Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Benefits of Living in Poverty

I've lived below the poverty level all my life. As a child at school, I was painfully aware of my second-hand, thrift-store clothes. I wanted the cool clothes and toys everyone else had, I wanted to be like everyone else. Today, though, I have no qualms about being different from everyone else. I'm realizing just how truly beneficial this poverty-stricken life has been for me.

Because we were poor (and be mindful that my mom's family, with six kids, were poor, and my father's family, who had seven kids, were poor), I grew up with a firm foundation in how to do without, and how to make the most of every dollar. There were three of us children, I was the oldest. We bought second-hand clothes at the thrift shop, or lawn sales. My mother sometimes made clothes for us, and she taught me how to sew, too. We picked berries (something I always enjoyed and excelled at), and carry with me today. I remember Mom cooking the jam and canning it, though I've yet to get enough berries to follow suit (my 2 boys are voracious berry-eaters). Some of my best childhood memories are of long summer days spent at Mullin Cove--a sandy little beach on the east shore of Embden Pond, in Embden, Maine. It was free, and a simple pleasure to partake in.

My husband and I have chosen to keep one parent at home (namely me), for the sake of our children, as a result we suffer from a reduced income. We're very fortunate to have a lovely little house on a large corner lot in the rural town of Anson, Maine. But even without rent or mortgage hanging over our heads, every dollar is precious to us, and we go to great lengths to stretch every penny. My husband fixes most problems that arise mechanically and technologically--out of necessity (though he does have the inclination and aptitude for it). We buy older vehicles specifically so that he will be able to work on them, and also, by buying used vehicles we're able to avoid an auto payment, and enjoy lower insurance rates. He fixes, cleans, and fixes-again radios, VCRs, telephones, often scavenging parts from spare machine we have kicking around (I actually have found it was worth it to let him keep some of the old tape decks, stereos, and other 'junk' he insists on hanging onto), in order to prolong the life of what we do have.

I bake my own bread, which saves me $3 a loaf, and tastes fresher, better than the stuff from the grocery store. My family loves bread fresh from the oven, with butter on it. But when I decided to stop buying bread at the store I had never made bread before. I remembered a few of the techniques my mother had once shown me, and armed with a few recipes from the internet, I set out to teach myself how to bake bread. It turned out to be a delicious skill to develop, and well worth the effort in savings to our food-budget.

The point is, that being poor has forced us to learn new things, master new skills, in order to get done what needs to be done, and to have the few luxuries that we do have. Because I've always been poor, and because my mother was poor, I can use a sewing machine to make curtains from old sheets, to make my boys' Halloween costumes, to alter my own clothes, or to make my own blouses.
Those outings that cost my mother nothing at all, but created memories that have stuck with me, I utilize that, and provide my boys with fun and adventurous outings even when my wallet is empty. We'll take a snack from home (or lunch), water from home, and set out to places unknown (such as scenic rest areas, hiking along a nature trail, visit a park, go to the free playground, etc.)--so long as there's no charge or fees involved.

Because we've been poor since we started out on our own, Keith (my hubby) has been forced to finally learn mechanics, something my father-in-law had long wanted to teach Keith, but waited and waited for Keith to show an interest/inclination. With every broken tie-rod end, and every oil-change, Keith has learned more and more about auto-mechanics.
When it became imperative we move, my husband learned how to plumb base-board heating, repair a furnace, and what-ever-else is involved when pipes freeze and burst--the work he did saved us thousands and enabled us to move into our current home.

Being poor has made us unafraid to take on challenges that crop up in our life, to learn what we need to scrape by, to over-come misfortune. It has actually, in some ways, allowed us to succeed. And it is with that same can-do attitude that we homeschool our two boys. A frightening, and daunting (and some days frustrating--)adventure, to turn out two honorable, intelligent men to be a productive part of society. But I have faith in myself, and in Keith, and I trust that my boys will find their way, and will be successful in their own right.