Thoughts On Being Poor

I have to be honest, I don’t feel very qualified to say much about poverty. I spent two years in Africa, where I saw real poverty. Compared to many of the people there, I’m rich.

IMG_20131219_170541Even so, according to Utah poverty guidelines, me and my family are way under—as in, we’d have to earn more than double our present income in order to even reach the poverty line, let alone get above it. So by Utah standards, we’re definitely poor.

So how is it? Good. Life’s awesome. Hard, to be sure, but great. We’re optimistic, full of faith and optimism, work our tails off, and our family is healthy and happy. I should give some context, though. None of us have any major health conditions, my kids are made of rubber (at least it seems that way, since their bonks and trips rarely need more than a kiss or bandaid). Our only debt is our home-mortgage, and yes, it’s a 30 year mortgage, and our house is a tiny modular home in a trailer park.

We pay tithing. Always. 100%. That always comes first no matter what. And I suspect that’s what makes the rest of our strategies work.

In case someone out there might be tempted to entirely blame our poverty to our choice to have me go full time with music and writing, I should also clarify that since getting married 9.5 years ago, we’ve always been under the poverty line. This move is actually the best step we’ve ever taken to work toward getting above that line.

We decided before we married that if at all possible, Jenni would be a full-time mom when the kids came, and not have a job outside the home. We’ve never even been tempted to consider putting our kids in daycare—not because we have something against daycare, we just don’t want it for our kids, ever. And lest anyone think that’s just the choice of one of us (such as one of us demanding it despite the other’s wishes), let me assure you, it’s always been a strong desire for both of us—and one of the things that drew us together when we were dating, and it’s a desire that has only strengthened for both of us with time.

That itself, having Jenni at home, has helped our poverty situation immensely, for several reasons. Obviously, no daycare costs, but it’s also helped maintain good health in our kids. In fact, this year we started homeschooling, and from the middle of summer (when we started working with the school curriculum we’re doing now) until now, our kids have only gotten flu/colds once, and that was around Thanksgiving, when we visit a lot of friends and family.

Having Jenni at home also allows her time to do a lot of the home-made products that we wouldn’t have time to produce otherwise, which I’ll speak more of shortly.

We’ve had to learn to be really smart with money. And we’re constantly learning and implementing new strategies. Everything from paying for our car insurance twice a year instead of monthly to save $3 per payment, to staying home from events because twenty miles just uses too much gas. There are so many little things that help.

We’ve also gotten pretty smart with our food. We’re becoming proficient at stockpiling. Basically, that means when the items we commonly eat go on sale, we buy hoards of it. As long as we keep ahead, we’ve almost always got all the food we need. Just as an example, we rarely ever pay more than $3/lb for cheese, $.10 an ounce for cereal (think $2 for 20 ounces of cereal, or $3.20 for 32 ounces, etc.), and $1/lb for fruit, such as oranges, apples, tomatoes, etc. That’s another thing poverty and stockpiling has done for us, it’s got us counting ounces and pounds and stuff. And when we do buy cereal, for example, we might buy five or six huge bags of it—and that’s all, in one grocery visit. We’ve learned that bread, milk, grated cheese (can you tell we’re big on cheese here?), and many forms of produce can be frozen for long periods of time.

When I mention to people some of the things that can be frozen, the response is sometimes, “Oh, but I don’t like frozen and thawed milk,” or, “but when I freeze and thaw bread, it goes a little bit stale, so I don’t like to do it,” I have to smile. We’ve just gotten ourselves used to those kinds of things. None of us in our household are picky about things like that. We’ve taught ourselves not to be. We’re very careful never to eat or feed our kids anything that’s molding, or going bad in any way. But there are lots of great ways to make food last a long time. And the foods that can’t last a long time, well, we just don’t buy them very often. In terms of stuff (diapers, soaps, deodorant, etc), we’ve got a great system for buying them online at incredible prices, and in big enough quantities that we get free shipping. No matter the item, there’s always a cheaper way to get it. It’s just a matter of planning and anticipating needs, and finding the right deals at the right time.

I think we’re to the point that if you handed $10 to me or Jenni, and $10 to a random other person, and said, “See who can get the most daily living stuff with this,” Jenni or I could probably womp the competitor almost every time.

We’ve learned to graciously accept stuff offered to us. People are so kind! It’s both impressive and touching how generous people are! Neighbors, friends, and family sometimes offer food, money, clothes, or other living needs, and we’re always grateful for it, and say so. It really does help! We’re not the type to ask for stuff from people, and I suppose they know it. But we’ve learned to gratefully take what’s offered.

When it comes to government help with food, we are on WIC—or, I should say, my two youngest kids are on WIC, and it helps. But if WIC wasn’t available, we’d still be fine. We’ve gotten pretty smart with food. And I suspect we’re eating significantly healthier than we would if we had all the money we’d like to have. There are brackets of healthy food prices. The quintessentially healthy advertised products are the most expensive, and then the typical foods that most people eat, which are healthy enough, and then theres the raw material foods that are both the cheapest and healthiest—and most time consuming to make. When you work in the lowest bracket, you save the most money and spend the most time in food preparation. You’re basically trading time for money, but it works, and it works well.

