Pretend Poverty

There’s a lot of talk these days about the increasing gap in the “top 1%” and those in poverty. And while I can’t stand it when someone’s trying to teach me about something I already know, I did begin to feel rather than know what this gap means through an experiment my husband and I tried with our family of four. Two little ones included. We increased our biweekly contribution to our investments and decided to live beneath our means. We now, are poor, sort of.  Some would balk at my saying that because we have two cars, a house, clean clothing and a dog and a cat, luxuries. Me for instance, I balk at myself. I’ve seen third world poverty. I’ve smelled it. But always from behind a veil.

Poverty expert Dr. Donna Beegle gave the second keynote address at the 2012 Oregon NAME (National Association for Multicultural Education) Conference

Poverty expert Dr. Donna Beegle gave the second keynote address at the 2012 Oregon NAME (National Association for Multicultural Education) Conference

Most outwardly recognizable, I’ve gained 5 pounds since the experiment began January 1st, a month ago. But how could that be when our daily grocery budget went from $6 per person, per day, to $4? That’s a 40% decrease in food! That fabulous 40 allowed us to supplement our groceries with local produce,  2 gallons of BGH & antibiotic free milk, 18 eggs from my neighbor and local meats. We enjoyed healthy fresh nutrient rich food. A gift to ourselves and our kids. Today though, we’re stocked with Ramen, pasta, cereal and recipes which are low in cost and higher in fat and carbs.  I clipped coupons the way my mom did at the breakfast table every Sunday. But even coupons are mostly pantry stock, rather than fresh foods. I see this and am trying to remain mindful. So I buy more frozen veggies. My children prefer crunchy colorful vegetables, so they’re eating less fresh. Bags of apples and oranges disappear in two days from our pale galley, leaving us feeling anemic and thirsty for orange juice.  I can see how, when flavorful food is scarce at home the $1 fast food menus are so enticing.  We’ve quite buying juice for the kids. Too much sugar. Too pricey. But they have soda sometimes. Guilt treats. We give ourselves guilt treats too. I heard once the best investment you can make during an economic Depression is in candy bars because it’s the one thing everybody can afford.

But, even free things began to disappear in our home. We lost a book from the library. My daughter left it under the deck and the rain took it. Thus the library suspended our card until we could pay $30.  A wonderful resource now inaccessible. And do we really want to take the kids to the free festivals, if they can’t ride the rides?  Other things are sacrificed too. For you, it could be limiting your subway pass. We’ve limited our gas to half a tank a week per car.  That’s enough to and from work but not enough to and from the park. Not enough to visit grandma who lives in a nearby town or to attend the birthday party 20 minutes away. Besides, birthday parties require a gift… a day of food or a birthday gift? That’s a simple choice.

Underprivileged people may have a hard time getting to and from work or school or to visit family or to afford a phone call. American’s live in expansive large communities which consume a lot of energy to cross. People without money may seem to neglect friends and family, when really they simply can’t afford to maintain them. Hence, they become isolated. And isolation is a perfect container for abuse as well.

When people are no longer capable of providing for their family in a healthy way, and are no longer able to pay their bills on time, their self-respect goes away with those things. This morning my husband and I drank our last cups of coffee for a week. We’re not big coffee drinkers really, but it’s an enjoyable daily habit. And after we finished and began our day there was a cool irritation that consumed us. We’re at home. It’s cold and rainy. We usually love the rain, but we have no more coffee. We have no gas. Our children are laying on the couch in front of the TV whining to go somewhere. We’re whining too, and we’re feeling the sense of despair that comes when you have too little.

While the children take their restless afternoon naps, I’ll go out to the car and turn the key and nothing will happen. No engine will turn, no flicker of dashboard lights, not even the ding ding dinging of an ajar door will ring. The damn car is dead.  And the mild cold I have will become full of choking coughs. And that will be that. Experiment over.

Even if it weren’t over, we’d still have health insurance, a large back yard, a safe town full of trails to hike and bike, fresh air and good schools. We’d also have a future before us, a way out, and our healthy, educated, middle class upbringing full of roots and wings.

And although we feel the ache of having too little, it remains, that we still have enough.

If you haven’t taken enough of  beating, here’s Paul Piff’s Ted Talk,” Does money make you mean?”  I just listened to it last week while I made a box of macaroni and cheese and thought it was appropriate to the article.

Paul Piff: Does Money make you mean?

