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I've spoken before about the many ways that the lack of money can fuck you, and how even the slightest setback is a full-blown catastrophe to a poor person. Regular readers know that for the last three years, I have slowly wormed my way out of the perpetually clinched asshole of poverty, only to discover that "financial security" is kind of a myth -- that life is full of extremely common situations that sneak up behind you, put a hand over your mouth and whisper, "You thought you were set. That's cute. Bend over." And I'm not talking about your car breaking down or the babysitter calling in sick. Most people are prepared for those. It's more like ...

The First Time You Have to Go to the Hospital on Your Own


You're finally out on your own. You have all the basics covered, and life is settling into a pretty comfortable rhythm. You have an apartment, a car, a job and all the privacy you could ever need to masturbate anytime you want to as much porn as your computer can process at one time. Then one day, you wake up to find that you've chafed your genitals from the constant friction, and it actually burns to touch them. So you head out to the doctor, who sends you for a few minor tests, hands you some cream and sends you on your way. Two weeks later, you get a bill for two thousand dollars. That's when you realize that any building with the word "medical" attached to it is like a foreign country with an exchange rate that turns your nice paycheck into motherfucking Monopoly money.

When you were a kid, unless your parents were sadistic, soulless assholes, you never knew how much a trip to the emergency room cost. You just went in, got patched up and jumped right back onto your homemade jet pack that sent you there in the first place. But once you reach the age and security of breaking off of your parents' insurance (for those of you lucky enough to have parents with insurance), everything changes.

"OK, while she's distracted, I'll just take this for a down payment."

I'm a contracted writer, which means I don't get benefits because I'm not technically an employee of anyone. There are millions of people out there like me, and if we wanted to get health insurance for ourselves and our families, it would cost us $15,000 a year. I live in an area where the average income is right around $20,000. So pretty much their entire year would be spent working for just health insurance and nothing else. And if they don't have to go to the hospital that year? "Wow, that sucks. But thanks for the money, you gullible fuck socket."

But what if you're a single person? In 2009 and 2010, the average cost of a single person's insurance was about $5,000 a year. The average price of an ER visit? $1,300. It takes just a bit of third grade math to figure out that when you factor in the out of pocket deductible that you have to pay each time you use the insurance, it would take five or more trips to the ER in order for you to just break even. And if you're in the emergency room five times a year, you need to be placed in a padded room because you are a danger to yourself and society.

That's how insurance companies survive. Perfectly healthy people who will most likely not see a hospital more than once every 10 years pay premiums that they'll never touch in order to fund the companies who are paying for the hospital visits of other people. The companies have to take in more money than they're paying out for that to work. And they are taking in a goddamn fuckload of extra.

"... So I just removed the good foot anyway, and boom: My guest room remodeling is now paid for."

On the part of the customer, it's a very, very risky gamble. You're betting on the idea that you will end up getting hurt or sick enough to spend the money you're investing. And until you actually do have to get medical care and pick up that bill for the first time, you don't realize how bad it's gotten. That's when you start comparing the amount of money you've paid for the insurance to how much of your bill they actually covered. And for this reason, many, many people have opted out of getting insurance altogether. We've started to see it as a waste of money, and unless we need something expensive like cancer treatment or surgeries, we're just firing money out of a cannon for no reason.

What's even scarier is when you have to go in for something that seems bad and requires testing. For instance, you threw out your back in the town's annual free-for-all UFC battle. To make sure it's not something serious, you need an MRI. And even though it turns out to be nothing, and your diagnosis and treatment end up being "Just get some rest -- here are some pain pills," you walk away owing a couple thousand dollars. If it turns out to actually be a surgery-requiring problem, you just jumped into "You owe us everything you make for the next five years" territory.

Should have thought about that before you complained about your knee, asshole.

Any Time You Buy Jewelry for Any Reason


Some of you are already laughing because "Buying jewelry is a rich person's problem, asshole! You'll have to pardon me if I don't cry you a river because you can't afford diamonds." But the thing is, you're going to have to buy some at some point in your life because society and the jewelry industry have trained us to believe that shiny metal and "precious" stones are a symbolic representation of your love for another human. Mother's Day, anniversaries, engagements, and so on. So, there's that the first time you walk up to that counter thinking, "Well, I'll get her something nice, not extravagant or anything, but something she'll be proud to wear. Surely such a piece is available on a working man's gift budget!" And then you see the prices and get splashed in face with a bucket full of iced dicks. You're just staring in a daze while the salesman says, "Now this ring over here is only $800, but as you can see, the diamonds were ones we scraped off of a drill bit."

