Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have Fun

This may wind up being a rather disjointed and rambling commentary, rather than a neat little essay on what I find repulsive about the current attitude towards those who aren’t as well off as the 1%–which frankly, is most of us.

I’ve been in tight circumstances for a while now. I started a business right when the economy crashed, ran into some major health issues while self-employed and had crappy insurance, and have spent most of the last decade crawling out of the hole these situations put me in as a result. Things have gotten better lately, in part because I’m finally at a point where my backlist can help pay the mortgage but also because I just paid off the last of the medical bills.

But as these things go, the universe decided to play its little joke and hit me with several personal losses back to back to back. Between those losses, the current state of politics here in the US, and my fears for this country (and the world), it would be fair to say I’ve been struggling this past year. My creativity and my health have taken hits as a result.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. See, when you’re struggling to stay afloat, you tend to grab hold of anything that keeps your head above water. For me, that might be binge-watching old favorites on Netflix, or re-reading the comfort reads of my youth. Sometimes it’s planning a trip (though more often than not, I ended up having to cancel my trips this past year), or going to the bookstore, or buying pretty nail polish.

It turns out I’m not alone in that alone in that regard. A Reuters post indicated that in tough economic times, sales of nail polish went up because it was seen as an affordable indulgence–buying luxury at a bargain price, if you will. Apparently lipstick sales used to rise as well, presumably for similar reasons but also because for many women, their appearance factored largely into their success during a job interview. Even more interesting is that sales of women’s lingerie goes down with a poor economy, indicating a need to practice frugality in an area where one has some control over who will see your undies.

Lipstick sales no longer inversely reflect the economy, but nail polish does. It also is a relatively inexpensive way to lift my spirits. Not just a new shade, but the act of applying lacquer is very soothing to me. Much like drawing in a coloring book.

What all these images I’ve shared thus far have in common is that these are my own nails, painted by myself, all taken within couple of years. Something happened to my nails in the last year, however. I don’t know if it’s stress or an indication of health issues or my generally crappy diet, but I can’t seem to grow my nails out any longer–not past the quicks. They split and peel. They break with normal use. I used to grow long nails so easily, people would ask me what I did to make them grow. I used to have such strong nails, when someone asked me what could break them, I’d smirk and say “Kryptonite.”

All that changed within the last year. Sure, it’s a little thing compared to watching our civil rights erode before our very eyes, the concerns of climate change, the sheer incompetency and corruptness of our government, and oh yes, the possibility of nuclear war. Yeah, poor me. I no longer have pretty nails.

But it’s because of these other things that I feel the loss of my pretty nails more keenly. Painting them was a tiny indulgence that made my day a little bit brighter. So a few weeks ago, I decided to have my nails professionally done.

No, it wasn’t something I intended to have done all the time, but I have some weddings to attend in the not-to-distant future and I wanted to know if I could have nice nails for something like that. I fully expected to hate the process, but instead, I fell in love. Not only did I get my indestructible nails back again (with the industrial strength nail polish used, they don’t chip or break), I also got my pretty nails back again.

There’s not much about me I find pretty or attractive. Losing the one thing I was kind of proud of bugged me more than I realized. I was delighted by the results, and found myself looking at the budget and trying to figure out how often I could indulge. But shortly after I had my nails done, I started getting commentary on the unnecessary expense by various people around me.

Comments on whether the nails were appropriate to my job. How could I possibly do my job with those nails? Comments on how I could possibly afford to have my nails done.

Because suddenly, like the millionaire telling millennials to lay off avocado toast if they want to buy a house, or Jason Chaffez suggesting that if we didn’t buy an iPhone, we’d have the money we need to afford health insurance, everyone had an opinion on my nails.

Let’s set aside the infuriating irony of Chaffez lecturing the rest of us on saving our money to spend on health insurance–someone guaranteed coverage simply by being a member of Congress–I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy an iPhone every month for every year of my life. Because that’s how much my health insurance cost per month before Obamacare: the equivalent of an iPhone. Let’s set aside as well the fact that the last time I bought a house, it was for around $35 K. I sold it a few years later for $44 K. The same house now lists at $150 K–and as an individual with a single income, I couldn’t afford that kind of house payment. So yeah, perhaps millennials could save their pennies–but it still wouldn’t add up to what it takes to buy a house these days.

