The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Living Broke


Alice C. Bateman

This is a difficult article to write for some reason, perhaps because it is a specific assignment rather than a creative endeavour.  I say this because I have the strong feeling that, until I write this particular piece of work, I will remain living broke.  It’s time the broke cycle was broken, so here I am attempting to produce a meaningful group of words about the hows and whys and whats of living below the poverty line.

It’s easy to lay the ‘blame’ for my financial condition, but as always, blame is a composite, made up of several factors that worked together to create a sub-zero bank balance for a period of years.  And it is not that I don’t work – I certainly do, in many ways!  But due to having a body that doesn’t hold up very well under the weight of several debilitating conditions, I am not employed outside my home and am forced to live on a disability pension.  Due to being divorced and having a ‘deadbeat dad’ in my two youngest sons’ lives, the pension is the largest portion of my income.  Slightly over one thousand dollars a month to house, feed, clothe and take care of myself and three school age children.  The federal government supplements this with a few hundred dollars called a ‘child tax credit’ here in Canada, but there is simply never enough money to cover everything.

What does a person do to live and support their children when there is never enough money?  How cope with the stress and strain of counting and recounting the scant few dollars left after bills when there are always more days left in the month than money to keep buying milk?

Most importantly, I never use the word ‘poor’ in relation to my present economic status, no matter how far below the poverty line my income may fall in any given year.  I’m broke, not poor.  To me, poor is permanent and broke is temporary, and this mindset is critical to existing this way.  If I’m broke today, there is hope that tomorrow, somehow, I will no longer be broke.  If I consider myself poor, I am putting myself in a class that is often denigrated and frowned upon by those with more. 

I consider myself wealthy in many ways, not least of all in the wealth of love in my life from family and friends, my parents, from five brothers, five sisters, and seven children.  Many people who have a great deal of money do not have the love and concern of a family around them, and I count this heavily on the plus side of my ‘worthiness’ balance sheets.  I also consider myself wealthy in God-given talent, even though those talents are not yet earning any substantial income.

In a practical way, one of the best coping mechanisms for never having enough dollars is shopping at thrift stores.  This seems very obvious, but it always amazes me how many people in reduced circumstances do not take advantage of thrift stores to save themselves money.  I can go into my favourite shop, one called Women in Need here in Calgary, spend twenty dollars, and have a couple of new pieces of clothing for the entire family, a couple of books, and often a toy or two as well.  If I need furniture, I can afford to buy it from stores like this. 

As with everything else, there are good thrift stores and bad thrift stores.  The ones who are in business for profit are in the category I don’t go to.  Women in Need {there will likely be somewhere like this wherever you live} does many wonderful things for the community, including helping women on their own with children with a one-time credit of a couple of hundred dollars worth of goods.  Often these stores will employ people from the community who might otherwise not be employed.  In Canada, Goodwill Industries provides many very reasonably priced second hand retail outlets, and they hire people from their communities who probably would not have a job anywhere else.

A thrift store is one of the only places I can actually take the children to shop, and know they will allow me to stay within my tight budget.  Imagine the feeling of being able to buy a huge bag of ‘new’ things for a mere twenty dollars or so – very rewarding for all concerned, and nobody feels ‘poor’ when there are new things to be enjoyed.  Previously enjoyed things, of course, although I often find brand new clothing for a dollar or two an item, pieces that have never been worn, suits that would retail for several hundred dollars, clothing with the original retail tags still attached.  God doesn’t often give me money itself, but He does take care of my family’s basic needs in style. 

When you’re living broke, guidelines such as the Canada Food Guide, which insists that all people eat a number of portions from each food group each day, are a joke.  There is no way on earth people living at this economic level can afford to keep their children in enough food of each variety to satisfy the nutrition guides.  What to do?  Feed them as well as you can possibly afford, learn how to make low cost but nutritious meals that stretch to feed the three or four kids you are already feeding and whatever friends happen to be around at meal time, and buy generic kids’ vitamins as often and as regularly as possible. 

Instead of constant fresh fruit, which is terribly expensive, I help to satisfy their need for fruit with concentrated fruit strips, which can be obtained for a few dollars per box.  For fresh and green vegetables, salad is a fairly economical alternative, and one that kids will generally all eat.  I stick to basic fresh fruits like apples, bananas and grapes, because I know they’ll be eaten quickly and not hang around long enough to spoil.  Homemade soups and cookies are far more economical than those purchased in the stores, and are just as tasty and satisfying.   In fact, the look on the faces of the children when they come in from school on a home baked cookie afternoon, with the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen, make all the effort to do it yourself very worthwhile.  You save money and make yourself ‘the Mom who bakes cookies’ all at the same time.  Some kids who’ve come in here look and act like they’ve never had a homemade cookie in their lives, which is a sad statement about our society.

Living broke, there are demeaning and humiliating things we must do at times to make ends meet.  These include things like going to the food bank.  When a parent has three or four hungry children and no more dollars in sight for food, the parent must swallow their pride, prove they’re ‘poor’ enough to avail themselves of the services of the food bank, and stand in line with the rest of the needy people who are forced to ask for food.  I’ll tell you, the first time I had to do this, I was absolutely mortified – but you find out that your pride won’t feed the kids, and you swallow it yourself.  Swallowing pride can fill you up enough not to have to eat for quite a while…

There are good things that come out of humbling yourself, good things for the children, experiences they wouldn’t have had if you were in the ‘enough money’ category.  Like the year that Santa and the Elves came to visit my home because a neighbour convinced me to sign up for help that year, and the resultant opportunity to volunteer for a wonderful organization.  Or the year a company ‘adopted’ my family for Christmas and brought endless presents, for myself and the kids.  The looks on their faces on those occasions were worth enduring the humiliation involved.  Getting presents when you’re an only parent is a rarity, unless you buy them for yourself from the kids {and some of us spend it all on the kids}, so that was very nice for me too.  Anything that benefits the children is a big benefit to me, regardless of the personal degradation involved.

It embarrasses me completely to be living broke.  When I am out and about, people generally assume I am at least well off, if not wealthy.  I dress well in my two dollar clothes, I’ve worn beautiful outfits volunteering for and/or as an invited guest at gala events, and I carry myself in a way that suggests I am a person of means.  If my mental attitude was one of ‘poor’ and not ‘broke,’ I would not be able to present myself in such a fashion.  I do world-class work with my literary website and with my own writings, am taken seriously by others in my field, but I am personally broke.  An interesting dichotomy to live with…

I wish I could offer more down to earth and practical advice on how to live so far beyond your means, but perhaps that is for another article.  The most important message I’m trying to impart here is that, in some cases, mind over matter does work.  It’s just too bad there aren’t thrift store utilities and creditors; life would be a lot easier to deal with when living broke!

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.