By Alex Curci
It is almost time to head home from a long day of work at the ShopRite of New Paltz. Nicole Perconti is finishing up packing out an end cap when she realizes she needs to get dinner ready for her and her mom. Unfortunately, payday is Friday and today is Wednesday and money is tight. But in order to survive one must eat.
Perconti takes a walk over to the deli and decides to buy the on sale roast chicken. “Always have to look for the sales, every week something different goes on sale,” said Perconti’s as she paces over to the register to pay. “It’s the best way to save money sometimes, a can of beans or a package of pasta can go a long way.”
Perconti is now currently 25 years old, has an associate in teaching from Dutchess Community College and works a minimum wage job at ShopRite. She currently lives in New Paltz, an upper middle class liberal neighborhood that isn’t cheap to live in.
“The bills just keep piling up. Even when I still manage to pay them all on time I suffer because now I have to ask my mom to help me out.” – Nicole Perconti
Her mom, Frances Perconti, also works at ShopRite as a cashier. Frances has been working there since before she started, which was several years ago back in 2011. She does whatever she can to help her daughter. She says that she mostly refuses the help because she wishes to be independent.
Perconti admits that the bills have begun to become a problem for her and her mom. “The bills just keep piling up,” she said. “Even when I still manage to pay them all on time I suffer because now I have to ask my mom to help me out.”
In 2015, FeedingAmerica.org found that 41.1 million Americans are in poverty, 24.4 million people under the poverty line are between the ages of 18 to 25. Being under the poverty line means that you have little to no money to live, your struggling from paycheck to paycheck and constantly need to make ends meet, and luckily Perconti is only struggling to make a living wage, which is different from being in poverty.
A living wage is defined as a salary high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Perconti describes her current situation as a failure and wishes to find a way out of the hole she is living in now. What’s impressive is her determination to do this on her own and to eventually become self sustaining without her mom.
Perconti looks to do things for herself and is looking to become more independent and eventually live on her own. Of course her mom helps her out all the time, but she’s to stubborn to accept the help that she needs. She makes about $9.25 an hour, two dollars underneath the $11 dollars required to sustain yourself in New York State.
On a weekly average, she makes about $250 to $300 dollars a week, about 34 hours a week. In order to keep her afloat, Perconti relies on extra pay Sundays since the company doesn’t support overtime. She works from morning to night to ensure she can make the extra cash. She wouldn’t be able to survive if her mother didn’t help her out with the bills. She currently makes about $10 dollars and $25 cents per hour but is considered part time.
Since the store doesn’t offer overtime, Perconti works a full time shift on Sundays in order to make enough money for the coming week. “It’s hard not being able to get overtime. I want to show the company that I am one of the best workers they have at this store,” she said as she continues to pack out the aisles and scan out perishables.
“I want her to succeed, she’s so bright and is so good with kids.” – Frances Perconti, Nicole’s mother
For Perconti, being so young and having such little money is a problem facing many young Americans who either graduated college or took up a trade after High School. Although she is not in severe student debt because she went to community college unlike other young adults, she is still facing the problems of high taxes, rent, and expensive groceries.
According to the U.S Department Of Agriculture, on average for a four person house, the residents must make between $146 to $289 in order to have enough groceries for the family. Perconti says on average for her and her mother to buy groceries, plus her price plus rewards for ShopRite, total out to about $105 to $130 a week on groceries depending on holidays.
The main reason The Perconti’s have found themselves in a more precarious position than others is because of the heavy property taxes on their house. Together, they both need make up about $1400 dollars by the end of the month to insure they can keep the house. Most weeks are so tight that she has been forced to even sell jewelry or household items in order to make the money in time for the bills.
Perconti is able to survive right now thanks to her mom pitching into a pool of money on payday. Together they make close to $700 dollars a week and that’s only enough to cover electric, cable, groceries and her health insurance. Perconti’s mom has become the dependent of her late husband, whose life insurance and pension helps keep them under the roof of their house.
Perconti said that “the hardest part to living here isn’t just paying the bills, it is just how expensive everything is. Food alone costs me sometimes close to $140 a week!’’
Whenever she has a day off, she spends most of it paying bills or cleaning up the house. Perconti has lost most of her friends over the years but her boyfriend, Brett Escobar, helps keep her sane. Escobar has been helping her out since they started dating and is currently helping to fix her car, because Perconti spent the money on alcohol and her depression medication.
“If I didn’t have Brett I would probably be in depression again,” said Perconti. “It’s so hard to live in this area like this, but I just can’t move and I can’t leave my mom.”
