5 Things Financial Struggle Taught Me (Thus Far)

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)

Addicted to Fast Food? Surely not I

Photo on 2-8-2014 at 1.28 PM

What I shove down my gullet never ceases to amaze me.  No matter what lovely, nutritious, clementine oranges, homemade soup, whole-grain muffins, or greek yogurt I have in my fridge, I’d rather buy my lunch.  I once had a coworker who’d look over my shoulder every day to see what I was eating–leftovers, or soup usually.  Meanwhile, I was gazing in envy at their sub.  She thought I was a domestic goddess, but actually I was too poor to buy lunch.

I don’t understand.

And why is plain coffee from the drive through better than a vanilla latte I made myself? And it takes about the same amount of time, maybe less, to make the latte.  And why would I rather have a McDouble than barbecue my own burger?  I mean, McDouble? Ick.  I’ve seen Super Size Me.

I’ve heard this trend pinned on my generation–we youngbloods who have to have our Starbucks and are too cool to brown bag it.  Well, I do love Starbucks, but I don’t believe that.  If you’ve ever been to the McDonalds in my town at 10:00 in the morning, you will see wall-to-wall construction workers and retirees (and your humble, shift-working blogger).  From where I sit right now–yes, I’m in McDonalds–I see mainly families and older folk.  So is it just my generation? Heck no.  

Everyone else is doing it too, but that doesn’t help me.

My wallet is what saves me.  I just don’t have the budget to buy lunch every day.  And even if I did, I’d be too cheap.  When I was a kid I ate in a restaurant about six times a year, and those times were a huge treat.  I think that’s still ingrained in me, even if I buy coffee twice a week, and lunch every second week.  I want it to stay that way–special–so I guess I’ll have to pack my meals.

But, as long as I don’t have WiFi at home, I’ll be coming to McDonalds.  Sneaky.  Very sneaky.

How about you?

Why Am I Still Up?

Well, that may be it. This week may be a failure. And it’s only half way over. The clock flipped over to Wednesday an hour and sixteen minutes ago.

Despite vitamin D supplements and adequate levels of sleep and yet another episode of Sherlock on my laptop, I’m in a funk I can’t seem to shake. I’m generally good at spinning all the plates that compose my life, but this time they’re wobbling something fierce.

And this is only a 44 hour workweek.

My mental real-estate is taken up by debates and work and my monthly budget, none of which are cheerful subjects, and the writing has fallen by the wayside. That’s why I’m pouring my own depressed little self onto the page. I have nothing interesting to say–unless you’d like to hear about how to exegete John 1:1-2 and if I’m going to be able to make my car payments.

No? Neither do I.

I don’t know what to do with myself.
Perhaps there’s nothing more to do but to watch funny YouTube videos and eat breakfast sandwiches (no matter what time it is).


But, there is always good news. One, January is over, and that means there may only be six weeks of winter left (if the groundhog may be trusted). Two, I don’t have to work on Saturday. Three, the world is not my responsibility in the end. And Four, I still have two English muffins.

So fry up an egg. We’re going to make it, you and I.

Maybe in a couple days I’ll have something original to say.

The Art of Mess-Making

I’m a lousy athlete, lackluster violinist, average writer and an adequate singer, but I’m a pro at making a mess.

Legendary, actually.

Yesterday, after falling off my chair and causing my coach to erupt in a fit of giggles, I forgot to switch off the pump before removing a spray nozzle, which caused coating suspension to spurt everywhere. I sprayed water on my coworker, spilled water on the floor, and (to add insult to injury) botched the paperwork.

My aptitude for disorder is fairly uniform. If I paint, they’ll be as much paint on myself as on the object being painted. If I garden, I’ll be dirt up to my ears. If I cook, there’ll be vegetable parings, bowls, and knives scattered all over the kitchen. Culinary masterpieces require these things—I could’ve just made hotdogs.

Probably woulda made a mess doing that too.

I could shuffle this predisposition off on sheer clumsiness. Or maybe I just don’t give a damn. But, I’d rather look a little deeper—maybe find some admirable reasons for making a mess. So here it goes.

I do things with gusto!

I’m not afraid have fun and get dirty. Case in point, my students and I took advantage of the warm weather to get out and do our favorite thing: play tag. The lawn was slippery. I was barefoot in an attempt to keep my shoes clean (oh irony). As I raced across the grass, a seven-year-old hot on my heels, I skidded, fell, and ended up with mud up and down both legs. By the time class was done it was a toss-up who was muddier—teacher, or students.

It’s tough to keep clean while giving it your all at a game of toilet tag.

I try new things.

Three of the aforementioned messes were made because I’m new at work and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was doing it. I made a mess changing the spray nozzle the first time, but my coach gave me a couple pointers, and I did it perfectly the next time.

How do you learn new things without making a mess?

But it’s not all good.

If I think of all the messes I’ve made over the years, some of them were relational. Those aren’t as easy to clean up as potato peels and spoons in the kitchen. I wish I hadn’t made them.

I also consider the messes I’ve made because I refused to take counsel, or shot when I should have asked questions, or just didn’t have a coach and acted in ignorance. Those have been costly.

So, what to do?

Like the old adage of lost love being better than never loving at all, better to make a mess in a daring attempt than to attempt nothing. But messes are opportunities to learn, to reflect, and to be mentored. And then, if you can, you clean up.