Poverty: My Story

There’s a plethora of news articles discussing poverty as it relates to society as a whole. There are Government studies, prejudices, and surveys. There are misconceptions, stereotypes, classes to educate those in the throes, assistance programs that help (or don’t), and people fighting every day to overcome the odds.

Let me be very clear at this point: I am not a statistic.

My Social Media brand states quite simply, “I’m a Christian. Writer. Mom. Single. Daughter. Friend. Worker. Chef. Believer.” I’m also a baseball nut, coffee drinker, Disney lover, cat owner. I’m sympathetic, empathetic and at times extremely temperamental. At no point have I ever been a statistic.

I am a person. My home is where I live and where I raise a family. We are not charts on a piece of paper or a spread-sheet column.

The very first thing you should understand about me is that I am blessed. I believe in God, I have felt His hand upon my daily moments and I know without Him I would be lost. I am poor by the world’s standards, but definitely not by His.

Trying to live up to the world’s idea of how my life should be is utterly exhausting. Working long hours while running a household can be overwhelming. And so rewarding.

I am deeply bothered by the stigma that my life brings to me and my daughter. I’m often overwhelmed at the inconsideration pushed upon us for lack of funds. I’ve prayed and thought long and hard about writing this post. There are some things that private. And then there are times when my voice may be the only voice someone hears. For others who can’t speak for themselves.

Poverty is not One Size Fits All or even Most. Poverty is deeply personal, intimate, and unique to each person. Not each family. Each. Person.

This is my story.

This is by no means a complaint against the world. Nor is it a cry for help. It’s not meant to take away any other person’s individuality or be thrown to the masses. This is simply My Story. Or at least the parts of it I can share.

I can’t say I was born into poverty. I think maybe I was, myself and my brothers. But we didn’t know different. Dad worked hard for income, Mom worked hard at keeping a home. At some point in my youth, both worked. We all came together for dinner around the table. We went to school, did our homework and worked our chores. We played games. We talked. We went to Church. We were a family. When my brothers were each old enough, they found part-time jobs to supplement their own pocket cash. I babysat the kids across the street. We didn’t know what poverty was.

We had a clean house. Home cooked meals. We didn’t know we were poor. We knew we didn’t always have as much as the kids down the block. But we always had more than we needed. And we were okay with that.

When I was 13, my dad passed away. Mom chose to move us closer to her sister, also a widow. Thus we transplanted from Michigan to California.  My mom has always been an extremely strong, hard worker. If we were in Laura Ingalls’ days, she’d be known as a Pioneer Woman. When there’s a problem, she finds a solution. Even though the word “No” is often a part of our vocabulary, the word “Can’t” rarely is. Her home is immaculate. Her yard is landscaped. She’s always found a way to take care of what needs taking care of. I am very proud of my mom, and just as proud that my daughter inherited that same “Can-Do” spirit. We are not poor people. We are just people in poor circumstances.

We live in the largest county in America. Currently, our unemployment rate averages between 12 and 14%. That means one in seven people who used to work or can work, is not working. That doesn’t take into consideration the dependents that person is responsible for: a spouse, child, or other dependent. I don’t like the game people play with these numbers.

I’m blessed to have a job. I work 35 hours a week. It’s not much, but it’s honest work. It feels good to have a job I can go to. A place where I can contribute back to society and be a part of the outside world. I enjoy paying bills. I do! I like the feeling of writing out checks and buying my own groceries and putting gas in the car. I don’t like knowing that the payments I make aren’t always enough. I don’t like the calls I get each day asking me for money I don’t have.

But I like that each week, the calls are fewer. I like that each payday, I can afford to put just a little more money toward paying off the smallest debt. And maybe next payday, a little more. It’s not easy and there are often times when I’m unable to do anything more than the minimum payments… and sometimes not even that. It’s embarrassing. And that’s a stigma I face a lot. The stigma that being in poverty carries an attitude of apathy.

I want to be self-sufficient. I’m not there yet. I don’t know that I ever will be. But I’m learning a lot on this journey. I’m learning every day. How to cook differently. How to juggle a budget where the outgo always exceeds the income. How to get by for less than what society tells me I need. And how to ask for help when I really need it.

I’m blessed with a wonderful support system. I have family and friends and church and community. I’m not alone. I have people. My people. People who come alongside me to lighten the load however they can. A grandpa who constantly teaches Dot maintenance and farming. My mom who shares cooking secrets. My boss consistently trains me to be better at my job, and gives me opportunities to grow and not be just the stagnant front-desk person. I have people who see me through my struggles. And, yes. I have struggles. Who doesn’t? But I don’t struggle with life. There are worse things than not paying off debt in a timely manner.

