Autism asks challenging questions, begs us to think outside the box and then...Autism Answers! Musings, shared family stories, book reviews, and short fiction. My posts are rarely specifically about autism or parenting. They are, however, almost always stories grown from the fertile and organic thinking soil that can be found where the two come together.
Also, needless to say for those who follow my writings and videos, we are happy!
More often than our culture should be proud of people ask me how? How am I so often happy when I am so often broke?
I've answered this question in a post before, Living Within Our Means, And Loving It, but that was years ago. Things have changed. Back then my hubby was still working, kids were still young and living with us, and we were still living in two separate homes close together (one was my mom's cabin in the woods and the other was my husband's trailer house in our small Texas town).
So when a reporter was asking the question again, I chose to answer. Interested as always in sharing my life but also curious to see how my answers have changed.
Below are the reporter's generic questions (in bold) followed by my personalized answers.
If you, or someone you know, is thinking about how to enjoy life with a tiny budget I encourage you to have a peek. Maybe even answer the questions yourself! It is a wonderful way to tweak and explore all the ways we are harnessing happiness.
Does your household income go far where you live, or is it tight?
It's tight, but it goes comparatively far where we live.
What makes your life fulfilling, despite your income? OR What makes your life fulfilling because of your income?
Poverty, admittedly, restricts freedom in our society.
But aside from the lack of financial freedom, my husband and I have valuable freedom with our time. Because of this, we are able to be available for our loved ones. We are able to move freely amongst the overflowing needs and questions our young adult (and some not so young!) children have, now that they are navigating the world of adulthood.
This is not only fulfilling as a parent, but also as a human being who craves the feeling of being available and helpful.
What is one thing you spend—or stopped spending—on that is important to your health and wellness, or the health and wellness of your family?
This is a fun one!
The health and wellness of my family and our environment is deeply important to me. For too many years I bought into the myth that eating healthy and caring for the environment would either mean spending tons of money by purchasing special foods and fancy household items, or it would mean learning an overwhelming amount of skills that I just don't have, like gardening and creating toothpaste and soaps and cooking good food. But once I made the decision that it was too important not to take at least some steps in the healthy direction, I was happily surprised!
Nutritious food is only sometimes more expensive (particularly healthy convenience foods) but it always goes further. Because we are getting more nutrition out of smaller amounts of food, it lasts longer.
Also, household cleaners, along with most of the soaps and toothpaste and other personal items we have in our home, are easily replaced with cheaper natural foods and oils I can get easily at any store. And it's easier to find these items not in plastic containers. I haven't even had to learn how to make stuff because I can generally just use one ingredient (add vinegar to the wash for clothes softening; wash my hair with baking soda and rinse with apple cider vinegar; baking soda to wash stains off my all-important coffee mug; etc) and when I have decided to make my own items that require more than one ingredient, it's been easy! Mix coconut oil and baking soda and a touch of cinnamon oil for toothpaste and, voila! Whiter, healthier teeth!
And because I am saving so much money in these areas I can also splurge on items in the health and wellness area without guilt. For example, it matters to me that my coffee is organic, whole bean, and fair trade. So, I buy an expensive coffee. But I've noticed, also, that I drink less than I did in my youth because I am healthier and happier and not overindulging in my coffee habit as a way to escape a feeling of "poverty" that, admittedly, I used to live with. So, again, I think I might even be saving money while splurging.
What's the last thing (from coffee to a car!) that you splurged on? How much was it?
Yesterday I bought plane tickets for my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter to come visit me!!!! It cost $98 and I don't regret a penny! *This question was answered in October of last year. That trip has come and gone and was worth far more than any amount of money could compete with! I wrote a bit about it HERE.
Three things (big or small) you do to live happily within your means:
1. Read books, watch movies, write stories, and listen to music. These are wonderful ways to live out many lives and many feelings without spending much, if any, money. Libraries are full of free stories.
