The Cut asks readers to share what they do with their money – or lack thereof – in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. This week, a 39-year-old Brooklyn masseuse lost all her income.
The last day I worked was March 14, the Saturday before Governor Cuomo closed New York City. I rent a workplace in Brooklyn and no one in my building was on the same hygiene protocol page. I was also nervous taking the train to get there. I knew there was no way I could say with certainty that none of my clients would get infected during their visit. So I thought, “I can’t do this,” and canceled all appointments for the next day.
The closure of the company was financially terrifying. The irony is that I was just in a good financial place. I got a divorce about a year ago and the process is finally over. I also doubled my company’s income, which allowed me to pay off my consumer debt more aggressively. I had one shared credit card from my marriage which was about $ 11,000 and another personal credit card from about $ 9,000. My plan was to pay them both off by June or July and then deal with my $ 90,000 student debt since I went to graduate school in acupuncture. Before all this, I planned this so that I could pay it off in the next five years.
I also planned to go to an aesthetic school this summer to add facial and skin treatments to my services, which would increase my annual income by about $ 50,000. Everything was perfect – and then it all just collapsed. One of the hardest things about all of this is being completely detached from my life.
Not only did I lose all my income, I also lost more than half of the divorce settlement money, which is 401 (k) worth approximately $ 26,000. On Monday, after closing the business, I closed this wallet because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my money in the market. It was the same day that Dow lost 3,000 points – so what started at $ 26,000 only ended up at around $ 10,000. I consolidated what was left of it with the rest of my money in my savings account. I also have some cash from a promotion I did in mid March where customers bought gift cards and packages. But it’s basically credit that has to be worked off later, so I don’t feel very comfortable with living. In total, I had about $ 40,000 at the start of the pandemic. So far, I’ve spent about $ 8,000 of it.
Before that, I did not save at all. After my divorce, I realized there were so many things that I never discovered because I never left when I was married. Glad to try new things and visit new places but spend a lot of money – take out every night or meet a friend for dinner and a bottle or two of wine.
In normal times, my personal expenses would be around $ 5,000 a month, including rent and transportation. I can’t believe how much I used to buy. I love clothes, and it wouldn’t be unusual for me to spend $ 1,000 or more a month shopping. But now I have limited my total expenses to around $ 2,200 or $ 2,300 a month. Since the closure started, it was hard not to shop, but I only bought one pair of stretchy pants and something from ThredUp – $ 280. I used to spend at least $ 500 a month on take-out food, and now I spend $ 250 or $ 300 a month on grocery boxes. I allow myself to book one night a week.
The landlord reduced my rent by 50 percent which helped a lot and now allows me to pay a deposit for him. I still pay $ 850 a month in rent for a place to work that I sublet from a friend of mine. The owner didn’t give her a break, so I’m still paying her. I was also paying for my own health care through Oscar, but then realized I was probably eligible for Medicaid so I applied and got approved.
There are a few things I will not give up. I will still buy myself a health supplement or cosmetic that I know will make me feel better. And the wine. I just subscribed to Bright Cellars and the first box was a special offer, so I think it was five bottles for around $ 40.
I also pay for therapy. When it all started, I signed up for the BetterHelp app. It was $ 350 or $ 400 a month, but then I filed a form saying I had no income, and they lowered my fee to around $ 125. It’s harder to convey all the things you would normally do in a traditional online therapy session, but it’s far better than nothing.
I applied for unemployment on the first day I qualify under CARES, April 1. It took me about three hours to complete the application itself as the website was so old that it was constantly out of date. And if you are a freelancer like me you can’t even complete your application online – someone has to certify this so they will give you a phone number you can call. I called every day for over a month and got busy every time. Finally, I got a message that said, “We have a large number of connections. Please call me back later. It was all just madness.
Another funny thing is that you have to check to see if you are unemployed every week to get compensation for it, and I couldn’t do it because my calls weren’t going through. So I called the compensation line every day just to keep a record of the calls. My reasoning was that if they ever tried to fight me over overdue payments, I might say, “Here are my interview transcripts.”
I have contacted my local representatives, several members of the City Council, and various members of the New York State Assembly. They didn’t answer my calls or emails. I called Cuomo’s office, was suspended for three hours, transferred to the Department of Labor, and told I would call back in two or three days. It did not happen.
Finally, on May 7, I spoke to someone at the employment office, and on May 20, I received my first salary. That’s just under $ 1,000 a week, enough to cover my basic personal expenses. I read the Guardianship Act carefully and filed my 2019 taxes to be able to get close to the maximum amount. But I have not yet recovered all my outstanding wages. At this point, they owe me about $ 8,800.
I also applied for an economic disaster loan from the Small Business Administration. I actually applied for it three times as the application was constantly changing. And I had no idea what was happening to it until that week when $ 45,000 was in my bank account. Nobody even asked me for security or anything. I don’t know if they’ll come back to me with this topic or if the SBA is so overwhelmed it can’t provide supervision. I get nervous that I can spend them reopening when that happens as there may be another wave of cases and then I will have to close again and owe even more money. So I’m just going to sit on this for now.
What holds me back is my absolute outrage at how badly handled this whole situation. Before, I was earning six figures, and since the government didn’t handle it properly, I guess it owes me what I’m losing. I’m actually following the figure and writing it down. For example: “Okay, week 9, I would have made $ 30,000 by now.”
The uncertainty of my business and finances, and worrying about my friends and loved ones have tested my mental strength. Finding out that a friend’s parent has tested positive for COVID or contacting other people is psychologically exhausting. I live alone with two dogs who help me stick to a certain schedule, but I don’t sleep well. Most nights I try to go to bed around 11pm, but I actually stay awake until around 4am. Then I get up between nine and 11 am, take the dogs for a walk, and call for the rest of the day. day. But there are days of the week when I just go back to bed because I don’t know what else to do. I’ve talked to many other small business owners who feel the same way – just paralyzed.