Text by Francesca Taylor
My mother used to say, “Soap is soap, and toothpaste is toothpaste; as long as you can get clean and make your breath smell good, does anyone needs to know the difference?” When you think about it, that’s good advice under any circumstance. But I’m learning that it’s true on a whole different level when you’re living under a tight budget. Since losing my job last year, I’ve learned to do a whole new kind of math: one that requires me to rank everything in my life by its importance. My life has become one great game of economics, and I’ll take any advantage I can get through coupons and generic goods.
I must admit that, while I walk this path of unemployment, uncertainty cloaks me in a dense fog. I question everything: when will it lift? And where will I find the first steps on the path to freedom? I pray incessantly, and chief among of my prayers is mercy because I know that I don’t have the strength to do this on my own. My tangible needs haven’t really changed; only the process of meeting them is different. When I was working, I would basically parse each paycheck to each bill or invoice to cover the expense out of my checking account.
Now, without a regular paycheck, I must examine every expense with a fine comb. My primary income was based on unemployment benefits; however, this source petered out at the end of December 2018. I have to be careful to invest every penny wisely. That means ranking my needs, meeting them when I can, and pretending not to notice anything left on the list when the money runs out.
Top of the List: Housing and Transportation
The first necessity is housing (i.e. rent). As winter arrives, I’m keenly aware that I cannot survive on the cold streets. I remember what my eldest brother went through when he lost his home — how the poor conditions made his illness worse, eventually leading to his death — and I can’t help but think that losing my apartment would be a death sentence. For that reason, I look for as many resources as possible to cover my housing expense.
To date, I’ve only been able to find one entity to cover the entire expense for rent. It’s up to me to do it myself and to cover any other costs that come with those payments. I’m not sure if this is a consistent policy in North Texas, but my apartment complex management requires rental insurance, too. Another budgetary hit.
After rent is covered, I look for ways to pay for something almost as important: transportation. Around the North Texas area, Dallas and Fort Worth are the only two cities that have what I call “full-service,” city-funded transportation; hourly buses and commuter rail services. In many of the other large cities, there is access to the commuter rail services, too, but to go immediately from home-to-interview or home-to-work, so forth. I need to keep my current personal source of transportation: my vehicle.
There's no room to miss a single one of my monthly car payments; I have the option to defer 2 of them to my creditor, and I’ve already used one of those chances. The rest, again, is up to me. And it comes with the added costs of automobile insurance — mandatory in the state of Texas — and the fuel required to go where I need to go as I look for jobs.
Next Up: Keeping the Lights On
Utilities, water and electricity come next. Again, I’ve found only one charitable entity that had the funds to cover those expenses. They can only do so one time in a six-month period. I make the rounds of the other charities requesting assistance on a regular basis, but many of them have to decline my request for help: donations are low. I fully understand that they can’t help every person that asks for it. Once again, the cost falls to me.
On top of those essentials, I decided to keep my home-based wireless service so that I can reliably send emails and use other internet services. I also have kept my cell phone so I can receive calls from potential employers, and make calls during emergencies. In the modern economy, I can’t afford to skip those bills.
We’re deep into the list at this point, and funds are running short. It may look like I’ve forgotten food, but I think about how to continue nutrition on a regular basis. I receive a minor stipend every month, with which I am able to eat once a day. I forego breakfast and lunch and use my foodstuffs for a moderate dinner. Most days, I fight my hunger by chewing gum or sucking on a small piece of candy until it’s time to eat the only meal I can afford. Occasionally I will attend a networking group function where donuts, coffee, and tea are available. On those days, I get breakfast.
I’m a volunteer at 6 Stones, and I have asked for assistance once since so far. I do not intend to abuse the opportunity to ask for food, and as I’ve stated before, I know there are whole families with children, elderly members and/or single parents that need food far more than I do. I don’t abstain out of pride or any sense of superiority; I’m simply trying to be mindful of others. Make no mistake: I don’t have an iron-clad constitution against asking for food. By the time this post has been released, I may have passed the point of asking for help again.
I buy my own toiletries: soap, deodorant, toothpaste, hair care products, and laundry products. I haven’t found a place to get those things for free. All I can do to keep costs low is ration them carefully.
The “Cut List”
This brings us to, my “cut list:” the things that had to go when I lost my employment. I was previously enrolled in a gym and making great progress, losing weight and getting fit. But I can’t afford those fees anymore. I cut the gym membership and decided that I could do some non-strenuous exercises at home, and walk around various places for cardio. I miss the group exercises, but some things are more crucial, and for me, running on the treadmill wasn’t as important as putting gas in my car to get to an interview.
The next things to go were the most obvious. I cut weekend trips to the movie theaters, which I miss 10x more than going to the gym. I never went during high-peak times, as full fare tickets would have been an enormous expense even with a job. But now, even matinee showings and $5.00 Special Fares are out of reach. Again, a few dollars saved could be the difference between getting somewhere important and being stuck at home. What little time I have to relax and unwind, I spend with films I can rent from the local library. I browse their collection in search of things I may have missed or haven’t seen before, sometimes finding interesting movies that I had never heard of.
It’s important for me to find at least one or two opportunities to relax and escape the stress of my situation. Even in these sparse moments of leisure, however, I can feel the weight of my budget and my needs. Every day, I review my list: Rent, Transportation, Utilities, Food; I cross-reference it with my resources: nonprofits, food stamps, unemployment benefits. Then I hope and pray that I find a job before the first list overtakes the second. I’m surviving, for now, doing the best that I can.
God willing, I’ll be able to tell you about a brand new job offer soon.
This is the third in a series of special guest posts from Francesca “Franki” Taylor, a volunteer and guest in our New Hope Center. Franki was compensated at the market rate for her contributions to our page but is currently looking for consistent work in the Communications field. We are honored to give her a platform to share her story and, in so doing, shed light on the important issue of unemployment and underemployment. You can reach her for comment and consideration at firstname.lastname@example.org.