Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reasons Vs. Excuses - Why are we poor?

All over the internet, and thus all over the world, you can see evidence of people having the attitude that poor people wouldn't be poor if they didn't want to. *Rolls eyes* That might be true of somethings, say, like being a judgmental jerk, but if that were true, poverty would be eradicated! Seriously! I can promise you I don't want to be poor, where's my magical way out NOW that I've decided that?

I've heard people talk about that anecdotal hobo who would rather live on the streets than be in a cubicle, but I have yet to meet him. On the other hand, I've met scores of people down on their luck, with no pride left, struggling and hoping and praying for change. Working jobs they certainly don't want to, wearing tattered clothes they don't want to, eating expired food they don't want to, just to make it. If you are that person - that realized you were poor one day, and decided that you didn't want to be anymore, and changed your circumstances in less than a year, please let the rest of us now how you did it.

Now, all humans tend to make excuses. Even poor people make excuses, but not any more than anyone else. For the sake of this post, I'd like to define reasons and excuses, as I see them.

Reason - A truthful fact that cannot be changed or avoided.
I'm late because my car broke down.
There's really nothing you can do about that.

Excuse - May or may not be true, but if it is, it can be changed or avoided if you wanted to. Used to elicit sympathy.
I'm late because I kept turning off my alarm clock because I slept so bad last night, and then I had to stop and get gas, and I had to get some breakfast but the line at McD's was super long.
All may be true, but if you hadn't kept turning off you alarm, you would have had time for all the rest. It could have been avoided, but you're trying to get sympathy to avoid conflict.

Therefore, a lot of people think that low income people are constantly making excuses for being poor, instead of having legitimate reasons. There absolutely are tons of humans in this world that will use excuses to not have to do the things they should, but they are certainly not concentrated in one income bracket or another (at least in my opinion/experience).

I'm going to share with you my reasons, and my excuses (yes there are a few) for being in this financial state my family and I are in.

I'm going to completely disregard any factors that came before my adulthood, such as where I grew up or parent's income or any of that. These are the reasons and excuses that  effect my life since independence.

Trisha's reasons for being poor:
*Due to me and my 1st baby's health, I had to be at home with her for the first 6 months after she was born.
*When she was 3, I had a routine surgery that turned into a health disaster - I was in the hospital for a month, had months of recovery and multiple surgeries and procedures.
*I was "laid off" from my job while I was in the hospital.
*Shortly after leaving the hospital, I divorced my husband. (I don't care what anyone says, that was unavoidable. Circumstances.) This left my credit in really bad shape due to joint debts.
*Even after I was "fixed", I still had health problems that cost lots of money to treat and made working hard. I couldn't go back to school yet because of my poor health and lack of money.
*After returning to work, I was only able to work about 6 months before my health started deteriorating again. (luckily though at this point is where my now husband came into the picture and started supporting us.)
I had to quit working while I figured out what was going on. Lots of doctor's visits and bills before the reason was discovered.
*I had to travel to a larger city 6 1/2 hrs. away from my home for doctor's visits, and ultimately for surgery. All of this used up any extra money my husband made, put us behind on bills, and damaged our credit.
*After my dear, sweet second child was born, she had some kind of sleep trouble the doctor's couldn't figure out. I was getting 2-4 hours of sleep a night. I couldn't function. Work and school were out of the question. I had periods of hallucinations, from exhaustion. This lasted until she was 16 months old (and her sleep STILL sucks sometimes).
Trisha's Number One Reason For Being Below The Poverty Line: Poor health and doctor bills.

Trisha's excuses for being poor:
*I did not do anything while young to establish any kind of credit history.
*During college, I worked a lot of small, short duration jobs, not really gaining any experience and messing up my resume'.
*I never made saving money a priority.
*I got pregnant 5 months after getting married, and I didn't go back to college while pregnant. We still didn't prioritize a savings account.
*I didn't go back to work after my child was stable, or back to college, because I wanted to be home with her. I didn't return to work until she was 3. I still didn't put anything in savings.
*After finally being well enough to work, I did not look for/gain anything but seasonal employment for about 6 more months. Now I had a really crappy work history, no degree, and no real experience in anything but retail. Still no savings.
*I worked only 6 months before getting sick again. I returned to work 3 months later, and promptly found out I was pregnant again. After finding out I was pregnant, I once again put school on hold. I only worked 4 months before quitting due to pregnancy issues. Didn't put away any money in savings.
*It's only been about 3 months since my baby's sleep issues have gotten tolerable. I have obviously not returned to school or work yet.
*We have never concentrated on saving money, even when we were able.
*We moved across country 2 months ago. (Yes it was for my husband's work, but there may have been other options.) This took all our savings, and my husband cashed out his 401k.
*Through sicknesses and surgeries, and babies and moving, we have allowed our credit to go to absolute crap from unpaid bills and broken contracts.
*I don't want to go back to work full time until my littlest is older.
Trisha's Number One Excuse For Being Below The Poverty Line: Not prioritizing savings or credit.

I have reasons for being low income that cannot be helped. But I certainly don't want to be poor, so I can take steps to make sure I have fewer excuses for it too. Some of my excuses were made out of ignorance, but they were still technically avoidable.

