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When on financial life support, every decision is difficult

By Stephen Rhymer,

Around 5 p.m. Friday I got my first glimpse of fame – I saw my first blog published on The Washington Post Web site.

As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see my byline in The Post.  It is one of my measures of success as a journalist (I worked in TV news for a number of years).

Even though my byline came courtesy of being jobless for two and a half years, I thought it worthy of a small celebration so off I went to my neighborhood wine store.

As I walked in the door, there, staring me in the face was a display of reds, courtesy of Little Black Dress winery. Better yet, the merlot was on sale for $6.49!!!!  A slam-dunk purchase.

Not so fast.

$6.49 was chump change when I was working.  Not any more.  I had to think about what else I could do with $6.49.

I could buy:

--10.8 cans of Wal-Mart tuna

--2.59 loaves of Wheatberry bread

--1.77 gallons of premium gas (we’re lucky in Oklahoma; premium gas is $3.66/gal).

--3.45 pounds of chicken breasts

--1.08 pounds of coffee

--3.79 boxes of green tea (40 bags per box).

--11.19 navel oranges

--13.2 pounds of bananas

--3.86 cans of soup

--6.5 packages of hot dogs (the package says ALL MEAT - hmmmm)

--19.6 boxes of mac and cheese (three for a buck yesterday)

--Way too many packages of ramen noodles to count

You get the idea and the dilemma for those of us chronically unemployed. We’re far past being able to draw unemployment.  Living off my own meager resources, $1,599 a month in disability, the kindness of strangers (thank you Blanche DuBois) and making a penny stretch farther than I’ve ever imagined keeps me financially viable – okay, financially on life support.

When you’re used to living on six figures a year, $19,188 a year seems like nothing until you learn how to make every penny count.

Life support is better than nothing

So is the occasional splurge for a success, no matter how small, no matter how fleeting.

The merlot may have cost me 10 cans of tuna or almost 20 boxes of mac and cheese.

Thanks to MasterCard, the experience was priceless.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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