Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I Don't Mind Being Poor


     I have been waiting for five days to go grocery shopping, but I can't. Aside from a $35 run to Kroger to get the essentials, I must wait for my paycheck to come through before I can shop for real. Luckily, Ramen, mac 'n' cheese, and Pasta Roni are all cheap and last forever. My diet? Yeah, that'll have to wait until I can afford to eat like that. However, I did buy a $0.99 head of lettuce. That counts, right? 

     I do not make below poverty line and I am no longer working in retail, but my paycheck still isn't what I thought it would be by the time I was 23. I struggle. But I'm strong. And, for all intents and purposes, I'm poor. Not homeless or unemployed, but good 'ol under-paid-working-american poor.
   
     This morning at work, a new co-worker told me that he asked our boss to hold his paycheck for the month of December so he could "suck out every last cent of his unemployment check" for the month. That made me sick. Not only was he getting government money, but he had his own hard-earned money waiting for him that he could have gotten instead. I had to stop and remind myself that not everyone getting unemployment checks is as selfish as this guy; I reminded myself not to judge the majority based on the minority. So I decided, instead, to reflect on my life. I was not "cheating the system" and I don't know when my paycheck will be deposited... 

     but what I do know is that I'm happy

     I look around at the cute, little house I share with two other amazing girls, the car my parents agreed to let me continue to use, and my office job that gives me steady hours so that I can have nights and weekends to myself. I'm truly blessed. And I don't mean that in a "ha-ha I'm 'poor' but really have a lot going for me, so everyone else needs to be jealous" kind of way. I mean that in the same way you look back on your life after college and realize why your parents act the way they act or why you're glad you didn't get your ex's name tattooed on your left nipple. When you look at the big picture--the HUGE-zoomed-out picture--you are able to spot the good things. Or chat with a friends and they'll put things into perspective for you. When you pull your head out of heating bills, rent, gas, vacation plans (yeah, right!), and everything else, you will find happiness. 

     Look up. No, not to God, unless that's your thing. But up: the direction. Chances are, you aren't doing those bills on the street. You're on a couch, or maybe a kitchen table. You have a bed of sorts in a room not too far. You probably have a tv or phone. Now-a-days those are more of "needs" than "wants," but the application is still the same: you have them. And so do I. 

     Which is why I'm able to realize my life isn't so bad, after all. I may be secretly worried about having enough money to cover the huge heating bill we're going to have because of this cold front, but should that keep me from living my life? No. Do I not-so-secretly wish I made more than "just over minimum wage"? Duh. But I can do this. I will say I'm also blessed to have a boyfriend who loves me enough to help me out. Not with my bills, because I'm a grown woman, but with keeping me strong. (bragging bonus: he is buying me "housewarming gifts" and getting me random things I need for the house [like a space heater] but can't afford myself.) My parents are about 45 minutes away, and I could always run back home, but I'm not going to. Because these problems are only temporary. 

     Eventually--maybe years from now, but still eventually-- I'll find a job in the career path I got my degree in, and I'll make more money than I do now, and I'll still be happy. Whoever said "money can't buy happiness" never said "having more money won't make you feel a LOT less stressed." Because it will, obviously. I can see that because my boyfriend makes twice what I make, has a cute little house and a car his parents let him drive, etc. So what's the difference? We're both happy. But, I can attest to this, he is a lot less stressed about money. And rightfully so. 

     But to the people out there like myself that could probably apply for food stamps (or maybe you already do), don't let that get you down. I know what it feels like to feel "too poor" to do things. Yeah, maybe you can't afford to get a drink from Starbucks, but still go and enjoy friendship. Don't let bills stack up and be the only thing you think about. Don't worry about the small stuff (important stuff, yes, but still minor details in the larger view of life). When you're 50 and you're holding your grandchild, it won't matter that you ate PB&J five nights in a row or that your room was the size of the area rug you'll be sitting on. What will matter is how you lived your life, and how far you've come since those times. So keep working hard, my under-paid brothers and sisters! 
     And never, ever let material things control your happiness. It's yours. I will gloat my happy ass all around town proudly, and I suggest you do the same, latte or no latte. 





[editor's note: The term "poor" is being used loosely to represent the reality of living "paycheck to paycheck" and is in no way associated with living below the poverty line. No disrespect is meant to come from using the term; it is merely a figure of speech.]