But I have also budgeted for two streaming media services as a way to watch movies and shows with my family regardless of where they live. Because our family is growing older and finding their own places in the world it keeps us connected. We suggest shows to each other, talk about movies together, and explore the value of storytelling, often talking about the same story from our separate places (in the world and in our development). It's been deeply valuable and enriching!
2.Shopping at thrift stores! Every item has a story--having lived in other homes or kept other bodies warm--and we get a kick out of imagining what that story could be. Also, we focus on the recycling aspect of thrift stores rather than the cost saving. There's nothing wrong with being happy about saving money, but if we put too much emphasis on being broke then we are more likely to feel broke--which can be desperate and scary. Instead, we get a kick out of our earth-friendly thrift store purchases and the unlimited story imagining potential!
3. Exploring nature and the neighborhood. I don't have the money to travel to famous places but that doesn't stop me from discovering beauty and culture wherever I am. I live in a small town with very little in the way of entertainment venues, but in my eighteen years here I have yet to discover all the treasures this town holds!
Small hidden patches of nature, people walking alone or with family, stray animals and forgotten homes. All of these things offer ideas, stories, perspectives, and wonder. I don't have to spend a penny to feel overwhelmed with interest and appreciation for the ever-changing landscapes and generations of thought that simply going for an adventurous walk offers. (CONFESSION: I don't do it nearly as often as I'd like because it's so darn hot here in Texas!)
BONUS: Prioritize experiences! Perhaps this should be number one because it truly might be the biggest reason I feel rich in my financially limited life.
When I am offered an opportunity, and when I can create that opportunity for myself, I take necessary steps to make experiences happen. Travel, concerts, conferences, and even ending up on stage are memories and moments I have prioritized for me and my children. I am often nervous doing so – having little money can create a fear of things not going as planned, knowing that I may have to rely on my own unimpressive ingenuity and often the kindness of others to improvise and problem solve – but it is always worth it.
Prioritizing experiences has given my family a plethora of stories, has connected us in moments and memories, and has reminded us to not accept the supposed limits of poverty. Also, during those times when we have had to problem solve and ask for help, it has given us opportunities to actively appreciate the kindness of others!
Would you describe where you live as a city, suburb, or rural area?
Did you choose your location because of the cost of living, or for another reason? If something else, what is that reason?
When my mom was looking for a place to live she chose our town due to cost of living,a mong other things. At the time I was a young single mom and I was living with her. She helped me out with my children while I helped her out with hers.
We live in a trailer house that we own. My husband bought it in the late 80s and owned it a few years before I met him. So our monthly "housing" bills are merely gas, electric, phone, etc.
How much “extra” money do you have every month? What do you typically spend it on?
I suppose we have about $200.00 extra a month. My husband spends his half on scratch lotto tickets and I spend mine on movie rentals and fun "treat" foods for the family.
Have you made any trade-offs in order to live where you live, or to have the salary/job you have, or be in your relationship?
There have been trade-offs.
For my relationship, I have turned down opportunities to live in California, where most of my family now lives. My husband sometimes voices a concern that I feel "trapped" here because of him, but no, no, no! I flourish in my relationship with him. Also, choosing to stay is something I was never good at until I met him. He's taught me the value and joy of it. That trade-off has been so worth it I'm not even sure it's a trade-off.
However, there has been a troublesome trade-off to live where we live and not seek work that would pay me better. As I guided and joined my family in growth we have had to let go of our passion for live events. Stage shows, musicals, concerts, conferences that teach, these are things we all love but have just had to (mostly) let go of. Every now and then we'll do what it takes, find a way, to go to a concert or attend an event, but in general, we've had to just shrug it off and hope we'll have opportunities later in life. If we lived in a city we could volunteer our time at events in order to be part of them, but because we live in a tiny rural town, and we don't have the funds to fill up a gas tank or even a reliable car, that's not an option. Was that trade-off worth it? I think so, but I'm less sure.
