Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Being Poor is Teaching Me

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be starting a crazy adventure of moving to a state they've never lived in with no jobs lined up (you can read her blog here), put this as her facebook status yesterday: 

Only 78 degrees today, went for a run in a little Vegas rain. I like to think that there is a lesson to be learned in every experience. Today's lesson: Don't run past a dog poop recepticle with your mouth open!

First, don't you already love her sense of humor?  But more importantly, don't you love the attitude of learning from everything that happens?  I've actually spent the last few months trying to discern what it is I'm supposed to learn from our current situation- that situation being that my hubby is looking for a job and not finding one and our only income has been from my writing and social media projects.

We still have a little in savings and yes, a small income, but things are...tight.  Really, really tight.  Paying for groceries with a credit card tight.  'Cause even when you have no mortgage (thank God for that!) you still have property taxes and homeowners insurance and car insurance and student loans and gasoline and the electric bill and the propane to heat your house and the phone bill and the internet that you have to have so you can keep working.  And sometimes your kids just grow out of their clothes and even though you buy their "new" stuff at Goodwill, it's still not free.  So there it is.  Things are tight.

Until last night I thought maybe I needed to learn to be more grateful for what we do have.  Or I needed to find ways to be even more frugal.  Or I needed to worry less and trust in God more.  And I probably do need to do all of those things.  But you know what has just struck me, like a heavenly smack across my selfish face?  I've never been as generous as I could be.  Not even nearly.

Now that we have no money to spare, I realize that we could have given a lot more in charity in the days of steady employment and private health insurance.  We could have easily had more children.  We could have donated more food to food banks and more money to families in real need.  Back when we had money and a house with no holes in the ceilings.  But instead we went to Starbucks.  And I paid someone to cut my hair.  And I had a subscription to Lucky magazine.  Seriously?  Paying for a magazine subscription?  I kinda want to whack myself upside the head.

Being truly poor is teaching me to be humble.  That my family is sometimes going to look poor and that I can't be ashamed of that.  That I need to accept the gracious help of others because they want to be generous and even if it does indicate weakness on my part (which it doesn't, I know), that I need to suck it up.  That I will run out of and wear out things that I still have from the old days (like concealer and cute sandals) and I won't be able to justify buying more.  And then I will really have to let go of the idea of looking a certain way.  Being poor is helping me battle my vanity.

And just because some piece of furniture is old or ugly or mostly broken, it doesn't need to be replaced.  And even though plastic over the windows to cut down on heating bills isn't beautiful, it'll just have to do.

If things ever turn around, when they turn around, I can't forget that we don't need much to survive.  So many others in the world can, and should, benefit from our time, talent, and treasures.  Right now I only have the first two to offer, but someday if I have the third again, I can't forget the things I'm learning now.
 


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58 comments :

  1. That was a really lovely post...and something I'm sure we can all learn from! :)

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  2. Love this post...and I don't even have anything snarky to say!

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  3. Not a single snark? 25 points for me! :D

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  4. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! We went through a time of poverty also. Our only source of income was the 15K my hubby got as a grad student stipend and my oldest son had a rare GI disorder and prescriptions cost us 10K each year (insurance wouldn't cover). So somehow we had to manage to live on 5k a year. At times I could laugh at our situation - like when my baby boy had to wear lavendar all season cause I accidently put a red shirt in the wash with all his light blue outfits and couldn't afford to buy him new clothes - but other times (like when we had to sign up for food stamps) the humilation was almost more than I could bare. Yet, somehow I learned more, grew more in my faith and was more generous than ever. I realized the other day, that I've already "forgotten" so much of what I learned by being poor. I am disappointed in myself for so quickly falling back into bad habits that poverty once cured me of. Thanks again for the timely post reminding me to continue to work on all my little vices!