So, I actually think this was a good exercise for me. I definitely see a repeating theme in my excuses. No savings, and bad credit! Ok, so hey, I have some definite things to focus on that might help us out of this mess!! I can work on keeping those to things from being a continual excuse. I mean, I've always known that savings and credit were issues, but seeing them over and over - when I could change it!! - why wouldn't I?? Seeing it in black and white gives me a focus for change.

If you're in the same boat as us, I encourage you to make a similar list. Be brutally honest with yourself. Really ask if a circumstance was avoidable or changeable. If it wasn't unpreventable, it's an excuse. Maybe you'll gain some insight. I hope in doing this you can find a focus to help your family out as well.

In a future post I will outline what I plan to do about the excuses I can change, because really I need to do more research first. I'm not sure how to fix my credit without more money!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

One Way Having (No) Money Changes Relationships

We've all heard the anecdote that when you have or get a lot of money, you're relationships suffer. Suddenly everyone wants a hand out, and gets mad when you don't hand one over. The amount of money that you have available to you has negatively impacted your relationships. I think however, that the amount of money not available to you has the same effect.

Last night, in a frenzy of disappointed writing, I wrote a post about a close family member whom I am having relationship trouble with. I'm glad I didn't post it.

However! After re-reading it, I did find some insights relevant to my chosen topic.

Not every single thing in life is affected by your money or lack of, but having a lack of it has consequences for things you would never even expect. Poor people's relationships suffer,and not just from the stigma of being poor -I think poor people are way more likely to have relationships negatively affected by their income.

Can I put a value on that, a percentage to compare? Of course not, this is simply my opinion from living it and seeing it around me.

I'm certain this is going to seem like a high school math word problem, but just stick with me a minute if you can.

In my first example, a married couple. His wife is over-tired after getting up with the baby all night and picking up after herself, her husband, and two kids all the time. Her feelings are sensitive today, demonstrated by the fact that she is grumpy and on the verge of tears constantly. He happens at some point to make a joking remark that hurts her tender feelings, and he is instantly remorseful when she begins balling. She closes herself in the bedroom and won't talk to him, but he has to leave for work. So he goes.

What would a typical man do to soothe his wife and make her happy again, even though he can't really talk to her long enough to sort things out? He might call her on his break, and apologize. He might go further, and bring her home flowers, and promise to get her a babysitter this weekend so he can take her out for a night or fun and relaxation away from the house drudgery.

In my second example are two childhood best friends who have grown up together. One moves away to go to college, far enough away that it isn't easy to see each other. They don't talk nearly as much now, they don't ever get to hang out, and both are busy with school work and university life. The one who left the state for school has the more sensitive feelings, and she is hurt at the lack of attention the other has given her. She is all but sure her friend doesn't care anymore.

What might a typical friend do let the other person know they are still good friends and still think of them often, even though they don't get to talk much? She would certainly make an effort to call more often, email more often, etc. She would send her friend some special gifts and a card or her birthday and holidays. Occasionally she would send her something small randomly, with a small note saying "Sorry we haven't talked much lately, I've got so much going on! Still thinking of you though, will call soon!" They would make plans for one to fly to the other so they could spend summer break together catching up and having fun. and keeping their friendship strong.

Sadly, a person who is really struggling financially, who is below the tolerable living line and maybe even below the poverty line, can't do these typical things. Sure, relationships shouldn't center on what you can buy each other, and most don't, but actions definitely speak louder than words sometimes. A lot of people have those actions available to them to patch things up quickly and keep relationships stable - low income people don't.

The low income husband's pre-paid phone has very few minutes left, so he just leaves his wife a quick apology. He can't bring home flowers, that's at least $15 out of their money. That $15 would be 1/4 of their grocery budget. They can't afford a babysitter, and they certainly can't afford to give the wife a night out. They're barely affording food and diapers.

The low income college student has a pre-paid phone as well, but no laptop to email with. She has to use the library, which is always packed. She is going to school on grants and loans because her parents are low income too, but it doesn't quite cover all her tuition, so she has a part time job as well to buy food and do laundry etc. She doesn't have the money to buy her friend any gifts, barely has enough for an envelope and a stamp. She's been eating ramen with ketchup packets all week. She's stuck back in their hometown, and there's no way her or her parents can afford a plane ticket for her to go see her friend during the summer. She won't have the money next summer either.

There are a bazillion other examples I could give that I have experienced in my life.

I'm sure someone will point out there are some communication issues in both relationships - of course there are. There are communication issues in any relationship regardless of income. I'm simply trying to point out how having some monetary wiggle room HELPS preserve the relationships that are important to you. Myself, and others like me, are pretty much left to using just our words to patch things up, and sometimes the other person is less than receptive. I really think that leaves us more likely to be isolated, and with less support due to broken relationships.

And don't even get me started on how much strain it causes if you ever have to ask family for money...

To this special person of mine, a heartfelt message:
I wish I didn't have to keep a close eye on my texts and phone minutes so I don't go over, so I could call you all the time. I wish I didn't always have a screaming toddler in the background, so we could have more meaningful conversations. I wish I had the money to send you gifts, just so you know I'm thinking of you even when we don't talk. I wish I had money to spoil you on your birthday and holidays, and I'm sorry I haven't sent your birthday present from October yet. I don't know when I'll be able to. I wish I could have bought and sent you a Christmas present. I wish I could buy you flowers and send you a sincere apology and have you forgive me. I wish I always had a working computer and internet connection since that is the way you prefer to talk. I wish I could come see you often or bring you to me so you can see your nieces too.