For my family, Poverty is a matter of perspective.

My yard is still 90% dirt. That’s not because we’re poor. That’s because I live in the desert. That’s because I don’t know gardening. But I’m learning. Some day, my yard will be completely landscaped. For now, we’re taking it one square foot at a time.

I still treat Dot to the occasional pizza or Starbucks. We need that treat once in a while. When I was growing up, Mom had this saying on a bookmark:

“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul”
– Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet

I remember asking her what that meant. She smiled as she told me, it’s another way of saying “Man cannot live by bread alone.” There must be more to life than physical needs. We must also take care of our spirit, our soul, our emotions.

Imagine my delight when in the first Spring of my somewhat fixer-upper home I discovered Hyacinth growing in my front yard.

Grape Hyacinth grows in the desert.

Grape Hyacinth

We all need a time of refreshment. Being in poor circumstances no longer allows us the luxury of Disney passes or even a weekend getaway. My mom has another great wall hanging in her kitchen. It reads

Do What You Can
Where You Are
With What You Have.

And that’s why I still try to make time for Family Game Nights. Why we scrimp and save for our Girl Dates to Starbucks or McDonald’s. That’s why a 40-minute drive to Casey’s Cupcakes and the Mission Inn every few months isn’t indulgent ~ it’s necessary!

Because I refuse to let my daughter think she lives in poverty. Because she doesn’t. Because poverty is a temporary disposition that I refuse to settle into comfortably, and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

I believe this poverty is temporary. I refuse to be a societal statistic.

And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!

You may also enjoy reading:
There’s Hope for Bedford Manor
“Be Not Afraid”. Yes, I’m talking to YOU.
How To Eat For Free And Have Fun Doing It (Or, How Printing Coupons Gave Me a Really Great Weekend!)
WinCo Wins: Lunch for a Dollar!
Dear God, I Owe You An Apology (Quit Helping Me!)
Winco Wins

How To Eat For Free And Have Fun Doing It (Or, How Printing Coupons Gave Me a Really Great Weekend!)

My birthday is coming up soon. Tuesday to be exact. You’re wishing me a Happy Birthday right now, aren’t you? Sure you are, I can tell. Thank you!

It’s off to a great start. And I’m going to share some of my secrets to a successful birthday with you. How do you like them apples?

How Do You Like Them Apples?!

How Do You Like Them Apples?!

Let’s face it: Birthday is a bit of a misnomer. What we all really like is a Birthmonth. Am I right? Y’all don’t wake up on midnight of your special day and say, “Wow. Today’s my birthday.” And then 24 hours later think, “I did not see that coming.” Not at all. If you’re an inkling at all like me or my daughter, you start thinking about it a wee bit in advance.

There’s some planning involved. Some surprises. Mostly, just some great go-with-the-flow adventuring.

It starts with a small time investment and some printer ink. Visit your favorite restaurant sites online and see if they have any eClub offers. Many will give you either a completely free or free-with-purchase coupon just for signing up. You might also get a second coupon to be used during the month of your birthday. Just a few of my favorites are Del Taco, Carino’s and Panera Bread.

On Friday, Dot visited me at work during lunch time. We went to the local Del Taco and got two free chicken soft tacos. I have a second coupon to use next week, good for one free premium shake. No purchase necessary on either coupon. I did, however, indulge in a small fries. $1.72 is a nice price for lunch, don’tcha think?

IMG_1690Saturday morning we woke up early. I had a $5 reward certificate from Best Buy that expires in three days. Lucky for me, they have a good selection of cheap CDs. Unlucky for me, they were one penny short of what I needed to spend in order to use the certificate. So I had to add to my purchase. What on earth does This Girl find at Best Buy? A pack of pens, of course! Oh, darn. (You can hear the sarcasm, right? Okay. Just checking.)

Then we crossed the street to enjoy a behind-the-scenes Grand Opening of our new Macy’s store. Trust me, we need this store here in the desert. Just the right touch of snobbery to get people out of their jeans and flip-flops. Yeah. This is a good thing. A better thing? Coupons! Macy’s doesn’t open to the public until Wednesday, but many charity organizations in the area sold $5 tickets. All proceeds were kept by the charities. A ticket was three-part: The first got you in the door, the second got you an entry for a $500 gift card drawing (No. We didn’t win. But thank you for asking.), and the last got you discounts at checkout.

For the regular price of one piece of clothing, I picked up a nice blouse for myself, and two tops for Dot.

Dot's Tops

Dot’s Tops

It’s like my top paid for itself. Happy Birthday to Me. Guess what I’m wearing on Tuesday!