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  5. Thank you for this uplifting comment! I wish I knew who you were so I could thank you personally :)

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  6. sorry, I didn't post anonymously for any other reason then the system wouldn't let me put my name - I guess I should get around to signing up for a google account one of these days. Emily Cook

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  7. Yay! I do know you for real! Thank you, Emily :)

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  8. A Truly beautiful post. Life does cycle up and down...I remember a rough year we had (about 6 years before my husband died) when we only made enough to pay our rent and food. We only had about $20 for food and were so thankful that my husband shot a deer that year. We couldn't afford the small amt. to buy food stamps! I had a new baby, couldn't work because part of my lung collapsed from a tumor and then I had to have surgery to have it removed. Things looked very bleak...but we made it through the other side. You will, too! You have the most important things....love, family, and faith. Bless you and I'm praying for you all.

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  9. We are poor too, with only $650/mo coming in for quite some time. It, too, has taught me humility and has really taught me a lot about how my independent nature has, at times, drawn me away from God. Thanks for the wonderful post.

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  10. 1. student loans can be deferred sometimes.
    2. if you declare bankruptcy, do student loans get wiped out?

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  11. Oh I can relate. I mean, minus the four mouths to feed. Although I just got a grad school job (yay!) I spend hours every month counting how much money we have left, what we'll need to spend in order to survive if my husband doesn't get a job till after the bar, what jobs are available in my field, where we are going to live after school ends and so does our student apartment (which will be 2 months before John takes the bar and we move to Helena, if we move) on and on and on.
    I haven't really had a time of bounty that this is cutting back from, but in high school, college, everything was paid for (within reason, no blank check!)
    When I got sick we thankfully didn't have ridiculous bills, but it was certainly more than we had anticipated spending on our barebones budget. An extra couple hundred every few months on doctors bills, 50 a month or so on prescriptions...it adds up for sure. But then there are days I feel so crappy I can't stand up long enough to cook dinner and so we just buy a frozen pizza, hurting our wallets even more.
    It's a different ball game when it's self-inflicted poverty...we could drop out of school and get a job somewhere. And so we know this is only for a little while, but then we spend so much time dreaming about the future we can't appreciate what we have now.

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  12. I'm going to have to agree with all of the above commenters and say, Beautiful Post! There is so much out there that we don't actually need. This has been, at times, a difficult lesson for my husband and me, but God always provides what we truly need. He works in amazing ways, in His perfect timing, and I am certain that He has big plans for your family. I love watching it all unfold here on your blog, and I'm super glad you are making a little money off of it! :-)

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  13. Dweej - I can relate. You and Tommy are brave to make your choices, and to live the life you have. Your children are healthy and happy and magazine subscriptions are not all that they are cracked up to be (I am thinking of canceling mine). Someday, you will look back and marvel at what you were able to accomplish with so little. I know that more writing work will come your way - you are such a wonderful writer.

    As far as concealer goes, I figure God gave me big old dark circles under my eyes, and more recently, age spots on my face for a reason : so I don't get vain! And speaking of veins, I've got what my family refers to as "very close veins" in my legs - I got those from being pregnant. All of these things are badges of honor.

    I struggle with my weight - and then I remember that being fat is a privilege of the privileged. There are plenty of people in the Sudan who could use my excess.

    I have lots of reasons to be grateful - you are one of them! Thanks for the reminder!

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  14. Thank YOU for all those reminders, Paula. The internet is one of the blessings I count double every day!

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  15. Five years ago we were living in my mother's garage with our two small children. We were homeless-food pantry-clothes from church rummage bins- poor.

    Since we've moved to a new state, had a few more kids, and became less horribly poor. My kids get to buy clothes at Target now, and our electricity doesn't get turned off. My husband has a steady job. But I'm still so careful. Necessities have an entirely different meaning to me than they do to most people. And I'm okay with that.

    I get it. Been there.

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  16. As always Dweej, I come away from reading your posts having learned something. You're so positive and uplifting, we could all be more like you.

