The High Cost of Starting (Again)

My bank account is wincing, suffering under the many bills from my recent move. While my bank account is not happy, my back and legs are finally doing much better. I’m not sure, however, about my soul: confused to be once more adrift, cast free from the long lines of friendships, familiar routines and sounds, and, most tellingly, so very far from family.

The delights (not so) of my move and the need, rather reluctantly, to start, in a sense, all over, reminds me of the difficulty, as well as the benefits, of the jolt of a move, the hoisting of one’s life from one place to another. It also calls to mind the difficulty of any kind of a start.

First, there’s the issue of money. And for many people starting out in the world, there’s not much of this to be had. Contemplating my own bills just to get established in a new town, I come face to face with some unpleasant numbers: first and last month’s rent total almost $2,000; then there’s the $150 deposit to the utility company with a $30 fee to get the lights on; $40 per month is the charge to be sent to one of two giant concerns for Internet and/or TV with up to $200 more for installation; there’s also the cash needed for food and cleaning supplies; and then there’s the need for a few pieces of furniture, as my previous collection forms a small, rather forlorn, group within the larger space of my new rental. To the costs I have mentioned, I should also add the cost of the move itself: packing supplies, labor (even if it’s the pay-your-friends-with-pizza-and-beer type), and a moving truck or trucks.

And then there’s the problem of the car: for this is America, and god forbid that one should be able to do simple things like shop, or mail a package, or take a pet to the vet without a car.   But a car, even a used and not-so-pretty car, can be thousands of dollars, and then there’s the registration, the tags, the maintenance, the fuel, and other associated costs. And it’s notable that loan rates are markedly lower if one purchases a newer and more expensive auto, while an older, higher-mile auto, the sort that might be more accessible, has a much higher rate, making it more workable, in some strange way, to buy the new car, rather than the more reasonably-priced older one: what a strange world it is.

Add to these costs the cost of a new job, which may bring more cash but also more expenses such as work clothes and supplies and commuting, and it is amazing that anyone can get started. Of course, this is where debt comes in: one can pay for the above with a credit card, but boy will one pay, especially if one can’t pay back the amount charged quickly. Fines and fees and interest rates will eat away at that paycheck month after month for years, perhaps even decades.

I think about this not only in connection with my recent move, but also in regards to the state of people, particularly young people, in our nation. Many of them have college debt and it is significant: not a few thousand here or there, but serious multiple digits of debt. I talked to one person who, after multiple degrees, was gainfully employed but at a very moderately-salaried job; as good as it is that she has that paycheck, it barely makes a dent in her debt, let alone lets her reserve some of the money for living expenses and any kind of retirement.

And while the financial strain of a new start—or starting over—is difficult, the emotional wrench of leaving the familiar behind, especially leaving family, can be a daily burden, a fracturing that may not show on the outside, but slowly spreads throughout the body and the brain. Americans move around a lot, and we are used, we say, to being far away from family. If a family group is dysfunctional, moving away may feel freeing, but one of the things one learns as one gets older is that physical space doesn’t really mean freedom—one is still bound to that family, those traumas, and they remain, even years later.  And if one is lucky enough to be close to family then that very closeness is the thing that shatters one, as layers of yearning press down slowly, ever slowly, especially at night when sleep is elusive and the house is quiet and the reality of being alone creeps in through that slit in the door of awareness.

Yet, starting can be, after the initial stressors, energizing rather than enervating. Everything is different and one has to be different too, even if one still drags the elements of one’s old life around like some ghostly Marley, clinking and clanking away. It leads to uncomfortable soul searching of the what have I done, what should I do, why can I never get off my backside and do it variety, but it also offers a chance to not be the sadsack Eeyore but become a more optimistic kind of animal. That’s what I remind myself as I grow frustrated as I try to get my bearings or find friends, and I feel again the lack of family, especially when work slows for a moment or there’s a holiday. I don’t know if I’m going to be a Kanga, a Rabbit, a Tigger, or a Pooh here in my new home, but certainly I’m going to be different—and then I’ll move and start over (again).

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