From the Heart: Are we the working poor?
I read an article in the Guardian recently about the working poor and how people are earning a living, but still struggling to make ends meet (Full-time work no bar to poverty) As I read it and the comments that followed (via Facebook), I realised that I identified with a lot of what was being said. I realised that my family currently fits the definition of the working poor.
On the face of it we are not poor by any stretch of the imagination. We live in a nice area of a reasonable Northern town, it has issues like any other, but we’re happy here. We are both graduates who bought our house, an inexpensive 3 bed semi, just before the housing market became ridiculous. Through various circumstances I suppose we find ourselves in what is called the squeezed middle. Husband is on a low salary as a teaching assistant. I’m at home with our youngest due in a large part to the crippling cost of childcare and in lesser part to a diminishing job due to government cuts. We have managed to keep hold of our house, which is on a mortgage, but it’s not been easy. Having a mortgage obviously means we are not entitled to any of the benefits that we might of been had we been renting. So no free school meals, no free prescriptions, no housing benefit, free school meals.Very little really apart from a small tax credits payment each month and child benefit.
After we have paid for everything each month, we have no money left for food or indeed anything else.We are in our mid-forties and if it wasn’t for the help of our parents I don’t know where we would be. Any support we do receive from family or our frantic selling of everything we own on eBay (!) goes on food and essentials like new shoes or winter coats. My husband and I make do with what we have.
One area that was touched on in the Facebook comments about the Guardian article I mentioned, was how not having much money affects your ability to engage and socialise with others. There isn’t a single penny left for socialising, first world problems huh? I don’t that much of my friends these days and I worry that people think I’m avoiding them, I suppose I am in a way. Going out for lunch or coffee is a thing of the past or a rare treat. Even going to visit someone for a few hours is often a no-no as petrol is expensive (most of my friends live out of town). I think that this probably adds to the low moments. Everyone needs something to look forward to, even if it’s just an ice-cream from the van with the annoying tinkly music.
The worst aspect of having little money is relating to the kids. In particular, with the eldest we try to maintain a facade that every thing is okay, why should she have to worry about money at her age?! Each Friday she asks me what we are going to do at the weekend and I reply ‘nothing, really’. We still have fun, we share an Asda pizza on a Saturday night and watch old 1980s films or we have Scrabble nights, but sometimes being around the house becomes a bit of a drag. Me, husband and youngest will often go for a walk at the weekend, but the 11 year old has got to the stage where she doesn’t want to be seen out with us (I don’t mind, she’s growing up). It sucks from time to time.
Social media can make you feel quite glum if you let it. It can seem like everyone else is out having an amazing time and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t envious of afternoon teas and trips to local attractions. I spend less time now on Facebook, which is probably not a bad thing. I dread birthdays and school holidays, traditionally fun times, but all they spell to me is more money, money that we don’t have. There is also more opportunity for people to suggest doing activities or going out to places. It fills me with dread as I have to try and dodge out of invitations without looking like I don’t want to spend time with people. Not having any money makes me feel like I’m antisocial, and yes I do have my moments when I like to be alone, but I do like being around people too.
The fact is we all have different interpretations of what the term ‘broke’ means.I will say to people that I’m broke and real friends do understand, kind of. Given that we used to have more of a comfortable lifestyle, it’s easy to see why they might think I mean we’re a little pushed financially, not that I don’t know where the money for next week’s food shopping is coming from! It’s funny in this country because it seems to be a lot more acceptable to tell everyone how much you do have, and yet being broke is such a taboo subject. People love to say, this cost x amount and they seem to think that the fact they can spend that amount of money somehow validates them as a person. If you mention that you don’t have any money, people don’t know what to say and look at the floor uncomfortably.
The way we socialise has changed over the years, a lot of the way we spend time with other people is based around spending money. Now people go out for expensive meals, theme parks, events and concerts. Even a trip to the shopping centre is seen as an all day leisure activity with lunch thrown in. I’m not saying that there aren’t free activities to do, believe me I search them out, and yes, we take our own picnics, but there is still petrol to be bought and ice cream vans to avoid!
Luckily I don’t consider myself to be a high-maintenance kind of gal (thank God!), I don’t have expensive tastes and never have done. I’ve always loved bargains and charity shops and I am more than a little obsessed by £1 shops and the like. I love reading, so use the local library and as a family we love to spend time together, just being silly. I’ve had times in my life where I thought I had little money, but the reality of this is very different. Both my daughters never seem to stop growing either in shoes or clothes. I’ve come to dread the eldest saying that her shoes are getting small or her leggings too short. For my youngest, I have been lucky to have some fabulous hand-me-downs from friends and the grandparents buy her clothes at Christmas and birthdays. We’ve cut back in every area possible, we don’t smoke or drink and we don’t have a flashy tv package. I still dread the beginning of the month though and I always text my husband on the 1st to let him know that everything has been paid as planned. We do a little happy dance that evening I can tell you!
So what does the future hold? As I have already mentioned, I’m a very optimistic person (in spite of my slumps into lowness recently). I’m building up various work at home projects, including a fair amount of content writing for various clients. I’ve also found an absolute wealth (pardon the pun) of earn from home opportunities through The Money Shed , it has been a lifesaver for me. Through The Money Shed I have found opportunities to earn money completing micro-tasks on my phone, completing academic surveys and even a little bit of bug-testing. It takes time though to re-establish yourself and build up a reasonable income, particularly with a young child at home and another one at school. In the mean-time I save pictures of pretty things to my Siena Says Pinterest account and each Friday I blog about my little wishlists Friday Favourites which keeps me sane. Hey, if I can’t buy it I may as well enable someone else to buy it, right?
*This is not a ‘woe is me’ post, the fact is we are lucky, we have our house and we have parents who can help us out a little. Our situation will get better, I’m determined of that, husband has just been promoted so there is always something to hope for. I know that there are lots of people out there who are waiting for situations to turn around. Sometimes it’s good to talk about it. A problem shared and all of that.