As I briefly mentioned, we’ve gotten pretty proficient at home-made products, and making foods from scratch. For example, we’ve learned how to make our own wipies, ranch dressing, laundry and dishwasher detergent, yogurt, powdered sugar, tortillas, pasta, and probably dozens of other things that don’t come to mind at the moment. Sometimes we even grind our own wheat. Pretty much, if something exists, there is a way to make it at home from scratch. Google has become a close household friend.

Pretty much, and we’re finding this more and more, we don’t usually need all the things we once thought we needed. When the money’s not there, you find a way to make things work. It’s also forced us to use incredible amounts of creativity.

I don’t know the last time I had new clothes from a department store. Thrift store or bust, baby! Jenni’s had to get a few things from Walmart, because they weren’t available in the thrift stores, but most of our clothes are either hand-me-downs or from a thrift store.

Cost entertainments are simply out. With the main exception of anniversaries, we don’t go to movies, we don’t go out to dinner, we don’t bowl (or any similar cost activity). We don’t even have Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime accounts (though we use free trials when they offer them—and they tend to offer them once a year or so, and we cut them off when the trial’s over). We’ve found plenty of free sources to legally see the shows and movies we want—just late. When we first married, we got $10 per month each as an allowance. Then it dropped to $5, and now it’s been years since I’ve had frivolous money… though I do have probably $3 in nickels in a drawer—and some ideas of how I might spend it. After awhile, cost entertainments just don’t matter much anymore. There are plenty of free entertainments, and life itself can be plenty entertaining if you get creative.

So, what about stigma? Meh. We try to ignore it.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. Life rocks, even being poor. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m boasting, but we’re kind of pleased with how well we’ve been able to make use of what we’ve got. I mean, sheesh, with some of the terrible trials, challenges, and adversity so many people have to go through, poverty at this level doesn’t even hold a candle to things like loss of loved ones, severe health problems, or even (in my opinion) no time for dad to spend with the family. In all honesty, we feel immensely blessed.

What I haven’t touched on much is the benefits, and there are several.

Because of our school and work situations, we’re together—like, always. At least we’re all in the same house at the same time. I’m secluded in the bedroom while I work, but I get to eat lunch with my family, and I don’t work more than 40 hours a week.

Our family is a set. Other than business events, transactions, and purchases, we go almost everywhere together. And we’re all crazy about each other (as well as crazy around each other). Jenni and I, and the kids, have such a great time together. Some would call our life boring, but we find it adventurous and exciting in its own way, and we love it.

We have big dreams, and every intension of seeing their fulfillment, and we feel like we’re well on that path. I never thought we’d get this far this soon! And the best part is, we’re on that path together as a family, and we love it. If being poor now is part of the cost of being together and making our family dreams a reality, we’ll gladly pay it.

Affliction Resilience: Mr. Go-and-Do’s Tip for a Great Life

Cartoon by hartboy on flickr

“…and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days…”

These are clearly the words of an optimist. Nephi wasn’t kidding when he said he’s seen many afflictions in the course of his days. Can you imagine having to leave your home, your bank account, and everyone you’ve ever known (other than your immediate family,) to go blaze a trail to an undiscovered country and settle there? Oh, and let’s just make you the leader of the new colony, too.

You’ve probably heard someone point out that Laman and Lemuel did do the things they were asked to do. They did leave Jerusalem with their riches. They did go get the plates. They did go back for Ishmael’s family. They did help build the boat. They even crossed the ocean like God commanded. What was the difference? Their attitude. They complained every step of the way, and tried every which way to get out of their duties. They never killed their father or brother, but they highly considered it. In the end, their attitude destroyed them and their posterity.

But what about Nephi? Didn’t he complain? As far as we know, he never did. He suffered all the same things his brothers did (including guilt – see 2 Ne. 4: 17), and though even his father complained at one point, it seems that Nephi never did.

I guess it’s too late for me to become like Nephi in that sense, but I can change. I can become one who doesn’t complain, doesn’t resist duties, and doesn’t put off what I should be doing.

In case at this point you’re experiencing doubts about my assertion that Nephi never complained, check this out:

1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in  the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the  wilderness.

Sounds like he might be ready to complain, right? Here are his next words:

2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.

Did you catch that?! “We only get to eat raw meat, but it’s totally awesome, because the babies are still getting good mommy Juice – and these moms, by the way, are as buff as the guys, thank you very much. No complaints here!”

The closest some of us could come to saying something like Nephi said would probably be to tell about how there are plenty of things that suck about having children.

Wow, we’ve got a lot of growing to do!

Of course our ultimate goal is to become like the Savior, Jesus Christ, but I think emulating Nephi is a step in the right direction!