But I have no money for any of that, and apparently, our relationship suffers as a result. I am so deeply sorry that my crappy financial situation hinders me from really letting you know how special you are to me. I'm sorry, because for now I'm stuck here, and I can only hope our relationship survives until I'm able to tend it better.

I'm going to send her an email since for now I have both a computer and internet. It is all I can do. Wish me luck.

If you have a family member, or a friend, who you're having a bad time with, please look at it from both sides of the coin.

Call or write that person if that's all you can do, but you should do something. And if you're on the other side, understand that you could be unaware of their true circumstances, and maybe they're doing all they can, and maybe you could forgive them a little bit.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Poverty Climb: Weekly Progress #2

Due to it being Christmas week, any and all progress made this week has been solely due to the generosity of others. Never underestimate what a small bit of help can do for a family that is struggling! The gifts we received for Christmas have a much bigger impact than I think the giver's could anticipate.

*We got nice clothes. We can look more presentable, and feel better about ourselves. Coupled with my new haircut, I feel like a brand new woman, and certainly don't look as poor as I actually am. It is amazing the difference in getting a few nice things to wear can make. I don't have to be embarrassed! Oh and that included SHOES!! My holey, stinky ones are going in the trash today, and I will not miss them one bit.

*My littlest got new toy, interactive toys. Oh my goodness, have you ever been around a toddler who didn't have many toys? They get into trouble from boredom or need constant attention - not that that's a bad thing, just impossible to accomplish when the house needs cleaned or dinner needs to be cooked, or another family member needs attention.  Now I can distract her for a little while and get some more things done with  fewer tears. (And maybe she won't cry as much either. :p) She has really needed a bit more stimulation, and I'm so happy to have some things for her to help her brain and imagination grow.

*We got tons of left overs. Most of it is sweets, but we did get a huge container of fresh veggies and some dried fruit as well. We have eaten more of those these last few days than we have the cookies. I think we still have one more day worth of veggies to eat. We are glad to have everything though - so many treats we don't normally get, and a little extra to eat for dessert if anyone is still hungry after dinner. Delicious, yummy calories to stuff into my little one so she sleeps better at night (she is a picky eater and sometimes wakes up hungry - here, have some butter cookies!). And this means less money spent on groceries this week so we can spend it on gas, since getting pre-paid phones started cost way more than we expected.

*We got this here laptop - it is tiny, but it is made of gold as far as I am concerned. I can keep looking for jobs/babysitters/work at home opportunities and try to make a little money. Maybe at some point even make this blog profitable (I was denied for Ad Sense due to lack of content/traffic).

*I received some paperwork in the mail that I need for my food stamp case, found my rent receipt, and now I just need a bank statement to have it all completed.

*We paid our second-to-last loan payment. We have just one more. Just one more, and we will have an extra $150 a month! It will be awhile before we are able to put it in the banks as savings but at least maybe we can catch up on bills. I don't even remember what it feels like to not have at least one bill past due.

So there, there's been a little progress! In fact, at this point, if we're not going backwards, then it's progress. We've spent too much time losing ground, if we can just hang on, eventually we can start moving forward.

Shower Of Generosity

OK, so the big news - I have a laptop again, so I can continue blogging! It was given to me by a family member that does not know about this blog, but does know we are struggling. She wasn't using it and had received is as a gift years prior. When we mentioned that our littlest had killed ours with a glass of water, she instantly offered it to us. I am so humbled with appreciation. Not only to receive such an "expensive" thing as a gift, but more so because of what it allows me to do - pay bills, look for jobs, communicate with family, and recently, to have my catharsis writing this blog.

I sincerely hope that someday when we are much better off, I can show this to her and let her know that she gifted me one of the vehicles that got us there. Please, please, please...

Christmas this year was so far above what we expected, and all due to the generosity of our family. Since we moved here in October, this is the first Christmas we (I and my children) have gotten to spend with my husband's family. They really MADE it Christmas for us, and especially for my children. The littlest of course won't remember, but my oldest had a Christmas like she'd never had before, with literally PILES of gifts.

There were so many gifts around the tree, and it was so prettily decorated, that it must have looked like Santa's own to her. There was so much food, and ten different kinds of cookies, and oreo truffles. But most importantly, there were so many of her favorite people. With the party going on around her and the other kids looking for their names under the tree, she was sitting at the table playing tic-tac-toe with her uncle and cousin. Later on of course, she was squealing in on overload of delight as she ripped off wrapper after wrapper, but I just really thought those two moments were so sweet.

Our family was overly generous to my husband and I too, and we were very happy with all we received. We both got some new (nice!) clothes and some home items. My husband got a gift card to his kind of toy store and spent two hours in delight spending it. Not only that, but we got to take home tons of left overs!

But personally, here were my favorite gifts:

*My husband laughing hysterically (gasping with tears streaming down his face) at a homemade ornament his sister gave him. It had googly eyes, and I guess just how silly it looked really tickled him. He will keep it forever.

*My father-and-mother-in-law saying that one of THEIR best gifts, was having me in the family, and loving and making their son happy. /sniff

*Watching my oldest child making the memory of the best Christmas she's ever had.

This is what Christmas is about. This is where the joy comes from. This is what people mean when they say the best things in life are free.

To all those who gave of themselves this Christmas, but especially to my family - Thank you so much. You have touched us deeply with your generosity and have given us so much that we wouldn't get otherwise. We cannot thank you enough.

