Last month, we met SW from ND when they shared a number of safety tips learned from their sex work career but relevant to any of our lives when we decide to start spending intimate time with someone we don’t yet know well. There’s a piece of advice for just you that I held back, though, because I thought it deserved a little extra thought and attention:
“Stay on top of your finances – fast money comes as quick as it goes, so don’t let yourself end up broke and desperate for cash. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up servicing someone against your gut instinct.”
The first part is a simple, core piece of financial advice – prioritize your spending to take care of the bills that must be paid before buying the fun stuff. It takes a certain amount of self-control and discipline, especially when your income isn’t coming in predictably and consistently, or when you’ve received an extra bonus on top of what you usually expect. It’s tempting to spoil yourself with every windfall, but if the next payday doesn’t come through for you, what then? Making sure you have paid for the necessities and even built up a little reserve in case your income dries up will, over time, mean that you are less likely to end up, as SW says, broke and desperate for cash. Even with an unstable income stream, you can build financial security by simply figuring out what you must take care of no matter what, and focusing on paying for those items first, and ensuring you save as much of a reserve as you can for those items. Then, and only then, think about the less vital things you might want to spend your money on.
I’m not saying that you should never spoil yourself when you can afford to. Instead, I’m saying that you should consider how you’re defining when luxury is affordable. It’s not just when the zeroes in your bank account at this very moment say it’s okay, but also if those zeroes will still be there if you have a rough month, three months, even six months. I’m also saying that you should consider what spoiling yourself means. If you have $100 not spoken for in your regular bills and emergency fund, consider spending $25 on a fancy shampoo and conditioner set you can enjoy for a few months instead of blowing it all on a single haircut. The salon haircut is a lovely, enjoyable one-time experience (and I can tell you I’m itching for one myself right now), but having extra money in the bank and being able to enjoy a little hair care splurge for longer can also be really fantastic. It can be even better when you realize you can have that smaller splurge for longer and not have to worry about keeping a roof over your head, food in your stomach, or clothes on your body if a future check doesn’t come in.
Because here’s the thing that SW very accurately points out, that when you become desperate to meet your basic survival needs, you become willing to do things that might not be very smart, that might not be what you would do if you weren’t under that kind of pressure. For someone in SW’s line of work, that might mean taking on a client who hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet, or agreeing to go to a less safe location or participate in less safe acts that could put you at risk of death, assault, or rape. For someone in another profession, it could mean accepting a job offer for a dead-end position or deciding to stay in a toxic workplace at great cost to your future opportunities and mental health. Even if you aren’t a breadwinner, you can still be affected by being part of a household where the need for money has become overwhelming, inserting tension into every interaction and perhaps exploding into screaming fights and physical violence. There’s no excuse for abuse, and you aren’t responsible for keeping the peace if you are living with an abuser, but knowing what will cause emotions to boil over can help you protect yourself until you are willing or able to leave. And maybe, just maybe, if you can start earning an income of your own, that’s what can make leaving possible instead of staying because you have no other choice. Or if you’re on the other side of that, and the stress of not being able to pay the necessary bills is making you lash out at your family, proactively working towards avoiding a challenging financial position can be a first step to being a better person to live with.
Having and keeping a budget, making sure that you don’t have to stare with increasing dread at a steadily decreasing bank account isn’t just a matter of ensuring that you continue having somewhere to live, something to eat, something to wear. It’s also a matter of staying safe from the poor decisions that you can make as you begin to panic at the possibility or reality of losing those basic necessities of life. It’s far easier to pay attention to warning signs and red flags when you don’t need what’s on the other side of them. Self-defense, after all, isn’t just about avoiding dark alleyways but also about avoiding other potential danger areas, like feeling forced to take risks to survive.