The Neighborhood Writing Alliance on Money

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]

The Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) runs free, weekly and ongoing writing workshops for adults in libraries, schools, and social service centers across Chicago. Participants are encouraged to write about their everyday lives and personal histories. Selected pieces are published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT) and performed at 25-30 events every year.

Printed below are excerpts from answers to the question How does money affect you, and how does it affect the choices you make about your life and work? To read the pieces in full or to join a workshop, please visit And for JOT subscription information, including educator discounts, contact Mairead at or 773.684.2742.

I sometimes call it [money] green backs

It affects whether I can continue to stay in my home

maintain it, pay the real estate taxes, insurance and

water bills; keep the porch lights on, the snow

shoveled in the winter and the lawns cut in the summer.

Money affects how often I visit my doctor and dentist

and that affects my health – attention, life style change here –

ask the pharmacist at the Walgreens.

Money affects how often I can treat myself to steak

and lobster – attention again, more changes – or settle for chicken

and sardines, frozen vegetables and fruits vs. fresh;

drinks in descending order > Courvoisier > champagne > wine > Old Style beer.

Can I fill my gas tank or add just enough to make it?

Can I pay my auto insurance for 6 months,

or one month at a time, or do I just need to add fifteen or twenty

dollars to my CTA pass?

Can’t afford the tuition at U of C,

barely buy books from Borders.

Cash flow affects how much I can continue

to give to the local food pantry and the amount

I send to the ministry where I am spiritually fed.

I need to win the lottery . . . Big Time

so I can help my children.

Is this entire shortfall of cash income affecting my life style????

Not much. Never had much.

But it is affecting the style of how I care for and give to others.

– pj humphries, Hall Branch Library

Money affects me when I don’t have it. I’m affected because I’m not able to take care of myself. I can’t afford food, clothing, and shelter, and I can’t reach out to help others as I would like to.

– Jacob Ferguson, St. Leonard’s House

There’s nothing more exhilarating than having it, spending it, sharing it, and saving it.


The root of all evil? Au contraire. The flower of my happiness.

I rank money as high as the things it cannot buy.

Money makes graciousness, gratitude and bravery look a lot better.

Imagine James Bond without it!

– Sheila Foules, Bezazian Branch Library

Seems with you I spent most of my money

Government income taxes take the rest

Accounting isn’t our lifestyle

Trying to keeps me confused – I confess

Baby you can keep all of your money

You can have more by yourself for less

Otherwise we are a DINK, you know

Double-income-no-kid, I think?

Because if you pay me the interest

There goes your profit margin

– Donna Pecore, Albany Park Community Center

Growing up in poverty, I never stopped dreaming of earning a bachelor’s degree. I was immensely curious about the world. I wanted desperately to quell my hunger for knowledge, to control my destiny. I wanted something more than poverty and a restrictive female script. Lack of access to money was only a barrier to my choice of colleges, not my pursuit of an education. I wanted to attend a women’s college, because I was tired of feeling oppressed by boys intimidated by my intellect. So I chose the most difficult state university I could find and afford.

Worried about money, I caved in and married before I graduated – two could live more cheaply than one. Ironically, marriage drained resources rather than conserved them. In keeping with social expectations, I worked and attended college part-time to keep my husband in college. Six years later, I finally earned a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language. My next dream was to earn a PhD.

Inevitably the children came. There were just so many hours in a day and just so much money. Education was a luxury. My dream tugged and nagged at my soul.

It was the 1970’s, and the economy was in a recession. The tea leaves hinted that I would need to be the sole provider. While my children were still in preschool, I decided to pursue another degree, one more practical. A PhD in a foreign language was traded for a Master’s in science. In order to return to school, I squeezed pennies until they bled molten copper and worked a variety of jobs. My daughters complained bitterly about my busyness; all they ever saw me do at home was read books. No quality time for them – I needed to work.

My choice of careers followed the same practicality. I worked for money only, not passion, to keep my family intact. Although skilled and a high performer, I soon wanted more money to replace my lack of fulfillment. Over the years, I worked longer hours, earning increasingly higher salaries. The money itself did not make me happy. It was the fulfillment of using it to give my daughters what I did not have: access to the college of their choice and financial support to pursue their dreams. The oldest earned that PhD, the youngest a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. I am deeply proud.

– Jeanne Mayer, Bezazian Branch Library

Using the simple things I have,

I make a gift for a friend

out of colored paper and string.

