Friday, June 01, 2012

The Uncomfortable Truth

A while back, my husband and I were talking about what to have for dinner. I said that we had what we needed to make tuna patties.

Husband paused and slowly turned to me... "What's a tuna patty?"

"Well, we had them all the time growing up. It's a can of tuna, an egg and crushed up crackers, formed into a patty and fried." 

Husband looked at me like I had said we ate golden fried dog turd. "That's poor people food."

Indeed.

 And that brings me to The Uncomfortable Truth. We. Are. Poor. That's the long and short of it. Talking about money makes people feel squirmy and uncomfortable. There's a certain amount of guilt, or schadenfreude, when it comes to discussing salaries and bills. But I am gonna cut through to the heart of the matter and be transparent, because I am tired of it being a taboo. We just don't have as much money as everyone else. When friends talk about being broke, I chuckle to myself. Broke is relative, huh? See, when someone says, "I'm broke because we just paid for our two week, all inclusive Disney vacation," it's a little different than, "I have $12 in the bank and it has to last for three weeks because the electric bill was outside the scope of our budget this month."

I could wax eloquently for many, many defensive and reactionary paragraphs about why we're poor. See this if you don't believe in my ability to get really defensive. The truth is there are lots of valid reasons why we aren't financially gifted, and lots of things we could probably do to improve our situation. But for now, we're monetarily challenged. And it's cool. Don't feel bad. It's a part of life.

Let's talk truth. I had two of my kids via the wonder that is Medicaid. I have been on WIC (and frankly, could be right now). I keep Ramen Noodles in the house because sometimes, feeding your kids on 20 cents if freaking brilliant. In the past two years, we've had our electricity cut off twice because of the cost to cool our home in the Texas summer. It's fun to choose between air conditioning and groceries. Our credit is shot because we couldn't afford health insurance for a while and we have lots of awesome medical bills (because we are about $57 above the medicaid income cutoff). My husband drives a 1988 Ford F150 with over 200K miles on it that actually belongs to my dad. When we had to buy a minivan to cart around our litter of kids, we saved up to buy a used one so we wouldn't have a car payment. We bought it from a reputable dealer, who assured us it was in great condition. It lasted less then two weeks. We barely got it to a different dealer to use as a trade (we got less than half of what we had payed for it two weeks prior) for a new van that, thanks to our awesome credit, has a crappy loan with a ridiculously high interest rate and, therefore, a ridiculously high monthly payment. We pay more in rent for our house than we've ever paid before. My husband gets to teach in a community that is incredibly affluent, surrounded by other incredibly affluent communities. By the time we found another house, that was cheaper, the gas it would take to commute would offset the cost of lower rent by leaps and bounds. I know that the City won't turn off our water if we are less than 75 days late. I know this because some months we have to choose a bill to NOT pay so that we can have an adequate grocery budget. Our lawn looks like prairie because we can't afford a lawn service (like everyone else on our street) or even a lawn mower. We have to drive 20 minutes to borrow one from my in-laws, so it doesn't get done as often as I'd like. I rely A LOT on hand-me-downs from other people to clothe my kids. I cook and freeze rice, beans, bulk veggies, etc. not only because it's healthy and trendy and Pinterest-y, but because it's cheap.  My kids' extra-curriculars are paid for by the grandparents.  We are always having to grovel for the scholarship so our kids can enjoy things like Vacation Bible School at church (don't get me started on THAT).  Sometimes I go through the house looking for stuff I can sell on craigslist to help make ends meet. That's what my life looks like.

Why am I writing all this down? Because I am not ashamed of it. We're good people who work hard to do what's right by our family. And we struggle. A lot. I think we sometimes have a misconception of what being poor looks like. We think it's only those people who are on medicaid and government assistance. It's only those people who have credit issues or can't pay their bills. Well, Hi. I'm Sarah, and I don't have a lot of money. Sometimes, I have no money. Sometimes, when you invite me out for drinks, I can't go because I can't afford the gas to get there, let alone the drinks. Sometimes, I feed my kids tuna patties. And they're gross. But the truth is, we make it work. We're happy people. We are people that you know. We are your neighbors and your friends. We live in a nice house in a nice town. Poor is everywhere. It's not relegated to the South Side of major cities, or to rural Appalachia. It's in your backyard. And it's totally normal. Well...I'm not totally normal, but that's a different post.

