One of the big problems of being a low-waged single parent, is having to focus all of your energy on financial matters, 100% of the time.
I work on a strict budget. Pretty much every spend is planned in advanced, budgeted for, and recorded in my Money Tracker app. Things are often planned down to the penny, and have to be adhered to, to the penny, or I can’t pay my bills.
This week, I had to drive just under 250 miles, to pick up my new (old) car. (This wasn’t budgeted for, and as a result I now owe my fantastic boyfriend £600, which is weighing on my mind an incredible amount). So, I went to the petrol station, confident in the knowledge that I had £32 in the bank, of which I’d planned to spend £30 on petrol, and 79p on a sausage roll for the journey.
I pulled up at the pump. The sun was shining; I was feeling happy: excited about getting the new car and seeing my man for a few days. I started filling the car and watched the numbers going round. At about £26 I was distracted by a little girl doing a hopscotch with her mum, laughing and singing. They looked so happy. I looked back at the pump, and PANIC: it was up to £36.16.
I put the nozzle back and went to queue up. I didn’t know what to do. I got to the till, and numbly, handed over my debit card, even though I knew it wouldn’t work.
“Would you like me to try it again?”, asked the cashier. I nodded, my tongue paralysed with fear.
It declined again.
“Maybe you should try to withdraw the cash from the cashpoint?”, suggested the cashier.
I went outside and tried the machine. I knew it wouldn’t give me enough. I just wanted to put off the moment when I’d have to admit I didn’t have the money. The moment I’d have to declare myself a failure.
I withdraw £30. I returned to the cashier, who said “You’ll just have to put the rest on your credit card”.
“I don’t have a credit card” I replied.
She gave me a look of pure disbelief, as though I’d stated something ridiculous. “What are you going to do then?” she asked.
“I don’t know” I whispered, tears forming in my eyes.
“I’ll get a Supervisor” she muttered.
By the time the Supervisor arrived, I was in floods of tears. Once they started, I couldn’t stop. The floodgates had been opened. The Supervisor explained that he’d fill in a form which would give me 7 days to pay. Failure to pay, would result in the form being passed to debt collectors.
Still shaking and sobbing, I signed the form, took my copy, and turned around to leave, only to be faced with the huge queue that had formed while I was being served. I had to walk past 9 other customers. I wondered if they knew I couldn’t pay. If they knew I was a failure.
I practically ran out of there, got into my car, and drove away, tears still running down my face.
That’s it. That’s the damage that a few seconds of distraction can do.