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  17. Thank you. This was amazing. I'm learning that need vs want is a hug important life/adult skill. The me of 10 years ago was way more spoiled than I could have imagined. And I'm still pretty spoiled. Thanks again. Great post - especially concerning generosity.

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  18. I have learned a lot from you. I remember you commenting on one of my blog posts when we pulled out of PA! It was encouraging to me. Although we moved into an apartment - we are in similar situation. You are happy and I appreciate your spirit. Did you get lonely? Do you have close friends in the area now? I know it just takes time, but I'm impatient and need relationships. God is teaching us a lot!

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  19. LOVE this post! It was amazing. Correction---YOU are amazing!!! We went through the "lean years" as we like to refer to them as and it taught us a great deal about what is important . Our boys both learned a great deal about how important it is to save what they can because of it. Hard but good lessons. Now that we are on the other side we try to be generous with what we have. We are crazy tippers . We give to a lot of charities and our church. I do Comments for a Cause on my blog. It is all in an effort to remember where we were and to show how grateful we are that we are in a better place financially . You will get there, too. I know it. The one thing that my one son asked was "Please, Mom, don't save money on the toilet paper. This stuff is awful. Save someplace else." :-)

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  20. I was talking about this earlier this week. Before kids I was a young up and coming professional in non-profit management. I hobnobbed with the rich, and locally famous. I spend $90 every 8 weeks to get my hair done. (I thought I was being frugal- by stretching out my hair appointments to 8 weeks instead of 6 weeks) Having kids changed everything. at one point we dh was starting his own business and money was non existent that $90 represented TWO weeks of groceries for my then family of 4. Yet we eat very healthfully, I even lost weight in a good way. We could not afford junk food. It was a rice and beans budget. Things are better now but I certainly don't spend $90 on a hair appointment for myself anymore.

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  21. @Beth- thank you for the toilet paper anecdote! You've got me cracking up over here :D

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  22. Hey D! Our family has been a single income family for about 2 years now. In the beginning we thought "How in the world are we going to make it?" With a baby on the way too? It is tough but HE provides. Matthew 6:25-34. ~ LD

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  23. This was a beautiful post. I often think I should appreciate what I have more. It's easy to forget.

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  24. Oh, Dweej. This was such a reminder to me that I don't GIVE enough. I could definitely be giving more.

    And I'm not a big church-y person, but I do believe the universe provides and I'm confident it will provide for you because you are such good people. Love ya, girl!

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  25. Dwija, first of all, I'm glad you liked my FB post yesterday and second of all we are on the learning adventure of our lives! As you know, things started going south for me when my Dad died in May of last year and it just kept going. Dad, job loss, moving, car accident, crappy landlord, job gone again, etc. Anyway, I am anxious about the adventure ahead of us but I can only look forward and hope that things are gonna get better! No matter how poor we are, we can always laugh about running past a dog poop recepticle with our mouths open! AND we always have the love of our family!

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  26. Thanks for inviting this stranger to walk with you four years ago. Miss you girl :) We'll get past this!

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  27. This was a lovely post and I thank you for sharing. I, too, used to buy more things. But things are just... things. Watching my daughter's face light up when she sees a new Dora video at the library is much more rewarding than a cute pair of shoes, don't you agree?

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  28. so very true.

    I know, that having less financial stress from large bills, make my husband a much nicer person to be around.

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  29. This was so good for me to read tonight. It's good to feel less alone! We are struggling too. My husband's business has been bad and I quit my job a year ago to care for out special needs son. It's a struggle sometimes to keep the faith. I know that I am where God wants me, and we're certainly learning to live on less.

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  30. Oh Dweej. I hear you loud and clear. When I think of the money I used to blow when I was working; starbucks, lunches out every day, needless crap at Target... it just sickens me. And I thought I was 'poor' then!

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  31. @Jane- yes, reading all of these comments has definitely made me feel less alone! We can't help but feel like everyone is doing well and we're the only ones scraping the bottom of the barrel. But here, look....a whole crew of fellow poor folk.

