I should start, first of all, by saying that I know I am lucky.

I’m lucky to not be in Ukraine right now – while driving to work a few mornings ago, I heard a story on NPR about the bombing of a building with the Russian word for “children” written outside of it, and I had to pull over because I suddenly felt sick and started crying. That level of daily horror is hard to comprehend.

I’m lucky that my children and I are healthy. I have a college friend with a child a few years younger than Georgia; her daughter has been battling cancer for three years – half of her young life – and it’s just come back in her lung. I am in awe of their strength and angry at the universe that this is their reality.

I’m lucky that I live a life of general privilege. I have a college education. I have a job that let me work remotely during the pandemic. We have two cars and a home in a nice neighborhood. We have health insurance.

I know I am lucky. I know I have a ridiculous amount of advantages.

But good grief, why is it so expensive to just live lately?

Some of this is happening everywhere. Groceries are expensive. Gas is expensive. I bought a few days worth of groceries for my family – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks – and filled my car up with gas. That was $350; two years ago, it would’ve been closer to $200. I know there are many reasons for that, and as I said, I know there are bigger problems in the world, but still … oof.

Some of this, however, is unique to New Orleans: My car insurance tripled when I moved here from Missouri. Owning a home is barely even practical with what taxes and insurance cost. We still have home repairs from Hurricane Ida that we can’t afford to make because we didn’t meet our deductible even though we pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year for homeowners’ insurance. Our utility bills are outrageous, and now our trash is only picked up once a week and recycling sometimes isn’t picked up at all. The amount of tires and car repairs we rack up from our terrible streets is also pretty staggering. And although private school tuition is absolutely a luxury, with the vagaries of OneApp and the many D- and F-rated schools, it’s something many parents here consider even when they don’t know how they are going to be able to afford it.

My friends in other cities send their kids to the neighborhood schools without even worrying about it. One friend told me his water bill is $20 a month. Another friend pays $890 a month for mortgage and escrow for a three-bedroom house in a lovely St. Louis suburb. And I already talked about the car insurance.

Look, I love it here. It’s home. I’m not going anywhere.

But I don’t think I’m a really lavish spender. I drive a 2012 Mazada minivan with 125,000 miles on it; when I entered in all of its info to some trade-in value calculator (including the bashed-in bumper where I was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver … see again: CAR INSURANCE), the website told me it was worth – I’m not joking – $37. I think the last time my husband and I had dinner at a restaurant was in December. We have never taken a vacation as a family. I canceled a recommended but not urgent breast MRI because it was going to be more than $2,000 with insurance, and if we had an extra $2,000, we’d be fixing our screwed-up plumbing, not checking my boobs, which are almost certainly fine because my mammogram was clear and I don’t have a family history of breast cancer.

None of this is equal to living in poverty or anything. I say again, we are incredibly lucky. But still, so so so much of our money goes to absolute basic necessities: food, shelter, keeping the lights on. (And the health care system in this country is a mess, but that’s another topic for another day.)

My mom always told me, “If your problems can be solved with money, you don’t have real problems.”

After losing her suddenly in May, I know how true that statement is.

But that said, a little more money or a lot fewer basic expenses still sure would be nice.