There's a pretty good quote attributed to John Steinbeck (but actually spoken by someone else, but, for the illusion of narrative, let's just say it was Johnny Steins himself who said it): "Every American believes himself to be a disadvantaged millionaire."
I think about that a lot at work. I work for $13.50 an hour, which isn't very much. In fact, some might say it's "barely enough to get by". That, too, is accurate. My rent is $650, and I'm paying close to $500 in bills. Over half of that $500 is credit card and medical bills, none of which I can "talk down" (monthly payments wise) due to a newer policy within American lending institutions, all of whom would rather you keep your sizable amount of debt. In 2016 I could lower my monthly payments. Now, they kick you over to a "third-party debt management solution center". These guys take all your debt — in my case, about $10,000, more on that later — and bundle all the individual payments up to one big "loan". You still owe the same amount, you just pay one person. This is because Wall Street bankers can make money on your debt, because all of it is pooled together. 'Money pools' and 'debt repayments' and 'loan consolidation' are all responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, by the way. I'm too lazy to Google it for you. But do yourself a favor and watch The Big Short. It's good.
The most money I ever made in a year was $45,000 in 2013. That was freelance, so I paid (and am still paying, actually) about $8,200 in taxes. The least amount of money I've ever made is roughly now, where I'm expecting to pull in the princely sum of $15,000 for the full year. That's a little over a grand a month. After bills and everything, my net gain is about $120—$180. After gas and groceries, that's pretty much gone.
My debt is roughly this:
-$2000 for a top-of-the-line laptop in 2013
-$1500 for a flight to Scotland to see my then-fiancee, now wife
-$1000 to an iPad Pro in 2018 to replace laptop, which still works, but needs to be plugged in most of the time. Also: old laptop is poor for photo editing.
-$2000 in medical bills, mostly dental (I blame Sour Patch Kids)
-$1500, roughly, on "crisis spending". I lost my job on Christmas Eve last year (thanks, Big Think! bunch of assholes). I lived off the card for about two months, more or less. Similar thing happened in October of 2014.
-$2500 on dumb and/or extraneous shit like clothes for my wedding (about $300, including tailoring), emergency hotel rooms when our AirBnb included an unmedicated guest (long story), and my favorite addiction, $500 on camera lenses.
I did have a savings account with about $1,300 in it that got wiped out when Big Think "was unable to" pay its workers for two, three months.
For much of this year I've been fretting, a lot, about financial insecurity. It's a huge trigger. It's what hospitalized me in February (an experience that came with a bill of $1,500, or $500 an hour, to sit in a room and be told not to kill myself). I'm writing all of this down to see it all out on paper, and maybe help someone in the process. Something like 72% of Americans don't have $400 to spread around in case of an emergency. I do, shockingly. But anything bigger than that and I wont. A few months ago I had to sell a lot of extra shit to make it through March and April — gone is about 75% of my movie-making stuff that I bought just a year before, when times were good. I don't miss them, but I miss, in a way, the possibilities they could have brought.
I used to send out about 50 resumes a week to companies, looking for full time work. I can tell you this: it's very, very much who you know that will land you the job. Now, to save sanity, I send out about one a day. I've been lucky to get some freelance work on the side the last few months to make ends meet.
I mean, it's a huge struggle. This experience that I'm in, for sure, I won't forget. I absolutely looked at myself like a disadvantaged millionaire before — now I see American debt for what it is: rampant and cancerous. Nobody wants to talk about it. So I'm sharing all mine with you.