Middle Class Snack Kids

“Middle Class Snack Kid” is a term I made up for people who do not spend a lot on themselves on the whole, but are running themselves into the ground buying food and drink. I coined this term for myself because I needed to diagnose my disease — the disease being that no matter how much money I make and how little it feels like I spend on myself, I am always living paycheck to paycheck. How can I be so damn broke all the time? Me! The person who doesn’t own a single piece of furniture that wasn’t given to her for free! The person who will wear one pair of jeans until they literally fall apart! The person who will wait until she looks like a crazy mountain woman before she will shell out $40 for a haircut!

Then it hit me: snacks. Fuck. I am all about snacking. As a friend once put it, I am D.T.H. — Down to Hang. And for me, hanging means snacking. I will watch entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one sitting, as long as my friends and my snacks are there. My version of the shameful closet full of shoes would be a closet full of Kettle Chips and cherry tomatoes. And this connection between hanging out with friends and snacking started early. 

For the Middle Class Snack Kid, Goldfish crackers ran like water, and friends came over after school for nachos and for lying to people about our age in AOL chat rooms. We lived like this because we had two parents, each of whom had a job. They were probably not married, but we had them. Some of us even had a live-in grandma who had a savings, a pension, and a social security check, and was generous with her $20 bills (cough, cough Me cough, cough).

Middle Class Snack Kids were raised without some of the finer things, but with a mindset that life was taken care of in all the important ways. We may not have had that new Walkman, but damnit if there weren’t cookies made by Grandma every day. And so I may know enough not to go buying a TV or new clothes, but damnit if I don’t buy myself all the snacks I desire, with no thought given to the fact that I do not have the three incomes of my mom, my dad and my grandma. I have one income. I have the one income of a me, with an entry level-type job and student loans.

What it comes down to is this: I am not middle class anymore. I was raised middle class, but I did not graduate into that stratum. What I graduated into was a world where I have a drama degree in a recession, and that translates firmly into the lower class. And I have to deal with that. I buy myself snacks and drinks and dinners in restaurants because it is a way of pretending that everything is okay. I know I should be saving this money, but the deprivation in all the other ways (the shitty furniture; the pairs of underwear that could be in kindergarten by now; the TV with the broken volume button that turns the volume up instead of down) freaks me out and makes me sad. So I think, “Well, I know I can’t buy a new TV, but I’m allowed to spend money on food! It’s food! Food is a necessity!” It’s a case of not seeing the money forest for the food trees.

My grandma and granddad got our family into the middle class by budgeting their money. Paychecks were separated out into envelopes for food, mortgage, gas, and fucking nothing else. These people paid for cars in cash, and here I am snacking my way out of the middle class because I feel like getting a latte at Starbucks twice a week? Because there’s a Pinkberry close to work? Because I want to eat an entire bag of chips by myself while I re-watch Deadwood? Ugh. This Middle Class Snack Kid business is nonsense.

However, simply realizing this and holding yourself accountable can be the key to putting an end to it. Steven R. Covey says in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which yes, I have read and don’t be an asshole about it), “There is a gap between stimulus and response.” This has been the most important piece of self-help advice I have ever received. Why is this a relevant to the Middle Class Snack Kid? Because if you take the time to ask yourself why you’re putting that bag of chips in your grocery cart or buying that fried pickle appetizer at the bar, it can make all the difference. How do I know this? Because when I look at my spending history in months where I wasn’t paying attention, I’ve historically spent about $360 a month on food and drinks. That is the most embarrassing thing. That is so terrible. Admitting that in a public forum is excruciating.

However, in months where I had the discipline to pay attention, I spend more like $230. I am not kidding. That is a difference of $130 dollars (math!). If my grandma were here right now, she would be so ashamed of me for the months where I lose my head. She would throw like five envelopes in my formerly middle class face and she would be like, “Hey! I bought you snacks because I could. But you cannot, so cut it out, dum dum. Also, you’re getting chubby and I’m allowed to say that because I’m dead.” It’s also important to realize that it can be a month-to-month problem, marked by the influx of your paycheck. Forgive yourself for the stretches of time when you lose it and end up buying $15 worth of grapes, celery, cucumbers, and carrots (one of my healthier snack binges), but know that keeping it in control one week makes it easier the next.