    :)

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  32. I really loved reading this. I really needed to read this. Thank you.

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  33. You have an amazing family and I know that you realize it's better than anything in the world!

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  34. We've been through the breakfast-for-dinner thing, hell, we've had times of breakfast only, let's-skip-dinner. We scrimped, saved, built our home and a business and, at present, we're struggling to survive, like you, only at a later time in life. It wasn't supposed to be this way, not for us, not for millions of others trying to see a glimmer of light in this economic black hole.
    We trudge along. And, I hear our grown kids complain; that whole "Entitlement Syndrome" thing. This is their first experience with difficult times and they're a tad...inconvenienced.

    I'm sharing your post with each of them, just to remind them how good they do have it.

    Dinner's almost ready; excuse me while I go flip some pancakes and deal with reality a while longer.

    Bless you Dweej!

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  35. Hey Dweej! I really appreciate your post. Being here in Guatemala, I think about this theme a lot. There's so much that you can live without and not really even notice (Q-tips, new clothes, new DVDs, new books, processed food, even a refridgerator). I feel like in the US we're so accustomed to the idea of buying constantly - this or that which will entertain us or help us maintain the image we want- but meanwhile the stuff really starts to clutter up everything else. Less savings, less mental tranquility, less quality time with loved ones - what's to gain with all the stuff? And the stuff confuses our sense of needs and wants, our ability to prioritize in our lives.

    On the other side of the coin I think it should be a fundamental right to not have to lose sleep over the bills or health care, and there's a definite balance to be struck there.

    But you have a really important point... And you're definitely not alone. Millions of people worldwide have scant access to clean water, let alone a computer or Internet! And you know, most probably wouldn't even blink an eye about it. It's all relative in the end.

    So the bottom line, which I think you express so eloquently, is try to appreciate what you do have!

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  36. You always know how to humble me (in a good way) I cant wait to see the plans God has in store for you come to fruition... I know they are truly spectacular and beyond our wildest imaginations and the world is so much better with you in it, and ALL that you give to those of us in it EVERY day (whether you realize it or not)

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  37. Dweej ~ I can so relate. It is a most difficult time. Your post made me reflect on past times of useless purchases. We too are using some of those past purchases to the extent they can be used and grateful they are avaialable to use. I wish I could offer you some great words of wisdom, unfortanetly I don't have any. I wish I could relieve some of your position of difficulty, but I can't. So I offered my Mass for your intentions. Blessings Lady!

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  38. I love this post, and am so glad to read another blogger being honest about financial struggles- it's so important to encourage each other. We are totally in your boat, for different reasons.

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  39. Love this, Dwija! Makes you really appreciate and know what is truly important in life. No one 'needs' that new couch or purse or shirt. But people get caught up and think they do. We live in a simplistic way too, just by moving so much. And above all, it has taught my husband and I what is really important in our life. And material things are waaay down on the list.

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  40. i love this post..its really awesome...

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  41. So true, dearie!
    I catch myself in cycles of this every.single.year. My husband and I both work at a private school, which doesn't pay year round, so every summer we have no income. I always am shocked, by the end of a summer, how little we have happily lived on for months and months...yet after those first few paychecks I seem to fall right back into a ton of bad spending habits! It's really very stupid.... sigh.

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  42. Great post: What I've really noticed -- in living with less money than I once had -- is how much I don't need and how much doesn't matter and doesn't make me happy. I'm pretty happy right now. Even without a new fall wardrobe or competitive consumption...How cool is that?
    I also think -- when I read your posts -- you've got brains and health, talent and skills, a home and a family. Rich, no? : )

    Great writing! @writewrds

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  43. Yes, I DO have all those things! We really are so blessed :)

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  44. We went through a period of severe financial struggle 2 years ago (when everybody was) and it was the best thing that happened to us, our family and our marriage. We look at everything so much differently now and we needed that forced change in perspective.

