How poor am I? I’m the poorest person in my family. I’m practically a disgrace to my upper middle class upbringing, and by golly, I just don’t care. At least, not right now. I don’t care because I know I’m not a slacker, I’m not lazy, nor undeserving.
My husband is a student, unemployed and received a government grant for the semester totaling $2000, give or take. I have a disability, making it hard for me to find and get to work. I receive about $1000 per month in Social Security Disability Insurance. Now people may think I’m taking money I haven’t earned, however, I worked for this money. I have spent nearly twenty years of my life contributing to Social Security and the agency determined my monthly payout by the amount of money I’ve earned.
That’s a huge misconception many people have. That Social Security is from money you haven’t earned…i.e. it’s a hand-out. It’s not. About a week ago, Rush Limbaugh implied that retired people who depend on Social Security (or anyone else for that matter) is using the government for a hand-out. What a dick. He said something to the effect that on principle he would refuse any Social Security benefits because it’s tantamount to begging. Lucky him. He’s a millionaire and won’t have to depend on it, if he invests his money wisely.
Newsflash: all those retired folks on Social Security are not receiving handouts. They’re getting money they earned by contributing to the funds. Granted, social security payments are peanuts. Of course, it won’t always be there and the money is running out, but that’s a post for a later day.
I’ve been unemployed since August. When I moved here from Texas, I spent nearly every day looking for work. When it looked like I wasn’t going to have any luck finding a job soon, I bit back my pride and applied for re-admission into the SSDI. (I was receiving it for a couple years while in college). It took a month for them to approve me, and during that time we were both biting our nails about money. He was getting ready to return to school and wanted to focus his attention on his studies. But, he said, he was willing to work if necessary.
I thank God I was able to get back on SSDI, because this semester has been a killer for my husband. Our first few months of marriage have pretty much consisted of him being holed up in the back bedroom studying and losing more hair. Poor guy.
Back in Texas I was a social worker, assisting the deaf and the poor in finding work. I know how to look for a job. I know what a good resume’ looks like. I know the drill. I’ve done it for years. And even so, finding work up in Chicago is an entirely different beast altogether. In Texas, it’s still fairly easy to find work, whereas here, I contacted our local grocery store three times about jobs to no avail. I’ve started to resort to doing online surveys for extra money. So far, I’ve accumulated a whopping $2.00! I’m rich!
We don’t have a lot of luxuries. My brothers have no idea what it means to be poor. They’re well-off, live in large, spacious homes, and think if you’re poor, it’s somehow your fault. Really. Just read my post “I’m Just a Texan in Chicago – The Rant.” Seriously. I included a verbatim quote from one of my brothers about this very thing.
So yes, my husband and I are officially poor. Our yearly income next year will total less than $20,000. How can two people subsist on less than $10,000 each per year? By living very, very frugally and taking advantage of as many resources as possible.
In this economy, many people are in the same situation as I am. Or worse. Thankfully, I have no children. I got rid of my car which was more of an albatross than anything. So now I have no gas costs, but at one time, it did cost me $14 per day to travel to and from work. That’s $70 per week on transportation costs alone, and that’s for job related expense only! Add that up, and that’s about $303 per month, and about $3,640 per year. Right down the drain.
So, how are we doing it? How are we living on $1000 per month? How am I living frugally, happily, and not starving? Below is a list of things I’ve done and I highly encourage everyone to do the same.
- I joined the local freecycle group in my area. Since I’ve joined, I’ve given away some bicycle tires we didn’t need, shoes, and a couple other things. I’ve also received (free) tons and tons of fabric scraps, two large trash bags full of clothes (some of which I couldn’t use and re-freecycled them), kitchen knives and utensils, and a beautiful, gorgeous leather coat with a fur lining Unfortunately, the coat is way too big, so I think I’ll barter something for it on craigslist. I’ve also gotten a new Black & Decker iron, and a stuffed toy I gave to my neighbor’s son. People on freecycle offer food, baby items, clothes, computers, phones…furniture, appliances.
- I joined craigslist and I’ve traded and gotten free items, too. For example, I had a Blackberry Curve 8330 that I no longer needed because I’m no longer on Sprint. The device worked perfectly, it just had a few dings from where I’ve dropped it. Blackberries are tough. (I can’t tell you how many times I dropped that baby, but like that old Timex commercial, it took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’!) I listed the Blackberry on craigslist to barter for a digital camera because my Nikon’s display went white (and they want to charge me $90 to fix it!) , my old HP 735 sucks battery juice like an alcoholic in a bar, and my husband’s camera is even more ancient at only 2 megapixels but “built like a tank,” according to him. I got a lot of responses to my ads, some offering me a pittance in money, but I held firm! And for my persistence, I was rewarded with a fantastic trade! I succeeded in getting a Kodak MD853 with software, battery, and memory card in exchange for my Blackberry! It’s not the world’s greatest camera, but it’s definitely a step up from the dinosaurs in my possession. (Side note here: before you agree to a trade, make sure the item you’re receiving has been reviewed, especially if it’s an electronic item. The Kodak I traded for got consistently good reviews).
- Free stuff on craigslist. I can’t afford a luxurious haircut at the Art + Science salon down in Wicker Park. One look at craigslist, though, and I found a ton of stylists looking for subjects for free cuts. What I found out is that these stylist have to take “continuing education” classes and they are tested on their technique. And so they give away free cuts to people in exchange for helping them with their testing. In this way I got a really good modified bob perfect for my light and airy curly hair. Audrey, my stylist, was skilled and won me over! My husband loves my hair color, even with the gray coming in. However, I don’t! Come spring I’ll probably check out the free colorings, after my old blonde grows out.