If so, are those tradeoffs worth it?
Sorry, I sort of answered this question in my previous answer. However, I like the excuse to add a bit more.
The trade-offs have been worth it because we make them worth it. If I had chosen to leave my husband living in Texas while I lived in California (which I did do for a temporary time of two years) and try to make the long-distance relationship work I believe we could have found a way to discover and highlight benefits. Maybe I would have followed a path of work that was opening up for me there, and maybe I would have made more money, and maybe my husband could have lived with less of the stress he endures being the one who hustles to make ends meet. I don't know.
Also, maybe if I had worked a job that kept me busy but also made me money I would have found ways to attend events with my children and they would now have the contacts, understanding, and an example of how to make those things happen for themselves. That's what I'm not sure of.
However, because I didn't make that choice and because we didn't get to attend the events or meet the people who make that stuff happen, we are finding our own way with what we have done and who we do know. So although I do, admittedly, wonder if staying broke in a small town with limited opportunities but easy access to each other and cheaper living was the right choice, I also work hard to make it one.
What is the most important decision you’ve made for wellness—yours or the people you live with—in the last five years? Why was it key?
Oh, this is another fun one!
Quite a few years ago I asked my husband if there was any way he could build a "dance room" for me and our boys. I had noticed that we (okay, mostly me) were becoming quite sedentary and I wanted to solve the problem. We went on family walks and bike rides, but too often they felt forced.
However, my sons and I love to dance.
The problem: In our small house there isn't much room for dancing and it's not kind to turn the music up too loud, in case other people aren't in the mood to rock out.
The solution: My husband built a little room in the back of his garage for us! It wasn't an expensive addition to his already existing shop and he discovered that he enjoys having access to music while he works. Admittedly, my sons don't use it much but, boy, I do! Especially when the weather is cool. So a few nights a week (in the winter, less in the summer) I head outside, step over car parts and mechanic tools, enter my own little room and go dancing! I get cardio for physical health and the freedom of dancing for mental health. I'm one lucky lady!
Is there anything else that you’d like to be share about your philosophy or choices with regard to being happy with your current household income?
I only want to add that I have spent my entire life living in or near poverty, and I grew up with a single mom who taught the value of connecting, loving, laughing, and working hard for the sake of service and experiencing your worth.
Because of this, it hasn't been hard for me to live mostly within my means, even when those means are extremely small.
Right now my husband is retired and we live on his social security and the bit that I make as a part-time personal assistant, supplemented with my husband's ability to hustle and take advantage of his mechanic skills. It's not much, but I have almost always lived this way. I have tips, thoughts, and ways to help others find the joy of living within their means but I never want to discount the challenge it is for people who have to learn it later in life.
Also, I don't want toromanticize poverty (obviously) or even the desire to stop wanting more. Wanting more is a valuable motivator.
I think the challenge is keeping an eye on our reasons. Do you want more because you think it will make you happy and successful? Because you want to impress people? Or because you want the freedom to follow desires and passions? And are you so focused on wanting more that you don't adore what you have?
There is always a balance to seek and hold onto. I think living happily within our means is an organic and alive skill. I feed it, listen to it, challenge it, teach it, and ultimately love it.
I'm actually getting ready to head out of town for "work" tomorrow. I'll be babysitting my nieces in California for the next twelve days and getting paid good money for it. This is something I do about once a year and I'm lucky! So that's another thing I should add: Say yes to opportunities that make you money even if it seems weird to make money doing it. Of course I would babysit my nieces for free! I love them wildly! But I also know that my sister can afford to pay me in this instance and that she wants to, for many reasons. So, I say yes. It was terrifically uncomfortable to accept the money for a long time but I kept saying yes.
My hubby and a couple of our boys working together.
Now, we all feel comfortable and good about it.
Find that balance, friends. Remember to allow it the freedom to shift and grow and change with your life.