungry again. It changes your mental mindset, for better or worse. The fight or flight instinct kicks in.
I’ve been hungry once in my life. My parents had just gotten a divorce and per the divorce agreements, I wasn’t able to see my dad for an extended period of time (few months). My mom didn’t have a steady job during the divorce so she made ends meets by doing odd jobs and getting help from my grandma and aunt. We lived in a 1 bedroom apartment where my mom and sister slept in the bed and I slept on the couch. I was in 4th grade at the time and vividly remember one week where it was especially tough. I had come home from school where I had half a PB&J and apple sauce for lunch. There was no food in the fridge. This was Tuesday. For the next 4 days there wasn’t any food in the house. My mom told us that there would be food tomorrow. Then told us that again the next day. I don’t blame her one bit because I know how hard it must have been to make ends meet and how shitty it must have felt not being able to provide.
At that age, I didn’t really know what to do except poach carrots and other unwanted vegetables off my friends. I stashed any food I could away and went around asking friends at lunch if they didn’t want anything in their lunch. We tried getting food from the school at a discounted rate but my dad, who still technically had partial custody, made too much money. It was a weirdly fucked up situation. Being a really quiet guy in my younger years, I didn’t say anything and kept my mouth shut. I was hungry. Very hungry. All it took was being hungry once to change my life.
I think that it was during that time where I realized that I never wanted to be at that point again. Ever. I’ve gone through tough times since then where I didn’t have a home for a week or didn’t know where money was going to come from next, but never was I at the point of starving. My girlfriend is the same way. She grew up very poor living in a poverty stricken trailer park in basically bumfuck, Arizona. She had similar experiences being hungry where she would hide food from her sisters in order to not be hungry. She didn’t know where money or (more importantly) food was going to come from next.
What’s crazy to me is that her and I were both broke and very hungry in a 1st world country. I can’t imagine what it’s like in other parts of the world. We had it easy which makes me sad to know that others don’t. They don’t have the opportunity to escape it through hard work, education, or perseverance. They don’t have that option. That makes me feel incredibly blessed to be in the best, shitty situation.
One thing that I find to be consistent among people I talk to who have gone through similar experiences is that there’s a weird feeling where you almost never feel safe. You can never have enough money to weather the bad times. No amount in the bank feels enough in case the car gets into an accident, you go to the hospital, or other odd items. This is another generalization but I feel like there are two avenues that people who have gone through very tough times take: create safety through schooling education or create safety through finance education (or both!).
For me personally, I learned as much as I could about finances through junior high and high school. I still remember my English teacher in 11th grade saying that reading financial investment books wasn’t real literature. For my girlfriend, she didn’t focus on finances but rather education in order to maximize potential earnings. She realized early on that in order to escape hell, she needed to utilize the only option she had which was school. She got a full ride academic scholarship for her undergrad and a partial scholarship for her doctorate.
Both aren’t wrong paths. What I do find interesting is the fight to constantly do something in order to make sure that being back in that hell never happens. I don’t think this is to say that everyone goes through the same path after experiencing what it’s like to be hungry. People handle situations in dramatically different way. It does make me sympathize in a weird way with people who are wealthy who have a hard time spending money or are considered “stingy”. There’s always the case where they’re just assholes. But I’m betting there are many other cases where there is almost a fear of losing money. The fear is enough to drive their behavior much like it drives my own. I don’t think it’s healthy. There is some good in it by being responsible with money but there’s a downside which hinders you from being able to experience. When every decision involving money needs to go through a rigorous gut check calculation process, it’s then problematic.
Probably did some rambling here but the point is this: Can confirm, being hungry sucks.