Sometime towards the end of high school I received a scrapbooking kit. I don’t remember who got it for me, probably my grandmother. It was thoughtful gift, as I had developed a life-long habit of taking way too many photographs and saving endless amounts of news clippings, interesting images from magazines, ticket stubs, and any other scrapbook-y thing you can imagine.
I remember spending hours on end, every day for weeks on my first scrapbook. It provided an outlet for my love of nostalgia and the idea of passing them on to my future children appealed to my sense of tradition. I found the act of putting these books together equal parts fun and soothing and I knew I had found my “thing”. For the next few years, I would receive more scrapbooking items at Christmas and on my birthday. I set about putting everything together, finishing 4 more books and making plans for the rest. And then, I stopped.
It wasn’t a loss of interest or a lack of time that made me give it up. It was a lack of money, pure and simple. Covers, pages, page protectors, glue…none of it is free.
Scrapbooking isn’t the only hobby I’ve had to give up due to a lack of finances. I used to sew, I used to paint, I used to draw. I used to spend hours doing crafty things, but supplies cost money. Money I don’t have.
It’s the reason my electric guitar has sat untouched for the last 4 years. It needs a new jack. A ten dollar fix, but the reality is, I don’t have ten dollars to spend on something frivolous. The harsh reality is, unless something is a gift, we do without. In the past few years I’ve been to numerous concerts and events–all paid for by someone else. Thoughtful gifts to be sure, but it does a number to your self-esteem to know that you simply cannot afford to do anything on your own.
Hobbies–be it concert-going, crafts, playing an instrument, or anything else you can think of–all cost money. The sad truth is, even if you happen to have some extra money, you know better than to spend it on something non-essential, fearing the disapproving looks and comments from those who know your plight. “You wouldn’t be broke if you spent your money more wisely. Just last month you ordered a pizza!” Luxuries, not matter how small, are for the rich.
Heck, even some “necessities” can be out of reach. I’ll never forget the shame I felt when my little one started walking around. We tried everything we could think of to keep her contained using things we already owned. People would see our make-shift barriers and say, “You should really get some baby gates. They’re only like 10 dollars!”
We’d nod and ignore it. We’d get them eventually. Maybe. I remember wanting to scream, “Ten dollars for you is not the same as ten dollars for us! Where is the money going to come from?” But I knew, no one would understand.
On the outside, we look like we have it all together. Sure everything we own is second hand, savings is a laughable concept, and we’re boned if anything essential breaks down, but we manage. There’s always food on our table. Our bills are (usually) paid–even if it means skipping one bill to cover another and catching up later. We do alright. There are many people in the world who have it worse than we do, and I am truly grateful for that.
However, one can’t help but feel cheated sometimes. When you work hard and try to do everything right without seeing any gains, it can get to you. There are times when you feel like a failure. When your only bra falls apart and you have to go without to buy clothing for your rapidly growing toddler. When you turn down the invitation to grab dinner with a friend. When you want to fix your guitar. When you want to work on your scrapbooks. When your TV stops working or your washer goes out….and there’s nothing you can do. It’s out of your control. Your basic needs are met, but you still feel unfulfilled. You still feel “less than”. You’re surviving, but you sure as heck aren’t living.
I tell you this not for sympathy, but because I know there are many other people who are trapped in the same situation. People who aren’t “poor enough” for assistance, but still can’t quite make ends meet no matter how much they sacrifice. It’s a tricky place to be in and I can see where it can breed some resentment. I see people in this same predicament who wind up hating the people who are worse off than them and resent the help they receive. I see people who hate on those who are better off, allowing the green-eyed monster to control them
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t many, many things wrong with the system in which we live. There are certainly reasons for the amount of poverty this country faces and for the seemingly unending struggle of the working poor–and there are certainly solutions. But that’s another post for another day.
Today, I want to challenge you all–regardless of where you are on the financial spectrum–to try to see past your own struggles and to ponder what it may be like for someone else. To reassess the way you look at money, what you view as necessities, the way you allow these barriers to make you feel about yourself and about other human beings. Compassion is the key that will allow us to grow and to find solutions.