How To Be Poor (And Happy)

Yes, you CAN be poor, happy, and totally 80′s all at once!

Last week I wrote a series about digging out of $28k of credit card debt. I shared important life lessons and referenced naked strippers. Good times.

Those blog posts came from the limited perspective of yours truly: someone who has never had a problem making a modest to adequate amount of money, but who has always been terrible at managing it. (I’m a little less terrible these days.)

I’m one of those lucky bast*rds who has always had job opportunities thrown into her lap (except that one time). And I’ve never been slapped with ungodly medical bills or other expensive emergencies (except that one year when Brian and I had to pay $5k in taxes! Holy heck!). Nope, for the most part, I dug my own financial grave. I didn’t fall into debt, I chose it.

So this week I’ve been reflecting on the many people who struggle financially not because they are naive and irresponsible like I was, but because sh*t happens. Life happens.

And yet?

Many of these individuals are hopeful and content.

It kind of makes me scratch my head. It makes me wonder what their secret is. If I were eating at a restaurant with them I’d call over the waiter and whisper, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

I love the story of my parents’ rise from poverty to stability. But not just because there’s a happy ending to it. (How awesome is this: They reached their goal of sending all 4 of us kids to college, they’ve traveled all over the world, and they’re financially set for retirement.) I love their story because they found a way to be content no matter what was in their wallets at any given time.

My parents have a lot of interesting stories about living in poverty throughout their youth and young adulthood. When they first moved to the US together they had $10 to their name, as well 2 bowls, 2 spoons, 2 forks, and 2 knives. Oh, and clean underwear. (Phew!) They had to share a house with 5 adults in my dad’s family, all of whom had also recently immigrated from the Philippines.

(By the way: God bless my mother for enduring life with her in-laws. I LOVE my dad’s side of the family but they think they’re royalty. They’re like the Kennedys but not as rich or good looking. Hehe.)

Despite the fact that my parents were college educated “A” students in their home country, they had a hard time making ends meet in the US. My mom worked a cash register at a supermarket. And at one point my dad was an accountant by day, a pizza delivery guy by night, and a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman on weekends. No job was too blue collar for my parents– not even for my dad, who was once celebrated for having a photographic memory and for graduating valedictorian in his home town.

My favorite story from my family’s early years happened while my dad was at the house of a family who seemed interested in buying one of his encyclopedia sets. They were having a spaghetti dinner at the time my dad had rung their doorbell, so they invited him in for a plate. And for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to put that plate on his chair.

I think you know where this story is going.

My perpetually jolly and sometimes socially awkward dad (think Santa mixed with Winnie The Pooh) accidentally sat right on his own plate of spaghetti. Yup…butt full of meat sauce. And the family felt so badly about it that they bought $1,000 worth of encyclopedias from him.

I like this story because of the way my dad tells it. He always laughs while he recounts the details. He is not bitter about what he had to endure for his family — he is proud. And that makes me proud.

I didn’t know about my family’s early years of financial hardship until later in my life. The stories came as a complete shock to me. Why? Because my earliest childhood memories were of jokes, and food, and music, and siblings who put me in the oven, and watching my parents practice ballroom dancing in our den. We were happy.

It seems that the secret to being content despite financial hardship boils down to: courage, faith, hope, gratitude, perseverance and Love. But what do these lofty ideas look like in real life?

Since I battle so much with anxiety, what I find most helpful is looking at the big picture and, on a spiritual level, having trust and gratitude. At night when Brian is asleep, I put my arm around him and think about how blessed I am, and how perfect that very moment is simply because we have each other. (Yes, even when I look up at the ceiling just above our bed and remember that sheet rock and wood beams are the only things that separate us from my parents in their bed.)

It’s not just about reaching financial goals (although it feels SO kick-ass when you do). It’s about who you’re with while you’re striving toward these goals, and how much gratitude and joy you *choose* to experience along the way.

Your Turn: How do you find joy and fulfillment during financially difficult times?


