I've been following Hobo Mama's low-spend month, and I do enjoy seeing the ways she's been able to cut back on spending. At the same time, my mind is sort of blown because even with her cutbacks, she's still spending more than we do. Even so, she is feeling the pinch. A lot of things that never occurred to her as "money" things, like her social life, are affected by her attempt to be frugal.
Her conclusion: "In regard to making budgeting a way of life: I used to be 100% behind
this, and it makes so much sense/cents, as Melissa puts it. But I will
say that we had a window of time where money was coming in and we didn't
have to worry about it (we thought…), and it was so much fun. And it sort of ruptured my whole constructed idea that being poor was better in some way; because being not poor
was … a lot of fun. Really, just so much better in every way. We never
went overboard on spending (as in, we never went yacht shopping or
browsed Tiffany's or the like), but I loved not caring about the little
things, or how much we were spending on groceries, or things like that.
And going back to caring about the nickel-and-dime stuff kind of stinks.
There, I said it."
No, being on a tight budget is not fun. Being poor is not fun. Being frugal can be really smart, and you really will be thankful later. But it does pinch, and sometimes you want to yell, like Meg in Little Women, "I am so tired of being poor!"
I've never been poor. Like, real poor people. As in, people who are poorer than me. That's the definition of poor. (Am I right?) But I've definitely, at various times in my life, felt the pinch of not having as much as we wanted or needed. And even when we have had enough, there's immense pressure to be frugal so as to save as much as we can for the next lean patch. I don't know about you, but I myself am not foreseeing sunshine on the horizon for our economy. I think it will get worse before it gets better.
Anyway, here's a list of implications of poverty that might not occur to everyone. Again, I'm not talking about homeless-people poverty, but standard, everyday, not having as much as those around you have. Even a poor person in America is very blessed by global standards. That doesn't mean it's easy getting by on less. (Note: I have not experienced all of these, but people I know have.)
Poverty means not being able to go out with your family for a fun day on the town, without wondering if there is any free fun activity to be had.
Poverty means not being able to join your friends when they go out to eat, and sometimes choosing not to have friends over because you can't afford to feed them.
Poverty means feeling guilty going to others' houses because you can't reciprocate.
Poverty means feeling embarrassed when your friends or acquaintances assume you have more money than you do, and you don't want to let on how poor you are.
Poverty means wearing clothes that don't fit because you can't afford to buy new ones just because you gained or lost weight.
Poverty means being that person who snatches up every bite of free food at an office party, and hopes no one thinks you're a pig.
Poverty means eating more than you even want when it's free, because you know you'll be hungry later.
Poverty means choosing things that are less healthy, but higher in calories.
Poverty means not being able to buy gifts for people who have bought gifts for you.
Poverty means having to beg someone who's lent you money to give you some more time ... and being embarrassed telling them why you don't have it.
Poverty means showing up to work in ratty shoes for so long that someone gives you a free pair ... and you wonder if they think you're really poor instead of just ... kinda poor.
Poverty means not being able to give your children everything they ask for, even those things you would like for them to have.
Poverty means staying at home when you're going stir-crazy, because you can't afford the gas.
Poverty means feeling superior about how frugal you are ... when you know that the second you have enough money, you'll stop doing half the frugal things you do.
Poverty means not being able to keep in touch as much as you like, because you can't afford a good phone or internet plan.
Poverty means seeing someone in need, or being hit up for money by a charity, and desperately wanting to give while knowing that you can't.
Poverty means doing all the work yourself, from washing the dishes to washing the car, and not being able to just shrug and say, "Well, I'm in a tough spot of my life right now!" and buy paper plates.
Poverty means that if you have the opportunity to do some overtime, no matter when, you take it.
Poverty means that when you have a baby, you can't afford to take extra time off, and neither can your husband.
Poverty means going to work sick because you're out of sick days and can't afford to take it unpaid.
Poverty means sometimes walking around with poor health that you can''t afford to fix. Even if you have insurance, what if you need therapy, supplements, chiropractic, or a special diet?
Poverty means not being able to choose where you give birth.
Poverty means knowing that a single catastrophe -- an uncovered medical expense, a car breakdown -- will ruin you, but being unable to plan ahead for it by socking something away because there is nothing left to spare.
Poverty means you are always, every moment of every day, thinking about money. How to save money, how to spend what you do have, how to make more, and what you would do if you had more. Plus that constant, constant hum of resisting the siren song of all the things you wanted to spend money on that day -- thanks to ubiquitous advertising.
We are so blessed to have a steady income that actually, for a change, provides for all our needs. All the same, if $1,000 fell from the sky, we could really put it through its paces. That's life when you try to raise a family on one income. I'm not sorry about our choices. But if I had the choice to be rich or poor, I'd choose rich (though my biggest luxury would be being able to afford to give so much away).
And now that we're doing so well, all I can think is that I will never be cavalier about someone else's poverty. Poverty hurts. It hurts families the most. It's important that, rich or less-rich, we all understand what it must be like to be poor, that is, poorer than us.