At the end of two days, I had spent over $50 in the blink of an eye just to have lunch and dinner with friends. And this was me penny pinching, choosing not to have any alcohol and once having to eat in the park rather than have a sit down meal in the restaurant where I'd be obliged to give the waiter a tip. I chose to spend around $15 for the entire weekend taking the bus and subway rather than spending $15 on one cab ride. Angel has already written about her experience taking the bus and riding her bicycle as her way of commuting into Manhattan.
I was looking through Angel's posts from last year since I did not have a chance to read every single one. I came across this post about Angel's friend who lived off of PB&J sandwiches for years while making $100k/year in order to pay off his student loans:
I have a good friend that buckled down from the time he graduated (2004) until last year, and paid off his private loans. He's not done yet, of course. But he is close to it. In order for him to do this, he was frugal. He rarely/if ever went out to eat. He brought a PB&J sandwich to work daily. He did not engage in frivolous spending. I think his social life was somewhat limited by how much he was willing to spend, which was nothing. He didn't have a girlfriend during this stressful time. I know he went on dates, but I'm sure he was somewhat constrained on what he could do with any girl. Having fun costs money, right? He lived in a studio apartment with hand-me-down furniture. Ran instead of joining a gym. He collected cans from co-workers to recycle for cash. Wait... the kicker. This was all while he was earning $100K. That's how you pay back your student loans, folks. I'm very proud of him. I'm not sure that many people could make the same sacrifices. Afterall, he basically handed one biweekly paycheck a month over to the Lender.
I had the chance to meet up with another friend during my visit who was smart enough to only attend college. Nonetheless, she still lives at home with her parents while she pays off her student loans and works as someone's assistant for a little more than minimum wage. And these are considered the lucky people in this recession who have a job. These stories should be a warning to all the law school lemmings and high school or college students (and their parents) who believe everyone with an elite degree or graduate school education lives in Soho and shops at Whole Foods. I went to top schools only with the belief that it was my ticket out of Podunk and now I'm back to where I started and have turned into the Coupon Queen to save money on groceries. I still feel fortunate that I still have a place in Podunk to return where the cost of living is cheap enough that I can still eat healthy and nutritious foods without breaking the bank.
When I see the constant criticism of the poor and obese in our society on television, it really makes me wonder whether any of these critics have experienced anything close to poverty or being an indentured student with six figure debt. I highly doubt it. I've never been obese but I have put on weight since being unemployed. I've forced myself to go jogging at least several times each week to maintain my weight and I receive enough financial support from my family that I can afford to buy fruits and vegetables or the occasional salmon or tuna. But I also find myself eating more microwave dinners and fast food while I'm out to avoid spending too much at a sit down restaurant.
Going back to the big city and not being a full-time student or having a job really made me think about these issues on my way back to Podunk. What it is like to be poor in the city for the unemployed graduate, or someone like Angel's friend making a good salary but trying to pay off his law school debt, or the single parent making minimum wage. How is it possible to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle let alone think about superficial things like their physical attractiveness when they have bills to pay, kids to feed, or are dealing with depression and unemployment. Instead of criticism and finger pointing, maybe the people in power should try to help these people find good paying jobs to buy healthy food and give them affordable education and health care that would allow them to live happy, active lives.