So that’s my advice, fellow Snack Kids: the next time you’re at the grocery store and you’re holding something in your hands, take a second to ask yourself why you’re buying it. Are you buying it because it’s a viable meal ingredient? Or are you buying it because you miss being 14 years old and hanging out with your best friend while you obsess over reruns of The Simpsons? The difference between those two things is the difference that could change everything. Just ask me, the 29-year-old woman who recently got a haircut, a new pair of jeans, and has a three-month-old savings account with actual money in it. Though that same woman also ate a protein bar, 3 pickles, and a package of cherry tomatoes for dinner last night, which is weird and gross. Change is a process, you guys.

 

Lindsay Katai is a writer/performer/debtor living in Los Angeles, CA. She sometimes remembers to use Twitter.

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49 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#22)

Love this. There’s this expectation – is it generational or novel to the current economy? – that going to college will result in your immediate appearance in the socioeconomic class you grew up in. Expectations of things you will always have access to.

melis (#42)

“Hello, I’d like to major in…uh, I guess you would call it Lifestyle Maintenance? Whatever is going to keep me in vegan gelato.”

melis (#42)

“No, I’m not vegan, I just like the texture of guar gum in my pistachio-coconut blend.”

4Lifey (#5,634)

@melis

You’re going to need at least a Masters, and probably a PhD in that field. Although you don’t need a degree at all to be a lifecoach, which, I think you’re certainly qualified, maybe even over-qualified. How do I pay you? Can I barter interpretive dance-parkour-cross(dressing)fit lessons?

sventurata (#27)

This is seriously my last remaining financial hurdle (impressive? Pathetic? You decide). I love food, food makes me very happy before/during/after a long day dealing with work and the city, I consume moderate portions and strive for balanced nutrients, and so on.

I’ve started making my own LARA bars and save a bundle with that… maybe I should make salt and vinegar chips… buy a soda maker…oh no that’s spending money…

DrFeelGood (#401)

@sventurata Yes. Food is probably my biggest luxury. I scrimp on everything else, so I always feel justified buying a block of $9 cheese, or vanilla bean pods, just cause. The latest manifestation of this is that I’m baking a lot, because I see it as an “affordable luxury” but its actually just expensive :(

highjump (#39)

This is everything. I spent all of my free time in high school with my friends dipping things in nutella. We worked at a movie theater (snacks!) and after work we went to the grocery store next door (more snacks!) to make elaborate feasts for movie-madlibs-gossip sessions because our income was 100% disposable. This eventually translated to happy hours and mixers and brunches but now I have student loans and rent to pay!

@highjump “I spent all of my free time in high school with my friends dipping things in nutella.” BEST. i have a jar of nutella on my desk. i eat it with a knife.

jenfizz (#100)

@Logan Sachon Nutella on a ritz cracker is better than 99% of things.

ohk (#119)

@Logan Sachon Why a knife? Take a SPOON to that jar. Go ahead, scoop it all up.

pearl (#153)

@highjump I just put some Trader Joe’s cookie butter and chocolate almond spread on a “bistro biscuit” (basically a Lotus/speculoos cookie). Delish.

Ayep, that’s me. So glad there are others out there…? Someone please curb my snacking.

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Maybe we can start a support group?

I know I should be saving this money, but the deprivation in all the other ways (the shitty furniture; the pairs of underwear that could be in kindergarten by now; the TV with the broken volume button that turns the volume up instead of down) freaks me out and makes me sad.

That is exactly why I blow money on little luxuries. It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but not better enough.

@jen325 Yep. I take great pleasure in grocery shopping because it’s about the only place/time I can spend money. (“I have to eat, right? FANCY CHEESE.”)

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Okay, some food purchases may be frivolous, but fancy cheese is always worth it. ALWAYS.

Changeling (#126)

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher
Fancy Cheese is my cigarettes.

Ellie (#62)

I have gotten really good at not buying snacks (it used to be worse in college). However I now have grocery shopping despair where as soon as I get into the grocery store I inevitably can’t remember anything I like to eat except the chicken noodle soup from Whole Foods that comes in the bag AND the bucket and costs $12 for the equivalent of either two or three meals, depending. Also now grocery shopping, which used to be a delightful escape from schoolwork, is genuinely just one more thing I have to do and not fun anymore. Also Whole Foods is much closer and easier traffic wise than any other store. And I buy supplements now too, supplement buying has kind of become my financial indulgence. Despair!

bex (#109)

@Ellie OMG I totally impulse buy supplements. My bf was sick last week so i disappeared into the bedroom and came out with a handful of supplements …he was like, “what is this” and i had to explain the weird thing that i have for vitamins and supplements. Though he felt much better and is now convinced that b complex is a miracle drug…

cherrispryte (#19)

This is me – I don’t snack, but I spend SO MUCH on food, it’s ridiculous. And it’s not a lot of food! Just expensive-as-fuck food. It seems that if you want to eat healthy(ish) tasty, and cheap, you have to pick two, and I hate that.

candybeans (#68)

@cherrispryte yeah, once I started cutting empty starches out of my diet and trying to eat more protein, all my money disappeared. I HATE having to choose between eating cheaply and eating in a way that makes my body feel better.

