Dispatches from the Formerly Middle-Class

Its been a crazy week so while I wanted to write this post a few days ago, I only just found the time to actually sit down and do it. If you are a regular reader to my blog, you know that I regularly write about my financial woes. I know there are some who may wonder why I choose to share so much but the truth is as a member of the class of folks who find myself only hanging by a thread to the so-called middle class, I think there are many more like myself out there. Problem is in America we will talk about any and everything but talk of money is considered taboo…which is crazy to me. Truthfully I would rather talk about money or my lack of money sooner than I would talk about say my sex life but that’s just me.

No, in America everyone likes to consider themselves middle-class, make 35K you are middle class, make 150K you are middle class. When you think about it the question should be what is middle class? Does it even exist anymore? The other day a friend asked me how am I defining middle class? She considers herself middle class despite having a small bank balance. Good question, what it is? Well I could get a technical definition but I don’t feel like it. Instead I will tell you my thoughts on what is middle class and why I consider myself a former member of the middle class.

Growing up, I knew we weren’t middle class as I joke on a good day we were the working class and on a bad day we were simply poor. In layman’s terms when there was enough money to take care of all our needs and the occasional want, that was being working class…never was there enough for a true savings account and growing up we never took a vacation unless you count the occasional trip to Arkansas or St. Louis for a family reunion. Even those trips were done as cheaply as possible, meaning we drove and stayed at a relatives house. I must add such trips were not regular occurrences and play a large part in why I have little connection with my extended family.

No, many times my folks robbed Peter to pay Paul, that meant light bills only got paid when the red notice arrived…for those who don’t know what that is, that means the letter to send to tell you your lights are about to be shut off. I am thankful that aside from the years we were phone-less (before the era of cell phones) we were never without lights and gas. We never went hungry but there were a fair number of meals that I am thankful I have not eaten since my childhood.

When I grew up and started working I slowly moved solidly into the working class when Iwas a single Mama. No vacations but generally after I paid the bills there was always a little left for a treat. At 17, my son still fondly remembers the pizza and Chinese food nights we had as a treat. I didn’t have a savings account but thankfully my bills got paid before any notices came out.

Then I later moved into the middle class, helped out by marrying the Spousal Unit and retuning to school, that meant actually having money in savings, taking vacations that did not involve sleeping on a relatives floor. For me being a member of the middle class meant having more than enough to pay for our needs and wants, stashing something aside for a rainy day though looking back I did not save as much as I could have. It meant when a car broke down it was not a crisis, it meant having access to good health-care, it meant when I needed five grand in dental work, we had the means to take care of it. It meant not thinking whether or not that $100 in the bank was going to last until payday because I had way more than that in the bank account. It meant knowing you were not one unplanned emergency away from devasation, as you either had enough on hand to handle it or access to those little plastic cards where you had more than enough.

Well thanks to the on-going financial crisis, there are more and more folks who used to live in that place I just described but sadly they are no longer there. This piece in the NY Times really does a great job of covering it. While the article focuses on the self employed and since I and the Spousal Unit have been self employed for years, really the piece speaks to anyone who now finds themselves in this brave new world.

Its a world where on the outside we may still have some of our creature comforts of the so-called middle class life, but the reality is whenever we leave the house we know exactly how much money we have down to the penny and we are are watching it, hoping for nothing unexpected to come up. It means I no longer just deposit my paycheck in my checking account but I cash it first and then deposit it because I need cash right away. When you are broke, you do not have the luxury of waiting for checks to clear, its one of the reasons the often ridiculed check cashing joint exist in low income areas. Money sitting in an account, waiting to clear is a luxury those on the edge simply don’t have. Thus the reason the poor will pay crazy fees to turn a paycheck into cash. Despite the fact its insanely expensive. Thankfully I am not quite there and am also fortunate my job uses the same bank I do which makes cashing the check first a fairly painless process.

If any of this resonates with you, it may because while you still see yourself as solidly middle class you know deep dowm you are in financial free fall. Yet do you feel comfortable discussing this your friends? Family? Even in a marriage or partnership, couples are often reluctant to discuss how bad their financial situation is, many times creating even more issues when one partner gets it and the other doesn’t. Thankfully we talk money allot here so no one is going out spending without the other being aware of it.

Once a week, I would like to have a post from someone who is struggling financial and how you are coping in this brave new world. If you are interested in doing a guest post email me blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com