A student found this dollar bill in a textbook that I handed out about a week earlier. Obviously this dollar had been torn into many different pieces (some lost) and then taped back together using packing tape. The student was perplexed and didn’t want it. I posted a picture of it on my Facebook account and asked if people thought it would still be legal, which I thought it was since it still had both serial numbers. Others thought it would be legal because it had more than 50% of the bill still intact. One friend even recommended taking it to the bank and exchanging it for a whole dollar.
I admit I have thought about attempting to spend it but exchanging it for a “fresh” one seems less sketchy. Am I sad, or just desperate?
An Unfortunate Metaphor
The more I thought about going and exchanging it, the more I realized it is a pretty good representation of my paycheck. As most of you know, I am a high school teacher. Many of you probably don’t know that I work in a state that ranks 23rd for teacher pay. No, that isn’t the worst nor is it the best, but certainly it could be better! That dollar pictured above is literally what it feels like each month when I get my paycheck. I have lost so much buying power of the years that just maintaining a “middle class” standard of living gets more difficult every month. Not only do I make less than I used to (or should), but the cost of nearly everything continues to go up.
Milk and cheese have gone (or are going) up.
Flour has gone up.
Fruits and vegetables have gone (and are going) up.
Gasoline keeps going up, usually for no reason other than speculators are gambling on the world supply based on current world events.
Pet food has gone up.
Containers/packaging have gotten smaller and contain less, but the prices have gone up!
The cost of everything is or has gone up. The paycheck buys less and less each month! My dollar, what is left of it, doesn’t go as far as it used to.
I know what you are thinking. I can hear you muttering to yourself now. “Here we go again. Another teacher whining about how much they don’t get paid but should. Enough already!” I can understand your skepticism, but perhaps one teacher’s personal experience can convince you otherwise. I am going to try at least. I may not be successful but at least thanks for listening.
I’ll start with the fact that my family doesn’t live a lavish life and we try very hard not to live beyond our means, a difficult endeavor these days. We live in a three bedroom house (mortgaged and underwater) that is just slightly over 1300 square feet. We have two cars, one paid for (it’s an 11 year old Volkswagen) and one belongs to the bank (a car we bought used more than a year ago when it was already two years old). We bought the second one because we needed a more economical commuter car for me. We don’t go on vacations every year and when we do we have either saved for it or it is a simple family camping trip to the other side of the state. We don’t have any fun “toys,” a camping trailer or recreational vehicles. We have enough to be comfortable.
Next, I work TWO jobs. I am a full time teacher (day job) with nearly 12 years of experience and I also work part time (15-25 hours a month) as a driving instructor. I have a college education. Should it be this way? “Get a college education,” they say, “you’ll make more that way!” That’s funny because I never thought I would be working two jobs to make ends meet. I knew that teaching was never going to make me rich. I’m a realist. But, I never really believed that I would be counting every penny, and picking them up in parking lots because I just might need them. Yet, with all the work and effort, sometimes the ends still just don’t meet.
My wife works part time and tries the best she can to balance a work life and a home life, not an easy task and one I don’t envy. She makes our $300/month grocery budget magically stretch and still puts tasty meals on the table. It’s not easy and I am thankful she puts out all the effort that she does.
There are lots of things and experiences that I would love to give my kids, but I can’t. I have kids that have grown and left the house. They have needs and I would love to be able to help them when they need it, but it is hard when it feels as though it could risk our own financial stability. I just simply can’t do all I need to, let alone want to.
I know I am not the only one out here dealing with this issue. There are many people in the same boat as me, making due with one oar. There are many public servants who don’t get paid enough. There are many people working in the social service community that do miracles every day with resources that could and should be more plentiful. So, I am trying not to complain and I hope it doesn’t sound that way. I am really just trying to help some people see the reality that many people live with every day – I am surviving. I don’t have it bad, but I don’t have it good either.
A Final Thought
I once heard an anecdote about Bill Gates. The way I remember it is this: Bill Gates is so rich that if he dropped a $100 bill on the floor it would be a waste of his time to pick it up because the effort to retrieve the bill from the floor would actually cost him more money than he dropped. Now, I am not going to fault the guy for having money. He is living the American dream and then some. But, that obviously isn’t how 99% (probably more) of Americans live.
So, what am I going to do? Well, I am going to go to the bank and exchange that sad little dollar held together with packing tape for a fresh one. Then, I am going to go out and make it stretch as far as I can.