No, what really irks me is the notion that it isn’t enough that we are barely squeaking by at times, we must suffer for the indignity of being broke too. I know, it’s all relative. I know some people for whom tightening their belt means they will forgo the trip to Tuscany this year. For others, it means making soup out of popcorn because there is literally nothing else in the house to eat. But here’s the thing: if I choose not to have cable TV so that I can have my nails done, that’s my choice. Cable or nails: neither one comes close to a house payment. And if a house payment is completely out of the picture, then why begrudge me a small indulgence?

Especially if that indulgence helps me get by when things are really hard for me right now.

It’s high time we stopped being so judgemental. Be it about someone’s weight, or the books they read, or how they spend their hard-earned cash. Especially by people who want to make these judgements about morals when the truth of the matter is it’s very hard to lose weight when you’re dead broke. Cheez Doodles are cheap. Buying and cooking good food is expensive, both in terms of actual cost, but in time spent as well. It isn’t laziness that causes some people to collapse onto the sofa at the end of the day and not get up again until it’s time to go to bed–working two jobs kind of saps any energy for going jogging or making a week’s worth of meals in advance.

So I say this to you: if you’re hanging on by your fingernails, paint them. Buy that book or DVD you’ve been wanting. Take that special person in your life out to dinner. Wear the nice perfume. Just because you have to pinch and scrimp and save to pay the bills–sometimes to the point of having to decide which bills you’re going to pay and which you must delay–that doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy nice things. Maybe your budget is so tight you’re eating popcorn soup–but you can still check out books from the library or go to the free movie in the park. And if you do save up for something nice, something that makes you feel special or makes you smile, by God, don’t let anyone diminish your joy in it or try to make you feel bad about your little indulgence.

Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have fun.

Being broke isn’t a moral failing. It’s bad enough to have to struggle to make ends meet. No one should demand we maintain a colorless existence without joy, merely because we fall into the wrong tax bracket.

This image was taken after I had my nails done professionally. Turned out rather nice, don’t you think?


17 thoughts on “Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have Fun

  1. You are so right! I can’t identify with the nail thing because my nails have been terrible for most of my life. But, I sometimes feel guilty about say, buying myself a latte, or sushi for lunch. And I shouldn’t. It’s not always a matter of cash, it’s a matter of feeling you don’t deserve those small joys in your life. I think this is common to many women. Everyone else before us, but why? BTW, your nails are fabulous!

    • I do think women in general are taught that any sort of indulgence is something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. We are groomed from an early age to put everyone else before us.

      And sometimes I think it’s what the indulgence is. I recall once a meeting a man who was taking his dog in for chemotherapy, and he told me his friends and coworkers gave him a hard time about how much money he’d spent.

      I asked him how much he’d spent so far, and in a small voice, he said, “Fifteen hundred dollars.”

      “How many guys do you know who’d drop fifteen hundred on a sound system and not bat an eye. Or fifteen thousand on a bass boat and brag about it? If they can spend that much on a thing, surely you can spend what you want on something that loves you back.”

      His face lit up. “Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell them next time.”

      My point being is that people seem to have lots of opinions on other people’s spending habits while justifying their own. And I think, given these hard times, a little self-care goes a long way.

      *buffs nails against shirt* Thank you!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have FunMy Profile

  2. Well said! I’ve been miserable this last year, thanks to what’s going on in Washington and the world, and I recently picked up the Everybody Loves Raymond series from Amazon. Eight-four bucks! Even typing that makes me cringe. But every day I play a few episodes, sometimes laugh so hard it hurts, and feel better about life.

    So go ahead and indulge, because life really is short, and at times it’s extremely unpleasant. Whatever gives you happiness and joy is totally worth it.

    • I’ve been without internet all day, so I’m slow to reply. But you know what? I’ve BEEN there. At a point when my life was SO crappy and I was so exhausted and trapped by circumstances and found solace in a silly TV show. Mine? Jem and the Holograms. (I cringe typing that but at the time, I was all about Jem!) I taped it every day and LIVED for the moment I came home and could watch it. You shouldn’t cringe. Kudos to you for finding something that gets you through the day. Worth every penny.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have FunMy Profile

  3. As always, you totally rock, and so do your nails! These are things that need to be said and heard, not only in times of larger crisis, but the personal, smaller ones. Because we all need our small luxuries, and we should be able to enjoy them to the fullest. I know I’ve spent my fair share on small things that may seem useless but which bring a smile to my face just for seeing them. So go you, go us! \o/

