By: Revanche

Commentary on the game Spent

March 9, 2011

On FB’s post, Can you survive on an extreme budget and make tough choices?, I ran across Insomniac Lab Rat’s comment that rang old bells for me:

“I didn’t find the game to be THAT realistic, because I felt that most of the times I played I had horrible “luck”, and most people won’t experience that many bad things in such a short time span.”

My response was turning into a saga so I took it back home.  I understand it seems unrealistic but it is real – I’ll explain below. It is a bit of a personal bugbear, but I really like to point out the difference between luck and life happening and how they look remarkably alike.

This is what happens: When you’re in such a low or tight a situation that you have no cash flow, every single demand on your money is a choice that leaves another demand unanswered. You have all the same basic needs: food, shelter, medical, education, insurance, social obligations as others, but severely limited resources. Your daily question becomes: how do you cover six square feet of area with only three square feet of material?  Everything that comes of luck, plus everything that naturally would have happened anyway and over time becomes defined as “bad luck.”  That redefines your landscape.

As a player of the game Spent, what you are exposed to is that greater frequency of what appears to be bad luck but it’s really not.  You are experiencing all the demands of real life in the way that someone who has zero outside resources would experience: the illness that is inconvenient for most but disastrous for someone without sick leave and can’t afford to lose the pay, the commitment that takes away the cash you needed for that other bill, a $25 late fee because you didn’t have last month’s bill money, the extra rise in Bill C that makes Bill D impossible to meet this month.  They’re annoying to the average person with an extra $100 cushion in pay per month. Impossible if you just don’t have cash or credit. 

Probably the less realistic bits of the game are that it doesn’t provide any of the truly creative resources you might be able to draw upon if you could figure them in real life.  And that’s about right for a majority-case sort of game.

When you have an adequate cash flow, when you have any cash flow, you can absorb some smaller needs, and then only the significantly unexpected, or the “bad luck” stands out.  When you have no cash flow, every single thing is bad luck.  That’s why, a few years ago, I wrote about why I didn’t attribute our family situation to luck any longer – it was choices, it was circumstances, it was short and long term developments that happens to everyone that comes up. 

When we were living that way, scraping penny to penny, life really did seem to kick us, up or down, like that and I watched my mom start calling everything bad luck. In 2008, I first noticed the trend to blaming the circumstances of our lives on luck. A year later, I realized the toll that making choice after debilitating choice took on her, and our relationship. It feels like being stuck in a channeling trap to ultimate failure.

After having been a real life player in a game of Spent, I know that you take those hits, over and over and over.  You make those choices and hope, you make those choices and pray that you get from point A to point B, from point B to point C and you try to find ways to do things different every time to make it better but there are constantly setbacks, every week and every month.  Right here on this blog, you’ll see my commenters note that it’s like a two-step, one step forward, two steps back.  

It really wasn’t luck, though. 

Though there was a time it certainly felt that way after I’d finally just sold our third vehicle at a loss, and then my dad totaled the sedan.  My commenters made me laugh, though.  “Death, Dismemberment, Disembowelment, Dysentery” indeed.

Yes, there are times I shake my fist at luck. But Luck happens, good and bad. Just be prepared for it, no matter what it is.

8 Responses to “Commentary on the game Spent”

  1. KH says:

    “most people won’t experience that many bad things in such a short time span.”

    If only it were so. Shall I enumerate my 2010? Let’s start with my car dying in Jan. Blown head gasket cost me $3000, the entire sum of my emergency fund. I hadn’t even had the chance to rebuild the fund when I found out I had to have a biopsy in March that wasn’t covered by my insurance (turned into an out of office procedure that was then applied against my deductible). That was $558 that I borrowed from my sweetie. The day before I was supposed to go in for the biopsy, I broke a tooth (eating toast, no less) and had to have a root canal and a crow. The root canal was 80% covered, but my insurance only covers 50% of the cost of crowns. Luckily my dentist is my sweetie’s best friend and let me pay off the $900 that I wound up owing him after insurance. In April my lease was up and in order to renew, I had to accept a $100 monthly increase in rent (I negotiated that down from $325). May was relatively calm. In June I got audited by the IRS for taxes from a contract job I’d done back in 2001. I wound up having to work out an installment plan with them which added $250 a month to my expenses. I also had to pay to replace a tire on my car when I ran over retread on the freeway and it shredded my tire – another $120.

    I’m happy for your commenter that he personally has never had that many bad things happen to him in a short time span. He’s very LUCKY. 🙂

  2. eemusings says:

    thank you, Revanche.