No matter where you fall on the income line, I hope yours was a wondrous and joyous Christmas and that you made some really priceless memories with your family. Those are the only gifts you will remember, and the only ones that matter.

Monday, December 23, 2013

And so it goes...

Well, my laptop has died. It died a dark, beeping death. It's been coming for awhile, but I was just hoping it would hang on for awhile longer. Like, another year.

We have no money to fix it, no money to pay for recovery of pictures and memories, and no money to buy another.

I don't know what it means for this blog. I'm painstakingly typing this out on mobile but I'm switching to a dumb phone in 2 days. I'm going to try to find a way to go the the church computer lab, but understand that it will probably be a few days before I'm back.

Ug. I seriously wish this hadn't happened. It makes me feel a whole lot less positive about things. I hope I'm wrong.

I hope you all have a wonderful, meaningful Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014.

What Christmas Is Like For The Poor

The Bad: (I will always try to end on the positive notes.)

We are constantly trying to find a new way to say "We don't have the money". For that tree, that wreath, that gift you want to give your friend, the tray of crystal-y Christmas cookies.

We can't participate in any gift exchanges - at work, at church, or even among our extended family. Sure, we get a gift in return, but what you don't realize is we would just do without a gift and put that money somewhere we need it more. Like a gift for our child. Or you know, food.

We completely avoid the Christmas and toy isles when we go shopping. If your kids can't see it, they won't know what they're missing.

Our Christmas tree was a gift, or there wouldn't be one. Perhaps it's a cheap tinsel triangle stapled to the wall. The ornaments were a gift, or we made them.

We have no wreath on our door. We might have a red bow, but only because it was 25 cents at Goodwill.

We don't send Christmas cards, because we can't afford the cards, envelopes, and stamps. Grandma & Grandpa may get one, but everyone else is left wondering why we don't send any year after year.

When our kids write a list to Santa, we feel obligated to explain over and over again that Santa will only bring one thing off that list. You hope that there is something cheap on there. If there isn't, you sit them down and make them write out every single last tiny thing they can think of...yes, a pencil sharpener is one of my daughter's gifts this year.

If our kids get gifts, they get one from "Santa" or they are donated. If we're doing better than usual, there might be several things from Goodwill.

IF our kids still believe in Santa, they wonder why he brings other kids so much more.

Our kids lose their belief in Santa sooner, because there are better years, and there are worse years. In worse years, destroying that belief is a better option than making them believe they were so bad, Santa didn't bring them anything.

Our gifts are wrapped in paper bags, recycled gift wrap, or in re-used gift bags. Gone are the days presents are wrapped so beautifully that it's like a gift in itself.

We don't put lights on our house. Our one strand of lights is on the tree. If there is an extra strand, we hang it up in the kid's room.

We don't have holiday parties, and we don't go to them either. We can't afford to feed anyone else, and we don't come because we don't want to feel embarrassed and lacking.

We work on Christmas Eve, and Christmas day. We don't have a choice.

Christmas dinner with our family is usually one of three : Dinner that happens to be on Christmas, a lovely box of food donated to us, or eaten at a Church or soup kitchen.

Our Christmas wish is that next year, things are better.

The Good:

We spend several hours making ornaments and decorations with our children, to put on the tree and around the house. Paper snowflakes, paper chain garland, popcorn garland, salt dough ornaments.

Christmas lights are magical. Even for the adults.

We emphasize the true meaning of Christmas, giving and being appreciative, and spending time with family. Cop out because we can't afford gifts? Maybe, but there's nothing wrong with taking the opportunity to teach those values.

If you receive a gift from us at all, it's home made and you'd better believe HOURS of thought went in to it. We love you and want you to know that, and feel special, even if we couldn't afford to buy you something.

Every member of the family deeply appreciates any gift they receive. Clothes are almost as nice as receiving an actual toy.

We bake cookies with our children, and decorate them together.

We make hot chocolate, and stir it with candy canes.

We love Christmas music. We haven't been in the stores much, so we aren't tired of it. We sing the simple ones with our children.

We don't have to deal with Black Friday, cramped parking lots, or angry shoppers.

Even though we haven't sent out any, every Christmas card we receive gets put in a prominent place where everyone can appreciate them.

Our walls are decorated with all the Christmas pictures our kids drew. Who needs decorations?

If we can, our children get lots of "presence", even if they don't get many presents.

We believe in miracles. We hope for one every day.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I am Trisha. I don't want to be.

Hi there, I'm Trisha.

But I don't want to be. I'm only Trisha because I'm poor and have not found a way out yet. Please let me explain.

I sometimes go on reddit for entertainment. It's basically a melting pot of all the things on the internet, including news, entertainment, and personal discussions.

One of the threads I decided to post in one day was a question about growing up poor, and the effect it had on your success in adulthood. I was very honest, probably too honest, but it was for a scholarship essay so I thought I ought to give a lot of detail. Of course other people answered the question too. The time came when the young man finished his essay and asked me to read it. (I wish I could post it here, but I don't have his email anymore to ask permission.) He kindly gave us all aliases.

"We begin with a woman named Trisha from the U.S..."

He explained my situation growing up and the current state of our life. It was honestly depressing, seeing my situation outline so succinctly, with such clear similarities between my childhood, and the childhood I was giving my children. To make matters worse, the rest of the personal accounts in the essay were in comparison to mine. I was the only person in that essay who hadn't risen above poverty to make a better life.