Once she is finished paying the bills which can pile up to close to over $400 dollars a week, leaving her around $200 dollars for everything other than bills. Perconti will continue her night by cleaning up the house, cutting out coupons from the flyers and make a small meal to sustain her. She then heads out with her boyfriend to get her mind of the stress.
“Although I need to save every penny I have, it has become impossible for me to stop myself from smoking or drinking. In today’s world everyone has their vice, I just can’t afford mine.” – Nicole Perconti
It wasn’t always this way for Perconti. Four years ago she was attending Dutchess Community College about to finish up her Associate’s degree where she got a full scholarship from the College. Perconti even had paid tuition to Duchess because her grades were so good it shows that within a few years a situation can go from bad to worse.
“When I was still in school, my father would always push me very hard, and was the reason why I wanted to become a teacher,” said Perconti as a tear rolls down her eye. “He ended up going into cardiac arrest and passing away a month before I was set to finish school, I was so heart broken I almost didn’t show up to receive my diploma.”
Perconti’s late father though, Earl, was the main caregiver of the house. An electrician by trade, Mr. Perconti worked in Local Union 363 and maintained a very good salary and even ventured out of Ulster county when work wasn’t available. Unfortunately though, he had to retire because his doctor told him his blood pressure was extremely high and his heart wasn’t running as smoothly as when he was younger.
Several years after his retirement, he had his first heart attack and went to Ulster Hospital where they found heavy amounts of plaque in his arteries. He refused to get treatment or help himself, which lead to his eventual death in 2010.
When Perconti’s father died, everything changed for her. She began to fall into a deep depression and believed that alcohol was one of the few things that could make her feel better. Her drinking problem went from drinking one or two days a week, to having a full on bottle of wine every night for the past two years. It currently costs her over $50 a week on cheap alcohol in order to feed her addiction.
Perconti never was a drug user but she smokes cigarettes, and has been for several years. Her addiction to cigarettes has become so bad that at one point she was spending $70 dollars a week on cigarettes, that’s a pack a day and also a big chunk of her paycheck. To cope with the staggering prices, she has started rolling her own cigarettes in an attempt to save money and her own health.
“Although I need to save every penny I have, it has become impossible for me to stop myself from smoking or drinking,” said Perconti as she takes a puff from her cigarette and washes it down with a glass of wine. “In today’s world everyone has their vice, I just can’t afford mine.”
Perconti’s mom said that she has tried several times to help her, but she doesn’t want the help.
“I love my daughter very much,” said Perconti’s mom as she struggles to finish her sentence, “but it breaks my heart when she wastes all of her talent on a glass of wine.”
Perconti works very hard at ShopRite and continues to try and work as much as she can in order to get full time. Her boyfriend also works at ShopRite in the produce department. Escobar revealed that she started drinking on the job, but luckily the only person she seems to listen to is in fact Escobar. Since her father’s death, she has been struggling to pick herself up. Her mom believes it’s getting to the point where she needs to move out and make a career for herself.
“I just don’t understand why she didn’t do it sooner,” said Perconti’s mom as she sat at the dinner table while her daughter was picking up Escobar from work, “I want her to succeed, she’s so bright and is so good with kids.”
Perconti has done a lot to get herself back on her feet considering her alcoholism, she has come a long way since her father passed away several years ago. She believes that her life of being a teacher is definitely over for now, but she will continue to learn and find out what career path she wants to take.
“I want to show the company that I am one of the best workers they have at this store.” – Nicole Perconti
Perconti is planning on moving into an apartment with her boyfriend, either the Southside apartments or renting a basement as a tenant. Despite not making very much money at all, she has managed to save enough money to hopefully get started with her second life. Perconti and Escobar currently have close to $2000 dollars saved up so they can put a security deposit on their apartment or living space, a good start but it’s still up for debate if it will work.
She plans on using some of that money to possibly take night classes at New Paltz in order to obtain her Bachelor’s degree and maybe one day fulfilling her dream to become a teacher. Her mom said she will give half of her every week paycheck to Perconti in order for her to achieve a higher education.
Falling into financial turmoil isn’t always a choice or something that just happens, it can creep up on all of us. She works extremely hard to help out herself and her mother and the last few stressful years will hopefully pay off in the end. Perconti understands she’s not the only one living with this problem, but she is ready to move forward.
“My whole life I’ve tried to be nothing but ambitious, my father always sat me down to tell me stories about how he struggled growing up. That’s the reason I continue to push forward, because I know my father is with me and he always will be, anyone can be anyone.”