First off, everyone, thanks for the great big sloppy outpouring of love after my last blog entry. I know it all sounds pathetic and I certainly felt pathetic for a while but that seems to have passed for the most part. I really, really hate people feeling sorry for me, even though, yes, I had some moments of feeling sorry for myself, too.
To me, this is a temporary glitch. And let’s be honest: There’s poor and there’s poor. On paper, I’m nearly destitute. However, no one is going to bed with hunger pains over here and no one is shivering on a cold night. I have to be careful and creative with my money. But, hey: It could be a lot worse. (Check out my nonprofit, Food for Thought -Philadelphia, if you want to see how much worse — that keeps things in perpsective.)
I wanted to share what I was going through because first of all, that’s just what I do here on the old bloggity blog. It felt sort of dishonest to keep it from everyone — plus I was finding that I couldn’t write while I was hiding it. And second, I think a lot of people are having money trouble the last few years. As hard it is to admit, I’m trying not to be ashamed of it. (You shouldn’t be either if you’re in this same boat — as long as you’re working to bail yourself out.)
Now who wants a little wisdom from the bread line? Here are some things I’ve learned over the past few months:
1. Get involved with your money. Don’t ever, ever, ever just hand over your finances to someone else and wash your hands of them. Even if you hate dealing with numbers (guilty hand raise here …) get into your accounts and take a look at what’s going on. Not just the bank account, either. Remember the secrets peeing in your shoes that I referenced in the last blog? In the financial sense, those things don’t hide in your closet — they hide on your credit statements.
2. That old thing about don’t spend more than you earn: yep. And you can do it if you have to. The upside of that? You get to find out really quickly what your priorities are and what you can live without. (No, you don’t need to run into Wawa and get a cup of coffee every time you stop for gas. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing to do if you can afford it. But if you have to cut, you can do it there.)
3. Take care of your stuff. If you properly maintain things, they last longer. And yes, it probably still is more cost effective to take care of something than to just buy a new one in a few years.
4. There is a pride in taking care of your stuff and living within your means. Maybe it’s from my background — both of my parents grew up really, really poor (my mom actually had an outhouse instead of a bathroom at one point) — but it feels good to not treat everything as if it’s disposable. It also feels really good to be respectful of the money that I earn and to make sure I’m not careless with it. We’re not always living a Spartan existence over here (except when we are) but now I’m deciding what’s worth opening the wallet for. For example, Megan came to work with me one day last week. I took her out to get sushi at lunch. It wasn’t expensive but it was more than I would normally spend (because usually if I’m buying lunch, I get two slices of $1 tomato pie from the place downstairs from my office). However, it was worth it because that was some quality mother-daughter time.
5. Being really tight with money changes your priorities. As I mentioned before, the Irishman is “broke as a joke” (his words) as well. What does he fantasize about when he imagines a brighter financial future? Having a thousand bucks — in the bank. Me? I want another set of king-sized sheets so I don’t have to wait to re-make my bed until the washer and dryer are done. (As I said before, it could be worse.)
6. It’s OK to tell people you’re broke. A lot of people are right now. I like to think that maybe just admitting that I’m flat-busted will give other people the courage to say so as well. You know why it’s important to say so? Because then you don’t end up getting roped into social things that you can’t afford. You can say, “Hey, let’s not exchange Christmas gifts this year …” (Honestly, how much stupid crap do you buy for people just to be able to hand them something? Although this has been a pet peeve for years — even before I was broke …)
7. It’s OK to let your friends pick up the tab. This one is hard. Really hard. But I just had to swallow this one in a big way. Years ago, my friend and I were pregnant at the same time. We talked about taking a prenatal yoga class together but she couldn’t afford it. I paid her fee for her so we could go together. Just recently, she wanted to go on an overnight ghost hunt (yes, you heard me right — wasn’t my first one, either!) at Fort Mifflin. I couldn’t afford to go so she paid for me. In the end, it all came out in the wash. The point: We got to take advantage of two different opportunities to spend time together and do something fun.
8. Let people help you. This one is also hard. Ugh. But I learned this lesson last year when The Split was in process. I wasn’t destitute at the time, but I was about to become a full-time single mother who needed to find and furnish a place to live. I was underemployed (still am, to some extent) and was really wondering how I was going to make it.
I had just finished up some classes at the Center for Spiritual Living (don’t forget, I’m a hippie) and one of them dealt with prosperity. In addition to a whole bunch of other things, one of the themes was that you have to be willing to receive — money, love, whatever. In fact, there’s a great quote by Fred Rogers (yes, that’s Mr. Rogers) that says something like, “One of the best gifts you can give someone is to gracefully accept what they’re trying to give you.” So … one day my friend showed up with an envelope for me. There was a card signed by several of my friends, along with a big stack of money. I positively exploded with tears. I had no idea what to do with myself.
“No, no, no,” I was thinking. “I cannot take this. No.” But that stupid Mr. Rogers quote was running through my head. I thought of all the great stuff that’s happened with Food for Thought (before it was Food for Thought) in the past. I thought about how sad I would’ve been if we had shown up to deliver everything we’d collected and our donations had been refused. We would’ve been crushed. Because everyone who donated was on a high. They felt amazing to be able to contribute — to help someone who really needed it. So now it was my turn. It was my turn to let other people do the helping — because they loved me, because they believed in me and because they knew I needed it — and to accept it gracefully.
So did I? Not exactly at first. “It’s a loan,” I croaked. “This is a loan.” “No,” my friend told me. “It’s not.”
So I took it. Man, it was hard.
And then I went out and blew the wad on a couple gallons of Malibu Bay Breezes and some male strippers. (Come on! I’m kidding! It was getting way too serious here…)
That money helped me get into the Single Momma Townhouse and to make a warm, stable home for my munchkins. Then other friends stepped up and gave me all kinds of things to fill the house — furniture, plates, a grill that an old high school buddy trash-picked and refurbished for me, etc., etc., etc., etc.
And you know what? All that second hand stuff has made me feel so loved every day. No it doesn’t all match, but I’m sitting in my grandfather’s chair at Cora’s desk. My books are in Carole’s shelves and I read them on Marc and Michelle’s bed. The kids and I eat dinner with Greg and Kristin’s silverware off of Aunt Pauline’s plates. Our clothes get washed in Jack and Carrie’s washer and dried in Aunt Pauline’s dryer. That’s all beyond the bajillions of hand-me-downs that I get for both kids from both sisters (the money I haven’t had to spend on kids’ clothes over the years is staggering). And then, of course, my mother has stepped up and helped me in ways that are so tender, generous and loving that I get a little teary just thinking about it. (I’m sure I’ll walk away from this computer and trip over 12 other things from other people I should’ve mentioned …)
So go ahead: let people love you if they want to. You will be giving them a gift right back by accepting it. I don’t want to think that everyone has to take a turn in the poorhouse, but most people hit hard times at one point or another. And even if they don’t, everyone needs a good friend. Just know that you’ll be there when that person needs a boost, a shoulder or a buck.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been there for me and my kids. It’s been my honor to accept your love.