This weekend, I found myself laid up with a bad cold, and I spent much of Sunday afternoon on the couch watching television. I was flipping through the channels and ended up watching a number of episodes of MTV’s True Life. True Life is an award winning documentary series that tackles subjects facing young people today. The episodes are an hour long, and I found the three that I watched very enlightening, but the one that really had the most impact was titled “I’m Supporting My Family,” and featured two young women who suddenly found they were the breadwinners for their family. One young woman was supporting her parents and her siblings, as her parents were too sick to work, and the other was supporting her siblings as well as her young son following her mother’s suicide.
The story of the second woman, Unique, a 21-year-old woman who was supporting her siblings really had an impact on me. She was determined to have a good home for her family, which included a pregnant 17-year-old sister and her boyfriend. She was really struggling to make ends meet and also to be a good parent to both her son and to her siblings. She did her best to pay her bills every month and had to return to “dancing” (stripping) in order to make ends meet for her family. She wasn’t happy about the fact that she had to dance to make extra money, as she worried her siblings would be picked on for what she did. But not only did she want to make ends meet, she wanted to provide things for her family. She wanted to be able to buy her sister a crib for her baby, for example.
I am sure that Unique’s story is not uncommon in how she struggled with money, though I’m sure there aren’t a lot of 21-year-olds dealing with those types of situations. I was really impressed with her maturity and how she had really stepped into the role of mother to her siblings. She brought them to the thrift store to buy clothing for the school year, and not only had a strict budget, but she also instructed her sisters that there were to be no stomachs showing. She wanted to do things right.
Earlier that afternoon, MTV had shown an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen, where a girl threw an amazingly lavish party for her birthday. She spent thousands of dollars simply on her outfit for the party. And then MTV presented Unique, who received a check for $100 from a friend so she could buy groceries, and she struggled over whether or not to buy the ground beef she knew would last in her family, but it cost $11. And in the end, the store wouldn’t take her check anyway and she ended up at the food pantry. It really was an interesting dichotomy.
I really hope that being on MTV has helped Unique and her family, and I hope that other people who see this documentary think twice about their spending. It made me take another look at my life and be very grateful for everything I have. It also made me think a bit about my spending habits. What was I buying just because I could, and what do I actually really need?
I don’t know that I would have been able to do what Unique did at nineteen when her mother died. I think she’s a very admirable, impressive young woman, and I think we could all learn a lot from her.
Megan is a 40-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.