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

Creative Glories of Hunting Through the Goodwill, or Goodwill Goodfuns

 

Edgar J. Helms a Methodist Minister and social innovator in Boston, Mass opened the first Goodwill in 1902. What a brilliant man he was. He invented my favorite kind of tool, a thing which has a complete cycle and serves everyone. From donation, to creating labor, to selling donation to fund the operation, to pay for labor, who generate donations, it’s a perfect revolution.

Wikipedia cites” In this pledge, Goodwill promises to fulfill the goals of success within each individual:

“We at Goodwill Industries will be satisfied only when every person in the global community has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential as an individual and to participate and contribute fully in all aspects of a productive life.”

But all that History aside, we get to have fun with all the creative benefits, a store full of potentially fun things to recycle and use. A found objects paradise! And if your creative idea turns out to be uglier that Aunt Ra-Ra’s macrame plant hanger, then your not strapped for cash on your next project.

So here’s my latest Goodwill Goodfun, for my daughter who is needing a lamp in her bedroom:

One $ 2.00 Lamp Base + One $ 2.00 Dented Ivory Lamp Shade

and note this simple white lamp base with a clean classical shape would be beautiful in any decor, not just on goofy lamps. When shopping, don’t overlook simple designs.

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PLUS, 2 bags of 50 cent colored puff balls, (and I had the glue gun, they run about 5.00, new. I’d avoid buying them used…..)

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TAH-DAH!

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Here’s how it looks all it up! She loved it, and it cost 5 bucks. Yeah! Now we can afford that.  It’s not a style for everyone, but if your starving to do something creative, go peruse through your local Goodwill and see what magic you can find….

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(WARNING: You already know this, but if you should try this at home please use low wattage bulbs and large shades for safety)

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF GOODWILL GOODFUN

Why I do-it-myself

Image Calling all men, women and children! (Forgive the righteous tone.) We are living in a time, when the conveniences in our life are quite literally causing our demise. And never has this been more truly evident when today my small children reminded me that work is good. Not “going to work” but work as a meaningful element to our existence.

My 5 year old son was haranguiing his little sister till she was maxed-out and so I shuffled him out into the garage. You’re going to help me fix my car son. Lord know I didn’t know what we were going to fix, but I remembered, when he works he is clam and pleased with himself. So we popped open the back of my old shabby Beetle and tweaked the lines, and checked the oil, then washed off the motor. He was elated. I made a note to myself….remember this when he’s 10, work keeps him focused and happy. Shortly afterward it was nap time and I read my daughter Little Mommy, one of those books with the gold spine written in the 50’s. So the girl in the story works, washes, cooks, cleans, and delights in her work. And my daughter delights in this little girl’s work. Work is good, I reminded myself. Through the daily drudge the purpose slips by and leaves me feeling bored and restless. And when feeling especially put out I’ll try to convince myself that I’m showing my objects how much I love them. I love you, Beetle car. I love you, shag rug, vase, plateware…

So, after my daughter went down for her nap, I had to have that conversation with myself, Dear car that I love……..it’s time for repairs. Gas lines, oil changes, idle mixtures, all that jazz. And while at first, this challenged had felt daunting since it had been such a long time since I’d gotten my fingernails so dirty, the success that follows I know will be fulfilling. If need be, by God, I can do it myself. I should do myself. Because it’s affordable, because it’s good to learn, because I can show up the grumpy mechanic, and because after my strained sailors mouths is calmed by a steady running engine, I will feel blissful again.Image