Normally my blogs are a funny mix of a poetic, creative flow mixed with spiritual and humanitarian idealism. But not today! Today’s blog is entirely practical! Today’s thoughts are an A to Z of how best to live with poverty as many of us slide into this difficult abyss with petrol, heating and food becoming more and more difficult to obtain. It is my wish that this blog can be in some ways helpful to folks experiencing these difficulties for the first time.
I used to be ashamed of our poverty: it made me feel less than and that I was somehow lazy and dysfunctional. Neither of these qualities are true are and actually my circumstances are a reflection of a society that does not value certain jobs and skills and talents and nothing more. So, I have lived cheek by jowl with poverty all my adult life and have raised my children and learned a degree of self sufficiency and resilience through this experience. Necessity is the mother of invention. The following thoughts and ideas are things that have worked for me and perhaps some of them will help others as we collectively go into a world where scarcity may become a buzz word in terms of experience.
First thing to cultivate: Mindset!
This is one of the most important things to consciously become aware of and cultivate mindfully. Poverty is stressful, it is degrading, it is difficult .It is like trying to walk gracefully on a tightrope where you might fall off at any minute. It is exhausting and constant. Within that one has to function, raise ones children well, work and be someone that others want to be around. You don’t want it to alienate yourself from others by moaning about! You also don’t want to become bitter, angry, internally grey or dull. It is easy to fall prey to catastrophic thinking when one has no heating, a broken car and only celery, mushrooms , yoghurt and pasta left to feed the kids on! ( I ended up making a cool recipe from these items!)
So, the first thing is to turn it around in your head! What are the silver linings that one can see…. ? For me, it became a challenge to see how creatively and resourcefully I could live. It became my challenge- how to live well and positively in difficult circumstances. I use meditation, positive thinking tools and my buddhist practice to help me with this. Most importantly I did not want it to erode my relationship with my children or my husband. My husband and I made a pact that we would try only to see the best in each other, to support each other and create a circle of light for our children to grow in. This has been our abiding principle because otherwise resentment, anger and emotional difficulties would make a practically difficult situation even worse. This framework of thought has to be held up to as a daily challenge and is not easy to always accomplish. We are fallible human beings. We always try and look at what we can learn from our experiences both in terms of mindset and in terms of practical skills. It is also a matter of getting it in perspective. My husband worked in Africa for a number of years and he has always said our poverty is a pale reflection of what many people experience over there.
Where you live.
If you are perennially poor it is important to think about where one lives. Poverty often has clusters of other difficulties around it. Poor housing, bad diet, social difficulties, crime, poor education, difficult neighbourhoods. None of these are great to experience. I once lived in a house that had so much mould that if you went away for a week the dining table would be covered in mould when you got back! It was disgusting and that was the time I started to have endometriosis and I swear there is a link. So, pick where you live carefully. Everyone has different criteria so this is a personal choice. We decided we wanted our children to have a rural childhood of freedom and healthy outdoor play. Also rural poverty is unashamedly easier to handle than urban poverty as some of the above list is not present. You also can do other things to help yourself that create resilience and good health rather than the reverse.
I am someone who feels the cold so lord knows why I ended up in North Scotland in a draughty old farmhouse with absolutely no insulation! Well, actually I do….it is because of the above choice! Living here has it’s difficulties but it has absolutely been the best place to raise our kids and give them a good and clean start to life. So how to live positively with little heating because it costs the earth. Basically, the heating goes on once a day and the rest of the time I am dressed as a female hippie version of the Incredible Hulk in layers of thermal vests, jumpers, and a poncho . On particularly cold days when I a working from home I strap a mini hot water bottle around my middle with a scarf. On occasion I have been known to cook in my hat, and teach recorders with my fingerless gloves on! Elegance is not in my vocabulary most of the time! I save that somewhat gleefully for when I go to London. It becomes a fun week of wearing all the things that make me feel femenine and womanly.
As I am self employed and create my own work pattern I also often use the “cold” part of the day- the mornings to do outdoor garden jobs and do my online fitness programme….so I generate internal heat. Keeping fit keeps me warm, makes me feel great and gives me more energy and floods my body with happy endorphins. It makes me feel more resilient too.
As we have a woodburning stove we also sometimes supplement the coal and logs with our own kindling and log collection from the local wood. For years it was my children’s job to gather the winter kindling at the October half term. Sixteen barrow loads it would take and two fed up kids ! They were then rewarded with a day out and chocolate cake! Funnily enough though ,as young adults they look back on this and think it taught them resilience and a good work ethic and perseverance.
