Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sometimes the Tank Needs Filling

Over the holidays our friends, family, and people we didn't even know were incredibly generous. Six weeks before Christmas we didn't have money for any gifts at all. As November ended, we had to ask if some money that would have been used to buy us, my husband and I, gifts could be given early to help pay the bills. Things were bleak and I was feeling stressed, fast forward to mid-December and friends gave us some amazing hand-me-down gifts for our kids, along with money for food and other extras during the month. I managed to sell quite a few crocheted items as well, we had more discretionary money then we'd had in years!

Two days before Christmas the tree, that my parents bought for us, was beautiful, there were piles of presents under it, and we were feeling rich! Then I went online and found that we'd spent every last penny of the money we'd been given. My stomach knotted up, my heart was pounding, and I began to mentally chastise myself. I thought it was such a stupid poor person thing to do, spend all the extra money, to be right back where we'd been a few weeks before. But then I caught myself, and started to think more clearly and rationally. We had presents under the tree! We had a pantry full of food! Our kids were getting some big gifts they really wanted, and even though the gifts were 2nd hand, they were awesome and the kids would be so happy! The bills were all paid. My daughter could go to the zoo for her birthday, which happens to be the day after Christmas, and then out to IHOP for dinner on the way home. We had a month of feeling comfortable! We had a month of going to the grocery store and not feeling stressed about buying toothpaste! We'd been able to pay for the supplies to do some electrical work, and for the required inspection. When the car needed a minor repair it wasn't the end of the world. Our holiday season had been merry and bright, we felt loved and cared for, it had been awesome.

Why is it that we poor people spend money when we have it? When you don't have any money in the bank, no savings, no retirement, no investments, nothing, for years or always, things are different. And when someone hands you $300 or $1,000 you may consider putting it in the bank, but $300 in the bank, when you have no money at all, isn't going to stay there for long. And if someone hands you $50 are you really going to put it in the bank if your gas tank is empty? No, you are going to fill up your tank.

I'm a big fan of saving money. From childhood, I've always been more of a saver than a spender. But I recognize that sometimes it's just more important to fill up the tank. That tank may be figurative, not a gas tank on a car, but the happiness tank of your family.

One of the things we did over the holidays was go out for Thai food. We don't usually go out to eat. Taking a family of 5 out to dinner can cost a weeks worth of grocery money, even at an inexpensive place. That night we didn't do take out, we sat down and had dinner, eating food someone else prepared! For me that's bliss. And to be able to go out for dinner knowing someone else was paying the bill made it a stress free, delightful evening.

As I reflected on the money and gifts we'd been given, and were we were at the end of December, I knew we weren't stupid poor people. The truth is, most poor people aren't stupid. Poor people are resourceful, creative, hardworking, smart, determined, and tough, but they aren't stupid. Poor people live with a set of circumstances you don't see from the outside.

We barely scraped by waiting for January to arrive and the financial aid to get deposited into the bank account and the food money to show up on our EBT card. There was a stressful week in there, but we made it. We may not have more money in the bank than we did two months ago, but we are so much better off! To all of our friends and family who helped fill our tank during the month of December Thank You!