49-Year-Old Man Shares What Life Is Like Living Paycheck to Paycheck


In our “Let’s Talk Money” series, we ask respondents from all walks of life the same set of raw money questions. The answers reveal intimate details about their financial lives.

Talking about money is one of the longest held taboo subjects in our culture. With this weekly series, we open people’s wallets (and with them fears, hopes, and closely held beliefs). We don’t approach this with a certain outcome in mind—we just want to open doors and find out if money is taboo for good reason, or if remaining quiet is keeping us all down. We hope you’ll join us in considering this question: Is it time to reimagine polite society when it comes to money?

From: Johnny Colt, Age 49

Location: Northern California

HipLatina: How do you make your living?

Johnny: I work as a full-time casino dealer to pay the bills.

HL: How worried are you about money? How do thoughts of money affect your life?

J: I worried more about money when I was younger. Now I’ve gotten used to the fact that every now and then I’m going to overdraw my account, or come up short on funds. The “desperate for money/cash scenario” still arrives but I don’t let it bother me. I don’t have kids, so I don’t worry about leaving money behind. Also, I feel as an artist I have an obligation to myself to live, create, and experience. Dying in debt is a given.

HL: How do you spend your money? How would you describe your level of debt?

J: Mostly bills. Huge student loan debt, mortgage, nothing else. Save slowly for vacations, etc.

HL: How would you describe your credit score? How does your credit score affect your life (for good or for bad)?

J:  Below average, but it hasn’t affected me as I already have a house loan and it turns out, a shitty credit score does not keep you from getting a car loan.

HL: What regrets do you have about money?

J: For having an advanced education, I never established a “career” that rewards me with substantial income. I consequentially never planned for retirement or a time when I couldn’t work. I always considered that I would retire in a foreign, possibly third world country. My property is my greatest and only real asset. Thankfully, I live in Marin County, California so the value is substantial.

HL: How do your parents talk about money–with each other, with you? 

J: My post-WWII parents lived the American Dream. Dad supported the family and mom stayed at home. We never talked about money and it wasn’t until they were moving into retirement homes that I learned their worth. They advised and complained about my money habits, but they spent 10% or less of their income on housing, on a mortgage. I spend 50% plus. Different times. I work with people today who spend 75% of their income on rent. Income has not kept pace with consumer spending across the board in America. But this opens issues of political history in this country. I find it shocking that I made as much as an hourly temp worker in the eighties in San Francisco as I make today. Re-entering the workforce after years of working as an independent has been a rude awakening to the conditions of jobs and workers today.

HL: Are you in a relationship? If so, how much money does the other person make–do they make more or less than you? How do you handle money issues in your relationship? How are financial decisions made?

J: I take it for granted that any relationship I’m in will be with someone who makes more than me. I live paycheck to paycheck for god’s sake. My boyfriend has family wealth. We discussed it on the second date. I told him I could never match him dollar for dollar. He pays for a lot of stuff and surprisingly, it has not become an issue. I do bring it up regularly to check in, to make sure he is still okay. Also, I do things for him that have financial value, like keeping his dogs while he’s out of town. That alone saves him $75 per day in boarding fees. On our first vacation together, he paid for almost everything, and when I brought up the income inequality, he reminded me that I had saved him nearly $4,000 over the past year in dog-boarding fees. He has actual money but I’m aware—as is he—that I do things that have value for him. I was in a previous relationship with a financial disparity, but that guy refused to talk about it. My current relationship is very open and communication is key.

 

HL: Do you have friends in different economic situations? How do you make social decisions with friends who have different incomes?

J: My friends and I go “dutch,” sometimes, but more often than not I will pick up the tab. If my friends have substantially greater income than me, they pick up the tab. My friends are people I’ve known for 20+ years. We understand each other. I do things for them that money can’t buy. When there is great income disparity between friends, the friendship only survives if the richer friend picks up the tab most of the time and the poorer friend never takes advantage of that opportunity.

HL: How does your financial life differ from others in your life?

J: I think it’s easy to underestimate life experience as a value in relationships. That I bring to the table world travel and extensive knowledge/education and talents. Also great humor. A lot of times, people who have money don’t have a lot of joy in their lives. Poverty has never bogged me down or kept life’s secrets from me—quite the opposite, actually. I think poverty has forced me to be creative. I also philosophically hate waste and hate spending money on crap. There’s plenty of stuff to go around already out there. Money is used to try and buy happiness. Perhaps because I’ve never really had much money, I’ve never had that opportunity and had to find happiness elsewhere.

HL: If you had more money, what would you do with it?

J: Pay off my mortgage. Buy a round of drinks. Take my boyfriend on a killer vacation.

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