UPDATE: The day after writing this, I found this woman’s story on Huffington Post, Linda Tirado, This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense. Check it out! Click on the ling below:

This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense


The best cleaning solutions are often the cheapest and most outdated

  1. ImageSo this week, after the wedding shower gifts and the wedding gift, the baby shower gifts, the birthday gifts, and the fancy cheese trays to accompany the birthday gifts, came the Father’s Day gifts, and ACK! the $5.95 greetings cards, to each and every dear cherished Dad.  So I gagged at my checking account, sobbed at my credit card balance and realized I was out of laundry detergent and our clothes were spilling out of their respective baskets. Did I panic? NO, I thought, stay cool. I remembered the wise lessons my mother taught me when I was poorer: poverty is no excuse for a filthy house. Good cleaning products are cheap and easy to come by, indeed many of them are probably hiding in our cabinets. And after using them I/we get to bask in the glowy feeling of pleasant pragmatism. So here’s list of my favorite old standbys which may not smell Lilacs, but they are effective, cheap, and better for the environment than most cleaning aisle products.


Baking soda is wonderful. I buy the biggest cheapest box I can find. I use it as a water softener in my laundry and my bathtub. After you brush you teeth with it you’ll feel as if you just returned from a dental cleaning. Then dab some on that same old toothbrush and shine anything or clean out any dingy hard to clean place. And carpet powder, I know it makes your home smell neat, but those companies don’t release the ingredients in the carpet powders, not even Arm and Hammer. Regular old baking soda is an excellent safe substitute. But my FAVORITE ( most vain) way to use it, is as a face exfoliant. I use it daily, it’s very gentle and will leave skin feeling clean and nice and soft. That’s when I really start feeling the glow. It is a beautiful product. I know their are books devoted to baking sofa, so much more than I’m listing.

Image IVORY soap. It may or may not still float. But the real reason it’s still cool (since 1897) is not just because it’s cheap, not just because it reminds you of childhood, but also because it’s a wonderfully gentle laundry soap, and very effective too. I sink a bar into a large (pickle) mason jar of warm water, shake it and let it sit. After a couple of days, you can shake again and pour the silky liquid a 1/2 C-1C or so into your wash and it’s great. No bubbles. Perfect for cleaning baby clothes (though not for cleaning babies skin). I’ve also combined those last slivers of soap (differing brands) at the end of a bar rather than throwing them away to use. And of course, it’s a very affordable and amuch purer soap than those bottles of fragrant forest shower gels.

Image Good Ol’ Fels-Naptha, what a weird name, but what an excellent product. I have 2 children and they go through at least 3 shirts, two shorts, and 4 dresses daily.  And that is how I found this funky old stain remover. Some people add it to their laundry by grating it off. I’m way too lazy for that. But, after your child’s ice cream drips onto their new shirt, or you find melted candy in your pocket, then go to your sink, tear the end of paper off a bar of Fels-Naptha, wet the bar and rub it into the stain. Throw it in the wash, and viola! The stain has disappeared. It also claims to remove sweat stains. Wonderful stuff. Sorry Shout, I’ve found a new love.

Image White Vinegar, it’s not just for making pickles. I go through a gallon (of vinegar, not pickles) every two weeks. Good thing it’s so cheap. So I use to buy the prettily bottled fruit & veggie wash, no more. Now I use, 1/3 to 1, vinegar to water poured into a small cheap spray bottle (found in the hair accessory section). SO: spray peach, rub, rinse. Well done. And no, the peach will not taste like vinegar. But that’s just the beginning. Did you know that some clothes labels suggest dry cleaning for the simple reason that one color may fade into the next, like a black and white dress. Vinegar is the answer. Add a cup to your cold wash and it will keep the colors from fading. Anyone who’s tie dyed or colored Easter eggs will remember that important addition of vinegar. It sets colors. But remember, it’s the opposite of stain remover. It’s also excellent for removing the smell of mildew, think stinky wet towels.Vinegar, I know it’s excellent for your body too. Please research it if your interested.

In essence, when it comes to cleaning, keep it simple. There are more and more responsible brands out there such as Method, Dr Bronners, Mrs. Meyers, etc.. I love them, frankly because I love how they smell and look on my counter. But, for all practical purposes, keep it simple. I encourage you to continue researching this topic further online. There is a lot of great information out there. Other wonderful simple products? Bleach, Ammonia and newspaper for cleaning windows. But, don’t mix the ammonia and bleach, it’ll singe your eyebrows off, I speak from experience. Thanks for tuning in.

Please comment with your useful cleaning ideas, stories, and experiments, even the embarassing ones.  Like the time I used my laundry detergent in the dishwasher. The children loved it, and couldn’t restrain themselves from divulging our secret to my husband when he walked through the door. What’s wrong with a few bubbles! The floor had never looked cleaner.