This is my story of poverty.
This is what I want you to know about being poor.
When we got married at 21, I was still in school and my husband had just graduated from college.
When we were trying to decide if getting married so young and broke was the right decision, my Mom told me that we would for sure be “livin’ on love, because we wouldn’t have much else!”
She was so right.
Two years into marriage we were both working minimum wage jobs and still livin’ on love. We lived off one income and paid off my student loans in full with the other income.
To be honest, I didn’t even know we were “poor”.
We got pregnant with our first baby and decided that I would quit my job to stay home. Thankfully, around this time my husband got a different job that made significantly more money. I thought we had it made.
The first clue I had that we were still considered poor was when I found out that we could qualify (easily) for WIC. I then learned that we could also qualify for Medicaid and Food Stamps.
Honestly, I had no idea we were that “poor”. We had two cars. A mortgage. Food on the table for three meals a day, plus snacks. We had paid off all my student loans and we had no debt. We have heat in the winter. We have running water and curtains and sheets on our beds.
Over the last few years, my husband has faithfully worked the same job, and we have added more children to our family. We are indeed living considerably under the American poverty line.
After living like this for so long, here are a few things I want you to know about being poor:
- I want you to know that qualifying for WIC, Medicaid and Food Stamps does not mean that we are lazy and sitting around just collecting on your tax dollars. My husband works an average of 50 hrs a week and works harder than anyone else I know, and while I do stay home with the kids, I’m certainly not sitting on my butt all day. We both have undergraduate degrees but have chosen jobs in fields that do not pay much.
- I want you to know that when you ask me to hang out with you, my first thought is that I would LOVE to. The second thought is, “what will we be doing and how much will I have to spend?”. We have had to turn down dinner outings, hang outs and even weekends away because we simply cannot fit it into the budget.
- I want you to know that when you talk about shopping garage sales and thrift stores to get an awesome score, I nod my head along with you. I shop those places, too (and love them!). The only difference is that I shop those places because I have no other choice. We simply cannot afford most things brand new.
- I want you to know that we have bought both of our vehicles off of Craigslist. Oh, and most of our furniture, too. My decorating style might be “eclectic”, but that is because I have made do with what I already have, hand-me-downs and second-hand finds.
- I want you to know that it hurts my feelings when you offhandedly remark that you don’t have enough money for a specific thing, but the very next day you can drop $150 on a handbag and book a vacation to the Caribbean.
- I want you to know that I’ve tried it all to make a little extra money from home. All those “easy ways to make money from home” are not so easy, and require just as much work as a work outside the home job.
But mostly I want you to know that I don’t hate this life that we live. In fact, I love it. Would I love to eat out more often? Yes. Would I love to book family vacations to warm, beachy location? Absolutely. Would I love to buy myself that desperately needed minivan? Of course.
However, we are so much richer than our income states. We have learned through the years that stuff isn’t everything. In fact, stuff is worth nothing. We have learned that money doesn’t buy contentment or happiness. We have learned to find free things to do, and have had a blast doing it. We have learned that family vacations ARE possible, they just require a lot of scrimping and planning and saving, and sometimes staying in a sketchy motel for the night. We have learned to hold loosely to our things, and instead to guard the things that are most important: time and relationships. We have learned that working hard and being responsible doesn’t always mean climbing the financial ladder of success. We have learned that saying no sometimes just means saying yes to even better things. We have learned that driving clunkers from Craigslist make for some wild adventures. We have learned to cook things from scratch and shop at Aldi and find the best steals at garage sales. We have become regulars at our thrift stores and consignment sales because that’s where we can find anything we need. We are already able to teach our children budgeting and financial wisdom, along with the hard life-skills of contentment and saying no to immediate gratification.
So if you look at our income report, you can most certainly label us as poor. But if you look at our lives? Man, we are rich. Livin’ on love and RICH.