The stress of high-stakes and limited-income life

By SAMUEL FARRAR | November 21, 2019

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PUBLIC DOMAIN Buying a laptop encapsulates Farrar’s fiscal anxiety as a low income student.

I have to buy a new computer.

Well, I don’t have to, technically speaking. But the screen is split open almost all the way around. Some keys have to be typed three times before they register. And I must always arrive to my classes that meet once a week rather early and make a beeline to an outlet, because the battery won’t last the two-and-a-half hour time slot. 

However, what is most interesting is that every time I restart the laptop, there is some little problem. It is never the same, but it is always there. I will restart it and the brightness will be on the lowest setting, and I’m unable to change it. Then, I will restart it and the sound won’t work. Then, I will restart it and I can’t play videos. This has been a problem for a few months, and there are seldom repeat problems.

Currently, the only way I can save PDFs on Adobe Acrobat is to save as and change the file name. If I try to just save a file, I get an error. I figure this is as benign as the problems could get, and have avoided restarting my laptop for the last two weeks.

But I digress. Maybe I don’t have to buy a new computer, but I definitely should

Why the hell am I talking about something so mundane as a computer purchase? Good question.

I am talking about it because for me, it is not so mundane. In fact, this pending computer purchase has been the center of my anxiety for the past month. Let me explain.

I am in this situation to begin with because before college, I bought a cheap laptop. It was cheap because it was an old, cheaply-made model. But at the time, it was all I could afford. It may be a piece of garbage, but it is the MacBook of garbage.

Fast forward to today. My mom knows about my situation, and she agrees that it is best to buy a new laptop before this one fails and I’m stuck without anything. Furthermore, she recently got a small bonus and said I can use some of that money to pay for a new one.

When she told me this, I was so relieved. At the very least, I wouldn’t be stuck up the creek without a paddle.

On the other hand, it is just enough to afford an equally garbage laptop. Would I not just be wasting her money if I got a laptop that is going to break down in another two years?

I do have some extra financial aid left over this semester, and I could use that to get something that will last. I have enough aid this semester. But what about next semester? What if something comes up that I need that aid for? What if I can’t find a sublet for the summer and have to pay two different rents? What if something is wrong with that laptop; now I have no money and no laptop.

Shouldn’t I just wait until this laptop fully breaks until I purchase a new one? But if it breaks before I transfer all my data, that could be disastrous. What if it happens in the middle of a paper? Two papers?! Moreover, I wouldn’t have the money all together to immediately buy a replacement.

Now, some of these thoughts can just be attributed to what it’s like living with an anxiety disorder. I’m sure many of you can attest.

But some of this anxiety is also due to the fact that when you are from a limited income background, the stakes are simply higher. The safety net is shallower. On one hand, worrying about my new computer somehow not working, and the manufacturer refusing warranty for some reason, is a logical extreme. On the other hand, if that happens, then I’m really screwed.

To be constantly thinking about what could or couldn’t happen and how that will or won’t affect your fiscal stability is exhausting. It’s not just counting dollars on laptops, it’s counting cents at the grocery. It’s being constantly aware that, at any moment, you’re one bad money decision away from not being able to fully provide for yourself.

The other day, my friends suggested that we go to Tamber’s. They took my silence as acceptance, and we started walking over. As they continued to chat, I was thinking to myself, “Am I really going to drop $14 on a meal when I can have one at home for a tenth of the price?”

I decided to go, and I had a great time. I had just gotten paid and had plenty of money. As of now, I can confidently say that those $14 did not affect my fiscal stability. I know that the vast majority of the time, these thoughts are illogical. But they are hard to silence when the stakes are high. And they almost always are. 

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