What It Feels like to Be Poor

I’ve had a background where I’ve officially been in multiple social statuses.  I’ve had more money than I could imagine at one point.  Then, at another point, I had absolutely nothing. Actually, I’ve bounced around so many times, that I honestly don’t have the slightest clue what my social status is anymore.  I’m just going to join the ranks of being a human.  Without any financial class at all. Well, I suppose since I’ve been poor, or without money and in piles of debt multiple times in my life, this question should be quite easy to answer.

The first time I went poor in 2007, it felt surreal.

Like I knew I had no money.  I knew I came from earning six figures the year before.  However, the reality of it never hit me. I was like sure, I got myself into $50,000 of debt.  I’ll get myself out of it.  No big deal.  So I guess that first encounter doesn’t really count. However, that wasn’t the only time I went poor.  There were countless times I was poor, since I never really understood the concept of saving money. My friend had taught me this flawed philosophy that I should spend every penny I make, because it would keep me motivated to earn more.  So I wouldn’t build myself a safety net that I could consider as a cushion of comfort. That flawed philosophy is what brought me and him into countless situations where we thought that our lives were over and we just wanted to give up on it all.  He made $10 million in ten years and didn’t save a penny, so he was dealing with very real struggles when the recession hit, much like myself.

I used to have a vehicle.

It was a 2006 model. We were in 2009.  My rear control arm snapped because an O Ring came apart, due to a recall.  I called the manufacturer saying that I could’ve died due to the situation.  They didn’t care.  They just brushed me off. Regardless, the main person who was financially backing the company I was working with told me that he would take care of the repair.  I agreed and allowed his dad to tow the car to his shop.  I spent a month at home in depression, never leaving my bed, just awaiting for my car to return so I could go back to work. I called him and he just said that parts were on the way.  He just prolonged the event as long as he could.  I asked a friend if they could take me out to see the car.  I found out he hadn’t worked on it at all.  The car was exactly as I left it.  He then backed out of his promise to cover the cost of the repair and told me it was up to me to repair.  I had to figure out how to come up with a grand.  Not to mention, he refused to give me back my Michele Diamond watch that cost me $1,000 when I asked him to replace the $5 battery on it. It’s not too fun to have someone stick you with $1,000 in repairs on your vehicle when you have no source of income and they agreed to take care of it.  Nor is it fun to have some jerk steal your watch. I hate people who steal.  Stealing is bad.  I don’t know.  Where do people learn that it is okay to steal?  School?  Their parents?  Their peers?

hate thieves.

If I ever went to jury duty and I had to try a case for someone who stole something, I would suggest the death penalty.  Or that their hands get chopped off.  I’m glad I don’t ever have to go to jury duty, because I’m so biased about thieves. Oh wait.  We’re not talking about thieves here, huh.  I went completely off tangent.  Maybe I’m trying to avoid talking about being poor. Well, back when I had no car or any savings, I had to figure out what to do.  I literally refused to take the bus.  I saw it as a sign of defeat.  However, I needed to work so I went on Craigslist and went job hunting.  I had to figure out how to get out of the mess I was in.

I was a broken mess.

I was hired at AXA Equitable.  I thought I was saved.  I would get a $4,000 a month salary with a commission structure.  I would be able to buy my own office and then sell life insurance.  Yay! Then I was hit with the kicker.  I would have to pay for my own tests.  I would have to study on my own time.  I would have to then pass the state exam. I had no clue where to get any of this money from, so I decided to get a side job to figure it out.  I took anything I could. I got this job, making $8-$16 an hour based on performance.  I never did the math before to see how bad $8 an hour really was.  I had no concept of how little money it was. The work was four blocks away from home, so all I had to do was walk down the street to get there.  That wasn’t too hard.  Actually, with the state of mind I was in the time, it was extremely hard.  I missed so many days of work because I just couldn’t get out of bed.  I was a depressed mess.

It took me three months of going through hell to finally save up enough money to take the state test.

