The Levels of Poverty (or, what floor are you on?)

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Little known fact: I am an optimist.

If I put my life through the Facebook Positivity Filter™ it looks like this…

I have a beautiful laptop, 42″ television, can watch Hulu, Netflix, and premium cable anytime I want. My kids play on their Xbox or Wii when they want to do something, or, if they get bored they can read one of a hundred books in the house or play on iPhones or call friends on their very own cell phones. We live in a ranch house that is warm and there is food in the fridge. We have a beautiful, blue 2012 Mazda minivan and three computers in the house.

Now, if you look at that without the filter it looks different. I have a five year old laptop with a broken battery and a replaced keyboard (that I replaced myself because I can’t afford help so I use YouTube to teach me) my husband’s laptop is missing four keys, so he has to use a $10 USB keyboard and the screen has lines across it so he uses a monitor from a desktop we got in 2003 so he can kind of keep working on it. The desktop computer we have is from 2004 and I have no idea how it still works but it does and I pray it continues to. The cell phones the kids have are from FreedomPop which we bought because it was free cell phone service. Unfortunately, the call quality is so awful I couldn’t use it so I gave the phones to the kids because they could not be returned. My iPhones could not be sold for any real value because they weren’t unlocked and I owed money to AT&T for cancellation fees so I could not get them unlocked. My car is at an 11% interest rate and we are desperate to pay it off because I live in constant fear of getting it reposessed because I don’t know if we are going to have enough to make the payment. My house is in the middle of a foreclosure battle and the iPhones the kids play on are worthless on the open marketing because they are second generation. The books and video game systems were gifts to the children because most people know if you send us money we are going to spend it on bills, even if it is for the kids.

Both are reality. One is highly edited but sounds awesome. The other is what I’m thinking about when I’m trying to fall asleep at night.

Poor people trick: Buy all your kids’ jeans at the goodwill and then buy them a few name brand tops and a whole bunch of plain t-shirts. No one looks at the jeans closely enough for branding the way they do at the tops. So if the tops are the “right” brand it won’t matter if the jeans are. Do try to get jeans that are the right “type” aka flare, skinny, etc. but even that is just a detail as opposed to a necessity. Also, go to the Goodwill in the nicest neighborhood you can!! The nicer the neighborhood, the more likely you will find name brands in the racks.

Even with all that up there with the reasons and backstory and not-as-nice-as-it-first-sounds stuff going on, I’m still only a certain level of impoverished. I’m poor but I’m not REALLY poor. Honestly, we were never truly in any real danger of being homeless-level poor because I have a skillset that could get me a job if it was absolutely necessary. Luckily, my husband got the bricklayer gig and we just have to have patience and be able to exist at this level of poor for a couple years in order to have the family he has always wanted and I am totally on board with him having. 

We have hope. Hope is the difference between levels of poor. Hope is what you lose when there isn’t food in the house. I don’t mean, “There’s nothing for dinner.” when you’re looking at cabinets full of food you’re not in the mood for. I don’t mean you forgot to go grocery shopping and you don’t feel like it. I mean no. actual. food. That’s when the hope leaves.

I also got close to hopeless once when I put plastic bags on my toddler’s feet under her shoes so she could play in the snow. We could only afford boots for the older girls because they needed them for school. She was really sad about it. That made me feel pretty awful.

Oh, wait, there was also the gymnastics during the olympics where my daughter who is really gifted in gymnastics asked me if she’ll ever be able to go back to gymnastics classes and I told her yes but I could see she didn’t quite believe me. That was pretty bad. It will probably be a conversation when she is an adult as something she felt I truly denied her that could have given her the life of her dreams. It’s a shame.

That moment of almost-not-hope is what resolved me to use my tax refund to pay off everything so we can get back on track to the better life the whole family dreams of. It hurts to not use it for gymnastics classes or art classes for the other one, but if I want to be able to give them the things they need when they are 12, 13, 14…they have to sacrifice now, just like we do.

It hurts, but it’s a long-term plan. I have to hope that is enough. (But, see, there is hope.)

