On Being Poor

I just found this article called The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor: http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-5-stupidest-habits-you-develop-growing-up-poor/ and found it quite interesting.  I expected it to be funny… instead I realized that I’m not as far from feeling poor as I pretend to be.

For those readers who have not experienced being poor the article might come across as sarcastic or stupid… for me it was eye opening.  I do every. single. one. of those 5 Stupid Habits!  It is not so much that we grew up poor… it’s that trying to learn how to be a self sufficient adult in the worst economy since the Great Depression is hard.  I frequently feel poor.  I finally found a job that makes enough money that I shouldn’t feel poor, but in the year that I’ve had this job my husband has quit a job, been laid off, and been let go… Now he is having a hard time finding another job that’s not in a call center, and he’s not going back to a call center because that’s what he tried last year and obviously it didn’t work! We have been getting by with a hairpin tight budget and the help of our credit cards, which are there for emergencies after all.

I was quite fortunate when I graduated college not to have any student loans.  I managed that by:

1) Having a scholarship with so many requirements that  it felt like a job but also paid incredibly well and gave me great opportunities.

2) Working one-two jobs the whole time I was in school until my last semester.

3) Going to a State University instead of the far off expensive University that I couldn’t even afford to apply to, let alone attend without a full ride scholarship like I had always dreamed of doing.

What I didn’t manage to do was find a job in CollegeTown after graduation that paid enough for me to stay.  So I tried for five months and accepted the first job that was offered to me… and it was in another city, so I moved into a garage so I could work there.  In one of my earlier posts I mention that the animals I took care of ate better then I did… I wasn’t joking.  They had fresh rotisserie chicken, rice, and gourmet dog food.  I had pot pies, dollar bags of pasta, and ramen.

Like the article explains when you finally begin to crawl your way out of “being poor” you, well I, found that I wasn’t well equipped to live with money.  If I get money for a birthday or a holiday, I use it to buy something “I wouldn’t buy for myself” because I can’t rationalize buying the new clothes/books/games/or fancy dinner when we’re living so close to the edge.  It sucks to buy your groceries on your credit card because you’re afraid you’ll need the cash in your account to make your car payment.

We are trying to get better about budgeting and such but it is quite discouraging how fast credit card debt climbs and how slowly it goes down.  I had a credit card that was over $3000 when I moved to BigCity.  We finally paid it off recently!  We did it with the generous financial contributions of our tax return, holiday money, and a mentality of JUST PAY THE DAMN THING AND EAT RAMEN FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS!  We did it! Woo!  FINALLY! We spent a blissful four days dreaming about how fast we were going to pay off my husband’s car now that we had so much “extra money.”

And then of course life hit and now that same card has crept back up to $1871.46 in less then 6 months.  It’s not that we go out all the time and buy frivolous things… it’s that after years of “not being able to afford to go to the doctor or dentist” we finally went and SURPRISE: I needed 2 root canals and 4 fillings and my husband needed 7 fillings.  I had one root canal and am getting the fillings done next month and my husband is getting his fillings done this month.  Also, his car broke down again.  I hate playing what I call “Car Roulette.”  Car Roulette is when your car breaks and the mechanic spins a giant Repair Wheel before telling you how much it’s going to cost to patch up the car this time.  Bonus points:  routine maintenance that should get done soon.  Add to that the rising cost of electricity now that it’s summer… We’re hoping he gets a job soon!

Bright side:  The dentist I found was EXCELLENT and it was the best root canal I’ve ever had.  (For the record, it was my third root canal.)  It was so not-as-awful-as-I-expected, that I’m not as scared about the next one (which I will have when we can afford it).

Another Bright Side: This too will pass.  We have made it through tougher times together and someday we’ll look back on all this and laugh.

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