A couple of people recently have used the term “playing poor” to me. As in, “your parents are letting you play poor right now, but you’re not actually poor.” This was, by the way, NOT in response to my saying, “we’re/I’m poor.” It was in fact, in response to my expressing horror that my boss didn’t think that an apartment that was infested with rats was grounds for a rent escrow suit. Because apparently I grew up wealthy and that’s why I don’t think people should have to live with rats.
Look, my apartment has mice. My last apartment had mice. My city has a rat problem. But I can’t bear the idea of rats being in my house. (Don’t handle the mice well either.) And I think of all of the ways that my privilege betrays me, the rats are the least of it. It’s not like I’m horrified that my clients can’t afford cable. And let’s remember that I was trying to help the lady with the rat problem, and I was not judging her for having rats, since they were clearly the landlord’s fault. I’m not going to say, “poor people can deal with rats, they are used to it.” That doesn’t seem right to me.
So lets get back to this idea of “playing poor”. I don’t have debt, and yeah, my parents would never let me starve on the streets. But good lord, I would rather starve on the streets before I ask my parents for financial help. Does this mean I’m “playing poor” just because I choose to stay in and make dinner instead of going out with my friends? I would, as a matter of pride, like it very much if my husband and I lived off of the money that we earn, day-to-day, by working hard. It’s not very much. Sure, we could supplement with our savings, but that would be stupid, because we can get by. So who is anyone to tell me that I’m playing poor?
No, I’ve never been hungry. I’ve never watched my family lose their house because they couldn’t pay the mortgage. No, I’ve never had to choose between going to the doctor and my weekly grocery bill. Yes, everything I have given up in the last six months is small luxuries that I don’t really need – new shoes, nice clothes, dinner out, ordering drinks in bars. Yes, I’m not actually poor. We have a really nice apartment, a car that works, and everything we need.
I used to say, “I’m poor,” but then a few well-meaning people set me straight. What I meant to say, and what I choose to say now, is something like, “we don’t have a lot of money to spend,” or “we’re really trying to save”. We’re not poor, but we’re not in a position to be frivolous. And we’re not playing at anything. This isn’t the food stamp challenge (which I do want to do) where we spend $25 on a week of groceries. This is our life, our salaries, and how we choose to spend our money.