Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Poverty Climb: Weekly Progress #7

Please excuse the lack of posts this last couple weeks, I've been sick with a toothache that happened to actually be a sinus infection, that turned into a respiratory infection. I'm still a little under the weather, but feeling better!

I am feeling cautiously triumphant. February has been a good month. We got our tax return, and for two precious, gleeful weeks, we got to live like people without money problems.
We got to have a little fun, AND pay bills, and pay off debt, and buy some things we need, some things we wanted,etc. etc., all at the same time. No precarious balancing, no suffering in one area to meet a need in another. No sleepless midnight conversations about how-in-the-hell-are-we-going-to-make-it.

There has been lots of progress (for once!!)

*Paid off $600 bank debt (thus keeping it from damaging credit).
*Paid off $285 bank debt (thus keeping it from damaging credit).
*Paid ALL of our bills, everything past due and current. That was at least $1200!
*Replaced the money we spent in our savings account, and added another $100.
*Bought a second vehicle. Hooray! Hopefully this allows us a few more financial (and fun) opportunities.
*Put all new tires on our first vehicle (they were very bad).
*Bought some clothes we all needed, mostly pants and socks.
*Bought groceries like it was the end of the world. Stocked the pantry completely (flour, canned goods, rice). Bought some healthy foods (mushrooms, lettuce, fruit) and others we haven't had the opportunity to have much of (fish, meat, sauces, cheese, etc.). There of course were a few treats too.
*Bought some of our individual hobby related items. With 6 more inches of snow last night and no sign of spring, we will have plenty of time to fill with hobbies. And while some of it was expensive, it will be our entertainment and stimulation for a long while!

Of course, it's all gone now, and I know that very soon I'll be missing this very badly as I scrimp to make dinner for my family again. I will treasure, and miss, that precious time spent with my family, smiles on all our faces, because we had so little stress. That is what I want, that is what I strive for - not the money itself, but the happy moments that you are allowed when your family in thriving. It's so much harder to manufacture those when you are struggling.
I am deliriously happy that we used the majority of the money to improve our circumstances, but in hind-sight, I can't help wondering what we might have done to improve them even more. Like I dunno, buy stock? Start a Roth IRA? Use it to start a business of some kind? I really have no idea what people who are used to money do to grow theirs, but I've heard all these terms and wonder if we should have done something else. We have some really big dreams for a low income family, and really we only fulfilled our little dreams - more food, more comforts, less debt, more security, a second vehicle. I just really hope those are the giant stepping stones to thriving that we hope they are!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Poor Helping the Poor - Long!

I have a need in me to do good in the world. Hopefully most people do. I honestly believe that is what we were put on the earth for. Certainly if you're a Christian, you know there are many bible verses dedicated to calling everyone in to service to help the needy - the poor, the orphans, the widows. I subscribe to the idea that it is everyone's job to help the poor, regardless of your station in life. But, what if you are "the poor"?

Do you take advantage of people's generosity and social programs, and promise to yourself that when you're in a better position you will help those like you? I know I do. Every single time I shamefully wheel my cart of gifted groceries to the car, I gratefully make a promise in my mind that when we "get on our feet", I will do something to help those in need like I have been. But honestly, truthfully - that is an excuse. I am in a better position than I was in my childhood, so I should still be helping those less fortunate than I. We should all be helping each other. I know that as caring, loving human brothers and sisters you probably feel the same way. I hope at least!

That really leaves me, and others like me, in a pickle though. We want to help others but it barely seems as if we can even help our selves. Those weeks when I have to feed 4 people on $20, I cannot spare $5 to send to starving African children no matter how much I want to, or someone in my family will either be hungry, or not have diapers! (I can't wait to potty train.) When we have to borrow money for gas from family just to make sure my husband can make it to work, I cannot spare any money to send to any charities, much less drive anywhere to volunteer like a soup kitchen. And yet, I cannot escape this feeling that I should be doing SOMETHING. Everyone knows there are varying shades of poor, and so even though I still qualify, I should be doing something to help the situation.

Even the poor, can help the poorer. The rich help those like them get richer, so why not? And that's why they often succeed in increasing each other's wealth. If we all helped each other as much as we could, even though we are financially poor, how much could we accomplish? Maybe nothing? But, maybe something.

So I have been exploring what I personally can do to help others despite our situation. I have frustratingly discarded many ideas that cost more than I can spare, or require driving more than a few miles away. This is the small list I have come up with. Since it applies specifically to me and my circumstances, it may not that helpful to you, but maybe at least it can generate some ideas or plant that seed that grows into generosity.

