In the first chapter of Nickel and Dimed, it is interesting that Barbara repeatedly uses the phrase “500$ efficiency” as both a show of comparison of other people’s lifestyles at the Hearthside, as well as an evaluation of her own lifestyle. In many ways, her evaluation of lifestyle based on finance and possible living situations, is very realistic in the modern urban low-wage worker lifestyle, working her appeal with her statistics: “can afford to spend $500 on rent or maybe, with severe economies, $600 and still have $400 or $500 left over for food” (12). This of course remains as speculation, not exactly as impossible but barely possible, as she alludes how “In the Key West area, this pretty much confines to flophouses and trailer homes” (12).
She isn’t exactly quite limited in her functions, as she takes particular job routes in such detail in an efficient manner in terms of her wants: where she says “I rule out various occupations for one reason or another: hotel front-desk clerk, for example, which to my surprise is regarded as unskilled and pays only $6 or 7$ an hour, gets eliminated because it involves standing in one spot for eight hours a day. Waitressing is also something I’d like to avoid, because I remember it leaving me bone-tired when I was eighteen, and I’m decades of varicosities and back pain beyond that now” (13). In regards to the job market, she makes an excellent point in portraying that while individuals believe that they do not have a choice in the job they pursue in the low-wage displacement, she connects a certain rationality, an intelligent and planned mindset, that allows her to avoid “worst-case scenario” jobs.
In the reality, it isn’t all fair, as even speculating the costs of efficiency in correlation to ability to work, and want to work do not go hand in hand. She, forced by lack of choice in the market, replays the statement as told by Max at B&B that “there are no jobs now but there should be one soon, since “nobody lasts more than a couple weeks” (15), reflected on her eventual “work from 2:00 till 10:00 P.M for $2.43 an hour plus tips” (16). She notes that “it’s not hard to get my coworkers talking about their living situations, because housing, in almost every case, is the principal source of disruption in their lives, the first thing they fill you in on when they arrive for their shifts,” (25) quickly surveying from Gail, with a “nutsy” roommate to Joan how buys thrift shop clothes and showers at another co-workers place. The pleasant thing about the situation, is the connection between the workers, in relaying their hopes for an efficient and cost-worthy lifestyle, they hope that their earlier costs of efficiency, the “drawbacks of the slow days” as they portray, will pay off in some grander monetary expense. Being efficient has nothing to do however with days where efficient means never mean an end; just look at low-wage promotion possibilities and give that a whirl of speculation.