$11,000 A Year Doesn't Go As Far As You Probably ThinkCommentary • Opinion • Economy • jobs • ISSUE 35•42 • Nov 17, 1999 By Tony Feazell Tony Feazell When people hear I make $11,000 a year, they're usually pretty surprised. And I can't say I blame them. It's a handsome salary to command. But sometimes I think they have the wrong impression, imagining me living some sort of extravagant lifestyle. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but $11,000 a year simply doesn't go as far as you probably think. Now, make no mistake: I'm comfortable. Working 35 hours a week washing dishes at Olive Garden, my expenses are met, and I get a heck of a lot of perks. But, no, my friends, it's not all limousines and champagne. You'd be amazed how fast that kind of money goes. To illustrate what I'm saying, let's break down the $11,000. That's $915 a month. Right off the bat, my rent and utilities take $350 out. I realize I could live someplace a little cheaper, like the boarding house or the Y, but I work hard, and I choose to reward myself with a nice efficiency. So already we're down to $575. Now, I can't very well walk from my apartment to the Olive Garden on Plaza Parkway, so I gotta lay out more scratch for transportation. My monthly bus pass costs $30, so now we're down to $545. You blue-collar types may not realize it, but working in the field that I do, I am required to present an attractive and professional appearance at all times. That's not just my preference; it's on the employee-conduct sheet I was given when I first got hired. I must wear a nice white shirt and clean black pants every shift. Between the regular wear and tear and the occasional accident, I can spend up to $10 a month at the laundromat. I'm not kidding! Takes dough to make dough, the old saying goes. Now, believe it or not, rich guys gotta eat, too. And, the sad fact is, Shurfine macaroni and cheese ain't free. So that's a good $26 down the hopper each month for food, more if there's a holiday and I decide to treat myself to some primo Kraft stuff. That, I admit, is one of the dandier perks of wealth: If I feel like it, I can buy some premium-brand macaroni and cheese, and the money will be there. But I have to work for it, you know: My life isn't just lounging around and sipping daiquiris by the pool, if I had a pool! So the small amount of money left over at the end of the month either goes into savings or toward my Visa debt, and that, sorry to say, is the reality. I don't have a big, Uncle Scrooge vault of gold coins I swim around in. It's actually a very sober life of maintaining my standard of living through scrupulous saving and, yes, cost-cutting. Nope, I'm not ashamed to say it: I cut costs. Like this one time, at Olive Garden, a whole pan of chicken filets had to be thrown away because Jorge sneezed near them, so Tina, the manager, told me to pitch 'em and sterilize the pan. But I was smart and wrapped them in Saran Wrap, keeping them in my coat pocket until I punched out. So for the next two weeks, I got free chicken filets for breakfast and dinner! (I have lunch free at Olive Garden.) How's that for savings?! So, though I'm very well off, I'm not exactly running around like some Mr. Moneybags, tossing big handfuls of silver dollars into the air. But in just two months, I'm up for performance review, and I could get as much as a 45-cent raise. Yup, forty-five big ones! If that happens, I'll still be the same old Tony I was before, but who knows what sort of luxuries I'll be able to splurge on. I could get some plastic chairs, a bread-toasting machine, or maybe even basic cable! Not that I'll forget the little people. All of my old friends will be welcome to come over to enjoy my majestic 40-channel lineup. (Though I'll have to ask them to take off their shoes before entering, so they don't track street dirt on my priceless throw rug, a Feazell family heirloom my dad threw out when he was redecorating his office.) After all, if it weren't for the little people--like Patrick, who told me that Olive Garden was hiring, and Kevin, who drove me out there on his way to his mother's--I would not be in this privileged position today. You can't ever forget your roots, even if you remember them through the sapphire haze of a Corningware plastic tumbler brimming with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.