1. Volunteer within an organization. I joined a church. It is within walking distance, so that's good for me. The church has a few programs in our community, and a small number of farther reaching ones. While I can't afford the money to feed homeless people, I can certainly volunteer my time or skills with the rest of the church volunteers. They have more flexibility in funds to be able to do things, so I shall just lend my hands to help. If you are not religious and don't go to church, they will still happily except the donation of your time for their programs. Helping the needy is helping the needy, it is not an agreement that you accept their doctrine or anything, so if you have some of the roadblocks I do, get in touch with a church! Salvation Army's and Goodwill both depend on volunteer services too, so maybe you could call and find out what you can do.

2. Volunteer on your own.  Besides volunteering with my church, I would love to go the the elder care homes around here and just maybe visit with some of the tenants. It is so lonely to be old. As far as I know, there is not a children's home/orphanage nearby, but there was where I grew up. If there is one near you, I'm sure they would have a list of any number of things you could do.

3. Donating items/time. I have very little in good condition that I can donate, but like any first world person, I do have certain things that I have too much of (tupperware, anyone?). I am going to sacrifice a few coats, a few hats, and anything else I have more of than I need.
 Remember you can donate a lot more than just money, food, or clothing! Think outside of the donation box! :)  Toiletries are ALWAYS in need, diapers & wipes, old or excess furniture, blankets, toys, books, and sewing supplies are things that I can think of off the top of my head.. For anything you use regularly, there is someone who can't afford it.
Thinking of unique items to donate would have an enormous impact. Fishing supplies in an area where it's viable could supply entertainment and food! Seeds or container gardens could do the same thing. Pre-paid phone cards are pretty much worth their weight in gold to anyone in jail or the hospital, or who simply cannot afford to keep their phone on. Gas cards are the same. I have been denied food stamps before because I couldn't get to the library to make the copies to give to the office! Feminine hygiene products and condoms are so over-looked it's ridiculous. Batteries! I have given away items I actually needed before simply because I could not afford to feed them batteries.

And don't forget, sometimes your time is the most valuable, important thing of all.

4. Donating money. By all means, if you are able, go ahead and donate money to a local or large charity, because they can certainly put that where it will do the most good. Consider donating to those that benefit third world countries first though, because it takes a lot less money to make a difference in the lives of those people than it does in developed countries.

5. Help the individuals you know, even if you don't know them well. I am going to babysit one day a week for a neighbor so she can go to school. On the other side of me is an older neighbor who has lots of trouble getting up and down the stairs to the washers and dryers. Next time I go to the laundromat, I'm going to ask her if I could take some of her stuff for her. She'll probably say no the first time (she doesn't really like the fact that we have a loud family and thin walls), but maybe if I keep offering she'll take me up on it when she really needs to. Do you know someone that could use a ride to the laundromat, or the grocery store, or the library? Do you know someone elderly that could use a meal, or their prescriptions from the pharmacy? Someone that could use a babysitter but can't pay you?

6. Open your mouth in support. If nothing else, you can write congressmen or support legislation that improves poverty. You can also speak out when programs people need are cut, like SNAP and Medicare. Open a dialogue with your church about some programs that might benefit the community. Ask your child's school about doing a fundraiser for under privileged students. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

7. Do something.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any other ideas that myself or others could use, feel free to post them in comments!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm not sure where I'm going with this...

I have spent most of my 30 odd years in degrees of poverty varying from destitute to just plain low income. My childhood was undoubtedly the worst in terms of *how* poor, but lately, it *feels* worse because of the stress and worry of having children to care for and constantly feeling like I'm not doing good enough. That, and I am much more aware of our circumstances and what it feels like to be stuck for the foreseeable future.

When I was a kid I knew we were poor, but I didn't yet have anything to compare it to, so I just thought that's the way things were. I mean, I knew some people lived differently of course. There was a single nice house in our neighborhood, that had been there before it became a trailer park. It was two stories, and white with blue shutters. It had a back porch, and a big yard, and a high fence around it. I was lucky enough to be friends with one of the kids that lived there, and got to swim in their big blue pool, so I knew that was different for some people. I was just pretty certain that this was how things were for us, and didn't give it much more thought unless something bad happened. I know now that my parents were acutely aware of our situation, and it must certainly have been so much harder for them.