12 comments:

Erica M said...

Let me first apologize for the assholey comment I left on your homeschool post you linked to in this post. I was the defensive one, not you. It's kinda like when you roll your eyes at the Disney-resort-broke people? I tend to do the same when I hear my-gifted-and-talented-kid complaints because of my special needs kid and that's just wrong, and I'm sorry.

Having said all that, there are so many people in your situation and I hate that public "assistance" requires people to be depressed and near-suicidal over an electric bill before it even considers an application and even then, $12 (as in my case) could mean you're too wealthy for help. Thanks for such an honest post. Even from this asshole "writer's" point of view.

SarahRushly said...

I don't think you're an asshole! That post caused a stir with lots of folks. I consider it a byproduct of homeschooling. I'm glad to know you're in my $12 boat!

Chris said...

You rock! Thanks for the open unashamedness!

We just found out we have to replace a many many thousand dollar air compressor. Talk about a rabbit out a hat...

Jill Couri said...

Hello, my name is Jill & I am poor. I have been on WIC and probably still could be if not for my child being over 5. Speaking of which, she is a special needs kiddo for whom we receive SSI. She is on the reduced lunch plan at school and God bless a $0.30 breakfast. I enjoy tuna-on-toast a my "poor people's food." It is a concoction of flour & milk cooked together with tuna and served over toast...a delightful tuna "gravy," if you will. We have borrowed a lot from family to make ends meet and are thankful they can help us but feel nice and wormy when we ask. We have $50000 school loan debt for my husband's education which would've cost us perhaps $10000 if we'd had the money to pay for it out of pocket which we didnt...and since he could only work part time after the place where he was employed full time closed down, we took every penny they offered us so we could use some of it to, you know, eat. I am glad to have friends who know what it's like. I stand in solidarity with you, Sister Sarah!

Jennie said...

Dad and I are SO very proud of you two........ (But, tuna patties are NOT gross!!!)

michelle jeffries said...

Tuna patties r gross. Try salmon its a step up lol and u pay for Bible school??? Waaaa????

riveras06 said...

As my father said to us throughout our childhood, you are RICH in Love and at the end of the day that's really all that matters. Thanks for sharing Sarah!

Jennifer Rivera said...

By the way this is Jenn Rivera, don't know how to just show my name as the user.

James Beard said...

Tuna patties are just another version of something called a croquette. They are in the same group with crab cakes, which are plenty fancy.

I would suggest making them with bread crumbs instead of crackers, though. Just as cheap and they lend a better, more uniform texture. In fact, if you bake bread, having your own breadcrumbs around is practically free.

I know admitting this takes courage, so kudos!

Fritter said...

I just made salmon patties the other night. Other than being completely traumatized over the removing of the bones from the canned salmon (OMG- never do that!) they were really good. And we've done the same with tuna. :)

I think poor/money/haves and have nots are all relative. I have worked as a teacher and seen poor students. Like very, really truly poor. They're dirty and the only reason they come to school is to eat. Whatever the case- there's no shame in being poor. there's shame in being an asshole. I know many, many (FAR TOO MANY) assholes with money that I wish I didn't know. They're not my friends but fringers of my husband that I hate and have cut out of my life.

If you're happy- your family is happy and you all are safe and together- you are doing something right. I hope you have good luck with that interview you had recently- because you deserve it. Sending you vibes mama. (oh and this is momofthreeunder:)

Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms said...

I am really glad I read this post. Thank you. Ellen

One Love Mama said...

As some of your other readers have noted, its really a matter of perspective, isn't it? Even in debt, juggling bills, using food stamps, pinching pennies, there are so many ways of looking at things. Our family is safe, together, and healthy. We are rich in so many ways. When we know that other families in the world are torn apart by natural disaster, famine, war, we can reflect and be thankful for all that we have. Even in our own community, there are folks worse off than we are. So I remind myself not to live by someone else's standards and judgements. We are who we are and we do pretty darn good for ourselves and our kids. And suddenly tuna patties eaten at the table with loved ones seems like a beautiful feast... Thanks for your post.