Is there a course on how to live well in poverty?

Because we just aren’t getting it. (whiny rant ahead)

I have many friends who are low-income. Some have children, some are childfree. Some are married, partnered, or single. And the vast majority seem to have this poverty thing figured out. Their cars remain in working order, they have cozy warm houses filled with trinkets from far off lands, they eat organically and shop fair trade and buy groceries at the co-op. When they go to they go to the farmer’s market, they are able to buy their kids lunch, or at least a muffin. And they TRAVEL. That is the one I am most envious of right now. They fly home to see their families, and some of them even go to other countries. How? How do they do this? Is it parental help? An unseen trust fund? What? And it doesn’t seem to be sacrificing one thing to save up for the other, because a lot of them seem to be able to tackle a lot of the things listed.

I am feeling a bit grim right now. The frugal plan has not gone as well as intended. We did some smart things like pay off credit cards and prepay insurance. But we have been hit with some things like: the dog’s accident. She is still in a cast and has been going for bandage changes every week (or so) since the beginning of August. Plus the cost of the original treatment. So that has been $30-$60 a week, and I think the first bill was about $300. And we have been having some lovely car trouble that has run a few hundred dollars and isn’t fixed yet. Luckily the Dude knows his way around cars, otherwise it would have been a lot more and not fixed, since he did exactly what they said to do. I went to the eye doctor, and my glasses cost $100, and that was after the insurance paid a big chunk. I was having severe neck and back pain, and accompanying headaches due to my extremely heavy book load. So we went and purchased a really good backpack. Good news-no more pain. Bad news-$100 lighter. So there have been things like that eating into our funds. And there have been the bad choices we have made: ordering pizza for dinner a couple of times, joining friends for drinks, buying lunch at school a couple of times. None of them feel like bad choices though, it is our attempt to feel “normal” and not poor.

And that is what I would like to talk about. Feeling poor. Right now, I am definitely feeling poor. The things I listed in my first paragraph are things that I would like to do to feel like I am leading a rich, well-rounded life. There are a few others as well. Some I can manage, but others are not happening at this time.
Things we do:
We attend free or cheap concerts or cultural events through my school
We hosted a party on Halloween. The cost: pumpkins, dry ice, candles, and a black light bulb.
Also, I am so busy with my school work that I don’t have a ton of time to miss what I am missing out on.

But some things feel like they are lacking:
Hiking. At our old place, there was beautiful in-town hiking within a mile of our front door. And spectacular hiking was within 2 hours. Here, I haven’t found any great hiking in town, and two hours means a lot of gas money these days!
Travel. As I said, this is the biggie. I am constantly perplexed by people that travel home every holiday. The Dude hasn’t seen his father in almost 10 years, because we can’t afford the cross-country travel. We were going to visit our favorite city for a one day, two night getaway next month, but then realized that it would cost a couple hundred dollars just in gas and lodging. And we have never really figured out how to do dinner on the road. The other meals are fine, but dinner we want to be hot. And we are usually out and about at dinner time. But even without the food costs, $200 is extravagant right now. And it will be more than that. And there is the whole sketchy vehicle situation. I am very sad about this because I love to travel. But even if we camp, transportation costs run so high.

UPDATE: I wrote this post a while back but hadn’t posted it yet. At this point, we are planning to go. We will spend only one night there and make sandwiches for the road. Hopefully we can get the car issue resolved. However, it still leaves the larger question of how people do this on a regular basis.

Also, the doggie leg is healed and will not need surgery!


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Hot meals on the road? Yeah, totally doable. Most rest stops have either outlets or concrete/metal tables available. If the former are present, we use our little plug-in single burner ($8 on sale at Target) to re-heat a pre-cooked meal. If not, we light a can of sterno to do the same.

The veggies are cold, but as long as we have a warm main dish we are fine.

I think that 'time-poverty' makes money poverty so much harder. Before I went back to school, I could spend time making nutritious meals, tending the garden, planning free activities, avoiding convenience foods. Now that I am working and going to school (and homeschooling, for cripes sake!) there is no time for cooking much, and our food budget has gone way up. I have managed to pack dinner to school every night so far, but it is not always the most nutritious or well rounded meal.

I know that the only way we travel is when we are sent tickets by family who deem it has been too long since they have seen us. And I just don't shop, much. (the target boycott was really good for my wallet LOL) but it IS stressful, and guilt making. Lately, I have been considering downsizing my job yet again to 1 day a week; I now work 3 and do school 3 and I am not sure I can maintain this schedule. But that would mean more loans, and I am very resistant to that.

I am sorry to hear that you have no good hiking where you are. that stinks.

so which is your favorite city? I am rather curious…

I don't know that this will make you feel any BETTER, but I feel like we used to make so much less… how come we make more $ now, but our standard of living doesn't seem to go up?
I've figured out that a large part of it is medical bills, and the fact that in the past those kinds of bills generally just didn't get paid. Or we didn't go to the doctor, even when very sick. We also had crappier diets, and were blissfully unaware of our kids' allergies.

The only friends of mine that I understood the travel thing with is my friends that worked for the airlines. Low-income jobs, but travels to Europe. But they met people there that they met online beforehand, so they didn't do the tourist stuff. (Book Strapped by Tamara Draut was really good, but I disagreed with her justifying some purchases–including travel–but she made the point people are more mobile than in the past, not staying in their hometowns, and that was one of the top expenses causing 20/30-something's debt.) And I'd bet just a few people travel, compared to those who would like to, but we notice the ones who do because we envy them. (I've never met hubby's extended family that are all in Illinois.)

Before hubby had back pain we used to save a lot with him doing car stuff too. I know the basics, and have learned more as I go along, but I can't do the bigger stuff he could, and frustratingly, some stuff I stubbornly refuse to see as "guy stuff" like fixing kitchen sink or the car–just plain requires upper body strength I don't have, so he winds up helping me, even though it hurts his back.

As for feeling poor, when I ate at school I'd always get the soup: it was the cheapest and it was warm. I was too tempted by the espresso stand cocoa and mochas, so I started carrying teabags in my backpack and buying 25cent cup of hot water. I don't like the taste of alcohol, and when I go out with friends to a bar it's super-cheap. Some places serve the DD free soda. So I drink Coke, listen to music and play darts for under $5.

Although every money guru out there says, "just stop having that latte every morning" you almost don't want to be seen in a Starbucks…but I find friends and I spend less when we want to meet up and talk for hours when we go to coffee shops than when we went to Denny's back in the day.

The deli/eating sections of grocery stores are often quite nice too, and good places for hot dinners in a restaurant setting for little more than grocery prices. Might work for dinner on the road! Oh, and pizza is super-fun to make from scratch–Jiffy mix pizza crust is easy and each kid can make their own small pizza w/ their own toppings. Not that we don't sometimes splurge on fast-food, but it's usually Teriakyi or KFC. Or we pick up one of those ready-to-bake, pre-marinated roasts, or butter and herb topped salmons from Costco.

For me it's not so much whether or not I buy them lunch or a muffin when we go to the farmer's market, it's standing there, trying to decide if I SHOULD buy it. Even when I do buy, it's not any more soothing because it's not the not buying that leaves me in knots, it's the deliberation. I just want to be able to buy the muffin and not think about it!

But truth is, even if I were able to do that, the idea of balancing the checkbook and calculating how much money I was wasting on impulse buys (like I did when I fist moved out on my own!) it would just make me sick. So I guess I try and learn to love (or at least accept) the deliberation. What else can you do?

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