  4. I get my nails done every four weeks – it is a treat for me being disabled and it makes me feel GOOD! So stuff the nay sayers and enjoy! (oh and at the moment it looks as though we have the same colour on our nails lol)

  5. There’s been a hashtag trending on Twitter #whyimpoorin4words. I find it ironic that all the people tweeting about, moaning about being poor can afford a device to tweet and pay for wifi. They are not poor, they have lost sight of what actual poverty is. If you have a roof over your head and food on the table you are not poor. If you cannot have that Tuscan holiday or get a bigger, better, anything, so what. Poverty needs to be put into perspective. We all have choices to make in our daily lives. Having money gives you bigger choices. Not having money dials back the number of choices and makes the choices less expensive. We are all trained to consume from an early age. It’s how the cogs of capitalist societies keep turning. But i know from experience, and yes, its a cliche, but happiness comes from within. I look at those wealthy people on TV and can see in their eyes that many of them are miserable. It must be crappy to have all that cash and still be unhappy with your lot. So yes, find your happy place in simple things, a new nail varnish, a slice of cake, or a book. Admiring the lifestyles of the rich only leads to misery. I wish more people would be grateful for the simple things in life too.

    • Well, that’s one of the reasons I used the word ‘broke’ instead of poor. There’s a difference between poor-mouthing and being truly poor. Someone who whines about no longer being able to afford a housekeeping service isn’t poor in my book. One of my friends lives on less than $6 K a year however. If she told me she was going to spend $8 a month on Netflix (which represents a significant portion of her income) because sitting up at night binge-watching Columbo keeps from cutting herself, then I’m going to be perfectly okay with that.

      The problem comes when the wealthy try to say that people like her shouldn’t spend her money on frivolous things. That if she didn’t spend $8 a month on her mental health, she’d somehow have the money for health insurance. Spoiler Alert: she won’t.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have FunMy Profile

  6. Nicely said. For me, back in the struggling days, it was always my hair and good moisturizers for my face. I think looking in the mirror and seeing a person looking back that you like changes your attitude. Good attitude translates into good job performance. While I was buying fairly expensive moisturizers, I gave up makeup entirely, a choice that has paid off nicely for my aging skin.

    You rock, Lady.
    Shay recently posted..THURSDAY SALES AND FREE BOOKS! 8/10/17My Profile

  7. THIS!!! Why shouldn’t you have your small indulgences if they help you hang on?!?!? (I love “if you’re hanging on by your fingernails, paint them”!) The millionaires on their high horses just infuriate me–who are they to judge when they don’t have a damned clue?!?! *headdesk*

    Your nails look lovely! *Smishes you and runs off to find the TARDIS blue polish*

  8. I think people always want to judge how you spend your money based on how they would spend their money. But money, like religion and politics, is personal and everyone gets their own say.
    I’m fortunate enough that while I feel pinched at times, I’m pinched in the realm of the lifestyle which I choose to live, and not for actual survival items. I’ve been very lucky. Yes, I try to work hard and diligently, but I say lucky because some people work hard and can’t get ahead. I’m so so lucky that I’m able to get benefits from working hard.
    I love having my nails done. I see them all the time and they make me happy each time I see them and see how they make my hands look. I have a friend who used to not understand it, and then she started having her nails done too and she said she couldn’t believe how much better she felt about herself ALL OVER for the simple joy of having her nails done.
    Margarita recently posted..It’s HERE – Uncontrollable Burn [Covencraft #5]My Profile

    • THIS. So much all of this. Especially how you can’t believe the lift you get from such a little thing as seeing your hands with nice nails right there in front of you all the time. You may not be able to change much about the world or your life, but that little spiritual boost is worth every penny.

      If for someone else, it means buying the show they want on DVD or that awesome pair of shoes that makes them feel like a million bucks or refinishing an antique dresser or getting a new puppy or coloring their hair or going to a sci-fi convention SO WHAT? The judging doesn’t make sense to me. There are so many more serious things in this world we *should* be judgmental about.

      I’m getting my nails done on my next day off and I’m so excited it’s not funny. 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Being Broke Doesn’t Mean You’re Never Allowed to Have FunMy Profile

  9. I completely agree with you! Being broke doesn’t mean you just mope around and think about all your problems, it just makes you sad even more. That is based on my experience anyway. But now I realized that I don’t care if I’m broke anymore as long as I’m happy and not hurting anyone then I should just go on with my life!

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