#2. You Become an Obsessive Bean-Counter
When You're Poor ...
Remember that time you were cleaning out your wallet and found an extra $5 bill stuffed inside one of the pockets? Poor people are laughing their asses off right now because I might as well be asking if they remember the time they found an extra minotaur in the kitchen. When you're living check to check, there is no amount of money that isn't accounted for, right down to the last penny. You don't have "about 70 bucks" in the bank. You have $68.17.
You think in exact numbers because, at any given point, you have to know if swiping the debit card for gas will put you into overdraft territory. You have to be able to figure on the spot how much you can spend versus how much you need to survive until the next payday, and even the numbers after the decimal point are important. The simplest miscalculation could mean the difference between an actual dinner or a bowl of McDonald's ketchup packets at the end of the week.
Not bad. But it needs more ketchup.
Paying the bills becomes a work of algebraic artistry as you find out how much they'll take in order to not shut off your gas. Then calculate on the fly the smallest amount of money you need to survive for the next four days, then subtract that from your current bank account, then make adjustments where necessary and eventually arrive at X ... where X equals how much today's bill is going to fuck you for the next three weeks.
Once You Escape ...
You get to a point where you stop worrying about exact numbers, and you start to drift into a place where rounding off the bills and bank account isn't a big deal. But your mind still panics when you realize that you don't know exactly how much money is in your checking. So you'll look it up. Satisfied, you'll put it on the back burner and go on with your day. The next day, you'll find yourself worrying again. So you'll look it up again. After living at my current, normal-person level of income for two years, I'm still doing it.
I constantly have the Home Alone look on my face.
Because of that, you never relax. That constant tension of not knowing how the bills are going to be paid is gone, but it left a comet trail of stress that sticks with you. After beating your ass in the school bathroom, the bully finally left, but not before farting in the room and shoving a chair under the doorknob so you can't get out.
#1. You Only Spend with the Short Term in Mind
When You're Poor ...
You buy exactly what you need, and no more. That six-pack of toilet paper is only three bucks. But there's a sale on the 12-pack for only two dollars more? Fuck that. That's an extra two bucks that I'll need before the week is done. If I watch what I eat, I doubt I'll even have to shit up three of these bad boys.
But that trickles into other things like clothes -- OK, ew. I really need to watch my segues. When I was growing up, most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my uncles, cousins and dad. When I outgrew them, they went to my brother. Every once in a while -- and we're talking once every year or two -- we'd come up with some extra cash and go clothes shopping, but because it was so out of the norm, it was treated like a big deal. And because of the way it was elevated to a special event, we learned to see it as something extravagant. A luxury that we treated ourselves to on rare occasions.
What we absolutely never did was buy an outfit just because we liked the way it looked. We only bought clothes when the ones we had no longer fit. And sometimes, even that requirement was overlooked for the sake of making sure the lights' "On" switches weren't lying pieces of shit.
Once You Escape ...
I still haven't broken free from that frame of mind. I mean, yes, I keep my kids clothed, because I'm not completely removed from how normal people function. But I still only own four pairs of pants myself, and every time I go out to buy a pair, this weird sense of guilt stops me. A gnat buzzing around my head, telling me, "Are you crazy? You don't need another pair of pants. You do laundry every other day, so you always have clean pants to wear. By the way, if you catch me, you'll be rich because I'm a goddamn talking gnat." And then as I'm frantically swatting the air, a security guard politely asks me to leave. Pantsless.
"No, I'm telling you, it fucking talked!"
This is a problem, because that's actually a very shitty way to manage a budget. You skip over the great 2-for-1 deal on laundry detergent because you're not out of laundry detergent yet. It's kind of opposite of the way we bought food when I was a kid -- where you should be stocking up because buying in bulk is cheaper and the stuff is on sale, you wait until you're scraping the residue off the lid. Then you have to take whatever goddamned price the store gives you that day, because you can't wash your clothes otherwise.
If you think that's a minor thing, realize that you're applying this to everything you buy. You're not buying the dryer because Sears is having their once a year "Get these fucking dryers out of our warehouse 50 percent off sale," but because the dryer that's been making that funny noise for a year and a half finally broke. You have to take the first one you see, at whatever price, because your wet clothes are sitting there getting moldy. That "wait until you're desperate" mindset means your money just doesn't go as far.
It's so incredibly hard to break out of that frame of mind and start thinking long term because of that guilt. Instead of seeing that the two-pack of deodorant saves you a dollar, you instead see one package that's $3 and another that's $5. Three is cheaper than five, so you get that one. Guilt averted. You bought exactly what you needed, and no more.
Man, I can't tell you how many lemons I've fucked myself out of that way.
Being poor is a mindset. And it's one that, if given the chance, will make your ass poor again.
For more Cheese, check out The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent and 5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003.