Writer’s Block: The true value of our hard earned dollars

Sunday night after we put our son to bed, my husband and I settled in at the computer to do our taxes.

Mandy Moran Froemming
Mandy Moran Froemming

Typically, we’re early filers but for whatever reason, we let it lag a little close to the deadline this time around.

I might have been putting it off, just a little. It’s not like we owe any money – we typically get a refund and will again this year.

But I just haven’t felt up to staring those black and white numbers in the face. The hard truth of the money we work so hard for coming in, and going out, gives me anxiety.

Paying for daycare, saving for college and retirement, escalating health insurance premiums and health care costs – all of these things have me feeling less positive about balancing the books than I have in awhile.

The good news is that we can do it. We make enough money to pay those bills, save a little for retirement or whatever house or vehicle crisis will come up next and enjoy the odd weekend out of town.

But it does make me wonder how others manage, especially when they stretch one income to support a family or work for minimum wage.

I’ve been there, at the bottom of the pay scale, and thank goodness I only had myself to take care of at that time in my life.

I can remember a time when my gross annual income was less than $13,000. I had to move out of the apartment I rented myself, spending time in slumlord-style accommodations or living with multiple people in order to get by. I had no debt – the $500 car I bought in high school was paid for – until I got the bright idea to get a credit card. Then the ugly circle of robbing Peter to pay Paul started. It took me years of working multiple jobs to get out of it.

When you go to the grocery store and take a deep breath as you go through the checkout line, hoping you won’t have to put anything back, it’s good incentive to make a change.

I went back to college, got a newspaper job and for many years after continued to moonlight as a waitress and a bartender as I worked my way up from newbie reporter to editor.

Full disclosure: My parents did not subsidize my lifestyle when I chose to leave college after the first semester and work for minimum wage. But I had plenty of financial help for tuition and living expenses when I went back to school. I fully realize the impact of that support on my choices.

Is that kind of turnaround possible for everyone? I suppose technically it is.

But there will always be low paying jobs and some of them will always be filled by people who might work for minimum wage (or close to it) throughout adulthood.

I do believe that if you work full time you should at least have some hope of making ends meet.

And I don’t think less expensive goods or services should be subsidized by paying people less than what it takes to survive without government assistance.

That’s why this week’s agreement between DFL leaders in the House and Senate to boost the minimum wage in Minnesota is so important. DFL leaders have agreed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016. By 2018, minimum wage will be indexed to inflation.

I know many businesses are uncomfortable about how this will affect their bottom line. Consumers will no doubt bristle if and when the prices of products go up.

But if we don’t pay people the very least of what is required to survive, we’ll have to fund it in other ways: in taxes to cover government assistance, in the collection plate at church or at the fundraisers for the many non-profit organizations that fill in the gaps.

Mandy Moran Froemming can be reached at  [email protected]