Most of us who have lived in poverty will never forget what it was like. The problem is, while you remember the circumstances and how you felt, you forget the important stuff—how you fed your family of four on $200 per month, how you knew what to purchase at the dollar store and what to avoid, and how to shop effectively at thrift stores. If you ever have to return to poverty, you have to relearn all that stuff.
In my case, I was happy to forget. I grew up poor in a single-parent home and hated it. Our house was always cold and most nights we ate only spaghetti or beans for dinner. Our furniture was usually something that had been repurposed. Two old mattress stacked on top of each other served as our couch, and my mom made a bookshelf from cinderblocks and boards. (This was before Pinterest, otherwise I’m sure we would’ve had a living room set made from old wooden pallets.)
The start of my adult life wasn’t much better. I went to college on student loans (I did, in fact, have scholarships that I never knew about, but that’s a sad story for another time), graduated, and had a baby with a guy I barely knew. We lived together for a while, I became pregnant with my second child, and we decided to get married.
Things had improved a little, but our lifestyle jumped when my husband began to advance in his career. Within five years he was making $70,000 per year. I was able to stay home with the kids for a couple of years and begin work on my graduate degree. I went back to work when my youngest entered kindergarten (I got a job at his school, which he loved). I no longer had to mentally add up the groceries in the cart before I hit the checkout line, and if I needed a pair of shoes, I could afford them. We bought furniture, cars and a new two-story house in the suburbs, and why I was never extravagant, I quietly forgot my hyper-frugal ways. I finished my degree, and was about to start my new career. This was it—we were finally going to make over $100,000 together.
But life never works out the way you plan it to. My husband started to lose job after job (four in three years), the details of which are worthy of a separate blog post. Last year we had to give our nice suburban house back to the bank. I’ve gained 50 pounds and been in the ER twice with panic attacks. I guess I don’t deal with change and adversity well.
While you’d think I’d have gotten used to it by now, this time will be particularly difficult because we will only have my income to live on. (In the past, my husband had been fired. This time he quit without telling me. Yeah…don’t want to talk about it. Not yet, at least.) I make too much to get public assistance, yet not enough to both cover our bills AND buy food. We’ll never see $100,000. In fact, in 2016 we may not even see $50,000.
I realize this amount is still a lot to many people. In my city, money doesn’t seem to go very far. Utilities and groceries are expensive, the bus system sucks, and we don’t seem to have those nice cheap working class neighborhoods that other cities have. If you prefer to sleep without the sound of gunshots at night, be prepared to pay over $1000 in rent.
So I’m going back to my roots this year (haha, literally—I can no longer afford hair dye!) and relearning how to be poor. I’ve never been good at figuring this stuff out for myself—the best I can do is watch and learn from other people to see what they do. It’s amazing what people come up with.
I hope I haven’t bored anyone out there too much. I just wanted to start off this blog by explaining who I am and where I’m coming from.
Merry Christmas from your friendly Library Dragon