As a kid, I knew that I hated spending hours with my mom trimming moldy, rotten strawberries in order to leave some morsels worth eating. As an adult, I've felt, piercingly, that pain that comes from not being sure if I can feed my children. The stress, the worry, the feeling of inadequacy. You can bet I've cooked many a questionable thing to make sure we all had something to eat. It kills me to have to do that, but the difference is I don't tell my family or have them help. There are still times though that I have to tell my daughter that she can't have more to eat because we have to save some food for Daddy, and no, I can't give you anything else because then I will be using up what is supposed to feed us tomorrow...She is healthy and not malnourished, and eats plenty, but it still feels really wrong to turn away a kid who wants more to eat.

As a kid, I knew I hated being teased and bullied for how I looked and the clothes I wore and where I lived. As an adult, I make it point to make sure my kids have clean, nice clothes. Even so, they both have items they could use more of. Pants, tights, socks. They have just enough to make do, but I wish I could give them more. Sure they may still get teased (kids suck that way), but it won't ever be for wearing dirt, ratty clothes. It is really hard sometimes, but thrift stores are a lot nicer these days, and carry nicer things, so it's easier than when I was a kid. Plus my kids are lucky to have very generous family. They might still get teased for not wearing brand names or something, but I hope to at least give them enough self esteem and awareness to know that their worth is not dependent on how much their clothes cost.

As a kid, I knew I felt jealous that other kids had nicer things; nicer toys, nicer bikes, a Lisa Frank trapper keeper. As an adult, sometimes I struggle to give my kids nice things. Big stores like Wal-mart make that much easier (sadly sometimes at the expense of child labor!), but all in all, it's easier for my girls to have nice toys etc. for less money than when I was a kid. Still, there are many times a month where my oldest asks for something, and I tell her no, and she asks why. Rather than fabricate a lie about her behavior, I find the only honest answer I can give, is we don't have the money. It pains me, especially since we are riding a roller coaster right now, sometimes it's something pretty small and inexpensive that we could have afforded the week before, but can't now. I can tell the day is coming soon where she will quit asking because she already knows the answer. I remember that feeling. I don't want my children to have it.

As a kid, I knew I hated our neighborhood, hated our trashy house, and dreamed about moving in with my grandmother who had a relatively new, nice house with a white sofa and white carpeting. As an adult, I feel minutely every bit of guilt and shame and disappointment that sometimes we have to live in a crappy place because we can't afford better.

Sometimes, it seems as if I've doomed my children to the childhood I had, and it kills me. Ignorance may not be bliss, but knowing just how bad things are, and how much worse they can get, is a torture of it's own. It's the almost unbearable burden of parents in a poor family. Being responsible for the well being and happiness of others, and not being able to meet that responsibility, is soul crushing.

Many people say money isn't everything. Money can't buy happiness. Focus on the riches you do have, like family. I do, I swear I do, but I don't want more money just for money's sake, I want it so I can feel good about taking care of my children and free them from worries they shouldn't have. I want to give them every chance of a good life and happiness. I want them to have every chance that they deserve, instead of only the ones they can afford to get. And it is so ridiculously hard to do without more money. Sure the child in me wants to give them everything I never had, but the adult in me, the parent, wants to first give them the things they deserve as human beings, and I'm not certain that I can...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Poverty Climb: Weekly Progress #6

Well if you've read my posts this week, you know that most of our progress this week has been backwards, bleh! However, the whole point of these is to focus on the forward progress we're making.

*Our tax return is filed & sent! We were able to deduct the cost of moving back in Oct. so that helped raise our refund a bit. I was very, very conservative on the cost of our cross-country move because I know that I don't have the paperwork they would require for all of it if we were audited. I wish I could have deducted more, but I think it's better to be safe than audited and be wrong!

*Another $25 paid towards our bank debt. Hooray!

*Even though it feels like such a negative thing that our savings account is empty, we are actually lucky that for the first time we even had some savings to use being behind on rent. Our landlord never charges us late fees, but it always messes up the next month's budget (and he gets cranky) if we are behind. It's always a bit of a domino effect when we get behind on rent, because catching up on it means taking the money from other places where it needs to go. So, the cup is half full, we had savings to use instead of getting further behind.

*My husband is still working over time. It's not much hours wise, but it makes a difference on his check. I know he hates it, and its hard for me & the kids not to see him much, but I admire him so much for doing it anyways. I count that as progress, because even if it's just 3 hours overtime, that's an extra $54. That's either gasoline or groceries!

Also, this doesn't have much with our personal progress, I just wanted to say thank you to all those that read, and especially those that comment. There is no handbook for getting out of poverty, so I guess I'm trying to make one for others through my experiences. You all keep me going, and give helpful advice, and just make me feel less alone in the struggle. So, thank you!

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