It turns out my not going to the grocery store has been more important than I realized. I’ll be out of this extra-low dip in my bank account in the next 30 days, but when my car makes grumbling sounds it’s worrisome.
That said, I still don’t think of myself “really” poor because I know I will not be in this position forever. There are ways out, and I am on those paths. A few thoughts I’ve had that I didn’t fully consider until I was in this position:
- When the preschool expects all the parents to provide snacks once or twice a month, it seems reasonable. It seems reasonable until you’re not buying groceries (by choice or need). It was our turn again, and I was glad to have on hand something to bring. Still, it was embarrassing because they weren’t foods I would’ve chosen if I were to go to the market and buy something. For one, I don’t like SmartFood. My daughters have decided they don’t, either. But, I bought it at BJs because it was cheap and it’s nice to have a treat for a snack for the girls once in a while. Second, the fruit cups in the not-environmentally friendly packaging were my backup for when I’m out of fresh fruit. As I said in my last post, this challenge of mine isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s not pretending either. The combination of feeling embarrassed that my snack wasn’t what I would’ve liked to bring and also using up what turns out to be important food was uncomfortable. I could tell the school I’m not able to contribute, but that would be humiliating. And, the truth is, I can contribute. Things aren’t that bad. That’s for me, though. What about the families for whom it really is “that bad?” I think preschools and other organizations expecting parental contributions should offer a kind and quiet alternative, a box that simply says, “Unable due to financial hardship” or something like that. No questions asked.
- In a similar vein, a friend and I made plans to go out and she made it clear before we got together that she wanted to pay my way. She even deflected some of my dependence on her generosity by pointing out that I was “driving down there,” and was therefore already making a contribution. This was helpful in several ways. First, it allowed me to go out without the knot in my stomach thinking “I probably shouldn’t be doing this.” Second, it took the weight off of me because I knew I didn’t have to bring up money. If you have a friend who you even suspect might be struggling financially, inviting them to do something and insisting that it be your treat—pointing out that it would make you happy to pay the bills—in advance may make their day. It’s a horrible feeling, not paying my way. But when my friends offer and remind me they really want to do it, I can accept their gifts (some of the time).
- Potlucks can also be tricky in the same way these first two issues are. Just assuming it’s an easy thing to bring something to share can make those of us without a lot feel uncomfortable. For me, it’s not that I can’t make the contribution, but I’ve become more aware of what it was like when bringing something to a potluck meant that much less at home for me and my daughters.
This whole experience is still quite surreal. As many of you know, my background is certainly one of privilege. My ex-husband is much more generous than the law requires. My work brings in decent money when I have the time to do it. It’s strange to be talking “as if” I’m poor when in many respects I actually am and in many respects I’m not at all. I hope my sharing about this experience might help other people be more aware (and, therefore, more sensitive) to people who are living with not-enough money.