The only one.

The others had gone on to be largely successful, using their experiences to catapult themselves into college and well paying jobs.

"Trisha has not been so fortunate,..."

It was heart breaking. Soul shattering. I was - am - so ashamed.

Please understand, I do not blame him. He wrote nothing but the facts as I had relayed them. He put in no opinions, or unkind words. The pain I felt and still feel was not his doing, it is my own, and that is the worst part.

If people from poorer and more unstable countries can escape really horrible conditions and have successful lives, why can't I? Is there something wrong with me personally, or are there other factors at play? Does where you grow up have any effect on upward mobility? What other factors can make a difference in whether or a poor youth climbs, or stagnates? I don't have answers to these questions yet.

All I do know, is that I am Trisha, I am still poor, and I am trying to change my story.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Poverty Climb Weekly Progress: #1

This is the first in a series of weekly posts detailing any progress my family has made towards getting out of poverty in the last 7 days. My goal is to make sure there is always at least one thing to write about on here.

This has been a hard week, but it has been a better one than the previous few. Having a defined plan for the first time has really given me a lot more drive and hope. There has been setbacks, there always are, but my goal in this weekly edition is to simply focus on the progress my family is making. This being the first week, there isn't going to be a lot of big progress, but that's ok. I hope there a much bigger milestones to write about in the future.

We got mattresses!
They are twins and only the thickness of a phone book, but just having something warm cushioning us from the floor is wonderful. We decided that our daughter should sleep on the futon (she is much lighter and doesn't feel the beams). We took both twins and pushed them together on the floor, put a sheet over them, and snuggled close. We did this because no matter what, keeping our marriage strong is of utmost importance and our day end conversation and cuddling are very important to our bonding since my husband is basically gone all day.

We got hair cuts!
My husband is easy to groom, he has a very nice beard that he keeps trimmed and a good, short haircut that can grow out quite a bit before looking shabby. Me and Thing 1 however, had very long, dry, crunchy, tangled hair that reached our lower backs. $10+ for a haircut is a luxury for us. However since moving, we are closer to my M.I.L. who is a hair dresser. So for the cost of gas, my daughter and I got refreshing short haircuts. She doesn't look like a ragamuffin now, and my confidence was boosted because I feel like I look less shabby and scruffy (and well, poor).

We got prepaid phones.
I am unsure whether this was the right thing or not. It required $140 to get 2 prepaid phones and to start service. That is money we really didn't have, however we will begin saving $40/mo on our phone bill starting next month. That's worth it right? Goodness, I hope so. It really hurt to shell out that much right before Christmas, and pretty much at all, because we just never have enough for everything.

All of the rest of my to-do's this week are still works-in-progress. With this being Christmas week and so many places being closed, I have doubts that I will make much progress. We'll see, maybe there are some other small things I can do to improve our circumstances (hello, like get laundry done?!). Sometimes small battles are the only ones you can win.

As a side note, if you're reading this , could you make a comment somewhere? Even if it's just a hi? I'd like to know if there are any actual human beings reading this, or if all my page views are bots. Please, and thank you!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Poverty Line Vs. Tolerable Living

The poverty line for a family of my size in the U.S. is $23,500 per year. Yes, we fall below that line.

However, I feel like, no I know, the number is too low.

There is a level at which the expectation is that living is not just surviving, but actually tolerable. I would like to introduce you to a term, "tolerable living". I don't think there should be a poverty "line", I think assistance should taper off in a sliding scale manner up to a certain point. Tolerable living line? Everyone below it should have access to the same programs and assistance currently available to anyone below the poverty line, and those below the actual poverty line should receive additional assistance. Why do I think this? Well, it should be obvious.

There is being poor, and then there is being destitute (without the basic necessities of life). Both categories should receive help. Obviously those in more dire need should receive the most and the quickest help, but just because you're not destitute, doesn't mean you're not poor.

Another thing to consider is that those "riding the line", like my family, are stuck doing so. Below the poverty line, we get assistance such as food stamps, medicaid for our children, child care or housing subsidies etc. representing thousands of dollars. One year barely above the line, and we lost all of that. We were not making up the difference in income, not even close. We ended up back under the poverty line again! due to that. We couldn't afford child care on our own, health insurance on our own etc. Illnesses resulted in high medical bills that resulted in being behind on other bills and less money for things like groceries. Child care is INSANELY expensive, and I couldn't make enough money at minimum-ish wage to justify even going to work in the first place, because it barely covered child care for two children, and gasoline to get to work. How is that tolerable??

What do I define as "tolerable living?" Having all the absolute basic necessities, including food, shelter, clothing, and sanitation - and also having those things that you don't absolutely need for survival but that make living tolerable. Such as (in no particular order):

*Access to health care. Insurance is great, but too many don't have the money for the co-pays. You can have your basic essentials and still be impoverished because you cannot pay a $40 co-pay at the doctor's office, or pay 20% of a dentist bill for a crown.
*Furniture, specifically beds
*Access to a well rounded selection of nutritious foods at your local store, in a quantity enough to keep your family fed.
*Transportation. I don't necessarily mean a car, or even a bike, but at least some mode of transportation, including public, to get where you need to go. The world has grown so much that I think we can no longer get all the things we need within walking distance, unless you live in an urban area I suppose. However, the rates of poverty are similar, but actually higher, in non-metropolitan areas. In the case of there being no public transportation offered, as in my area, things need to be in walking distance or a car is a necessity.
*Some form of communication. At least a telephone, though in today's world, a computer with an internet connection is infinitely more valuable.

