Tax Day Memories

Tomorrow’s the last day to file your taxes! I’m a responsible adult, so mine have been done for almost a week now, but to those who are waiting until the last minute I dedicate this cautionary Tax Day tale.

tax day

A few years ago, I was working at a restaurant in Queens for $7.50 an hour (and this was after my big raise), making enough to pay rent, eat food, and maybe go out twice a month. It wasn’t great, but we were in a recession, and what was a Communications major to do?

Tax Day rolled around, and I didn’t have a laptop in those days, so I found myself struggling to do my taxes online within the half hour I was given by the local library. Disaster struck: it turned out I owed about $450 in taxes. It might as well have been a million dollars. In the IRS’s grand tradition of giving zero fucks, and because it was the last day to file, the money was pulled from my bank account immediately, leaving a cool -$300 in my bank account. The good news: I already paid my rent. The bad news: I was 14 days away from my next paycheck.

I was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I was in a library, and tried to remain as silent as possible while I could feel my whole body flooding with panic. Shaking a little, I logged off. Once outside I began taking in huge gulps of air, trying to figure out how much food I already had in my apartment and whether I could ration it for two weeks.

I had something like 8 eggs and about half a jar of peanut butter, so I VERY MUCH COULD NOT. “You’ll be okay…” I told myself. “You work at a restaurant! That’ll be good for some meals!” This was true, but I only worked 4 days a week (two 12 hour shifts, one 8 hour shift, and one 4 hour shift because the restaurant couldn’t afford any full-time staffers), so even assuming I could sneak more than the one meal per shift I was supposed to take, I’d still need 6 full days worth of food.

I ran into my room and scrounged for change. I had a pretty decent amount, I thought. Before walking to the Coinstar machine, I figured I should break for lunch, so I grabbed 35 cents and headed to the bodega on the corner. I slapped a pack of ramen on the counter. “How much?” I asked, cockily. I’d survive the next few days, no problem. “50 cents.” “50 CENTS?!!! BUT AN 8 PACK IS A DOLLAR!!!” I screamed internally.

What I said out loud was “Oh… I uh… I’ll be back.” The man at the counter looked at me and said very kindly “Take it now. You pay me later.” I left the thirty five cents on the counter and tried to smile at him, but was also fighting back tears of gratitude/desperation, so I ended up just sort of wrinkling my face in his general direction. I think he understood.

After my delicious lunch of half a pack of ramen with a fried egg, I made my way to the Coinstar at Stop N Shop, where I discovered I had something like $19 in change. I spent about an hour and a half searching the aisles for the cheapest foods that would sustain me for the longest. I bought:

  • 1 loaf Stop N Shop Brand White Bread
  • 1 bag Stop N Shop Brand Frozen Broccoli
  • 1 container Stop N Shop Brand Margarine (but it wasn’t called margarine, it was called “Buttery Spread Sticks”)
  • 1 box Stop N Shop Brand Just-Add-Water Pancake Mix
  • 3 Bananas
  • 1 pack Stop N Shop Brand Cheese (but it wasn’t called cheese, it was called “American Sandwich Slices”)
  • 1 8-pack Beef Flavored Ramen Noodles
  • 1 tin Stop N Shop Brand Coffee
  • 1 dozen Large Eggs
Buttery Spread Sticks
Spread it and forget it.

The eggs were far and away the most expensive item, and after checking out, I still had around $4 in change. Stop N Shop rules.

For dinner that night, I had a grilled American sandwich slice sandwich. I’ll admit, the melted “cheese” tasted like pure salt and had the texture of pudding skin, but the buttery spread sticks actually made the bread a perfect golden brown. The next morning, I treated myself to banana pancakes with a big cup of coffee. The pancakes tasted like pancakes! The coffee tasted like hot dog water! Ya win some, ya lose some.

Could I have survived on the food I bought for two weeks? Probably! I’ll never truly know, because, living very close to the restaurant I was working at, I was able to swing by when my manager wasn’t around and snag free food from my co-workers pretty much every day. I’d fantasize about the manager catching me and reprimanding me so that I could dramatically yell “ARE YOU REALLY THAT SURPRISED? YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I MAKE!”, causing her to break down, thank me for being such a good employee, and offer me $10/hour (double digits baby!! Also, Jesus Christ, times really were tough if $10/hour was my FANTASY salary).

I never was caught in the act, but if that actually happened I probably would have just unconvincingly lied that I paid for whatever I was eating and the manager wouldn’t have cared enough to question it.

I know I rambled for a bit, but here’s what I want you to take away from this:

  • Stop N Shop has amazing deals
  • Stop N Shop brand coffee should not be called “coffee”, it should be called something like “Brown Hot Beverage Powder”
  • Having zero dollars does not mean the government can’t take money from you on tax day

I should clarify that I’m not anti-taxes or anti-government. I just want to share this story to point out how important it is to do your taxes in advance, so that if you DO owe money, you can at least try to figure out a payment plan.

Of course, Tax Day is tomorrow.

Good luck, procrastinators? If you get burned by your taxes this year and you’re desperate, you could probably find some of those “cheese” slices perfectly preserved in a landfill somewhere. I don’t believe in throwing food away, but throwing “food” away is gratifying.