With my new found, in for a penny in for a pound attitude I’m going to share some of the things Mr. C and I have done to keep, as Mama would say, body and soul together. There are, I’m sure, as many ways to survive being poor as there are people trying to do it. These are just some of the things I’ve learned since our comfortable bank account was devoured by illness. Some of these things may not be available where you live but I think most of them are. So here are my ways to survive being poor.
Sell Everything You Can!
There are things you have that may have great sentimental value or may be things you think you cannot live without. You can live without them. Look through all of your possessions and decide what you will give up. As hard as it is the sentimental items may also be the ones most likely to sell so be tough. So far Mr. C (a closet Bob Dylan) has sold several of his guitars, including one very special electric guitar (by some famous guitar maker boasting some famous musician’s name; I think it was a Les Paul something or other). He’s sold his coin collection which took him years to put together. He is currently trying to sell a Stingray bike that’s some kind of collectible and an electric bike he built himself. I’ve put all my jewelry, including my wedding ring set, on eBay. When you’re trying to keep heat on in the house guitars and jewelry don’t matter.
Grow all the food you can: Since it’s winter I forgot this one until I thought of the Loaded Baked Potato Soup we just had! I realize this may not be much if you live in a suburb or city. But you can grow a pretty good assortment of vegetables in pots. I’ve done tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and various lettuces in pots. And of course strawberries are extremely pot friendly fruit! You won’t have fresh stuff all year but you’ll get some healthy options and save money with whatever you grow. And don’t forget, you can root cellar a lot of produce.
Ask friends if you can do any kind of work for them (or someone they know). If they are terrible cooks and you are a great one maybe they’ll hire you as a personal chef for an evening. Ask folks with kids if they need a reliable babysitter. Get a job pet sitting for friends when they go on vacation. Sure, we’d all like to do these things for free but if you can’t pay your bills you may be able to sell your skills.
Prescription medications: Medication is so very important, especially when you have a chronic illness, disability, or other health problems. While this is definitely unorthodox and possibly illegal you may need to resort to this method of getting your medications. I have an anti-seizure medication that I absolutely must have but cannot afford. I know someone who has, but doesn’t use, the same medication in the same strength. This person is on Medicaid so the prescriptions don’t cost him anything. He fills the prescription and gives me the pills. He was prescribed far less than I’m supposed to take but I take less than half the prescribed amount per day and go to one pill a day, and finally go without for a week or so. I feel like absolute hell for part of the month but it’s better than being without the medicine completely.
You can try to get help from the pharmaceutical companies but it’s been my experience that it’s only helpful if you need just a tiny bit of help paying.
Food Pantries: Most counties in America have food pantries and are open to those with low incomes. In my county they stock really, really off-brand stuff and you can only get two meat items. You can also only visit them every other month. But it you pick things that can stretch meals (like pasta, rice, and beans) and pick meat items that you can turn into several meals you can get by.
Food pantries do not stock fresh or frozen vegetables (although in late summer they sometimes have stuff people donate from their gardens).
The meat items are donated by grocery stores after they’ve reached their expiration dates. First meats are moved to a sale area as they near the expiration but once they’ve either got to be thrown out or donated, some stores donate them. The stores freeze them in the original packaging which leads to freezer burn but that never killed anyone. By choosing large roasts or “family packs” you can turn these two meat items into quite a few dinners for two. If your family is larger you can still stretch them by making meat an add-on to the meal and not the centerpiece. Thaw them just until you can cut or separate the meat then re-package in small portions. Either use them immediately (remember, these meats are expired) or freeze them and use them the same day you thaw them.
They usually also have unlimited supplies of breads but you have to be careful because these items are already past the expiration and likely to be moldy. I inspect each package carefully. If any of it is moldy it’s really not safe to eat. Even if a piece doesn’t yet show mold it’s there. I throw any baked goods in the freezer as soon as we get home and take out only what we need, leaving the rest frozen.
Oddly, or at least odd in my mind, they almost always have large cakes and other dessert pastries. Because nothing says healthy eating like birthday cake and doughnuts! Since our food pantries weight what you are allowed to have I don’t waste poundage on total garbage when I can get an extra bag of beans or rice!
A surprising find at many food pantries is pet food and occasionally even treats! People buy large bags of food and portion it out in 5 lb. bags. Our dogs have enjoyed brands of pet food we definitely couldn’t afford and love the crunchy biscuits we get! And if you have to ask why we’d keep the dogs when we’re broke you’ve never had a dog. ‘Nuff said.
Grocery shopping: This is a luxury if you’re really struggling. If you do somehow have money to go to the grocery store avoid the brand name products. You are paying for their advertising and for paying their executives outrageous salaries. Store brands are usually as good as the brand names although you may have to do some taste testing to discover those you really want to avoid! Some of the store brands are just inedible.
While it’s cheaper to buy foods that are unhealthy (a bottle of sugary soda pop is under $1 while 100% fruit juice is usually double the cost) try to use your grocery money on things that will both feed you over several meals and are healthy. Fresh produce may be out of reach but frozen items may be within your budget. Of course pastas, rice, and beans aren’t the most “fit conscious” foods but they stretch and you can make them a bit healthier by adding vegetables. I know I use a lot of butter and cream in my recipes but I get those when the food pantry has them and freeze them.
Coupons: These are really a luxury for those who can go to the grocery store but if you find you DO have money to shop coupons can save you a little money. Never buy anything you wouldn’t ordinarily buy just because you have a coupon!
Buying in bulk: Bulk purchases aren’t really an option for people who can’t afford even normal size packages. In the long run buying in bulk saves money but there’s a higher up-front cost putting those items out of reach. If you do have a little money to buy larger quantities stick to things like rice, pasta, and beans.
Clothing: Buying new clothes is out of the question if you’re not able to afford food. While there are some resale shops that have decent items they may still be beyond your financial means. And sewing clothing is no longer a money-saver. Look for churches and other organizations that have clothing closets where you can get things free. But don’t expect clothes you could wear to a job interview. Look for materials that wear well and clothing that isn’t already starting to wear out. Some clothing closets only let you get things a couple of times. Don’t waste your visits on things that won’t last and don’t worry about “your style.”
Consider this: Being poor is depressing, especially when it comes after a lifetime of working. It is made even more difficult by people who think you should have absolutely nothing enjoyable in your life as though people should be punished for poverty.
You lose friends when you lose the ability to go out to dinners, movies, or even the ability to visit. You lose joy when you can’t give gifts for birthdays, Christmas, or other special occasions even to those closest to you. You lose hope because there’s no real way out of poverty when you are physically unable to work.