My family falls in that grey area, where we have things that people in 3rd world countries can only dream of, and yet we cannot live tolerably on our income here in the U.S.

We have a car, but it's a necessity because there is no public transportation offered in our small town, and all jobs are in a larger town my husband must commute to.

I have a laptop. It is hideously old and barely works, but still. I tried to sell it before we moved, but the most anyone would give me was $40! It was then I decided that any potential income I could make from having a computer was worth more than the $40 someone would give me to tear this down and use it for parts. (My laptop has since died, and I'm borrowing a neighbor's.)

I have an internet connection. Temporarily, because getting the package with a land line was much cheaper for the first 6 months.

We have a few kitchen gadgets, a t.v., a few prized possessions. But even so, we do not make enough money to consistently cover all our basic necessities, and our tolerable necessities. We struggle constantly to strike a balance between the two. We don't always do it right, because really when you're poor, sometimes you just have to decide to go hungry for a week so that you have a bed to rest your head on.

Thankfully, we don't this week. Our bed, while too small for my husband and I to share, was free from the Salvation Army. You may not think a bed is a basic necessity, but it is a tolerable necessity. Because he won't have to sleep on the floor starting tomorrow, he will be more alert for his commute, more productive at work increasing his chances of a raise, be in better health with more rest, and more positive in general because he won't ache and feel defeated. And we won't hurt. Sleeping on the floor hurts.

And even more importantly, we won't have to use our food or utility or rent money in order to have tolerable sleeping conditions, and therefore won't dig our hole ever deeper.

Please, if you're reading this, consider that even though someone has the basic necessities, they are still suffering and struggling and still need help.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Spirit of Giving

Howdy y'all.

I just wanted to take a moment to talk about giving. This is the time of year when even the scroogiest person gets a little flame in their hearts, called "the spirit of giving."

I want to encourage you to personally feed that little flame. While money is a nice thing for a charity, organization, church, or needy person to receive, you can't really be sure where that money goes. If you donate food, or furniture, or clothes, or gas cards, or what have you, you know that those items are going directly to someone who needs that particular thing. And there are so many in need.

Last week I went to a local food pantry because due to bills and if I'm honest, a little irresponsible spending, we had little for grocery money. Seeing other downtrodden, unhappy, sheepish individuals there really made me sad. We all kept our heads down and didn't make eye contact unless we had to. We all looked exactly like I felt, ashamed and embarrassed. When we accepted our groceries, we all had empty smiles, but our thank you's were sincere and full of emotion.

I am getting beds for my family on Thursday, from the Salvation Army, donated by a business or a family. I hate that I have to go that route, but I am so thankful that someone donated them so that my family and others like us can have a place to sleep.

I know that everyone has to buy or make gifts for family and friends. I know that everyone is a little short on cash this time of year. The more blessed you are, the more you want to spend on gift giving. All I'm asking is for you to consider a donation of some sort to a local charity.

 It doesn't have to be money, it doesn't have to be a big charity, heck it doesn't even have to be a charity.  Just consider donating some food or those extra pair of gloves and that scarf you have in your closet. Consider maybe giving to Toys For Tots or donating an item to the Salvation Army or to Goodwill. I can promise you, there is a person who will be so thankful for whatever you give, it will bring tears to their eyes. I know, because as I walked out with my cart of groceries last week, the sidewalk was wavery and hard to see. The thought that my daughter only has one more night of sleeping on a flat air mattress definitely gets me a little teary eyed in relief. You may never see the result of your actions in person, but you can be assured that there is a real person out there, maybe even a whole family of people, who are so thankful to you they wish they could give you a hug and pay you back in kind. You are not helping an organization, you are helping a person.

To all those who have donated money or items or time:

Thank you for the ride to the food pantry.

Thank you for the groceries I fed my family with all week.

Thank you for the beds we will get tomorrow so we don't have to sleep on the floor.

Thank you for the free school lunch program for my daughter.

Thank you for community meals.

Thank you for giving me a ride every day took pick up my daughter so I don't have to walk in winter with a small child.

Thank you for buying us Subway that one time.

Thank you for the uniform shirts for my daughter you donated.

Thank you for the utility bill help that one time.

Thank you for the package of diapers.

Thank you for the free apartment you let my family stay at while I had surgery in a different city.

Thank you for the money that funded my stay at the Ronald McDonald House when my oldest was in the hospital.

Thank you for the change you put in the March of Dimes jar that funded research that probably saved my daughter's life when she was born 2 months early.

Thank you for the soup kitchens my parents took us to.

Thank you, for giving of yourself and your resources, and for being a good human, and for helping those like us in need. Thank you, and I wish I could hug you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Small Improvements

Ok, so the depression and lack of sleep had definitely caught up with me, but with the fact that we all get beds on Thursday from the Salvation Army (see last post's comment) I'm feeling quite a bit better. Might have had something to do with the 2 hour nap I had today too! Thank you little one, for taking such a good nap.

We have 2 more nights with our current sleeping conditions, but it doesn't seem as bad as before. Yes, the aches and pains are worse, and so is the fatigue. But like I've always said, you can put up with just about anything when you know an end is coming soon! However the opposite is true as well, never seeing an end makes things very hard to tolerate. I don't see an end anytime soon to our situation, so I'm just focusing on smaller victories:

We will have beds Thursday!!

