Monday, September 2, 2013

Thoughts on feeling that you can't make ends meet

There is nothing quite like cleaning a kid's room to re-realized how not-poor you are. I was thinking about it this way:

On the left side of the scale let's put all the things you want for your kids, as well as the desires (for them and for you) that you think of as needs.

On the right pile let's put all the waste: the carelessly broken, unused, good-for-a-week, and no-longer-of-interest toys and games; the leftovers that went bad in the fridge and the food thrown out partly eaten; the collection of single earrings mourning their mates; the clothing that is perfectly good but languishes unliked and unworn in dresser drawers.

It puts some perspective on all those desires, doesn't it? Because all that stuff you're throwing out was once, in some way, desired.

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I tell my kids they have the right to feel poor on the first day they don't get to eat.

I don't expect them to buy it completely, of course. We all feel poor when others have things we can't afford. We feel poor when we have to work hard at making ends meet. We feel poor when we have to make hard sacrifices and trade-offs. We feel poor when we can't replace things we're used to having, and when we can no longer afford to do things we used to be able to do.

Whether feeling poor is the same as being poor is a different issue. The yardstick doesn't begin with where we are and end with where we want to be. The yardstick begins with poverty we can't imagine, and ends with wealth we wouldn't enjoy. How much of it we see is up to us.

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A dozen years ago I met someone who managed to scratch three meals out of one chicken for her family of four. I knew how to get two meals for my then-family of five, but was baffled by the third. "Soup," she told me, "I never buy chicken without making soup."

It had never occurred to me to make soup from the scraps. At first it seemed like a ridiculous amount of extra work. But like most things, it doesn't take that much work once you make it part of your routine. It's like baking muffins: less expensive than cereal, better for you, and five minutes to mix up and toss in the oven. Simple. Sometimes we're poorer because we lack the insight to see how much more we can do with what we have.

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One reason we sometimes feel we don't have enough for our needs is because as soon as we have resources our minds revert to thinking about what we want, instead.

It also think that, aside from being incredibly bad at distinguishing our own needs from wants, we confuse others' needs with what we want for them. This is true when it comes to our kids, and particularly true when it comes to things that we think will make them happy, smart, engaged, interesting or better able to capitalize on their innate abilities.

I hit this wall every year, when I try to reconcile our homeschooling activities with our budget. It is hard to see what would be beneficial but isn't possible. Eventually, every year, I shrug. I can't do everything I think would be beneficial, because that's not one of my options. Instead I do what I can with what I have, and trust that somehow that will grow into what it needs to be.


  1. "The yardstick begins with poverty we can't imagine and ends with wealth we wouldn't enjoy.". I hope to read that quotation is a book of collected wisdom one day under "Attaway, Julia." I allso hope to sear it into my own soul. So true.

  2. Great point, Julia! How long have you home schooled? Have you considered trying public school online? Blessings.

  3. Great point, Julia! How long have you home schooled? Have you considered trying public school online? Blessings.