- I visit thrift stores and clip coupons. I have become familiar with the weekly sales and offers of each thrift store in my area. Unique Thrift offers 50% off everything in the store each Monday and has a great selection of women’s shoes. The Brown Elephant has great men’s clothes and a fantastic selection of art, but has a lousy shoe selection. The White Elephant is one I haven’t been to yet, but every dollar of profit they earn goes to benefit the Children’s Memorial Hospital. I think I’ll head out there sometime and see what’s up there. The Another place is a little more expensive but has a fabulous selection of winter coats. And yet, another, has 90 cent deals on anything from sweaters to shoes. I have yet to mention the Salvation Army store, which occupies a warehouse building and spans two sprawling levels. The down side to all this thrift store shopping and bargain hunting is the constant elbowing and careful navigating around the crowds required to get from point A to point B to point wherever!
- I recycle the foil I use as much as possible, even washing it until it’s so ripped and crinkled that it’s time to retire it to the recycle bin.
- I shop at the dollar stores. I found cooler wrapping paper at the Dollar Tree than I’ve seen anywhere else, so I got 2 rolls of 30 foot paper.
- I ride my bike to wherever I need to go whenever possible. Just the other night, I rode my bike while it was snowing out. It was really pretty, and thankfully, the wind wasn’t blowing. the snow looked like glitter falling from the sky! And if you have good mittens and keep your legs moving, you can actually sweat, even in 10º weather.
- I buy cheaper meat. I usually don’t like dark meat on chicken. I prefer breasts and wings. Those, however, are the most expensive parts of the bird. At our local produce market, I found chicken quarters for 39 cents a pound. Holy crap! My husband and I grabbed four pounds of those babies. That’s about 6 pieces. We spent $1.76 on freshly cut chicken. My advice is to shop around, check out the ethnic food markets or produce markets, instead of grocery stores, because even that price beats Wal-Mart, and I hate Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, in my not-so-humble-opinion, is simply EVIL. They’re so bad, they don’t deserve a link! I think I mentioned why a couple posts back, but I’ll repeat it here. Wal-Mart management refused to give my new father-in-law the day off so he could attend our wedding. A month in advance, and they still refused. He ended up trading shifts with a co-worker at the very last minute. Vampiristic vultures! Wal-Mart died the day Sam Walton was buried. No joke.
- I scan the internet for free deals and coupons. And, if absolutely necessary, I swallow my pride and stand in the food bank line. I’ve only had to do that once, and ironically, it was when I actually had a job. Bills piled up and I couldn’t afford to eat!
- I’ve joined websites like Helium.com and Associated Content and submitted articles. Sometimes I’m paid for them, sometimes I’m not, but at least I’m doing something, being productive. But just because sites offer to pay you for writing doesn’t mean they won’t try to sucker-punch you for a few bucks. I joined a couple freelance sites that were hawked by “advice” columns. ELance.com and Guru.com. They both ended up being crap. Why? If you have a basic membership (i.e. – free) on elance, you can only bid on three jobs per month. On Guru, if your profile doesn’t fit every aspect of a particular job description, you are forbidden from bidding on it. So basically, you’re screwed if you have the free service. Upgrade and pay a monthly fee for the “privilege” of bidding on jobs you’re qualified for? Huh? Since when do I have to pay to work? Screw that. I’ll keep my free profile, use my 3 bids per month on elance and see if anything comes of it. Hell, why not? But I’ll be damned if I give those parasites any of my money just for the luxury of bidding on a job. They can kiss my, slightly corpulent, lily-white tushy-roo.
- Grow your own food. Or, as Monty Python ordered, “Bring me a Shrubbery!” This year, we haven’t been able to do it because we’ve been busy setting up house and getting things in order. However, I’m planning on getting a few large plant tubs and growing my own tomatoes and veggies in my home. Yes, you read that right. I’m going to start a micro garden right here inside my home! Our landlords have a lush garden in the front and back yards during spring and summer and into early autumn. They grow tomatoes, squash, green beans and a few others veggies. But the yard is small and there is no room outside for us to grow our own. So, I shall grow my own edible shrubberies! And our cat will probably annihilate it.
- We have cheap rent/utilities. Collectively, we pay less than $70 per month for gas and electricity. Why? We live in the basement of a house that’s been converted into apartment homes. Our landlords live in the top level, and their radiator pipes run across our ceiling. When it’s cold outside and they have the heat on, the pipes that carry the heat to their level, heat up and radiate heat in our place. The boiler room is also on our basement level, and it heats up our hallway. Our electricity is so cheap because we changed out all the bulbs from standard bulbs to the new energy-saving kinds. They last a long time and are just as bright
- I have another website that’s a bit more family-friendly over on blogspot.com. It’s also more ad-friendly, so I’ll generate income just by having people click on the ads. I’ve just recently set it up, so I’m still in the “I wonder how lucrative it’ll be” stage. I’ve also become an associate with Amazon.com, so I’m looking at every facet of the internet in which to make money.
- My husband and I have made a decision to keep our Christmas as frugal as possible. We purchased a small tree for $10 off a local lot. It’s about four feet high but absolutely beautiful! We still haven’t finished decorating because I’m making the decorations. I’m also making Christmas gifts for the family with the great Brother sewing machine my husband got for me as an early Christams gift (from craigslist, of course!)
- Finally, if you don’t have one already, you should acquire an extremely affectionate cat or dog. Why? They keep you warm in the dead of winter by cuddling up against your side, or better yet, your head!
So, there you have it. In all of its dull glory. I’m poor. But man, do I feel rich!