I’m creative with the clothes I have.

I’m a princess,

a model—a role model,

an example of beauty inside.

Share my lunch with the homeless

like it was a buffet.

– Betsy Benefield, Albany Park Community Center

My dog snores very loudly,

When not snooping for the gambler’s mouse.

There are different reasons

Why we laugh aloud.

In the morning,

With money we are drunk already.

– Mayi D. Ojisua, Bezazian Branch Library

I make bad choices with my bucks. I am a constant spender. I don’t save too much money. I have a lot to put in different places. That’s not too annoying. I feel that if I had a soulmate, I would do better. I have to play the player from the Himalaya. That keeps me in the wind. I am all about partying for two more years. I’m not too old, so I see myself at that level. I am not a seven-day-a-week spender. I’m just a player from the Himalaya. Money comes and goes. I am having some fun before my father God calls me home.

– Terry Dixon, King Branch Library

I have never had the so-called American Dream, never thought of saving money in a bank, not of owning a home nor more than one car – if any car at all. So I’ve never thought much about money.

I actually have great contempt for money and for those who worship it. I’ve spent tons of money in my various addictions, sometimes $500 to $1,000 a day, never mind how I made it. But that was done from need and also out of contempt – throwing it all away was the name of the game – it never entered my mind how much I could have saved – I wouldn’t have bothered to get that much money together for any other reason – I certainly wouldn’t have saved any! For what?!

– Charlie Clements, Mabel Manning Branch Library

Pluto is no longer a full-fledged planet.

Pluto is still the dog of Mickey Mouse.

But the plutocrats rule the Earth.

Under the Plutocracy, the money power of what Jack London

Called the “Iron Heel” seemingly trumps all.

The allure of money trumps and surpasses religion and even sex.

For fear of losing the mystique of money, people will even use it wantonly.

In today’s world, the money power rivals Love.

In an Age of Celebrity, money is the most celebrated object of desire.

You might even say that money possesses its own alternative

To Myth and Poetry.

– John J. Quirk, Bezazian Branch Library

Having to live on much less, beginning several years ago, has been a blessing. I learned to buy during deep sales and use coupons when possible. I replaced brand names with generics. I spend more wisely, use less credit, and created a budget. It’s been possible to negotiate lower interest rates. I work at what I enjoy rather than just for more money (therefore I have less stress and better health, combined with more exercise, nutritional eating, and sleep). I am more generous with my time and more fulfilled. I explore more creativity, go to museums and events on “free” days, and appreciate nature (sunshine, breezes, music, the arts, friends and family) and good books more than material things. I’ve become a bit more spiritual and that has given me more peace, which I value a whole lot more than money.

If we worship the material and money, chances are we will become fearful of losing it, and/or exploit others to gain more and maybe even feel we need bodyguards. Greed can overtake us like addiction – the more we have, the more we want. Historically, greed has led to the destruction of civilizations. Taxes are necessary and should benefit society, not individuals or corporations.

Great wisdom has come from the O’Jays and Marvin Gaye about money. Listen to “For the Love of Money” and “Inner City Blues.” They are free and enjoyable on the internet.

– Marian I. Jones, Hall Branch Library

My church struggles to pay the bills.

They’ve designated a “Miracle Sunday” by which they want to raise $300,000.

I don’t have a job and can barely give $2-$3 per week.

The pastor said that as we enter Lent, giving to the Miracle Sunday Fund could be considered our Lenten sacrifice.

I don’t have a job.

We had a leadership training event.

They asked for $5 to cover the continental breakfast and snacks.

The food they would have served would not have fit into my diet anyway. (I have allergies.)

I did not eat.

The head of the finance committee told us that as leaders we should serve as role models

and give to the Miracle Sunday Fund. Yes, she knew that times were tough. They were tough for us all. But we have to sacrifice. There is money somewhere. Just cut back.

How do you cut back when you have nothing to cut from?

The pastor closes out the leadership training event by passing out 30% off cards for purchases at the Nike Store.

If they have money to purchase items at the Nike store, shouldn’t it go to the “Miracle Sunday” Fund?

I didn’t take one.

– Christelle Evans, Hall Branch Library

Money seems like a difficult constraint, a currency that there are alternatives for. You work, spending time to make money. Then you spend money to buy things or get services. Who decides how much money your time is worth, and how much the products are worth, and why this is the value you need to respect?

