Victoria B on 06 April 2021

This is gonna sound petty and unimportant but I'm gonna share anyway to show how even tiny things, seemingly simple or unimportant things, become important parts of one's budget when funds are limited.

A couple years ago I cut my hair short. Back then it was for emotional reasons, to get rid of old hair and grow in new hair that marks the time since I left abuse. It was a symbolic gesture, part of my healing journey, as how my hair looked was often controlled by others. It was a symbol of hope, self-care, freedom and self-control. My intention was always to grow my hair back but on my terms. I loved my long hair but I wanted it for me, not for others. So I cut it all off and I used to colour it every 3/4 months. It was done on a budget, friends and kids had fun practicing their hair skills and I got cheap hair styles I liked. Then lockdown hit, I stopped colouring my hair, stopped styling it and just focused in brushing and cleaning (albeit less often let's be honest here haha). I wasn't using much produce then anyway as my hair was only a few inches short anyway, so it was no biggy. Now my hair is nearly at my shoulder blades, it grows fast, always has, but now it's very thin cos lots falls out (stress and/or diet is the likely cause). I'm finding I need more product to keep it looking neat and presentable, especially for Zoom meetings, online job interviews, etc. I've not coloured it since before lockdown, probably not something I'll be likely to be able to do for a while, and it's in dire need of some TLC. But TLC costs money, especially after such stress. So now I'm contemplating if it's more economical of me to cut my hair again. I didn't enjoy short hair, I didn't mind cos of the symbolism but I want long hair. My long hair costs more, in care products, in maintenance and in TLC to keep it looking healthy and professional image worthy (especially as a woman, poor haircare can be a turn off to potential employers). The produce cost right now is low, only a couple quid a month while my hair is still a mid-length, but costs will rise as it gets longer. Even a couple of quid can feel like a huge luxury when funds are so limited. Lockdown also meant that hair products for my kids cost way more (as mixed raced kids have different hair care needs to me and I used to be able to find cheap at markets and stores in the big town but online is 3x the price). So I feel bad spending extra on my hair care, when I can just cut it off and save a couple quid, but if I do cut my hair I'll feel sad. It's not a big choice, it's not an end of the world choice. It's one tiny part of a much larger picture. I've a family friend who is very fortunately part of the middle classes, she's sometimes aware of her privilege but not often, when we talk about money issues, for example, I'm reminded how different her world is. She shops for food based on what she wants, not what she can afford, just before lockdown she was torn between the choice to get a second car or modernise her conservatory roof. These are completely valid financial concerns of hers, within the realms of her financial sphere, I'm in now way saying she shouldn't worry about such things. She's an awesome person, brilliant friend and never rude or obnoxious to me. It just blows my mind how many people don't have to worry about food and can instead worry about luxury items. Taking us back to the personal economics of hair care from my earlier example, for her as soon as her salons reopened she was in there getting her perms and dyes and trims, she mentioned to me the other day "the price has gone up but it's still worth the cost and it feels good to look my best again" (and while I've not seen her since before lockdown, we talk every couple of weeks on the phone, she's a beautiful person, body and soul). The point of this diary entry isn't to shame the middle class or tell people that higher income earners shouldn't enjoy their income, they 100% should and good on them (this friend for example is the descendant of immigrants, she and her husband have worked extremely hard and faced many hardships over the years to reach their current state of financial security and they use a lot of their money to support their friends and family, including me and my children). The point in trying to make in this entry is that when you're on a low income, when every penny feels so huge yet doesn't stretch very far, everything feels like a luxury. Even basic hair care products can feel expensive and luxurious. My choice to either let my hair grow and keep mixing water in my produce to make it last a little longer, or cut it and be sad but save a couple quid. It's not a big deal, but it feels like a big deal. It's depressing to have to squeeze every pound to the last penny. It's depressing to have to think: shall I deal with the guilt of long hair or the sorrow or cutting it. Having to factor in how it could effect my budget, my employability, etc. So small to those who have the luxury of not having to worry about such things. So big for those of us who do. Not everyone will need to worry about their hair length. For others it could be dietary needs, do they pay a little extra for a product that's twice the price but safe for their diet or just go without? Maybe it's medical, does a mother put off seeing her GP for period pain because the bus fare to the surgery is too expensive for her to spend on herself without guilt? Maybe it's the addict who has to calculate is the addiction cheaper than recovery? Maybe it's the person needing to factor in petrol money, do I spend the extra on petrol to visit the market for cheaper food or order online for more but save the petrol for maybe traveling to a job interview in the coming weeks? When you're on a low income, every tiny simple unimportant choice, things most people in the middle and especially the upper classes take for granted, every unimportant thing becomes an important factor in ones budget and plans. Is it really any wonder that mental health is statistically worse for low income households.

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