OHMIGAWD this is exactly my problem. I always called it “having gourmet tastes that outreach my budget” because for me it translates into cookbook-inspired Whole Foods binge walkthroughs rather than healthy snacks…3 helpings at dinnertime type-thing. All at the expense of owning a single piece of furniture for all 3-4 of my adult NYC-living years. So happy to have read this. I’m not alone!

hungrybee (#73)

I am good at the grocery store – no snacks for me, thanks – but midday at the vending machine? Or the 2pm coffee? I should keep a tally, I really should.

meatcat (#81)

@hungrybee Same here. Chips or cookies at the grocery store? Nope! But a mid-day walk outside will often lead me to those — and more! — at a nearby Walgreen’s.

Brunhilde (#78)

Yeah, I didn’t have any food in the house last night so I walked down the street, right past the grocery store, and sat at the bar and ordered boar sliders with coleslaw and two cocktails. Picked up a 12 pack of beer on the way home… So I spent $60 because I wanted bourbon (not sold in grocery stores in my stupid state) and am too lazy to cook.

Slapfight (#86)

Me too. I get so angry sometimes that I never buy myself anything so goddammit, I will eat well.

spendthirsty (#93)

I’ve been spending $500/mo on dining out, and I don’t live anywhere near Per Se.

In the triad of eating Healthy / Tasty / Cheap (pick two), I’ve changed to healthy and cheap, and just learning to love cheap cheap condiments. (Worcestershire and Sriracha go with EVERYTHING.)

@spendthirsty Huh, I never thought about it that way. I should start replacing my junk snacks with sriracha on vegetables!

“Also, you’re getting chubby and I’m allowed to say that because I’m dead.” — I actually spit all over my computer in my attempt to conceal a loud laugh from my office neighbor for this week, the Coworker Who Is Visiting From an Overseas Office and Is (Probably) Way More Important Than Me.

And yes, I am a totally Middle-Class Snack (read: fancy cheese and fancy beer) Kid.

@Woman Laughing Alone With Boas That was the best!

Middle Class Snack Kids Unite!

This brought back memories of snacking on Newman’s Own cookies and Panda Licorice from the Albany, NY Co-op. My parents bought me Gushers and Oreos, too, but it’s the weird ‘healthy’ stuff that sticks out. And yes, I do still spend a lot of my income on those things today. I recently had the brilliant idea to only buy expensive snacks in order to discourage myself from snacking. It’s turned out exactly how you’d imagine it would turn out. Great article!

Wait, so is it bad if my monthly “Food & Dining” expenses are roughly the size of one paycheck?

Jane Err (#130)

@stuffisthings Right?

@stuffisthings argh. seconded. question for Lindsay Katai (and others): what exactly is a “respectable” amount to be spending on food as a food-buying party of one? i feel like the amount i spend on food each month would easily feed a sensible family of five.

i feel like i’ve figured out how to make my money stretch in most other areas, but food is like my serious Budget Blind Spot.

@just reading on a boat no big deal I think that the only way to figure this out is to plan out your meals for the week, buy only the ingredients to make those meals (and I’m counting the microwave meals I take to work for lunch in this), and then see where that gets you. That’s what my grandma used to do. If going out for drinks is part of that, include it. And then if you get through the week satisfied with what you ate, then decide that’s your limit. That’s what I’m trying to do. It doesn’t always happen, but having the goal helps.

…Would it be too passive-aggressive of me to send my BF the link to this article?

Megano! (#124)

I have too many clothes AND I am a snacker. But I go out to dinner like…never now. Also why am I not counting all the times I hit up a fast food place, what is wrong with me? Maybe it evens out?

Jane Err (#130)

Um, wow. Hi, Me. Except I would love if I only spent $360 a month on food and drink. It’s the drink, really. That damn drink.

camanda (#132)

Yes, this is me, too. I am simultaneously relieved and horrified by the fact that there are a lot of us.