The crowds were excessive, of course, and standing in line was nearly like doing so on Black Friday. But we managed. We also built up an appetite so I took Mutti and Dot to Carino’s where I had a St. Patrick’s Weekend coupon: wear green and get a free pizza.

Pizza for St. Patrick

Pizza for St. Patrick

They start each table with free bread and dipping oil. We ordered a plate of fried Mozzarella and beverages. They even threw in a free chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert!

Warm Chocolate Cake. Cold Vanilla Ice Cream. 'Nuff said.

Warm Chocolate Cake. Cold Vanilla Ice Cream. ‘Nuff said.

Are they awesome or what? It was so much food, we took some home. Not bad for $25, including tip.

Then we decided a movie was the ticket! Dot treated us to LINCOLN at the dollar theater. We were so stuffed from lunch that it didn’t even cross our mind to get popcorn or a soda. But if it had, we belong to the theater’s Rewards club so every time we go, we get free snacks with purchase.

After the movies, I decided since we were so close, I needed to use my Staples certificates. Do you have a Staples office supply store near you? Did you know they pay you for turning in your empty ink cartridges and buying product at their store? It’s awesome. I tend to save up my cartridges and turn them in only once or twice a year so I get all my rewards at once instead of little by little. For Saturday’s indulgence, I used my certificate to buy a colorful insulated lunch tote. I treated myself to an insulated tumbler. Less than $8.00. I’m okay with the cost. It’ll last. And who doesn’t love drinking out of a fun cup?

By this time, it had been about four hours since we last ate. Panera Bread was calling our name. Let me check… yup. There’s a coupon for that. Just for signing up, I got a free pastry. Pastry? More like a meal! I’m not selfish. I bought Dot a blueberry bagel. Mom wanted to get her own, so I let her. We both spent just over $2.00.

Cinnamon Roll from Panera Bread

Cinnamon Roll from Panera Bread

But what’s a pastry without a drink? Oh, look! Just down the street is a Juice It Up! and I happen to have a BOGO. That’s “Buy-One-Get-One” in Couponeze. These are a little pricey, but so worth it. $5.49 gave Dot her large Seabreeze Squeeze and I picked up a free Pineapple Punch.

Juice It Up! BOGO

Juice It Up! BOGO

Then we went home to enjoy our day’s spoils and watch Celtic Thunder on DVD. Hey, it’s a weekend full o’ the Irish, y’know? And seriously. Who doesn’t love some mighty fine singing (I’m also partial to the good looking men in suits…. Oh, Man Store, please deliver!).

That ends the day, but not the celebration! In my bag, I still have coupons for free, no-strings-attached:

  • Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity Breakfasts from IHOP (two coupons: one for joining, one for the month of my birthday).
  • One free burger (up to $10 value) from Red Robin. [Shout out to Penny for telling me about this!]
  • Two free desserts from Carrow’s. One for joining, one for my birthday.

I’ve had a Starbuck’s Gold Rewards for a few years (this doesn’t surprise you, does it?). On my birthday, I’ll get a free drink. Any drink or food item. Now that’s golden!

I’ve also heard that I just need to show my ID at Jack in the Box for a free Chocolate Cake or New York Style Cheesecake. The tough part will be deciding which one to choose.

Aside from all this great food, I’m especially excited to be a member of OSH (Orchard Supply Hardware). I actually love to spend my lunches there (that’s another post altogether). They gifted me a $5 certificate for my birthday, and $10 off any $30 purchase for taking a short survey. That’s going to be $35 worth of gardening beauty for only $20. I’m thinking a windchime and a birdhouse. Or a tree to transplant. Or a few potted herbs. Or flowers. Or cacti. Or a yard flag. Or… whatever else I can find for that amount.

I love these coupons not just for saving money. Let’s face it, y’all know I’m not the richest woman on the block. So saving money goes without saying. But I also love these coupons for two more reasons. The first is, they give me the opportunity to spend quality time with my family. We couldn’t have afforded a $40 pizza lunch. But $20 plus tip? Not a problem. And I’m not going to eat a Rooty Tooty alone. Nope. I can share the bill with Dot and Mutti on that. A simple breakfast for each of us. A cup of coffee. Nothing fancy. But definitely fulfilling. And OSH? That’s the second reason I love coupons. They offer possibility. Promise. Planning. All of the above.

If couponing makes me look like someone who’s counting her pennies… Well, guess what. I’m all in.

Pre-Birthday Spoils

Pre-Birthday Spoils

And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!

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Clipping Coupons
Clipping Coupons, Part II