The next level of poverty that we are not at (because, I shit you not, there but for the grace of God go I…) I read about today. The thing is, there are a lot of “cryin’ poor” stories out there. What gets me about this one is that I have experienced some of the same symptoms. The devil is in the details, right?

Go read Jenn’s story. Her post on Poor as Folk is called, Jenn’s Words: “Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis.“ You can read it now and come back to see the details I’m talking about, or you can read the rest of this post and then go over there and just notice the details. Either way, you’re about to go on the poverty overshare roller coaster. Please keep your arms and legs inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop!

  • I have snapped at one of my kids because they asked for more food but we had made what was in the house. i.e. there was not enough for seconds and there was not more food in the house.
  • I have taken the kids to IKEA for free meals and picked food off of their plates because I could not afford my own. Also in the IKEA portion of the program, I have taken my kids to IKEA playland for something free to do that’s out of the house and temperature controlled.
  • I set my thermostat really low. So low, the kids use the Snuggies they were given as birthday gifts from gramma.
  • My daughters still wear sweaters and jeans with holes in them. They have decided it’s fashionable.

Even with all those similarities, I got a tax refund. While most of it was spent on absolute necessities and a few dinners out because how I missed being waited on instead of being the waitress of my children I still gave $5 to her. I refuse to let myself become so hard that I cannot help someone else or immediately decide the person must be faking it if they have a GoFundMe account. I know I should probably also give to my absolute favorite charity Modest Needs.

See, you don’t have to be a religious person or subscribe to the law of attraction or the universe to believe that good things come back to you. My theory is this. When you do a good thing you are more likely to smile for the next few days. Whether you are smiling while talking to someone on the phone or smiling in person the person on the receiving end of the smile is more likely to give you a good deal or help if you need it.

I’ve experienced this personally many times. I can’t say it works for everyone but it keeps me from becoming bitter (which happens to be one of my greatest fears) and that is enough.

I need to live in a world where everyone isn’t a liar. It’s a choice I make and I’m okay with it. That being said, the story of that one woman who turned out to not be poor and used her GoFundMe campaign to write a book? I didn’t donate to that one.

When you are poor, there is a tone and there are examples and you can generally tell when a story is a little too good (or bad) to be true. It’s in the whole narrative. For example, if I tried to overstate how poor we are and pretended I didn’t get a tax return at all to try and get more sympathy and then talked about donating $5 to someone else instead of feeding my kids? It wouldn’t sound right.

So, if you ever need someone to double check something for you, let me know. I’m happy to help. I want people to feel good about giving. It’s a great way to feel good about ourselves. 

Also, on Jenn’s post on Poor as Folk? Don’t forget to read the comments. She is not the only one. Even if you don’t donate (and I don’t think you should or shouldn’t, really, I just shared that I did because it’s what happened) leave a comment, maybe, or a few words of encouragement or even suggestions….community is important and so many of us are so isolated.

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4 Thoughts on “The Levels of Poverty (or, what floor are you on?)

  1. I love the article you posted. I did read Jenns post, and it helped to remind me that, while we may be poor, we have everything we need. We can pay the bills, because I only get paid once a month, and everything gets paid before groceries get bought. I have insurance through my employer, so if anything catastrophic happens, we ‘re covered. It should not make me bitter that I cannot afford the copay or the deductable. I will be working as hard as I can on gardening this year to put away as much food as possible. It ‘s all relative. We have all we need…….

    • I think we all feel bitter sometimes. I know I do. The best thing for it is to remember you are not alone. Or angry music and dancing. I find that sometimes helps, too, on really bad days. :)

  2. I read Jenn’s story, and it lead me to this post. Both of them made me cry. I am probably right in the middle between you and Jenn. I am so lonely, and scared, and sick. My husband is never home (working) and my kids wonder why Momma is so irritable and sad all the time, and why they never get the “good snacks” anymore. I’ve listened to “Happy” so many times it’s starting to not work anymore. I’ve been in this place for several months now, and I don’t know when it will end. It does help to know I’m not alone. Thank you.

    • I have no bright and shiny words but I am giving you the biggest, most loving hug ever with the power of my mind. I’m totally psychic but only with hugs. I do homemade popcorn for snack. The kids were bummed until their little friends were jealous. I dodged that bullet through sheer luck.

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