    When you are already on the line, all it takes is one TINY unexpected expense to push you over and it is damn hard to get out of that cycle.

    It’s even worse if you’re unemployed and not particularly skilled or educated. Or when you live somewhere where a car is necessary, and you only have a cheap car that constantly breaks down, costing you money and time off work.

    Trust me, I probably once thought similar to Lab Rat. I simply didn’t know that some people lived that way. But now I have seen it for myself.

    I am 99% sure that T’s family will always be in the week-to-week mentality, and that worries me a little. Striking a balance between helping where we can but not jeopardising our own stability.

  3. LBC Teacher says:

    I generally agree, though when I played my monthly electric bill was $120…I had to wonder how realistic that is. Obviously it’s a game though and you can’t put, “I would turn off the lights and unplug appliances so that my bill wouldn’t run that high!” 🙂

  4. Ever since I wrote that comment, I’ve been thinking about writing a longer blog post follow up, but never did. The next part of my comment was about not being able to choose a creative solution, and I think it was the repeated thinking “but I would do this, not either of those things” that started to bug me, and then on top of it, it seemed like some of the situations were unrealistic. I wonder if I would have reacted differently if, instead of a kid throwing something through the window and the landlord not paying for it, it had been your car getting stolen, or something I could relate to personally (been there, not fun, not cheap, even with insurance).

    But you (and the other commenters here) absolutely make great points- this “luck” is just life, and when you don’t have a cushion, a tiny change in circumstances makes a HUGE impact on your financial situation.

    I get that, I learned a lot while playing the game. I donated to UMD after playing because it was so innovative, on top of my normal donations.

    I guess overall I’ve had “good luck” with my background and financially- I have also worked hard to hold jobs during college, been responsible with my spending, worked hard to get into a good grad school with a good stipend, etc. I recognize that while I’ve worked hard, I’ve also had good luck, so I think that’s why I’m inclined to call these things “bad luck”, because it’s the opposite of what I consider to be the “good luck” I’ve had.

    Anyway, thanks for the insightful posts. (this is something I love about reading blogs, learning from so many people with different points of view!) I just wanted to defend myself a tiny bit, and point out that while I know I certainly haven’t experienced everything out there, I’m also not some completely ignorant trust fund kid who has never worked a day in my life, or something 🙂 I just worded something a little differently than I could have, and had a different reaction to a game than some people.
    – Last thing, I swear, this is turning into its own post!- I think that our past experiences color how we react to things. For those of you who have been in a similar situation to the game, you remember what it was like. For those of us who haven’t, I think we’re more likely to pick up on random things that we don’t like, because we don’t have that experience to draw on. Just my last random thought, thanks again for the insights.

  5. Serendipity says:

    Thank you so much for this post. A lot of people either felt two ways about this game I think. It was either, “Oh my god this is terrible” or ” Oh my god, this game is rigged, life isn’t that bad.” Unfortnately, for some, and for me at one point when I felt my lowest, life can be and is like that.
    Yes, you have choices and you have a say. But sometimes, especially when barely making enough to some what get ahead, a little expense out of no where really puts a strain on someone and their family.
    I learned, that no matter how good or comfortable I think I am, I need to keep going. I need to keep trying. I need to keep living.


  6. Revanche says:

    @Insomniac Lab Rat: Oh dear, LAST thing I meant was for this to be something you’d have to feel you had to defend yourself in, I really could have done better.

    I did also forget to point out the fact that, frankly, making stupid choices IRL contribute to the “bad luck” just as much and I think that the game factors that in by weighting the “luck” a bit.

    In my case, I was supporting my family and my sibling was a major factor that I couldn’t control who would run up costs that wouldn’t be as high as if I lived alone, for example. I think there are many examples of such.

    But that’s just making the saga longer. 😉

    In a nutshell, I just appreciated your getting my wheels turning a bit, that’s all.

    @KH: Life just does keep happening, doesn’t it?

    @eemusings: Yeah, it’s really hard to force a line between that life and a new one.

    @LBC Teacher: Or “kick the person who keeps running the utilities so high out” … AHEM.

    @serendipity: That’s right – you just keep on. I personally took the brute force way out but that’s a young person’s game.

  7. No worries, Revanche, and sorry my comment became such a long ramble! In addition to the game getting me to think in a new way, your post did too. Just wanted to explain how my different experience may have shaped my response 🙂

  8. Revanche says:

    @Insomniac Lab Rat: I don’t mind rambles, I’m glad you did 🙂

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