Ten years ago my husband made $90,000 a year, I was a SAHM, lived in a 3,000-sq-foot five bedroom home, had $20,000 in savings, drove a reasonably new car and absolutely judged people who were not just like me.
It must have been their choices, right?
Um, yeah. Then five years ago reality slapped me in my face. Husband got laid off from that $90,000 a year job, we were forced to sell our home, downgrade our cars, go on PA and unemployment, I was forced to go back to work and we were living right on the edge and very often over the edge.
It's only JUST now that we are finally digging ourselves out of this hole. We're back in a house of our own, we are no longer on PA, we both still work and I am okay with that....but those years of struggle taught me a few things.
1.) We can live on less than we think. When I looked at my budget there were SO many things I was able to cut out. Did it save our house? No. But it did mean that we ate, paid our bills, and had a roof over our heads. Hell, there were a few months when PAPER TOWELS were a luxury item, because I could use dish towels instead.
2.) Poverty is hard and it's time consuming. Getting PA is not as simple as driving up to the welfare office in your caddy and walking away with cash in hand and boat load of food stamps. Often the process can take weeks, several trips to the food stamp office, and it can cost a LOT of money if you do not have proper documentation on hand. In Texas you must PROVE your identity and that you are a citizen...MY ID was not enough....I needed my birth cert, my marriage license, proof of identity for my three kids etc. It's easy to judge a person and say they should have all of that on-hand, but the truth is, I didn't. To simply apply, I spent more than $100 gathering documents and untold hours to get $200 month to feed a family. I was grateful, but it does not change the reality of it.
3.) Cable is a luxury, the Internet is not. Sure there are libraries, but hauling three kids in there while you attempt to fill out an online application that takes 45 mins is simply impractical.
4.) Health takes a backseat to sustenance. I was one of those folks who bought the BEST food....organic, pesticide-free etc. Yeah, when it came right down to nuts and bolts, five people needed to eat and if that meant serving GMO-laden pasta and canned tomatoes for dinner, guess what....bellies were filled.
5.) Sometimes it's okay to treat yourself. One Christmas I literally had NOTHING to give my kids and then I found a little cabin on a lake that was renting for $80 a night (there was NO way I could buy gifts for all three for $160, so I rented it.) I got two nights and then I wrapped up a piece of fire wood, a box a graham crackers, a package of marshmallows, a few chocolate bars and a few printed pics of where we were headed for New Year's put them under the tree. (This cabin even had CABLE, so it was a HUGE treat for us!) That little cabin has become a treasured tradition in our family.....EVERY year we return there for New Year's (we are at four years running now) and roast marshmallows, play RISK and spend TIME with each other. Even now that we have money for more, we return EVERY year to remind ourselves of just how important TIME is. My kids don't remember what they got in subsequent Christmases, but they DO remember these trips.
6.) People are going to judge you, because they have not BEEN you.....and you have to let that go. Being embarrassed is not worth your time. Defending WHY you need PA to anyone is NOT worth your time. Live your life. Do what you do. Stop fretting over whether the person in line behind you sees you using your FS card to buy food.
7.) It's okay to take a job that's beneath you and your education and your past success. That $90,000 a year salary was gone....so, DH took an $11 an hour job in a warehouse in Houston where the temperature was 115 degrees in the summer. It was awful, but we ate. And that led to better jobs and more money and clawing our way out of our mess. NEVER think you are "too good" or "shouldn't have to" work anywhere that will pay you.
8.) Not having health care is terrifying. Every sniffle and sneeze that you USED to take your kid to the doctor for is now treated with OTC medicine and the ER is your best friend. My daughter had a staph infection....easily treated with antibiotics..and yet, we were forced to take her to the ER because we simply did NOT have the $150 a pediatrician charged to see her. We are still paying off that bill.
9.) Everyone makes bad choices from time to time. Everyone has bad luck from time to time. It's how you manage the consequences of those bad choices and that bad luck that matters. Don't compare yourself to your neighbor and don't compare your neighbor to you. Don't be ashamed if you need help and don't feel guilty if you can't give it. Life happens.
10.) Kids are resilient and they are forgiving. It's OKAY to say that you don't have the money for something they want. Really.
Today we make about 1/3 of what we did in our heydays and we get by. Sure, I miss things about that life...I miss traveling and I miss being able to spend money with impunity.
BUT, what I gained from living poor far outweighs the values of being wealthy. We are a closer family as the result of it. We do not take anything for granted.
That's what I learned from being poor.
Bash away CM....bash away.