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Acting Poor

In lieu of Money Saving Monday this week, here’s the money thoughts rattling around in my head.

By all accounts, I am not poor. Like most of you out there, I am decidedly middle class. Perhaps not upper middle class. More like comfortable middle class. For that, we are fortunate. My goal is not to make light of poverty. Poverty and hunger are real problems, not to be scoffed at. For our purposes here, ‘poor’ refers to ‘less’.

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Pictured above is a perfectly good, sealed bag of cereal. I picked it up on the way back to the car from our stroll through the Farmer’s Market. It was sitting in a heap of discarded items. Next to the sidewalk. A co-worker’s been singing the praises of ‘Chicken Donuts’ (aka Cheerios). Apparently, his girls love ‘em. Since I’m still attempting to train the Ladies to come when called, I’d been meaning to pick up a little processed cereal treat. I didn’t intend that pick up to be from the side of the road. But Hey! Free! I didn’t crawl into a dumpster to get it, but I probably would have.

The Husband was mildly scandalized by this act. I got a “Wait. What ARE you doing!?” I explained. He pontificated as to the potential presence of poop on the cellophane bag. Dirt, yes. Poop, no. I assured him. (As if I really knew). And we continued our walk back to the car, organic eggs, bacon, a stock pile of artisan cheese, and some trash picked chicken supplies. That’s not weird at all, right?

There is living beyond your means. Anybody can do that with a little credit. Then there’s living under those means. That’s frugality. That’s what we strive for. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t come naturally to me. Give me money, I will spend it. In order to live under-means, I convince myself I have less. This is accomplished in a multitude of ways: By auto-saving X% of my salary – in retirement and in post-tax accounts, lowering available funds before they even get to me. Also by committing resources to projects – rapid car debt repayment for instance. Giving myself less cash flow creates a sense of false scarcity. I’m still not poor, but it feels like I have less. I do this almost, just shy of, not quite to the point of discomfort.

Why would you do such a thing? Why create more struggle than necessary?

Putting aside dreams of escaping Corporate Servitude, if I think I have less resources, nothing is ‘above’ me. It forces me to consider options, I perhaps otherwise wouldn’t. If dipping into the Emergency Fund is not on the table (and it shouldn’t be), then I have limited options. I need to do some targeted savings. I need to exercise patience. I need to get creative. I need to seriously consider picking up that bag of cereal off the side of the road.

Or picking up the free wood. Or spending my lunch break picking blackberries. Or asking for a discount, just because. Or saving those dog food receipts for the free bag.

I also need to constantly assess what I’m not doing. I don’t take showers at the gym (but, I could). I haven’t given up meat (nor am I likely to). How do I currently feel about that Netflix selection? (not too inspired, now that you ask). That almost discomfort keeps me questioning. Even, if I still want to shower at home, thankyouverymuch.

By acting poor, or at least of a more limited means, I am adding gravity to each of my decisions. I could go buy a bag of cereal right now. I could go buy many bags of cereal right now. But in this arrangement, if I see one next to the sidewalk, I don’t waste much time hesitating to pick it up.

It’s totally a mind game. Not thinking of myself as that comfortable middle class, who can pretty much afford to do this or that as I see fit. Preemptively removing (almost) too much money from the equation to begin with. These things fuel my frugality, readying me for a day of truly diminished resources. Resources diminished by the aforementioned escape erm “career change”, hopefully. Or by an unseen twist of fate. Either way, I prepping now.

Consciously playing this game, embracing the struggle, it’s a recent development. Born primarily out of the truly reduced circumstances from The Leap. As in I lept, without looking to some degree. Conceptually, I knew I would make ‘less money’. Heck, I drew up the budget. I just didn’t know what ‘less money’ felt like. Or all the changes it would necessitate in my day to day life. Knowing you can live on less and actually doing it, turns out they’re two different things. I wasn’t picking up bags of cereal from trash heaps. I’ll be damned if I’ll make that mistake again.

Do you trick yourself into spending less? How? Do you think of yourself as comfortable? And is that what you strive for?

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Comments

Tracy
Reply

That is why I have a budget – to trick myself. If I go over that budget it hurts too much to take it out of my emergency fund. I like security more than I like things. Yes I can afford to leave every light on in my house but instead I am constantly turning off uneeded lights. If I lower that bill or any other for that matter I can use that $ for something else I really want. I am almost sick when I wake up on a Sat morning and realize someone left a light on all night long.

dogsordollars
Reply

Oh, I hate lights left on! That’s exactly what I’m talking about – taking those things seriously, even if you ‘technically’ don’t have to.

Miser Mom
Reply

Count me in, for the light-switch-obsessors club!

DorD, there’s a big difference in my mind between picking up stuff that would go to waste (like your cheerios — score!), and transferring the cost from yourself to other people (like using the gym showers instead of your own). It’s part of why I don’t use coupons . . . someone is paying for that stuff that I’d buy, and if I’m being honest about the true cost, it might as well be me shelling out the money. But, on the other hand, several of my favorite outfits are things I found on the street, literally. Waste not.

dogsordollars
Reply

MM – This is an excellent point. One I haven’t considered, not in the cost of those gym showers I can never bring myself to take or the coupons I use infrequently. I’ll have to figure out where those concerns fit in my spectrum of savings. ;) Thanks for giving me something (new) to noodle over.

Jen
Reply

I have taken to waiting months to do yard projects collecting free items from Craigs list or freecycle. Mentioning to friend and family we love used clothes and toys … especially at birthdays or Christmas. My son has clothes till he is 5. If its too hot we eat otter pops under the fan with the AC off and too cold we break out the fleece.

dogsordollars
Reply

The mention is an all important skill. I’m a big fan of the mention. Planting the seed is much better than asking outright. ;)

I’m glad to hear it takes other people months to accomplish these things. That’s the bit I find frustrating. Patience! Ack!

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