I have a hard time figuring out what I make in a month off the top of my head — the perils of budgeting with no set work schedule — but I would venture to guess that in a month where I work a lot, easily 50% of my paycheck goes to food, specifically snacks. WHY. Seriously, why.

automaticdoor (#145)

This is my problem. I’m so glad I’m not alone! This is made worse by my terrible depression and subsequent inability to cook and also relentless desire to graze. Ughhhhh help meeeeeeeeee.

tiptoemammal (#152)

People think $360 a month is too much to spend on groceries? Including drinks?!!! That’s $90/week. That’s $12 a day. I know I can cook delicious meals at home for about $3 a meal, and if I cooked all three meals every day that’d be $9/day. But if I want something that costs more than $3( like a piece of salmon for dinner), or I don’t have time for breakfast and I grab something on the road…I’m spending $12 a day EASY. Who thinks that is too much? Where do you live that food is so cheap? What on earth is wrong with buying grapes, celery, cucumbers, and carrots??? Am I the only person who is seriously confused by this?

cherrispryte (#19)

@tiptoemammal I have convinced myself that the author of this piece lives somewhere where food and beverages are super-inexpensive. (If it turns out they live in NYC or similar, I’ll feel like an idiot.) Honestly for me, my goal is $100/week on food & drink, and that’s a challenge for where I live and my lifestyle.
That said, I have friends who go grocery shopping once a month, drop $100 at Safeway, and somehow then are set for the whole month. I do not know how they do this, but they do. So yes, I too was more than a little surprised at the guilt of spending $360 on food and drinks for a month, but knowing people who somehow manage on far less, it wasn’t super-confusing.

@tiptoemammal @cherrispryte The main point of this article is that I have a problem of spending like I’m still in the middle class, when my income and debt actually place me in the lower class. So my personal goal is $50/week and maybe 2 bar nights/month (and I’m in LA – not NY expensive, but not cheap either). This is because a) I don’t have a lot to work with and b) I’d like to own furniture at some point. But that’s a totally personal number and not something I think everyone should have to stick to. If I were making $10,000 more a year and the $360/month were on awesome salmon dinners I made myself, then I’d be proud. But the $360/month is on chips and bullshit dinners out. If you’re comfortable and saving money, then your budget is totally going to be different than mine.

tiptoemammal (#152)

I live below the poverty line, but I don’t think that means I can’t have real food. Does only the “middle class” get grapes and cucumbers and…snacks? I mean, I get that you feel you are blowing money on restaurants; I think we all do sometimes. But if you are saying that you only spend $360 a month on all of your food and beverage, well, that’s still not very much. It certainly doesn’t strike me as “irresponsible for someone not in the middle class.” I mean, think about applying that concept beyond yourself to all the other poor people in the world. Are you saying we aren’t supposed to eat nice food? We can only eat rice every day and spend like 30 cents per meal? And if you aren’t comfortable applying that standard to others, then why the double standard? At 21 meals per week you are spending like $4.30 per meal. How much does that have to be cut down to be responsible for a person who is poor? It’s an interesting concept, but I think that food is not actually the place to cut spending. Buy food. Buy good food. Enjoy eating it. Don’t buy new purses or shoes if you are on a budget, but buy lots of food. Really.

j a y (#3,935)

@Lindsay Katai@twitter
I don’t categorize eating out as food because that implies that it’s a necessity… I categorize it as fun because that’s what it is! And then I appreciate it as a treat.

Dining out can’t really fit in a food budget because it costs so much more than fulfilling the basic need. Probably you’re not spending too much on food… You’re spending too much on fun.

I”m convinced, after this article and listening to her podcast, that Lindsay Katai is the California version of Iowa me. I think she is wonderful, and hope that she doesn’t fear comment sections enough to read this and witness her adoration.

j a y (#3,935)

I’m guessing food where you are is really expensive. But honestly, if you’re on a low income and getting by paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re doing pretty good.

Where I am, $250/month on food is reasonable. I’ve gotten more relaxed through the years… here’s the actual spending (includes toiletries because I buy them at the grocery, excludes restaurants):

Year/Goal/Actual
2007, $150/136
2008, $150/159
2009, $150/153
2010, $150/175
2011, $200/212
2012, $250/270
2013, $250/scared to look/oh actually not that bad: $257, although last 7 days of dec aren’t in there. I’m surprised, as I’ve sort of transitioned to Costco meat, cheese and sometimes veg.

jquick (#3,730)

Yes, previous generations delayed gratification, did without, and saved their money.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

Sometimes I am too lazy to do things, but I am never to lazy to buy foodsnacks.

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