And there's a certain point where you just can't avoid it. Wedding rings are so expected that we've made them a part of the actual ceremony. Imagine a wedding where the preacher says, "The rings, please," and the bride and groom just kind of stare dumbfounded at him. "Rings? Nobody told us we had to bring gifts." Retailers know this, and it's why when you start shopping for wedding rings, you'll notice that anything with the word "wedding" or "marriage" attached to the description is about five times more expensive than everything else.

"There. Now when I ask for the new PlayStation, I don't want to hear shit."

"But wait! I just walked by a jewelry store, and wouldn't you know it -- right on the day that I need to buy a ring, they're having a 75 percent off sale!" Holy crap, how lucky is that? What an amazing coincidence that fate has thrown together for you! Wait, hold up. Now that I look around, pretty much every jewelry store is running a sale. Virtually all the time. Holy shit, look at this: They're cutting $10,000 off of a $13,000 ring! How can they afford to do that?

Because markups on jewelry are ridiculous to begin with. They price a ring like that (which, by the way, has never been worth $13,000 in the history of mankind) before it's available to the public. It's a false price tag, put there on purpose, knowing it will never sell for that amount. That way, when they do make it available to the public, they can reprice it for three grand and tell people that it's been marked as 75 percent off. And they still make a huge profit because jewelry isn't sold in terms of craftsmanship -- it's sold by weight. It's why when you catch the love of your life chain-fucking homeless people at a public orgy, the pawn shop gives your ring a scratch test and throws it on a scale instead of discussing the beauty of the cut and the care taken in the intricate design.

"Six bucks. If it's been in your ass, subtract a dollar."

And that's where they get you. Because the average person doesn't get much practice in buying luxury items, they don't know what to look for. They have no means of comparison, so a ring for tens of thousands of dollars looks more appealing, simply because it's sporting a price tag on par with a brand new, zero-mile car. Since most employees work on commission, they will use that tactic like a goddamn biological weapon. "Our cheap rings are down in this case, and they start at $2,000. But since it's a wedding and you'll only be doing it once, you'll obviously want to go up to the mid-range rings over here. They're more expensive, yes, but this is a once in a lifetime thing, and you'll be wearing these for the rest of your life."

"Yep. Could've been a car."

You're made to feel like if you don't get the expensive stuff, you don't really care all that much about your bride/groom. It's how they've convinced us to buy a promise ring early in the relationship to show that you plan to propose one day. Then an engagement ring for the actual question. Then the wedding bands for the ceremony. Then an anniversary list that looks like a fucking World of Warcraft level reward system. And since we're on the subject of gifts ...

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The First Christmas You Have to Buy for Other People


I'm using "Christmas" here because it's the most publicized, most celebrated gift-giving holiday I can think of. If you don't celebrate it, just substitute whatever holiday that involves gift exchanging. Like No Panty Day or something. Though if you do use that one as your holiday, the rest of this point is going to read extremely creepy and weird.

When you're a kid, it's all about you. You're the one with the giant pile of gifts, while the adults have a few scattered boxes of things they most likely actually needed but couldn't normally afford because of all the money they just spent on toys and video games. That all changes roughly around the time you graduate high school and/or enter college.

The only time in your life that milk crates are considered legitimate furniture.

When you're on your own and making your own money, you're now expected to buy for everyone else. And until you actually make your list and find yourself in the store, you have no idea how much you're about to be elf-fucked into ramen-eating territory for the next three months. Which is doubly bad for college students because they were already in that position to begin with. But that first year isn't as bad as it gets. You budget and make it work, and nobody expects to get anything useful or awesome because they know your ass is as broke as it will ever be. So you pick up one gift each for your mom, dad, grandparents, brothers and sisters. If you don't have enough money (you won't), you start trimming off relatives from the list until you end up with just mom and dad.

"This is for all of you to share. I hope you like Stetson."

But then you get married or engaged, and suddenly, your list doubles. Not only does it double, but you find yourself overspending for the in-laws because you don't want them to think you're a cheap, penniless waste. And every couple has one person who wants to buy for every goddamn aunt, uncle and cousin in their entire family. But, wait, it gets so much worse.

When you have kids of your own, you finally feel that shit full force. You're forming Christmas memories your kids will carry the rest of their lives, you want them to have a Christmas as awesome as you had (if you had a good childhood) or to make sure they don't repeat your shitty experiences (if you didn't). Once again you think, "We work, we saved for this, there's no reason our kids can't have a nice, average Christmas like the kids on TV have."

