I never planned to be poor. It just happened that way. I was raised poor, checking the couch for coins for gas money and scrimping for groceries, not shopping at certain stores because they would no longer accept my mother’s checks. I vowed that I would not be poor when I got older.
As an adult, there was a time when I lived very well, financially. I can remember going out to eat every night with my ex-husband, and it was never fast food. I can remember having multiple credit cards to choose from when buying a new bedspread, dress or pair of shoes. I can remember spending $75 for one cloth diaper for my first baby, because it was pretty, and popular, and so many people wanted it that an eBay bidding war broke out.
The affluence did not last long… a wave of bad choices followed, necessitating the selling of everything non-essential that we had acquired. We had to move to another state in order for the ex to work for his mom, which brought its own set of problems along. My business flourished and we made yet another irresponsible decision, to move back to South Carolina on my income alone. The move cost more than we had thought and housing was more than when we had left, so we lived with my mother for 8 months. The minute we were able to, we moved into a small house, but our marriage had taken a beating and we didn’t last a month before we had separated.
Now we had two households to support. He went back to taking money from his parents again, but I had no such resources. I learned a lot of hard lessons as a single mom of two young children. I had meager and erratic child support. The only job I could get was 15 miles away, and I could only work during the hours my older girl was in school. My babysitter quit with no notice after 2 weeks so I had to jump through hoops to find decent but affordable child care for my younger child. I relied heavily on my family and friends for financial and emotional support. My business, with all it’s hope and promise, foundered, never to be again.
When living on my own was no longer sustainable, the girls and I moved in with friends. When that was no longer an option, we moved back in with my mother. It was almost two years before we moved from there, into my now-husband’s 1-bedroom basement apartment. He was unemployed and it was several months before he found a job. We survived on my child support and his unemployment, scraping together pennies to make ends meet. After that job, six months of unemployment followed, without an unemployment check to compensate. $400/month in child support was our only income, and we made it only with the generosity of friends and family, as well as selling everything we owned that had any monetary value. We slid 6 months behind on the rent and we are thankful for an understanding landlady.
David has a good job now, for which we are grateful. It pays enough to cover our bills, gas and groceries, but not much else. We have learned our lesson though, finally. We are making conscious choices to save our money, to eat more rice and beans and garden-grown vegetables, rather than eating at McDonald’s just because we have an extra few dollars. We have a plan, to choose to be as frugal and careful as we can, to embrace being poor rather than feel sorry for ourselves and spend our money on foolish things.
It’s taken a decade, but I feel like I have come a long way. I want to instill in my children the beauty of growing one’s own food, driving only when necessary, riding a bike instead of driving whenever possible… saving money for eventual emergencies and working hard to do our best instead of being complacent in our lives. Our hope is that our children can learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones in their own lives.