What happens when you post your bank statement online every day for a year?
On March 21st, 2015, I had $10.03 in my checking account and $313.82 in my savings account. On March 21, 2016, I had $26.46 in my checking and $439.78 in my savings. I know this because for over a year I’ve been posting my balance every day to my Instagram account (if you want to see it, find me @ParksLucifer).
I started the project because I was going through a period of particular financial hardship (for context I’m working-class, white, and genderqueer) and had a lot of internalized shame about my socioeconomic status. I decided to try and fight that shame head-on by revealing the thing that I was most ashamed of to whoever wanted to see it — and it helped. Throughout the year I also got two extra jobs and started making higher wages, which did contribute to my lessened sense of shame. But despite the extra help, ripping the band-aid off my bank account every single day definitely made me feel a lot more comfortable with how much was in there because I was forced to acknowledge my shame and actively disregard it. My shame was also lessened by the fact that everyone responded with support and understanding rather than judgement.
I had quite a few interesting interactions as a result of the project. Any time both my savings and checking hit zero, one or two of my friends would comment on the photo and/or contact me to offer food or money. Because it was usually people I wouldn’t see on a regular basis, I know that they wouldn’t have known to offer anything without the photos. Another friend asked to borrow $170 from me to pay her rent because she knew that I had enough in my savings to help her. I gave her the money and I’d like to think I would have done the same if she didn’t know my balance, but I’m actually not certain. Knowing that she had seen my bank account statements made me more accountable with my money when I was called upon to share it, which was an unexpected but important product of the project.
Perhaps the most important interaction that I had was with my partner, who is much wealthier than I am. Although he followed me on Instagram even before I started the project, he told me that once we started sleeping together he stopped looking at the pictures because he didn’t feel comfortable because it reminded him of the difference between us. This made me incredibly uncomfortable, because the inequality was there whether or not he was willing to acknowledge just how big it was. After I told him as much he started looking at the pictures, and was much more willing to share his financial information with me so that we could create the boundaries that we needed and have a healthier relationship.
When I started the project, I wrote in a Facebook status, “I’ve realized recently, throughout a period of especially acute financial struggle, that I have a lot of shame surrounding poverty and financial class status. When I had to drop out of NYU, I felt ashamed. When I have to hop the subway turnstile, I feel ashamed. When I can’t pay my rent on time, I feel ashamed. When I can’t afford to go to the same places as my friends, I feel ashamed. When my roommate has to pay our utility bills, I feel ashamed. I turn the pressure from a society that prioritizes the wealthy and chronically underpays its workers inward. This has been a huge detriment to my happiness, and to many of my personal relationships.”
Ultimately, my aim was to both combat my own shame and also combat financial inequality in America. I know my shame led me to be angrier, more stressed out, and to lie to the people around me — all of which led to me being a worse person than I normally am. I also think that shame can intensify oppressions like racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia because it makes people who are privileged in those categories feel insufficient and react to that by taking it out on those who are less privileged so that they have someone to feel better than. In this way, it serves to direct attention from the people who are really at fault (the power elite, capitalism, etc). Obviously working-class people (especially white ones) being oppressive need to take accountability for their attitudes and actions because oppressing others is the most harmful way for us to handle being poor/broke/struggling, but I think that combatting shame will make that tendency less prevalent.
In addition to fighting shame, I wanted to do what little I could to get more people in America to understand just how wide our financial inequalities are and what that means for our society. From what I’ve seen, people who don’t have much often don’t understand how rich some people are, and people who are rich (or even upper middle class) often don’t understand what it looks like to not have much. Ultimately everyone really should have pretty much the same, but I don’t think that we can get to that point until we understand just how wide the gaps are and work on closing them. By sharing where I’m at, I think I was able to show at least a few people what it means to be working-class and broke as shit and hopefully it will encourage a more open dialogue that leads to real change on some level.
The project helped me feel more comfortable talking about my finances. I knew that anyone who follows me on Instagram would see exactly how much was in my account, so we had a starting point for understanding each other. There were plenty of days when I felt too ashamed to post, but I forced myself to anyway. Eventually these feelings diminished and now I post without even thinking about it. I’m not necessarily advocating for everyone to start posting their bank account balances the same way that I did, but I do think that we need to find creative ways to talk more openly about financial inequality and combat the shame that comes from it. But if anyone wants to do the same thing that I did, I think that it would certainly help — no matter what your financial status is.