If we took this transaction and got rid of this value system, maybe for some things this could be a fairer way: to trade goods and services for work. For instance, if I need to buy some vegetables, could I not go directly to a farmer and offer him my labor in exchange for a sack of potatoes? And if I have leftovers, could I not exchange some of these with the plumber to get my leaky facet fixed?

This way the agreement is on the value of my work, and what I get in exchange for it is decided by the parties involved in the transactions. This is what I offer, this is what I want. The agreement is direct and personal. Not based on an arbitrary “market.”

– K Frances, Mabel Manning Branch Library

Of course, it depends on how much money I have. Being on Social Security, I don’t have much. I have no desire for a home of my own. At my age, it would be a headache. Now, make no mistake. I would love to be able to leave some money for my family, but not enough to make them think it’s all gravy. They must live a real life. No spoiled Hollywoodites for me. When I have money, the first thing I think about is who I can share it with, whether that means going to a movie or buying coins for my grandchildren and great-grands.

I’ve worked most of my life, and money has never been a problem. I don’t mean I have plenty. There are times when I feel that if I had more I could buy more, but it don’t throw me into any kind of depression. I have family and friends, including this writer’s group. I really like where I live, a senior building. There is a lot going on.

There are times when I would like to travel, but I really don’t have traveling money. I’ve traveled in the States, but never been outside of the States. When I was working, I loved to go out with co-workers and shop at stores like Carson’s, but that’s over. I still send money to the VA and anyone I believe is using it for what he claims.

I find that the more I give, the more I receive. Imagination is a wonderful gift for mankind. You can be anywhere you want to be. Life is great. To enjoy the life God gave you is like having a couple million dollars.

– Doris Arrington, Hall Branch Library

Money, enough of it

Can send you to Hell

Money, the lack of it

Can send you to jail

– Mildred King, Hall Branch Library

A dollar is no longer a dollar. I now have to budget my money, whereas before I could go and shop till I dropped. I now have to think about how much to spend on household products. I have not bought new clothing in four years. Money is a chore, a hex, and a make-or-break thing. If I have it, I make it. If I don’t, I am broke. If I make it, I am what you call “middle class.” If I don’t, I am what you call “poor.”

– Malvin Jeffries, Mabel Manning Branch Library

To me, money is just a necessity you can’t do without. I worked for a non-profit organization for four years. I got layed off in July of 2005. As a paid employee, I was a case worker for homeless men. The year that we were not funded, our funders told us they didn’t know how it happened but if we could keep the house open for this fiscal year, we would be funded for the next. Most of the staff stayed on as volunteers until their unemployment ran out. Some had families, so they had to look elsewhere for employment. I was the only paid staff that stayed on. I was able to do so because I became eligible for Social Security. I’m retired now, but I volunteer on weekends.

– Bruce Allen, Mabel Manning Branch Library

Choices that I make regarding money are so much a part of me that they are not really choices but a way of life. My current behavior is a continuation of my past behavior. It doesn’t bother me much to have less money because I always had less money.

When I was a child, my family made few purchases unless they had money in hand. (The piano purchased on the installment plan when I was nine was a rare exception, but worth it. Many years later, it is still in my dining room.) We learned to do with less. We had enough and we had what we needed, not necessarily what we wanted. I was taught to save and to wait for sales or bargains. That’s the way I try to live today. I always want a dollar’s worth for fifty cents!

As an adult, not being able to afford many extras doesn’t matter. I make my list and look for the items at a bargain price – clothing, household items, furnishings, groceries. If the price of lettuce is too high, we don’t have it in our salad that week. We don’t have summer fruits and vegetables during the winter. Long distance shipping makes them too costly, and actually we enjoy them more in-season because they are worth waiting for. I have a well-used library card and use bookstore discount coupons when I purchase books. My other purchases are always quality goods from outlet stores, discount warehouses, or department store sales that have been marked down at least twice. I do this as a matter of course. Once, my husband said to me, “You know, we really can afford to pay regular price sometimes.”

– Marie G. Shelton, Hall Branch Library

I looked at the President’s plan to use billions of dollars to bail out and stimulate the economy. But Congress is giving money back to the same people, places, and things that got us into this mess. I heard a saying that goes “insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.”

– Larry Jackson, Mabel Manning Branch Library

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