Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Being broke is complicated

We just found out today, 3 weeks after the spouse's last paycheck, that there will be unemployment. Phew! And now, a month or two later, the spouse has a job! That pays exactly what unemployment did! Wait...

That said, we are right broke. My MIL and her sister offered to take the kid school clothes shopping so we of course said yes. The trick to this is, of course, that my kid now has a wardrobe that shows she belongs to one class (the one where brand new clothes from designer shops are possible). Does this matter much to the other kids in kindergarten? Probably not. To the parents though, it might. It is hard for me to see a weeks' worth of groceries get spent on clothes for a 5 year old. It was in the back of my mind to return most of it to see if we could get cash to spend on something else. Obviously that's a pipe dream but the thought is there. This fancy clothes shopping also means that she got 3 or 4 outfits, not the 10 or more I could have gotten at the thrift store for less money, so we will have to find some money for a few more things to be properly outfitted. 

I have never really understood the point of not wearing any "new school" things before the start of school. Today we had an overtired kid meltdown for a half hour about wearing the brand new tennis shoes to t-ball and I caved, mostly because I think waiting is silly. Her other shoes don't really fit anymore and the new ones are rainbow-y and her very favorite and it was my MIL who forbade wearing them to t-ball and she won't see the t-ball dust on them anyway. 

The spouse pointed out that it's about first impressions, the shiny new awesome clothes. Sigh. 

Then there's the bind where you take what you can get. We put a child bike trailer on our festive holiday list a few years ago and a fancy one, a double that you could get an infant deal for and that had a roll bar (so if the bike falls, the trailer doesn't roll with it). A family member was gung ho about getting us one, but not the one we wanted. Eventually we determined that it did have the roll bar, and the kid was almost 3 and after miscarriage 2 the infant adapter deal seemed less important, so we accepted it graciously. And now we have a bike trailer we can't use for Little Monster so we can't bike to the grocery store and we wind up driving instead.

And the clothes. A helpful family member got the kid a pink plaid dress with a tiered ruffle skirt and a corset bodice. It isn't like you could say, "Why thank you for getting my child a sex worker outfit! I'm sure it will be... fun for role-playing or something?" or even "No thanks, I prefer my small child look like one and not a sex worker." I wish I had taken a picture before I gave the thing away, but I didn't. Here's my sketch because it is just that amazing. But remember, black and pink plaid, pink spaghetti straps, pink ribbon corset-style back, more flounces than I drew (like 5ish).
And of course, food. If you were wondering what teetering on the edge of food insecurity looks like, it is us right now. We eat lots of pasta (that I only ever buy on sale and stockpile) and lots of rice and whatever else we can scrounge on our little budget. I think black bean burgers and rice are going to be a multiple times a week thing for the foreseeable future. The kid has to eat at school because there's no way we could afford to feed her 2 more meals a day. She gets free breakfast and lunch. The upside of this is that she eats more things with peers to influence her into it. The downside is that she sometimes eats PB & J every day all week. We are wrestling with a potential new food problem but it's really hard to identify because she eats whatever she wants at school and we don't get a good report from her, nor do we have any idea what ingredients were in whatever she ate. So far we haven't tried super hard to figure it out but mostly that's because of the risk of needing to send her lunches if school lunch (and breakfast) really is causing all the new problems.

I guess I'd say that right now, I have coped adequately and it isn't so stressful to know how close we are to financial wreck and ruin. We (well, mostly I) have been hoarding food for a few years now because of the last time we were this broke and wandered into the land of "adults get 1-2 meals a day" level of food insecurity. We have enough food stockpiled that we could eat just what we have for at least 3 weeks, maybe up to 5 or 6 weeks. It wouldn't be things the kid likes very much but it would be edible. It's just a habit now to ensure I feel a little bit more secure. This summer we didn't buy any groceries besides milk for 3 weeks and we did fine. Now we're back up to stockpile levels and I like knowing that we have a cushion before we have to worry about what to eat.

When you're thinking about food stamps and food assistance and why people need help, remember it isn't much we're talking about. It's the difference between eating 1 or 2 meals a day and 3. It's the difference between the extra stress of cooking only cheap food instead of healthy food (have you seen how much organic food costs? $5 for a single green pepper? Yipes!). It's the difference between getting the car fixed when it isn't yet broken and when it is suddenly un-drive-able. Isn't it helpful to support people when they most need it? Isn't it nice to know the security net is there to catch you if you fall because of an illness or a lost job?


  1. Phew. Amen. It is SO stressful to be on the edge of food poverty. We qualified for food stamps + Medicaid when Stella was first born for a few months, and BOY was it a lifesaver. It saved us around $800/month in food & insurance costs, which meant we were able to pay our other bills until we both found work again. If we need it again, I definitely won't hesitate to apply - it's why we pay all our taxes in the first place!

  2. I've been there girl. I'm a big supporter of using the system appropriately in times of need. It's a hand-up, not a hand-out. One day soon you'll be done with school!

  3. Wow. I can't imagine living with that kind of financial stress. I truly can't. I hope things get better for you both soon so that you don't feel stretched to breaking (or starving).

  4. This sounds a lot like most of my childhood. I am glad I wasn't the adult then. You seem to be managing remarkably well, however. Does your family not qualify for food stamps? I remember when we first got them and what a difference it made in our lives.

    1. We have too much in savings, which we are trying to maintain to fix the car when it needs it (so that's actually now). Our savings fluctuates with the time of the semester since we save then spend my loans. Somehow we also need to save enough for me to take the boards too... We might qualify for health insurance but we're stuck since we buy school insurance by the semester. Hopefully we can get something more affordable starting in January and skip the school's lousy policy.

  5. I am so sorry things are so stressful financially right now...and the food insecurity. I honestly cannot fathom how families are able to be food insecure in this country and why there isn't more help available. I hope things get better soon :-(

    On a side note, I've given up on creating wish lists for birthdays and holidays for our families. They would do what yours do: buy useless stuff that didn't meet our needs. It's like "gee, thanks for asking and then completely disregarding my thoughtful selections about what our family really needs."