I could hear a scratching sound as I moved some of my things into my bedroom from the living room. Matthea nodded. “Yeah, there are squirrels that live in the storage closets.” She gestured to two small doors facing each other on opposite sides of the living room. “Just don’t ever open those doors because then they’ll run out.” I nodded. It was my first apartment and I didn’t know anything about squirrels yet.
But soon after my mom moved in with her roommates, she told me that she wasn’t comfortable. The roommates were very neat and nit-picky about household chores. They lectured her about the spots they found on their bowls and plates. They told her they had a history of being overbearing with roommates. After that, my mom started hiding in her bedroom, trying to avoid them at all costs. She told me on the phone that she was planning to move out. I was a little worried, but it never occurred to me that she might be in over her head.
After the completion of my 500 hours of yoga teacher training, I was entitled to sub at the yoga studio for $25 a class, minus taxes. Most of the classes were early in the morning and late at night, so I sprinted across town from dawn to dark. I stalked pregnant yoga teachers, waiting for them to go on maternity leave.
In August 2011 I’d just finished a year of wobbly misery in beautiful South Korea—teaching English—and by the end of it I had several thousand dollars and nothing else. I’d gone to Korea to travel and instead found myself in a swirling pool of depression, unable to connect with most of the excited ex-pats I spoke to, and unwilling to do the work to bridge the gap between myself and Koreans. This slow melt of melancholy meant that I rarely went out of my way to spend money on things, which allowed me to save more money than I knew what to do with. By the end I needed a break, so I took those thousands and went away to bum around in Southeast Asia.
Alison (not her real name) is a 27-year-old legal secretary who lives outside of Philadelphia.
Currently our income does match our needs, and we are able to make a bit of savings. It’s all complicated by the fact that both my husband and I are Canadian, and we are currently living in Budapest, Hungary and have been for approximately 4 years.
Of the steady accumulation of books in my apartment, I imagine nearly half were acquired at library book sales. This includes calorific comfort reads like the complete works of Flannery O’Connor, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Isaac Babel (these seasonal sales are lousy with collected volumes). While I purchase some books new, the rest are reaped—due to ongoing financial constraints—from cardboard boxes in library common rooms. (For the sake of self-aggrandizement, let’s call these books “rescues.”)
On a recent sleepless night around 3 a.m., I bought a bunch of mint-condition LIFE magazines from the spring on 1948 on Ebay. Reading about stuff that was going on in 1948 is good for my 2014-era anxieties, which are currently off the charts. When I consume a news magazine from 1948, I already know what’s going to happen in 1949 and 1950, and beyond; being a detached, omniscient observer feels weirdly reassuring. Also reassuring is the evidence that the world has always been a huge mess, and that maybe some things are improving (very, very slowly). Reading these old LIFE magazines feels so poignant because the writers and subjects within have no idea what lies ahead—they’re all struggling to make some sense of their time and place.
I quit a pretty well-paying job in marketing at the end of April, kind of on a whim. I had about a year’s worth of money saved up when I did that.