But that's when you realize that the things your parents were buying you when you were a kid required retarded amounts of sacrifice on their behalf. For instance, you walk past the Lego aisle and think, "Hey, kids love this stuff." You skip past all the crappy ones that only have a hundred or so pieces, and set your eyes on the big box. "Oh, shit, it's a fucking Death Star! I have to get them th- HOLY CHRIST, MY HEART JUST SHOT RIGHT OUT OF MY ASSHOLE!"

Yes, that's an extreme case, but even when you go down to normal human toys, you realize that a hundred bucks buys either five shitty toys that they'll hardly (if ever) play with, or one cool thing that they'll get a lot of use out of. But buying one awesome thing makes for a really quick, anticlimactic Christmas morning, because the act of opening the gifts is a ritual in and of itself, and you want them to have a few at least. So, you budget "one really good gift" and maybe five or six cheaper ones, just to pad the bulk under the tree. By the time you finish shopping, you've just bitch-slapped your bank account, 1940s movie style, as it lets out a soft, feminine "Ugh!" And that's when you realize that unless you start saving up for next year's Christmas immediately after this one finishes, you're completely fucked.

Just Considering Buying a House


Some of you won't make it to this point until a little later in life, but almost everybody gets there eventually. You're doing pretty well, saving up money like a responsible adult. You made it through the wedding. You've started or are thinking about starting a family. The next step is obviously a house. OK, first things first: Start researching prices.

I live in a part of the country where housing is pretty damn cheap. A three-bedroom home with a big yard and two-car garage routinely goes for around $50,000 here (city people, feel free to go change your pants -- I'll wait). The reason they're so cheap is because of that $20,000 a year income I mentioned earlier ... but even comparing those two numbers, that should still be doable, right? Oh, wait, they want 20% up front for a down payment. So that bargain basement house in an economically depressed small town requires you to write them a check for $10,000 or $15,000. Then they'll throw in a few thousand more for closing costs.

"So carry the 1, subtract the car payment, and we have ... $6."

And this is when you throw up your hands and say, "Wait, who are these people who are buying houses then?" We're talking about people who live check to check (no different than most of the world). The idea of having 10 or 15 grand sitting in a bank account when you only make $20k a year would make a cop immediately assume that you were selling drugs on the side. So why not get a loan for the down payment? Because it's illegal. The idea of a down payment is to show the lenders that you are responsible enough to save and handle money on your own.

Again, I know that to you homeowners out there, this is old hat. But to somebody doing this for the first time, it's fucking Crazytown. In any other context if you go up to somebody and say, "Hey, you can kick in ten or fifteen grand for this project, right?" they'll fucking stab you in the biggest artery they can find. But when you enter the world of house buying, if you don't have that kind of cash sitting around then you get treated like a leper.

Now, remember earlier when I said that walking into a hospital was like entering a country where the exchange rate rendered your money worthless? Now imagine someone like me thinking about moving to a city, where a house of the same size, with the same yard, in the same type of neighborhood, goes for half a million dollars. Now the down payment is $100,000 to $150,000. As much money as it takes to buy two to three fully paid-off houses in my area. That you have to have in cash. Just extra, sitting around, untouched. Suddenly, you don't feel like you're as financially sound as you thought before you even entertained the idea of owning a house.

"See, I told you it was a good idea to have $200,000 lying around."

But the down payment is just one part of a much larger clusterfuck. Especially when ...

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Talking to a Loan Officer for the First Time


Let's not even go as far as a house. Let's say you just want a small loan -- a few grand for your first cheap used car, or maybe to buy some furniture for your first apartment. Maybe a hired thug to follow you around and push down old people for your amusement. No matter how well you're doing, no matter how much of a raise you got this year, the first time you speak to a person about a loan, you will walk out of there feeling like the biggest piece of shit in the world.

Yes, the banks benefit when you borrow money from them because the interest payments turn them a profit. They need your loan to be accepted. But only if you make your payments on time in a regular fashion. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? The problem is that the first time you speak with someone about a loan, you probably don't own anything more expensive than your TV, which doesn't have a title that you could sign over to the bank if you suddenly became unable to make the payments -- maybe they caught you rubbing burgers on your crack before serving them to customers, and since it's your third strike, they had to fire you.

Those aren't sausages.

So the bank handing you money is an insanely enormous risk on their part. Without a co-signer, there's a very good chance that they're not going to do it. Or if they do, you'll get interest rates that come in the shape of a porn star's mutant, unprotected cock. In a case like this where you have little to no credit, their job is to scrutinize every penny you've ever spent over the last five or six years and figure out where your missed or late payments were, and how regularly those occurred. You know, from back when you were a broke-ass college student who couldn't manage money because you had none to practice with.