Food is a big one and is of even more importance to get right than heating. I will not cut corners with food or compromise my family’s health. Living as I do with endometriosis – which can be controlled by diet, I have therefore undertaken a great deal of research on living healthily on a budget. This is what I have learnt that I can share. Refined carbohydrates are fillers but are empty calories. They easily become the food of the poor and cause weight gain and are of poor nutritional quality. Adults do not need as many carbohydrates as children. In fact middle aged and older adults have slower metabolic rates and so need less calories altogether. So, my husband and I have a smoothie at lunch time and only a meal in the evening. That cuts the cost down. And, it cuts down the tendency to get roly poly middle aged spread!
We need small amounts of protein, good fats, heaps of fruit and vegetables and small amounts of carbohydrates. Children need more carbs than adults and they need to eat three times a day. We use the slow cooker a lot as it only uses as much energy as a light bulb.We cook with fattier cuts of meat for stews and are exploring the delights of dried chickpeas and legumes. These are bought quite cheaply in bulk online. Our smoothies at lunchtime have coconut block in them, a nut mix that has protein and omega 3 in it, collagen , macha, turmeric, hemp powder and various frozen fruits which are cheaper to buy than fresh fruit.
We also grow a lot of our own food in the garden. At this time of year (April) we still have kale, beetroot, eggs from our hens , homemade sea buckthorn and elderberry tonics. I make our jam and my husband sometimes makes wine! It is rather strong and I only need a very small amount as it makes me rather owlish and sleepy! The hens contribute eggs but also a small amount of income. I sell their eggs to my neighbours and in turn once a month we have enough money to treat ourselves to an M and S dine in dinner !
Growing your own food gives you new skills, keeps you fit and is something to do together at the weekends when you can’t be spending money you don’t have. It tastes better and makes you feel resilient and proud. A win win. It also means you are contributing to a better carbon footprint so you are doing your bit for the planet too! Kids will help a bit and this will set them up with skills for their adult lives and help them value hard work and buckling down to tasks. Allotments for city dwellers would be a good suggestion to go for.
Hobbies and Clothes
I love beauty in all forms and follow the dictum from William Morris about beauty and usefulness. Interior design is something I could almost have followed as a career so I love to make where I live look nice. Being on an almost nothing budget for these items and also never owning my own house has meant I have had to be creative with this. We made a lot of our own art work. My husband is an ex graphic artist so this is his area of skill. But, he also has taught me to do artwork through a numbered grid so we have both adorned our house with artwork that has been self created and paper mâché bowls that have been highly decorated by hand. Junk shop, second hand shops and ” Making something out of Nowt” (my husband’s Yorkshire motto) have given us all sorts of personalised curio’s over the years. The result is a quirky, artistic, cosy home full of colour and texture and stories. Our current project is to make an outdoor eating table out of discarded scaffolding planks; it is also a chance for me to learn a new skill from my husband. He is the King of practical skills and I the Queen of quirky ideas so we can learn from each other. I have designed how we will make it artistic and unique in my head….( wood staining combined with pyrography).
Clothes are an easy one- there are so many second hand shops and e- bay makes it so easy! I only ever buy something new on my birthday with birthday money, all the more exciting as it’s such a treat! I invariably buy another woollen jumper to beat the cold- but a nice expensive, beautiful one that makes me feel luxurious and special! I am also blessed with sisters, a mother and a step mother so clothes get passed around and all my pretty, glamorous clothes are usually gifted by them. When it came to clothing the kids I became part of a shared clothing scheme at the kids school. I even ran it for a while. Basically people brought the clothes and shoes the kids grew out of . We stored it in bags labelled by age in the school basement and every School fundraiser the bags would come out. We would raise money for school trips for kids who could not afford to go and clothe our kids at the same time. If someone had a clothing need I would meet them at the school gates on an allocated day once a week and we would go and raid the bags together. The other day I was teaching music to one of my pupils and he was wearing an old hoody from my boys ! it’s quite nice seeing things being reborn and recycled.
Sometimes our other hobbies can become side hustles too: my songwriting might one day even earn me a penny or two. My goal is that it could pay for holidays- something that has only once been on the agenda in our time raising the boys. I am also wondering about training to be a personal fitness trainer, so my hobby that started as a need to keep warm and fit might end up earning me some money. But, I need money for the training and my music teaching money only JUST pays for food and logs and coal. I am still exploring my idea of Glamping in our orchard, but the initial costs are a hefty amount, so I am slowly saving. I have lots of different bank accounts labelled: fuel account, savings to make us money, travel for songwriting, car bill account, living account and bill account. Everything gets a small amount each month and organisation is key. It is walking the tightrope of poverty with oh so much consideration and care.
But, given persistence and imagination and slow perseverance I think I will make at least one of these side hustles an extra money earner one day.
It all comes back to my first item in the list`; Mindset. Persistence, positivity and creativity and slowly one gets by with a resilient smile!
I hope this helps a few newly hard up folks….