Friday, December 31, 2010

There's many degrees of money problems

So something just happened at work that affected me so much I had to rush home so I could tell it to you.

There are some temps that are in my cubicle row at work, who have been brought in to do data entry work, I don't know for how long. They know my name (because I have a nameplate on my cube) but I don't know theirs. We have exchanged pleasantries, "bless-you", and napkins but little else.

Today the lady in the cube across from me got my attention and then leaned over and asked me for something in a barely audible whisper. I couldn't hear her so she repeated it a little louder - could she borrow a couple of dollars for lunch? and something about her check. I immediately said sure and gave her the singles I had in my wallet, figuring she had been given a ride to work, had forgotten her lunch, and now had to eat lunch out of the sandwich machine in the cafeteria. I didn't think much of it. I have done the same thing, but I have emergency backup ramen in my desk - if I didn't, though, I would just have asked to borrow a couple bucks from a coworker.

Around lunchtime I saw her heading for the front door, evidently heading out to get lunch.

Later in the day, I came in the bathroom and this same woman was standing at the bathroom mirror dabbing her eyes, clearly cleaning up after crying so she could go back to her desk presentable. I asked if everything was okay and she said yes. On my way back to my desk I saw her getting a hug from her supervisor and she seemed somewhat upset still.

So at that point the wheels start turning and it occurs to me that if she left the building to get lunch, it means she wasn't stuck here, but instead that she didn't have any money at all that she could tap to buy herself lunch. And since today is a Friday, if she's missing her check, she won't have any money until at least Monday or even later.

When I get back to my desk, she's picking up her things and preparing to leave. I get out my emergency $20 bill, which is all the cash I have left on me, and go over and ask if she'll be okay for the weekend if she doesn't have her check. She starts to say she'll be okay and I hold out the $20 to her. She's looking at it like her pride is saying no but the rest of her knows she needs it. So I just put it in her hand.

At which point she starts telling me what happened with her check - she should have gotten her first paycheck from this job today but they messed up her direct deposit, and the payroll woman breezily told her that "this cycle we'll just give you a live check", ie a real check and not a paystub. Which means they mailed it to her yesterday or today, and it won't be here till at least Monday or Tuesday because there's no mail on Saturday. Which means if she didn't have money for lunch today, it's unlikely she has money for lunch tomorrow.

We talked a little bit more and I said, no worries, we've all been there. Every time you start a new job you end up working and spending money on gas and childcare and lunches for one to two weeks before you start getting paid. We've all had that new-job bank account dip. I told her not to worry about it (I hope she understood I meant I didn't expect her to pay me back) and she wished me a happy new year.

All the way home I was thinking about why exactly I felt like shit now. Hadn't I just done something nice? It's not like I've got extra cash right now - Boyfriend's working but is on furlough for the last two weeks of the year, and we just got back from traveling to see our families. It costs us about $300 for any trip between hotels, gas, and dogsitter, so neither of us has much at this point. So Boyfriend and I are watching what we spend and waiting for our next paychecks too.

And I finally figured it out - I felt like shit because here I was worrying about how I could speed up paying off my debt, when am I going to be able to start contributing to my retirement again, avoiding paying interest on our veterinary credit card, etc etc etc, but there was no way in hell we weren't eating tonight. We've got enough food in our house to easily not shop for a couple of weeks, including everything the pets need. I have half a tank of gas at least, and while my car needs struts soon, it's running fine. Our heat and electricity are paid up early, I just bought some new clothes with a gift from my supervisor, and I spent last night making cookies for dogs. We're not in need of anything. And here was someone who is.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I get the same friendly reminder about how truly blessed me and my family are. It only takes one wrong turn in life to be the receiver of the money rather than the giver.

My wife says that I would give all of my money away if I had my way.

Congratulations for doing something awesome!