Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Living on Less is Really Like...

There has been a lot of talk circulating the internet recently about people who are poor vs. people who are rich, their habits, and whether they have chosen that life or not. Much of this talk has been because of articles such as this one: 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day which has recently been posted on Dave Ramsey's blog.

I have used Dave Ramsey's envelope system in  my own life before.  His tips and advice have helped me in my budgeting.  But I find articles such as this one troubling as I feel it makes many assumptions of people who are not financially well-off.  I feel that these types of articles give a blanket statement of a group of people when every situation is unique.

I grew up in a home that lived off social assistance.  Most, if not all my childhood was spent that way.  I can recall days where I washed my hair with powdered laundry soap because we were out of shampoo and couldn't afford more.  I remember stuffing my pockets with toilet paper at school so I could bring it home.  I have had more meals than i can count that were bologna and butter sandwiches and Kraft Dinner that I drowned in ketchup to try and mask the taste of the missing butter and milk when we couldn't afford it.  I remember one winter my coat zipper broke.  I am sure we couldn't afford to get it fixed, and that was before you could google everything to learn how to do it.  So I would wear my mom's leather coat OVER my winter coat so I could button it closed and keep the cold out. And then there was that winter we reapplied shoe glue to my winter boot countless times to make it last through the winter.

So, yeah, we were poor.  Not as poor as some people have been. Definitely not poor by third world country standards.  I am pretty sure my sponsor child who lives in Nicaragua would laugh at me for even trying to say I have been poor...but we technically fell below Canada's "poverty" line.

My mom was a teen mom.  16 and she had a baby.  When she turned 19 she had me.  Two kids and she wasn't even 20.  She had to drop out of highschool to care for us.  Eventually at one point she had to flee to a women's shelter.  I imagine life wasn't so easy for her.

As I grew up in this environment, i was surrounded by turmoil.  My mom and my stepdad struggled at life.  Many of it was choices, but they struggled to know how to choose differently.  Eventually my mom did get her highschool diploma and went to college, and even accepted Jesus into her heart later in life,  but that didn't all of a sudden make life a breeze, and it definitely did not give her financial freedom.

Fast forward to my "choices".  As I already explained in my last post, i spent my last year of highschool living with another family.  At that time there was still grade 13.  I desperately wanted to stay for that, get another year of school under my belt, but as I was already living in someone else's home for free, I felt it was time I moved on.  They would have welcomed me with open arms for another year, but i already felt i had asked for too much.

I decided to go to Bible College. But there's a funny thing about our past.  We like to think we can just leave it all behind and not deal with it.  Turns out it follows us.  As I spent my year at college I struggled with a lot of personal baggage.  I wasn't talking to my mom for much of the year. At Christmas I spent half the college break alone on campus as I had nowhere to go. My older brother was showing some concerning behaviours and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I struggled to keep up in my classes.  I had always had marks in the high 90s but now I couldn't seem to grasp all these Biblical dates and rules and history.  To say I was focusing on my future would be a joke.  I couldn't see past all the turmoil with my family members.  Phone calls were a nightmare.  I was just trying to stay afloat of all the drama and somehow leave it behind.

Less than two years after that I got married. I started to wise up, and realized I needed to get a "career" to secure my future.  I applied for a program in social work.  I didn't get in, but I did get a letter from the college that contained a list of programs that were still open.  In a moment of panic of ending up in the same cycle as my parents, I thought I better pick something off the list or I'd screw up my whole life.  I picked Office Administration -forget the fact that I hate desk work and am not organized- at least i was building a career.

So I took out student loans.  Again.  It never dawned on me that there was another option.  That I could save for school.  No one had taught me that. I just assumed student loans was what you did.

Thankfully, by the time my husband went to school we got smarter...realized we would be better off with less student loans, and worked our butts off to pay for his schooling.  But, because my husband is an accomplished piano teacher, who had worked hard his whole life to get there, he just assumed he had to take a program that involved music.  Truth is, he was already accomplished in that area and had the education he needed.  He enjoyed what he learned, but if he could go back he often talks about how he would have picked a trade.  He loves working with his hands, or the outdoors, etc...but rarely gets the opportunity to do so or learn more in that area.

So there we were, a two income married couple, not doing too bad but definitely not living the high life financially, when of course, babies came along.  Three of them.  Each one a blessing.  Each one adding more expenses.  They got older and I felt God telling me to homeschool them.  I felt God telling me to stay home with them.  And so I have. I stay at home because I know with so much baggage in my family line, I have to work extra hard with my children to break those family cycles.  To start a new legacy for our family name. And I see them grow, and love, and flourish.  But every week there is a battle within me that says I need to do "the right thing" and go out and get a full-time job outside the home. That if I did that, then I'd be a good mother.  If I have what the world tells me I need to be a successful parent, THEN I am worth something.

It doesn't matter that I am often up hours after the kids go to bed to do some work so I can make a little bit on the side with my small home business.  It doesn't matter that I am the first one up, in the kitchen making breakfast every morning for my children.  It doesn't matter that I learn to make things at home like yogurt or bread or soap to try and save some money.  It doesn't matter that we paid off our almost $20,000 of student loans last year on our small income.  None of those accomplishments seems to matter when you see how many people view people like me.  People like me should just go to school and get a better job.  My children never go hungry, always have a roof over their head, and more clothes and toys than necessary.  But still, it's not enough for the world we live in.

Why, when we stand at the dentist explaining we can't get a certain type of procedure done because it isn't covered by the financial aid program we fall under do we feel like we are two feet tall?  Why when we apply for extra curriculars under programs that gives money so the families who struggle can take part do we feel like we might just start crying right there in that office?  Doesn't it mean something that no matter the humiliation or embarrassment we feel we do those things so our kids can have a better life? But the truth is, I don't feel embarrassed by the way I live.  I love my life.  I feel embarrassed at the way people think of the way I live.  That I don't measure up to what THEY think my life should look like.

But there are many in the world who say it is "my choices" that keep me here.  I guess in a sense they are right.  It is "my choices". But our choices aren't always black and white, cut and dry.  Every day we are trying to make the best choices for our own personal families. And for me, money is just ONE factor in the choices I make.  

The truth is, my life is anything but destitute.  I am blessed.  I know I have more than most of the world.  I get to spend every day with my children.  I actually ENJOY making things from scratch, and the bonus is that it saves me money.  I ENJOY the challenge of figuring out how to be creative with a meal to make it stretch.  I don't dream of being rich and having a bigger home....I dream of having a small cottage in the country so I can learn to do MORE to save money and to be more self-sufficient.  Although it would be nice, I don't dream of having a nice, comfortable retirement....I dream of being 90 years old sitting in a rocking chair, being surrounded by my children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren, and they ALL have chosen to follow the Lord.  If my children, and my children's children, and so on come to Jesus, this life has NOT been wasted.  No money in the world could make up for that.

I pray that in the years to come, I stop listening to the people online or the radio, or anywhere else who tell me I am not enough because of my bank statement, and I live by words such as Helen Keller's in this statement:

"So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder on that which has been denied."

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