In my own life, I've encountered the most frustrating situation you can go through after escaping poverty. Your income is finally at a comfortable level. You're no longer late on your bills. If an emergency pops up, you can take care of it. However, you haven't been out of poverty long enough for the bankers to trust in that financial growth. All they see is your past data, filled with late bills and collection agencies.

"Well, according to this, you're a big ol' piece of shit."

My landlord is a retired loan officer, and he's told me countless stories that are exactly what my fiancee and I are going through. Stories of people he's dealt with, who he knows for a fact can make the payments. But after going over the history, he has to tell them, "I can see that you've made huge strides, and that you haven't been late on any bills in the last two years -- but when you add in your prior history, it tells the bank that you'll be late on your payments at least once every three months, and they just can't do it. All you can do at this point is continue doing what you're doing for another year or two and then come back to me."

We can give you a loan ... in two years. Of course, by that point, you could have saved up what you would have been paying toward the loan and instead used that money to buy what you originally wanted -- two years later. And just like that, the income and financial security that you were so proud of just kind of feel like you've worked this hard for nothing.

"Is this why people do that milk crate thing?"

When You Have to Pay for a Funeral


For most of us, that sounds like something that's so far over the horizon, it's not even worth considering. When grandma dies, your parents will be paying for it. You don't have to worry about your own parents' funerals because they're only in their 50s, so they have another 30 years ahead of them. Plus, they have a pretty decent savings, as well as some good insurance, so basically all you have to do is stuff them in a box and throw some dirt on top, and it's a done deal.

That's what I thought when my dad died back in 2004. And he had absolutely nothing, as he was a member of the "I'll be dead, so it's not my problem -- I can't afford that shit anyway" group. As of 2010, that club was 35 million members strong, which means that many, many, many of you will be dealing with this, eventually.

"In this model, we've left a body inside so you can see how peacefully your relative will decompose when he's inside it."

When he passed, I was 30, and had finally found an awesome job running the websites of three auto dealerships. In retrospect, it didn't pay jack shit, but at the time, it was more than I'd ever made in my life. Our bank account was finally starting to show some signs of life, and even though I was still coming to my friends for loans, I wasn't having to do it nearly as often. So that in itself made me feel like an adult for the first time. This was what "making it" felt like.

Until I found myself sitting in that room with the funeral director, trying to make sense of how a 49-year-old man could just up and die in his sleep, while negotiating the price of death accessories that "honor his memory." Now, regular readers know that I've been pretty open with how abusive and fucked up my dad was, so I would have had no problem stuffing him in a pine box like I was shipping bulk lunch meat and calling it even -- but that's exactly the point: How much you spend is a direct reflection of what you thought of them in life. And everyone who walks past that coffin at the visitation is thinking it, at least on a subconscious level. "He's your dad, for Christ's sake! This is all you thought of him?!" As creepy as it sounds, it's the exact psychology that's used in the jewelry example.

"I can see by the coffin that your dad must have been a real douche. Wanna bounce and go have sex?"

Dad did do us a favor by insisting on cremation, which is quite a bit cheaper than a traditional burial. But what we didn't realize was that we still had to get a coffin for display because you can't just flop his dead carcass on the floor for the visitation. And the coffin has to be a special material because when he's cremated, the coffin goes in, too. Then there are the costs of the actual cremation itself, transportation of the body, the urn, which, by the way, was buried, so we still had to buy the plot and the headstone, and ... you get the point. The average funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000, and even though I was in the best financial shape of my life, I didn't have that.

Even the people who do have that kind of money have it for a reason. They're saving for retirement or a down payment on a house or a new car or a college fund for their kids. They're not expecting to have to yank that amount of cash out of their account, throw it into a body-sized furnace and then bury the ashes six feet deep. And if you're planning on doing that with your money, please seek help because you're fucking crazy.

"Mom was looking a little sick, so I'm just practicing."

Don't let all of this get you discouraged. It's that feeling that keeps you propelled and constantly striving for growth. When you've gotten to a place where all of the above examples are no longer a problem, you'll encounter something else that takes its place. Use it as a challenge. People get through these situations all the time -- they find ways to make it work. So will you. It's not easy, but when you do get through it, it's so goddamn nice to sit back and just give life the finger.

John has a Twitter thing because he's so techy.

For more Cheese, check out 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor and 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Having a Career.

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