Expensive to be Poor 12/1/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

The simple fact is that it is expensive to be poor. About a year ago, checks went out to taxpayers to help with the faltering economy. The checks were, as I recall, about $1,200. When I received mine, I was living paycheck to paycheck, able to find no permanent job but working at a part-time temporary adjunct professor position. My car had been repossessed, and I found myself riding the bus to and from work in the middle of a very cold winter.

On receiving the check, I went to a used car dealer to see if I could find something, anything, drivable and reliable. What I found was a 1997 Ford Explorer, rusty, bad tires, but it started up and I could drive it off of the lot. I bought it for $900, but ended up putting a few thousand more dollars into it, at least as I could afford it.

I was fortunate. The other vehicle on the lot that I could afford at the time actually didn’t even start up. My Ford, as it turns out, is fun to drive, very good as a work vehicle and very reliable. The cargo space and reliability carried me on several trips that were hundreds of miles to complete. I actually did get a AAA membership just in case she broke down unexpectedly, and I’m happy to say that so far, it has been a waste of money.

But she has “personality”. When I got her, the seats didn’t move. The driver’s side seat was back as far as possible, making it hard to reach the pedals, and the passenger side was up as far as it could go making it basically useless for passengers. Today, they still don’t move, but at least they’re at reasonable positions for sitting. The air conditioner never worked, the stereo works but is very old and has outdated technology (including an actual factual cassette player). The driver’s side inside door handle works now, which is pretty cool.

The biggest issue with the vehicle is that she gets, on a good day, about 14 mpg. It runs fine on the cheap gas, but this mileage hurts for long distance driving. I’ll have to routinely fill up twice in a trip I often find myself taking to visit with a friend. Unfortunately, I have not had the money for a better vehicle. Ultimately, I had to pay for the fuel instead since I couldn’t afford a vehicle with the mileage.

People often criticize the “working class poor” when they tend to be overweight. The reality is that fattening foods, high in carbohydrates, are simply less expensive. I’ve tried to eat healthy, but despite what my “non-GMO” friends claim, it truly is expensive to eat healthy. Sure, broccoli isn’t very expensive, but neither is it filling. It’s just plain expensive to be poor.

Fortunately, my father died. Okay, I put it that way for shock value, and I’m certainly not happy that I lost him, but he did leave a generous will. With a portion of my inheritance, today I purchased a new (used) vehicle, a 2017 Chevrolet Volt. For those unfamiliar with this vehicle, think of it as Chevy’s answer to the Prius. It’s a hybrid vehicle, with both an electrical and gas motor. Because it runs on gas (about 35 mpg), you don’t have to worry about the battery giving out on a long trip (which lasts roughly 50 miles on a full charge). Combined, reviews claim that typically it gets a net of 100 mpg between the two engines.

Can you imagine? Literally, not figuratively, 100 mpg. I’m assuming that’s with routine recharges, and at 50 miles on a charge, I may never have to use gasoline when I’m driving back and forth from work. But, even at three years old, there is no way I could have afforded this vehicle just a year ago. I’m sure I’ll save enough in gas to pay off a significant portion of the price tag, and I’m considering maybe going ride share service to make money on it (something I could never do with my Ford, which I did keep, because it wouldn’t pass the inspection).

My goal, with the money I have (and am depleting too quickly) is to find ways to live cheaply. I’m buying a house tomorrow cash so all I have to pay for are utilities, repairs (most of which I can do) and taxes. This vehicle will run nearly free except for insurance and maintenance. And food? Still cheap.

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