I failed by eight points.  All the material on the test compared to what I studied was completely different.  I may have even picked the wrong test on accident.  I have absolutely no clue.  However, I spun further into depression.  I felt I was stuck and I had no way out.  I just drank heavily with my friends and just told my friends how depressed I was.  I didn’t want to do anything and my life was just sinking away. I made all these new poor friends at work, and I realized that they were much like rich people.  However, their philosophy was the exact opposite of my other friends.  They had a sense of entitlement, however they felt like they were victims to life.  On the other hand, my rich friends felt like they were victors. I surely felt like a victim.  I thought I was going to be poor forever, selling my soul at a job I hated, raising money for causes I would’ve never backed if my life depended on it.  I think the most I made at my job was like $9 an hour.  That performance scale was full of fluff.  There was no way in the world anyone there would be able to make $16 an hour.

I was earning below the minimum livable wage.

I was surrounded by people who were scrounging to find $20 to buy a sack of marijuana or cocaine.  I didn’t even know it was possible to buy drugs in $20 denominations. All I wanted to do was just drink my problems away, and so I did.  Then, one day, things got so bad… That I was $450 behind on my electricity bill in a 700 square foot apartment.  Considering the average person pays about $60-$80 a month…  I think I was nearly half a year behind? I laughed.  I couldn’t believe that I could fall so far, that my electricity would go off.  It was quite humorous.  So, since I basically couldn’t even pay for electricity, I kind of just hung out with my friend who was a cook for a catering company to kill the time.  Eventually, he got a job at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, an SBE establishment. When I wanted to eat, I would visit 7-11 and find something I could microwave.  I had to be so creative when I wanted to eat, as I didn’t have electricity.  I dragged my microwave to the hall way every chance I could just to microwave up a burrito or something. Miraculously, my water still worked.  I was able to shower without a problem, however I had no clue what to do about my electricity situation.  My friend handed me $200.  I paid my electricity bill, but since I didn’t cover the full balance, I still had no lights hahahaha. I was just in the dark, trying to figure out everything I could do to escape the hell I was put into. My other friend Joyce took me out to eat and kept me company.  She took me out on trips to eat, drove me around places, and was such a remarkable friend.  We even went to Target and played in the cool red shopping carts.  I miss hanging out with her every day.

Then, a miracle happened.

My friend found an investor for his business.  I was his first phone call. He brought me in to work with him.  My financial situation was solved.  I moved into a huge loft and had a Lexus. However, that only lasted a certain amount of time.  Then I was poor again.  I was watching my Lexus vanish before my eyes.  I was holding onto dear life as I was evicted from my home.  My grandmother saved me and placed a roof over my head.  I guess you can say, I was left with nothing.  I didn’t really have a will to live.  All I wanted to do was lie around and play video games until I died. She forced me out of home to go work.  So I did.  I had a curfew.  I had limited freedom.  I didn’t see any of my friends.  I was so embarrassed to have fallen so far, that I had to live with my grandmother once again.  Never in my life had I ever thought I would fall that far.  I was just miserable and lost. Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I moved out.  I went back to Los Angeles.  I still thought I was better than the bus, so I was scared to ever take it.  I depended on people to give me rides and take me around.  A person I knew had forced me to take public transportation with him, until I actually got used to it.  Now, public transportation is my preferred method of travel, as driving takes up too many resources. I was still in a slump, so I just ran away and drank every chance I could, to run away from the situation I was in.  I slept on my sofa and just hated my financial position. Then, I finally accepted the situation I was in at face value.  I stopped hiding from admitting that I was poor.  I started to saved up resources to recover.  I began to tell others of my tribulations.  Then, I slowly pieced my life together.

In the past, I always thought that poor people were poor by their own choices.

As I experienced the life for myself, I understood…  People could end up in circumstances against their will.  Now, I can empathize with some people who have fallen from grace.  However, not everyone.

Originally posted on Quora.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.

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