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It’s All Negative Until Papa Bear Steps In

, , , , | Learning | January 17, 2022

While at school, I had free school meals. When I started high school, they were introducing fancy thumbprint scanners for paying. I got £2.10 a day which, conveniently, was the same price as dinner with a little pudding.

When year twelve starts, I get the same amount every day, but dinner with a little pudding increases in price to £2.20. I start having a slice of toast at break time and a panini at lunchtime and save up the 10ps that are leftover. While I could just alternate between having a pudding or not each day, I decide instead to save up those 10ps and treat myself to a milkshake every couple of weeks. After all, I can’t usually have one since I’d have nothing to eat for lunch.

There are no problems with this until, one day, I’m waiting for my friend and check the machine that lets me know how much money is on my account on a whim. The balance is negative. I did not know the balance could go negative. I assumed that if I tried to buy anything costing more than I had, I wouldn’t be able to buy it. Also, there is some mild panic because I wasn’t buying anything I couldn’t in the first place, right?

Turns out the paninis had increased in price by about 20p without me noticing. I’d just assumed there were no issues because I hadn’t had any issues buying anything. After this, I mess around with what I get a bit more, always double-checking it’s under the £2.10 I get, to try and pay it off with the leftover money.

This takes a while and I have very little self-control; some days I get something more, like the £2.20 dinner with a little pudding, and tell myself it’s okay if I spend half the 20p I saved yesterday on eating this today. However, I don’t remember to keep checking the machine to watch the debt go down. 

Fairly late into the school year, I’m called to the kitchen’s office. My debt has grown to £10. I’m almost an adult, but I’m fairly sheltered and this feels like a lot of money to me. Plus, I’m a huge crybaby, so I feel like a pathetic mess as I try to explain to the lunch lady through tears that I don’t know why it’s gotten that bad.

She explains to me that I never was able to stack up my lunch money. If I don’t spend all of the £2.10 I got today, it will reset itself tomorrow. So, all that time I thought I was saving up for something extra, the extra I spent went straight into my debt. The £2.10 I got each day was for me to buy food, so it wasn’t allowed to be used for the debt.

The long and short of it is that I need to bring in physical money to pay off what I owe the school. All I can think is, “My dad is going to kill me.” This is not an insignificant amount of money, and my sister was recently grounded for stealing a similar amount to buy herself sweets, and there’s a lot of other “stuff” going on at home which means my dad isn’t in the best of moods. I’ve basically just done the same thing, and I do not want to get in trouble.

Thankfully, it was my birthday or something the other day, and my dad gifted me a £10 note. I was saving it for the next time we went to a big store so I could buy a book. My dad does not take the news well that I am going to spend it on school lunch. I listen as he lectures and lectures about how much of a waste it is to spend my money on food that is temporary when I could spend it on something that will last. It’s all stuff I already know, but this is what I’ve decided I’m going to do.

Eventually, the pressure of keeping it from him gets to me and I break into tears and explain why I need to use it on the food. He goes quiet, tells me it’s stupid that the school let me go into debt, and tells me I’m stupid for not keeping better track of my money. Then, he gets on the phone and goes full rage mode on whoever it is at the school that answers.

When he gets off the phone, he tells me that the debt I gathered was cleared. Also, I’m now able to get a dinner with a little pudding every lunch and the dinner ladies type it in as £2.10. He also tells me that if my balance ever goes negative again, I will be paying for it myself since I’ve now been warned.

It is kind of embarrassing to face the lunch ladies after that. I didn’t mean for my dad to go nuts at them. I didn’t mean for him to weaponise my disability or our family circumstances at them. Still, though, they didn’t treat me any differently other than the price adjustments. They are very nice people.

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