Independently Poor: A Twist on FU Money -- a.k.a. "FU, Money"

While I was homeless, I had a descriptor in my profile on some forum that I was "Independently Poor." That was more than just tongue-in-cheek humor.

Although I was homeless, I had alimony and I was doing freelance work and I had a degree of agency that you rarely see among poor people. I was able to arrange my life to prioritize taking care of my health in part by doing gig work (and this post is being written expressly for r/GigWorks, a forum I run).

In other words, I had a degree of independence and agency that you normally only see in the Jet Set -- people who get called independently wealthy -- or comfortably well-off retirees. I had more control over my time and my life than your typical working stiff.

I was able to get to that point in part because I'm pretty financially savvy. I think anyone can get to that same place mentally and logistically, even if you don't currently have much money. A lot of it has to do with feeding your mind the right stuff in order to change your mental and emotional relationship to money.

I have long collected little mental snippets about money and how people relate to it. For example, (ironically enough) long before my medical diagnosis, I made a mental note of the idea that if you have a deadly disease and there is no cure, no amount of money will fix your problem.

I also really like the scene in Titanic where the rich guy tries to buy his way into a lifeboat and gets told his money won't be worth anything at the bottom of the ocean.

As my financial problems deepened, I began reading and thinking more deeply on the topic of money and how people relate to it. I learned the phrase "fuck you money" which I had not heard before. It is the idea of having enough money "to be able to tell anyone to go to hell" and it is attributed to Humphrey Bogart (see links below).

Reading about his policy to have enough money on hand so he could pick and choose his roles made me realize that his ability to be choosy is likely why he has such a legendary reputation as an actor: He never had to take lousy roles to keep from starving. Therefore, he never got known for playing bad roles in bad movies. Thus, a legend was born.

As my finances tanked due to a combination of divorce and medical crisis, I thought a lot about that. In some sense, I never had that luxury when I was younger.

I got married in my teens to escape my family because I had been molested by relatives. This encouraged my husband to view me as helpless and incompetent as an excuse to deny me freedom of choice, even though I was one of the top students in my graduating class and had won a National Merit Scholarship. He still acted like he saved me from welfare or something.

I eventually left him under very difficult circumstances which again curtailed my freedom of choice. Somewhere along the way, I concluded that my lack of ability to say "fuck you" is a big part of what went so very wrong with my life and I have to fix that if I am ever going to get my life straightened out.

Ultimately, I concluded that being able to choose wasn't really about money per se but was about maneuvering room. Yes, having sufficient resources helps, but making choices in life and exercising free will is not directly related to how much or how little money a person has.

It helps if you have some confidence you won't starve or otherwise experience catastrophe, but that isn't about money per se. For one thing, having a garden and knowing how to hunt can assure you that you won't starve, even if you don't have a dime. For another, sometimes people take the "fuck you" choice even when there is zero assurance they will survive it.

My understanding of that was crystallized when I read the first chapter of the "The Quitter Book" at a time when that first chapter was available online for free. The first chapter is called "Don't Quit Your Day Job."

It was recommended on Hacker News in essence to say "keep your day job in order to keep your maneuvering room." The free online chapter stated clearly that if you give up your day job and have no real savings, you suddenly find yourself negotiating deals from a position of weakness and find yourself accepting deals you really don't want just to have something coming in.

At one time while I was homeless, relatives helped me deal with some of my financial drama and they then felt entitled to try to run my life because of it. For example, I was instructed to close my bank account and move it elsewhere.

They didn't ask and they didn't suggest it as a good idea to help me protect myself from my creditors. They issued it as an edict like they knew what was best for me and like they had a right to dictate my choices because they had helped me and I was in a very vulnerable state.

I was able to resist such pressures and make decisions for myself, including moving my bank account at a later date on terms that made more sense for me, because I had some maneuvering room in the form of food stamps and knowing where I could get a free meal or free clothes. Food stamps didn't cover some essential nonfood items that we needed and couldn't get from a homeless services center, specifically peroxide and plastic cups, but we made more of an effort to get better at finding change on the street and we used that to buy those essentials at some local "dollar" store.

I blogged about that while I was going through the worst of it and part of what I said was:
I have 35¢ in change and a dollar in "rewards bucks" from a store that sells plastic cups. I think $1.34 will give me "fuck you" money for this week. I think we will be fine.

I also think I finally have enough real say about my own life to start getting it straightened out, never mind that I am living on the streets.

Related Reading

If you are currently either homeless or in dire straits, you can establish your own maneuvering room and foster your own "FU, Money" attitude by following some of these steps:
  • Cut your expenses and learn to live on less.
  • Join reward programs, clip coupons, etc.
  • Check Reddit for pertinent subreddits for meeting your needs cheaply.
  • Come up with a plan for how to make money doing something that makes sense for you and actively pursue that, even if it means eating at soup kitchens for a while.
  • Work like hell to meet your real needs in spite of the budgetary constraints. This is the antidote to a poverty mentality and will help you find a path forward. This includes but is not limited to finding ways to keep yourself adequately fed, even if you have no money.

I wrote a post on some blog of mine titled "Money and Maneuvering Room" on 2012/07/12. It was copied and pasted to another blog of mine in 2014, retitled, updated a bit and posted to Hacker News, where it did surprisingly well. This is its latest incarnation and has been edited and updated substantially, but some parts of this are very much recycled content.

If you can spare some money, please leave a tip or support my Patreon. Supporting my work doesn't just pay my bills, it also helps me to help others who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness by providing useful information of a sort not readily found elsewhere.

And right now is a particularly bad time to be homeless. Many things are closed due to the pandemic, including libraries and other services that matter more than average to the poorest of the poor in America.

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