I spent a little time yesterday going online and typing in the search descriptions "Surviving poverty" and "Becoming poor." I have been looking for a book along the lines of one of the Dummie titles - "How to be Poor, For Dummies" but haven't come across one. Yes, I need a guidebook for helping me get through this stretch of life.
My short research session was productive. Not in terms of providing me with any great new ideas for living on a very small income - I seem to be limping along here on my own fairly decently. But more productive in terms of changing my mindset.
For one thing, although we are probably what would be defined as poor, we are still not below that level of poverty where it would be impossible to be surviving right now. Granted, there is no extra money for anything much beyond the necessities but we are not homeless. We have never had to resort to eating bread soaked in milk which was one of the meals suggested for eating when there isn't any food in the pantry. Yuck!
I had the recent luxury of reading the classic tale of Madame Bovary in the comfort of a warm bed. Now I could still have read Madame Bovary as a homeless person, but the experience would not have been as pleasant.
Living in this Mecca of upper-middle class suburbia, poverty has always been hidden. And as a formerly financially comfortable middle-class mom, I am floundering to some extent into having been forced into a way of life that is unknown and challenging. Even more so when dealing with all of this alone. But in reading some of the encounters I came across, I am now more aware of the widespread nature of financial difficulties facing many good folks across the nation. Many whom are struggling because of job-loss circumstances.
It is interesting that I am finding many connections between grief and financial stress. I could come up with a long list but for now will just mention how both can make you feel invisible, inferior and like a second class citizen. There is also the factor of being in a down position and needing to ask for help. Living in a country based on self-sufficiency it can seem impossible to suddenly be thrust into a position where you have to speak up for yourself. The sad part is that when you do, you're looked down on. The stigma of being poor carries with it so much shame. To have to hold your head up when someone is looking at you with contempt and as if you were contagious is indescribable. My short foray into this world had shown me that few people have sympathy for those hard on their luck. "They got what they deserved because of their bad choices or lifestyle" seems to be the prevailing attitude. Or "If they had worked harder they wouldn't be in this mess." What I am really seeing is that underneath our layers of clothing, all of us are pretty much the same. We don't want a free ride and we want to work and contribute. We want a better life for our children and along the way we want to experience love and a little happiness.
It is absolutely crummy to not be able to travel anywhere or go out to eat. And there is a great deal of worry involved with juggling bills around and not having anything set aside for emergencies, much less figuring out how two kids will go to college in a couple of years. I'm not even going to bring up health insurance and medical worries here on top of everything else. But what I was left with after my research session was that most of those who related their stories of struggle went on to overcome them. They never forgot the hardship but their lives improved. No doubt ours will become substantially better as soon as I start working again. In the mean time, I am going to choose to view my circumstances as "Our Frugal Period" rather that one including the words " poor, impoverished or poverty."
It's okay. There are a lot of us out there right now being frugal.
I am grateful:
1. For a safe place to live.
2. For the safe, picturesque and pleasant community that surrounds our home.
3. For clam chowder soup.
4. That spring is on its way - Easter stuff is now up in the stores!
5. For all the sales and bargains I come across that make being frugal easier.