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My first real money troubles

By Marianne Steffey,

My high school principal had a saying that sticks with me to this day.

“Money isn’t everything, but you sure can’t go far without it,” he said.

I’ve never really understood just how true it was until now.

I never used to worry about money. I’ll admit I have been spoiled. I grew up in an upper-middle class family. If I needed something, I simply did what every daughter does: batted my eyelashes at my father until he couldn’t say no.

Then I grew up, got my own job and made my own money. Even when I was bartending my way through college, I could work Friday, Saturday and Sunday and make more than enough money to last me for the week and buy whatever my heart desired. The amount as a reporter was about the same and came with benefits such as health insurance and 401k options.

Now, the amount of my unemployment benefits is an embarrassment. I’m barely making it. And mind you, I’m single with no children and live with my mother. The only bill I owe every month is my cellphone bill (thankfully I was able to defer payments on my college loans until I get a job).

I draw $123 a week. At first, I thought it would be more than enough. Now, I’m scraping up change from every crevice I can find to get gas. I can barely pay the cell bill once a month. Granted I could probably lower the plan to fit my new budget, but I don’t want to give up my Blackberry, my favorite creature comfort. I’m hanging on to this one gadget like it’s the reminder of how life used to be — a reminder of when I could afford whatever I wanted. I feel as if I give this up, I’m succumbing to the fact that I have been shoved into a lower class.

I find myself, for lack of a better comparison, “pimping myself out.” I’ll do just about anything for a dollar. I know that sounds bad, but it’s the only good explanation of how dirty I feel asking my parents, or others, for money.

For instance, I clean around the house for $20 every now and then, and I wash my dad’s truck, dust his apartment or simply ask and he produces cash in exchange for my work.

Probably the most pitiful and degrading thing I do for money comes from my grandparents. My grandfather is 83 and is battling Alzheimer’s. My grandmother is 75 and his caretaker. I go once a week to their home and clean and dust.

I really feel awful about it. They live off Social Security and like me, are barely getting by. But grandma says she’s happy to pay me to do it because she can’t leave granddaddy and she’s just not able to move like she used to. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that a perfectly capable 32-year-old is taking money from her elderly grandparents. If I ever find out that they are paying me and doing without something, I’ll stop taking the money. Period. And if I ever land another job, I’ll pay her back every cent.

I’m sure there are some who will read this and laugh. Others out there who have way more worries than a cellphone bill. How do the others who are unemployed make it? How do you care for children, pay rent and feed yourself on unemployment? The worry must be horrible. I thank God every single day that I only have to worry about me. I don’t have to worry about life’s basic necessities because, thankfully, I am blessed with a family that has promised to help.

I’m proud to say that if it came down to me getting a job or a single mother, I’d probably concede the job to the single mother. I’m okay. I can make it with a little perseverance and hope. In all this mess, I have to remember that I have been extremely blessed. But I’d still like to have a job!

Marianne Steffey, a 32-year-old former journalist from Erwin, Tenn., has been unemployed for seven months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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