I’m not poor. Low income, I guess. Ever since I met Laura, the single, Mexican mom who was raising her four children on $400 bucks a month, I’ve known I wasn’t poor. I’ve even climbed my way above the Canadian poverty line, now that i’m a pill-maker by trade (the legal kind).
But I’ve struggled lately–partially because I still don’t make a lot of money, and partially because I dream big and publish novels, and partially because I’ve tried to look like I’m not struggling. Well, time to be honest. For the last six to nine months I’ve barely gotten by. Its one of at least four spells of financial hardship I’ve lived through–others included college and unemployment–and now that they’re passed I look back on them with a measure of pride.
Financial struggle is a hard taskmaster, but it does impart valuable lessons. Here are 5:
Never Give Up. I’ve often reminded myself that though things may not be comfortable, I will not starve. I may lose my job, my apartment, or my car, but I will live through it, and I will come through it stronger. One day, this will be a good story, so don’t give up.
Be grateful. Ingratitude will only dig the hole deeper. HECK YES! I dug my financial hole in part because I was materialistic, unsatisfied with the many good things i had. I’ve learned much about gratitude in the last six months, but I have a long way to go.
Being resourceful is like being a hunter, artist, and a mathematician at the same time. Fellow Mennonites may have the same pastime of cruising the grocery store, hunting for those pink ‘30% off’ stickers. This is how I bring home meat for my family. I hunt it!
I love the show Masterchef. In that show, the contestants are often given a ‘mystery box’ full of food items, and told to cook a gourmet meal with it. That’s a bit like shopping on a shoestring. Here are my odd items of meat and (eureka!) 30% off mixed greens. What healthful, tasty dish can I make from it? My meals are sometimes simple, but I’m proud of the healthy lifestyle my sister and I maintain on a tight budget.
It’s like being an urban survivalist, in a way, and it’s something to be proud of.
Ask yourself, “What can I do right now to help myself?” I lost my job in spring 2012 under bad circumstances. My confidence suffered to the point that when I tried to revamp my resume, I cried to my Mom “There’s nothing I’m good at.” And because she’s my Mom, she was able to list things off. Looking for work slammed my wavering self esteem over and over again. But, as my bank account dwindled, I forced myself to do something every day to find a job. Meanwhile, to pay the bills, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for odd jobs. I painted a lot that spring. I mowed grass. I took on casual work as a gardener. Every week I scraped together the money to pay my bills.
In my most recent financial hardship, I drew on this experience when I was low and desperate. I’d ask myself: “What can I do right now to help myself?” This translated to selling things on Varage Sale (any clothes I didn’t need, books I wanted to keep but I knew would sell, and even Christmas presents I didn’t like…sorry!), working overtime, and, once again, doing odd jobs.
Once again, by God’s grace and hard work, the bills are paid.
You can still do great things. Dreaming big can be expensive, but it needn’t be. I published Sons of Earth for about $600 bucks, for instance. I ran my first three 5K races in $80 dollar shoes, and cheap athletic gear.
In my city, Library memberships are free. Thrift stores are packed with cheap books. You can get free podcasts on whatever topic you want. This means you can get an informal, self-directed education for almost nothing. Sure, you don’t get a certificate on your wall, but you can study whatever your passions are and become a better read, better spoken, productive citizen without the approval of so-called experts.
You can give up a couple hours a week to volunteer with a church or organization, babysit your little cousins or neighbour kids, or visit the elderly. In doing so, you can leave a lasting impact on your town.
In the last financial struggle, it was impressed on me that this was a lesson, and I needed to learn. If I didn’t learn, this would keep happening, and happening, and happening. I needed to acknowledge my greed and materialism and swap it for gratitude. I needed to stop taking the easy way out, to work hard, and to be resourceful.
Above all, try not to worry. It’s not helpful.
The Bible says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, New International Version)