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9 Responses to How To Be Poor (And Happy)

  1. Pingback: 4 Steps For Dealing With Haters | a brave life

  2. Sheryl says:

    Kim, are you talking about my life? :P

    I’ve found that just like all the advice says, it’s about getting creative and spending time with the people I love. One of the hardest things about being unemployed at first was that hey I have all this time to do everything I’ve ever wanted … but maybe dropping a couple hundred on yoga or pottery classes isn’t really too smart right now. But I do lots of little creative “projects” (writing, cooking, cross stitch) that are so fulfilling. I have the opportunity to hop on the subway and go all the way to the end of the transit system to grab a coffee with a friend just because it’s Wednesday afternoon.

    Plus, when Bunny’s around it’s pretty darn hard to not find something to be happy about. We’re big enough goofs that we can amuse ourselves with tickle wars for hours. As long as he’s around, I have to actually work at being unhappy, even when things are bleak.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Awesome! Writing, cooking, cross stitch, Weds. afternoon coffee dates, Bunny time — now that’s a great life. :) Glad you’re filling your days with fun and affordable activities.

      I’m reminded of a really interesting article I read on MSN today that said: “‘If you had all the money in the world, what would you change about your life to make you happier?’ For most of us, it’s not a $2 million yacht. What we’d likely buy is a carefree life and financial security.” Even though you may not be completely stable due to your unemployment, it sounds like you’ve got some of the elements that people want in their life– not so much because you are literally carefree, but because you are filling your time with fulfilling activities. And just as importantly, you’re aware of this and you appreciate it. I think that’s another key to happiness.

      You should check out the entire article. It’s called “How much do you need to be happy”. And yes, it provides numbers:

      • Sheryl says:

        Apparently we read the same articles on the internet, because I read that the other day. :) I enjoy the point it makes that money itself isn’t what provides happiness, rather it provides security which leads to decreased stress. Less stress = more happy time.

        I think you’ve got it down with the elements I’ve got going on in my life. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about the whole debate that went on with Bunny going back to school (he graduates in two weeks! I’m so proud!) but it came down to a giant values discussion: time or money. And we choose our time, always.

        So right now, even though we have some serious money stresses we’re really still living our values and we made a lot of the decisions that led us here.

        • Kimberly Eclipse says:

          Less stress = more happy time. Totally. And I think that’s part of the allure of self-employment and web-based businesses that I and so many others are drawn to. It’s not that people don’t want to work, but when you can design your own work schedule and/or be location independent, you feel like you have more room to really live a full life according to your values.

          No, I didn’t know about Bunny being in school and graduating in two weeks! Go him! What do you mean when you say you chose your time?

          • Sheryl says:

            You’ve hit the nail on the head with the allure of working for yourself, I think.

            Choosing time has to do with the nature and pay grade of Bunny’s old job. He brought in six figures, but an “early” night would get him out of the office around 9 or 10. We had all the freedom money could bring … except no time together. Which sucked so incredibly hard. He also wasn’t happy with the work he did, so the decision to go to something he likes better (he’s fixing motorcycles now) was easy.

            What it’s come down to is the decision that we’d rather be broke but have time for each other, and we need to make that a priority. So jobs that require work every weekend or only offer the evening shift are out for us – even if they pay $1000/hour. (Well, I guess if they paid $1000/hour I’d only need to work a couple of hours, but still).

            • Kimberly Eclipse says:

              That is so awesome. Bunny the happily married motorcycle mechanic. NICE.

              Yeah, that much time apart would be difficult for any couple to endure, so I completely understand your decision. Money just isn’t the same if you can’t enjoy it with your loved ones. Good for you guys for doing what you feel is best for your little family. :)

  3. Boyd says:

    I find joy by observing the amazing amount of imagination both of my kids (4 and 6) show in entertaining themselves. We aren’t hurting financially, but raising 2 kiddos on 1 and 1/2 incomes can get tight. In their little minds, though, they have it all. Empty toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls serve as swords and trumpets. Boxes and sheets become their castles and their cute little mouths serve as the only sound effects they need. When I see this, it really reminds me that beauty and happiness are totally in the eye of the beholder.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      That’s beautiful, Boyd! Children (and I’d argue pets, too) have an amazing way of reminding us of what’s important in life. I agree that happiness is in the eye of the beholder. I could fret over trying to own or earn more, but I think I’d rather spend my time making sure my perspective is on point.

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