We only need a little more paperwork and a little more time to see if we can get some food stamps. The paperwork is in the mail.

I got my living room and kitchen cleaned today. Anyone with depression for any reason knows how hard it is to get the motivation to clean house!

My husband's work is putting his Dec. bonus on this upcoming check instead of the last of December. That means we can pay rent NOW and maybe be able to buy our kids a Christmas present this year!

Did I mention my kitchen was clean??? That is the worst/hardest room in the house.

So, here's to small victories in the present, with hopes that they add up to larger victories in the coming future. *raises my glass of ice water* This might even call for a celebratory cup of tea!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Small steps.

I have found that writing everything out is very therapeutic. It kind of gives me a weapon against the depression. I actually like writing,  When I'm not writing, I'm thinking about what I want to write about. I just wish it was something more positive. But, at least it gives me a focus other than feeling sorry for myself.

The bad side of that, is I find myself using it to procrastinate. I just want to sit down and release it all, write it all out, instead of doing other things I need to do. I feel like if I had the time I could put up a month's worth of posts right away. After finding myself "writing" in my head for the third time, I told myself that none of this will do any good if I don't take real, concrete steps. I have a whole list of things to do and try this week to see if I can help our situation any. Many of them on that list are thanks to the suggestions on a public forum where I practically begged for help. So, thank you guys. You've given this narrator some possibilities to change her story.

This whole blog is about what it is going to take to change things, every aspect of the whole struggle. So with that in mind, and in order to keep myself on track, here is my to-do list this week.

 Check out Freecycle and free section on craigslist. (Done, nothing available in our small area, but will keep a close eye on it.)

Call Food stamp office and get case restarted. Ask about furniture voucher. (Did this, but had to leave a message. Waiting on a call back, so I'm not calling this one done yet.)

Call bank, landlord, and whoever else to get the necessary paperwork.

Call local churches (other than the one I used last week) to see about food pantries, shoe donations, furniture donations, and maybe even some Christmas presents for my kiddos if they are willing.

If that doesn't succeed, post a Craigslist ad begging for mattresses. Dear Lord, I hate to do this, but... Thing 2's shoes will fit for a few  more weeks. I can wear extra socks, and perhaps duct tape the holes in mine to make them more water proof. We just can't sleep on the floor anymore.

Look into mechanical turking. Look for any small writing/graphic art jobs that might pay reasonably. (As in, more than .03 cents a month like that one site).

Call the grocery store (now hiring sign!) to see if they would work with my husband's schedule so that I could work on his days off even though they are never the same. Which brings me to...

Ask husband to discuss set days off with his work, since it is a necessity for us to have some more income.

If that doesn't succeed, make a Craigslist ad asking for odd jobs; dog walking, grocery shopping, etc. Maybe do that in the meantime anyways.

Make a REAL budget. Every cent income, every expenditure.

Payday, start that new bank account so that we don't lose all our money on automatic bills and overdraft fees.

Payday, get prepaid phones and cancel phone plan! Don't get sucked in to smart phones!

I'm sure there's more and I will edit this as I remember or complete them.

Edit: BEDS!!! We got mattresses! My daughter will have a twin of her own, and we will be getting one more twin for my husband. I will sleep on the futon for now. Not ideal, but come Thursday, no one has to sleep on the FLOOR!


I will try not to make this post as depressing as I feel. After all this entire blog is about the climb out of this situation and the belief that it will happen.

That said.

My poor daughter has been sleeping on an air mattress for 3 months now. 2 weeks ago, it started losing air. While trying to find the leak, a giant hole ripped open and we fixed it, or so we thought. The next morning it was completely flat again. Despite nightly attempts to find and repair the leak, nothing is working and it deflates rather quickly and my daughter ends up sleeping on the floor. She wakes up sore and with a numb leg, and it KILLS me. No matter how little money we have, I always try to take care of my kids first, and here she is with out even a sub-par bed now, sleeping on the floor in the cold winter. I've been trying to find a way to fix this situation, even temporarily, until payday, but I have been unsuccessful. So every night I go in there and fill it with air and look, listen, and feel for the leak. I can't find it. I fill it up with as much air as I can in the hopes it will deflate slowly enough that if she does end up on the floor, it won't be for long before she has to wake up for school. I put a sleeping bag under the bed for some cushion and insulation, and plenty of blankets on top. I make her wear pajamas to bed even though she finds them uncomfortable.

I'm beat down. I'm exhausted. Days of depression and a baby that just won't sleep after a year and a half have taken their toll. I fall asleep minutes after I put my kids to bed, on the futon. The baby wakes up 3 times before I make it to my own air mattress. She wakes up again just as we are falling asleep. My husband goes to roll over to fall back to sleep, and in an instant, there is a whooshing of air, and now we too, are sleeping on the cold, hard floor. We are not skinny, but well within the weight limit of the bed. I don't know if it is the cold or just wear and tear that caused them both to fail within nights of each other, but now our whole family is screwed.

My husband and I just lay there silently for a minute, both of us staring into the darkness, like, really? The depth of pain and discomfort and anguish being poor can cause a person is unfathomable by someone who hasn't been there. We experienced all of that in an instant. Nothing makes you feel so acutely poor like you and your family having to sleep on the floor.

