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The Blessings of Poverty

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 8:00 AM Comments (62)

In the immortal words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “It’s no great shame to be poor.  But it’s no great honor, either!”

It can, however, come in handy.

Before I go any further, here’s the obligatory disclaimer:  I know some will quibble with any American calling himself poor.  Our family never goes hungry, and we have a roof over our heads and shoes on our feet, plus all sorts of luxuries (two vehicles, internet, Netflix, and the occasional emotional health-related trip to the liquor store).  So, no:  compared to a huge percentage of the world’s population, we Fishers are not poor.  At all.

However, we have to think about money constantly, and probably always will.  Sometimes we have a little extra, and then we have to think think think:  should we use it to pay down debt?  Take the kids to the zoo (and maybe even bring them home again, heh heh heh)?  Sock it away in case the tailpipe falls off again?  Send it to India?  Replace the couch with one that doesn’t make guests cringe when we say, “Have a seat?”  These would all be valid expenditures—but, just like the Highlander says, there can be only one.

On the plastic surgery post, someone remarked that she’s spared the moral dilemma of whether or not to get a tummy tuck, because she simply can’t afford it.  This is one of the blessings of (relative) poverty:  So many difficult decisions are simply lifted away from you, poof!  When something’s impossible, it’s no longer a problem.

Poverty saves you from foolish expenditures (unless you’re foolish enough to go into debt over things you don’t need):  never once have we tasted the bitterness of buyer’s remorse as we survey the bill for the wrong kind of premium cell phone, useless time share condo, regrettable L-shaped leather couch in sea foam green, or one of those luxury alligators.  Thanks, poverty!

Oh, how we enjoy it when we do have a little cash to spend.  I saved my birthday money and my other money and did some strategic store returns, and then I did serious research for at least a month before spending the astronomical sum of $60 on a really snappy red leather purse.  If I regularly had sixty discretionary dollars, this luscious little item would probably be invisible to me by now.  But as it is, it’s six months later and I still get a little thrill of pleasure every time I sling it over my shoulder.  Thanks, poverty!

The same is true for larger purchases:  our house is not exactly luxurious— it’s of a size that realtors refer to as “adorable,” which means if we need a new door, we shop at the mobile home supply lot—but we never expected to own a home in the first place.  And so WE LOVE IT.  And the same is true for smaller purchases, too:  when you go a couple weeks with no room for beer in the budget, that first cold one tastes pretty, pretty good.  Thanks, poverty!

And poverty is so environmentally friendly.  If we buy it, it’s probably used.  If someone has an extra one, they give it to us instead of throwing it away.  If it breaks, we fix it or find another one on the side of the road.  Gas is so expensive, I drive like an old lady with narcolepsy.  We don’t fly, we don’t have an air conditioner, we can’t afford much disposable stuff, and we just pretty much stay home and watch our bank account get smaller.  Our carbon footprint is tiny, because we can’t afford to buy the next size up.  You’re welcome, Al Gore!  Another thousand families like ours, and we’d just make up for the spotlights on the trees on your front lawn.  Thanks, poverty!

Tight money saves your children from the modern scourge of overscheduling.  My kids often invite their friends over, only to find that every non-school minute is already spoken for with horseback riding, Taekwondo, violin, Russian, and Circus Arts lessons.  Half the time my heart aches that my kids can’t enjoy these things—and the other half, I just feel good because my kids spend their Saturdays sitting around reading under a shady tree while the little ones splash happily in a bowl of water.  Thanks, poverty!

And one more, not so much fun:  poverty gives you the unforgettable experience of being in someone else’s debt.  I believe that this sensation is utterly indispensable for the development of one’s soul.  Thank, poverty.  I guess.

Well, that’s about it for now.  I have to go sew some patches on the meatloaf before my husband gets home from his triple shift at the bottle-washing factory.  And my foot is getting pretty tired from working the modem treadle, anyway.

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About Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher
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Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and nine children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.