William McPherson describes how he became impoverished and what it’s like:
If you’re poor, what might have been a minor annoyance, or even a major inconvenience, becomes something of a disaster. Your hard drive crashes? Who’s going to pay for the recovery of its data, not to mention the new computer? I’m not playing solitaire on this machine; the hard drive holds my work, virtually my life. It is not a luxury for me but a necessity. I need dental work. Anybody got $10,000? Dentists are not a luxury. Dental disease can make you seriously ill. Lose your cellphone? What may be a luxury to some is a necessity to me. Without that telephone and that computer, my life as I have known it would cease to exist. Not long after, so would I. I am not eager for that to happen. Need to go to a funeral hundreds of miles away? Who pays for the plane ticket? In the case of the funeral, my nephew paid for the plane ticket. My daughter and son-in-law paid for the dental work.
Sometimes, I find it deeply humiliating that I am dependent on such kindnesses when I would prefer that the kindnesses flow the other way. Most of the time, though, I am just extremely grateful for the help of family and friends. It’s not so much humiliating as it is humbling, which is a good thing.
I am ashamed to have gotten myself into this situation. Unlike many who are born, live, and die in poverty, I got where I am today through my own efforts. I can’t blame anyone else. Perhaps, it should be humiliating to reveal myself like this to the eyes of any passing stranger or friend; more humiliating to friends, actually, some of whom knew me in another life. Most of my friends probably don’t realize or would rather not realize just how parlous my situation is. Just as well. We’d both be embarrassed.
As McPherson concedes, he didn’t take as seriously as he ought to have done the importance of saving, investing wisely, and living conservatively. Though he was never rich, the key factor here seems to be his inability in the past to imagine what poverty would be like, and that it would be a possibility for someone like him.
I think this is me. I mean, I have been guided by a good financial planner for the past seven or eight years, and through conservative investing and saving, have built up a decent amount of financial security. But I live in fear that I’m missing something, and through my own extravagance — hey, why not buy those expensive pork chops for that French dish you want to cook this weekend? — I will have left the gates of the city open at night, and the enemy will come in. I read that piece by William McPherson and think: yep, that could easily be me one day.