I tell him to go sleep on the futon. It's horrible and lumpy and hard, but at least it's not the floor. He won't do it, he wants me to because I have a bad back. I refuse, because I don't have to be alert enough to drive and work today. We're both pissed and taking it out on each other and arguing. Que the baby crying. I sob.

Defeated, I go to comfort our baby and consider sleeping upright holding her in the chair. Fear of dropping or suffocating her makes me decide that is a poor idea, and I put her back in her bed. She's quiet now. Thank you Jesus. Why is it that the one family member that has a comfortable bed won't sleep comfortably in it???

I come out and my husband says we are both going to sleep on the futon. Ok. There is no point arguing. I know he needs to go back to sleep and I of course don't want to sleep on the floor anyways. We are both wide awake, and we talk a little bit, and he hugs me a little bit, and we laugh a little bit because we are both giddy from exhaustion. It is so damn cramped, and uncomfortable. But it's warm, and we are close. I'm getting sleepy.  

The baby wakes crying. This time I don't even have the energy to cry. I just go get her, and give her some gripe water, and bring her into our room, and lay down on my flat mattress, and put her on my chest in the hopes she will go back to sleep. An hour later we are both still awake and she won't quit rolling around and playing . I go put her back in her bed, and she falls asleep again. For a little while. Husband is finally asleep and I don't want to wake him, so I go back to the floor. I toss and turn to relieve the pressure on my hips and ribs 3 times before she wakes again. Rinse and repeat. She wakes for good at 6:30, and even though I'm sore everywhere, I'm just begging her to go back to sleep for a little while. She doesn't and because my husband is in the living room, he doesn't even get the option of going back to sleep.

I'm trying to express how trying this all is. I don't think I'm doing very good, it all seems a little robotic.

We have $40 left until payday. We should have saved $150 out of this check for rent, but we couldn't. My husband needs at least $20 for co-pays on Tuesday to get prescription refills. We need gas. We need diapers. And now, we need 2 beds. There is no way. Pay day will come, and we will get more air mattresses - instead of setting aside that money for rent. And then we will be behind on half of it. Will we ever catch up?

Everything that would be a minor annoyance to someone with more money instead becomes a major disaster to us. I remember reading on reddit (wish I had a link) where people were playing a poverty game and scoffing at the string of unlikely misfortunes that would strike them all in a row. "It doesn't happen like that", they said. "No one is that unlucky", they said.

Guys, being poor is exactly that. It is one misfortune after another after another, whose repercussions compound until you are in a hole so deep there is no longer any light to see. No it wasn't a huge thing, the car didn't break down, no one had to go to the hospital, there was no house fire. But when you have $0 to throw at a problem, it doesn't matter if it costs $20 to fix or a thousand, both are unattainable. And a simple matter like having to buy beds outside of your budget has far reaching negative effects.

 We are in the hole - literally, physically, mentally, emotionally. How can we get out under our own power? I don't know if we can.

If you are reading this, just say a little prayer for us please. Every little bit helps.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The beginning of the story

We are each the narrator in our own story.

As a single human in this world of 3 trillion others - each with their own problems and challenges - how do you get another being interested enough in your story enough to help you change it?

I guess, sometimes, you just have to ask. More on that in a minute.

I'm a poor mother in a poor family. My husband and I both grew up in poverty. Our parents, while on opposite sides of the country, grew up in poor rural communities with their parents literally working for pennies. As far back as I could find on a certain ancestry website, there were very few stories of legitimate success on either side. I say legitimate, because my husband has a very high profile counterfeiter in his genealogy. So here we are on the bottom branches of our family trees raising yet another generation in poverty. How do we over-come this?

The oft repeated and widespread belief that if we just applied ourselves better we wouldn't be poor, isn't working so far. My husband applies himself every single day as he commutes an hour to a decent paying job that he really doesn't like all that much just because it has the potential for advancement. He applies himself by being fully committed to being the best employee that he can be despite his feelings about the job in general. He applies himself by asking to learn any and all things new, not only so he can feel like he earned his pay, but also so when a job up the ladder opens up, his name is on the tip of their tongues as the best choice.

I, on the other hand, despite feeling guilt that I'm not contributing monetarily to the household, do my absolute best in applying myself to raising intelligent, kind, loving, flexible, well-adjusted children. I apply myself in making my husband's job easier by doing all the cooking and cleaning and making him lunches to take to work to fill him up and keep him focused. I apply myself by constantly looking for other ways I can apply myself for the betterment of my family.

The betterment of my family. This is my sole focus, my main motivation behind everything I do. This one idea is what every decision we make revolves around.

My husband left his last job for this one, even though he was making $1 more an hour, because there was absolutely no chance that he'd ever make more than $13/hr., even if he was there for 10 years. I supported him completely in that decision because the idea that we would take one step back and then two steps forward would still mean that we were making progress. We took that one step back. We then took one step forward. We are still waiting on that second step that will put us ahead of where we were. I have faith that it is coming, soon.

Part of that is because I finally asked for help. Someone, some people, were interested in helping me change my story. Fresh eyes and fresh ideas have given me some small steps to take to make our lives a little easier without too much more sacrifice.

This blog is just one of those small steps. It may turn into absolutely nothing, but it will not be wasted time, because dammit, at least I am trying.

I can't promise you, the reader, or even myself, that this story will have a happy ending. I can only ask that you journey with me as I try to give it one.

Follow by Email