    I wish you all the best - my husband is looking for work also and we are relying on my writing income as well. I know the pressure you feel and hope it is relieved soon, but that you carry with you the gift you've been given!

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  45. Oh wow! That's a good lesson to take! And definitely an interesting perspective, right?! It's crazy the different things we learn as we go through different stages in our lives. *Oh and a little prayer sent to you all that the hubs finds something he'll enjoy!

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  46. It's a true blessing that you've gained this generous and positive perspective throughout your tight times.

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  47. A lovely lesson to be learned here. Thanks you for always being you, Dweej. Because you are rich in ways you can't imagine, with wisdom and an uplifting attitude, and you share those riches with everyone here. Thanks for that.

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  48. Just echoing everyone else. I love your honesty. I've been there, thought things were on the upswing, and now our house has burned down and we lost it all. I'm sure we will take many lessons away from it, but like you I know that one of the most important is just how little we REALLY need and how blessed most of us are even though we don't realize it.

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  49. Thanks for speaking so honestly about this. Somtimes I get really hung up about "not being able to have what I want" but I need to remember that we are lucky if we have eveything we need and fortunate if we have even a handful of the things we want.

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  50. Unbelievable post. Really puts things in perspective. I can relate to your friend--I packed all my crap in my car and drove to San Diego with no job in sight--but I made it there for four years before we headed back east. It's such a great adventure. And then there's me and JDubbs, broke and deferring our student loans for the fourth year in a row, but we're going to Bermuda in two weeks. For us, we live a fake non-poor life and hope our future earnings pay off the debt ;) You'll be listening to me wail about our poor judgment five years from now!! I wish I had your perspective (and attitude ;)

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  51. My husband and are are very poor and I know that I will never be spending $200 on sunglasses again like I did when I was an undergrad. Being poor has taught me the value of money and hw much good that money could do if put in the right place (charity organizations instead of Sunglass Hut).

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  52. Dweej, what an honest and earnest post. We spend so much time striving for more. For what the 'others' have. But there is not much we truly 'need' to sustain and to be happy if we look at things the right way.

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  53. The good thing is, it's hard to go 'back'!! While you miss some stuff now, when your situation changes, you'll still wonder why you had that magazine subscription and why you'd pay $50 for a shirt you can get in GW for $5! Then you'll have even more to share - including 'tightwad' tips!!

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  54. I really fantastic post. Thank you so much for the reminder that we are a nation of spoiled rotten people and we need to be thankful for all that we do have. Growing up, my Dad worked 3 jobs so my Mom could stay home with the 4 of us kids. We wore clothes given to us from kind neighbors and my younger sisters wore them after me. I saw my first movie when I was in 6th grade only because a heat wave hit our town and my parents took us there to cool off for a couple of hours. Broke as we were, I had the best childhood any kid could dream of and I love and respect my parents that much more for the sacrifices they made. I do hope things improve for you soon and the stress doesn't take too much of a toll on you.

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  55. Katie's comment said it beautifully, Dwija. Thank you for sharing yourself with us!

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  56. I like you more and more with every post I read.

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  57. Somehow, Dwija, your blog always speaks to me when I need it the most. I just did our checkbook for the week and found that we have $4 left after bills...so, no groceries or gas money for the week. Where did it all go? Well, we used to be actually, really poor. As in, for real, no money for groceries, going to the bread line (humiliation - like for real)poor. We make a lot of money, we also have so, so many bills. I went and spent stupid money on shorts for my daughter. Yes, she needs clothes, but I didn't need to let her pressure me into buying stuff right that minute when we could have waited a couple of days and gone to a resale place. I used to make my own baby wipes. Now I buy big old boxes of them from Target. I buy the best diapers for my baby, even though an off brand would probably do. Why do I do these things? Because I am short sighted, because I want the best for my kids, because I am not remembering how it used to be? All of those things, but pride, too.
    thanks for reminding me to reign myself in, remember that so many have it so much worse than we do, and to quit complaining, for heaven's sake!

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