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

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“A penny saved …

“A penny saved is a penny you don’t need to earn again.”

“You need to spend money to lose money.”

“Living on less is a good thing to do. It’s the only financial advice that will work for almost everyone. It’s about a quality of life you cannot buy, a sense of satisfaction you cannot fake, and an appreciation for others that gives life value. It’s also about helping save the planet and sharing with those in need. Living on less can be funny, but it’s not a joke.”

– quotes by Jeff Yeager “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches”

I enjoy all of these and thought I’d share them with you.

Restraint, the big pay off

                                         Restraint:  It’s a terribly empowering thing. But it also reminds me of when I was a child and restraint felt like a thing for powerlessness;  always having to pull away from the burning candle before us. Restraints were everywhere. Today I took my 5 year old son to spend the twenty dollars he’s patiently saved since Thanksgiving. He slid every found penny into his piggy bank with complete satisfaction, and counted each lovely nickel from his weekly chores. He shook his bank and often poured all the coins out onto his carpet to just look at them grow. And this very Monday, today he divided them up, we counted them, and took them to the bank to cash em’ in for whole paper dollars! Oh it was marvelous! And on top of that, we found out they have lollipops inside the bigger bank too So we took his wad of 21 dollar bills, folded them up into his shiny blue wallet and crammed it into his back pocket till the seams grew taut. And then we walked into the toy department of our big grocery store to look for the car transporter truck essential to completing his semi truck collection. But, oh my on my, we found aisle after aisle of absolutely amazing colorful bright brilliant things lining the shelves. Shiny cowboy guns and half an aisle of Nerf guns and water guns, too. There were all these other types of trucks and one whole side of an aisle all just boxes of wonderful things to make from Leggos. It was utterly mouth gaping overwhelming. And I felt for him. Some patient part of my impatient self just stayed there all morning and watched him carefully scrutinize each and every possibly choice. And we ran into another Mom and her 4 year old son; she kindly restraining while he gently pushing to bigger toys for older boys. The negotiations were delicate.
   And after we arrived home and I put my son down for a nap with his new huge box of cheap army vehicles, he asked me “Mommy when I grow up will I still want to play with trucks?” And I whispered back to him,  “Yes Sweetie, and it will still be just as difficult to pick out the perfect one.”