Two years ago, I stood in the kitchen trying not to cry.
A conversation with my husband had been the last straw. It wasn’t mean, it wasn’t ugly. He’d simply suggested that we needed that we needed to spend less money.
How many more notches can the belt be tightened before it breaks? I wondered.
Beyond that, I was tired. Tired of not being able to afford anything. Tired of trying to make ends meet. Tired of the crummy toys that littered the living room floor. Tired of saying no to anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity.
Although things continued to get worse in our financial situation, with a disaster of a calf crop, work being hard to find, and impending medical expenses (our second child was born that summer), for me, that was the low point.
I was doing everything I could – Everything – to save money. Using cloth diapers, maintaining a very low grocery budget, and making my own soap were (and still are) barely scratching the surface of our money saving strategies.
Not only were we saving as much as we could, I was also dabbling in selling soap and kefir grains on Etsy, as well as selling things on eBay (that was actually kind of fun, and I wish I still had time for it.).
It took me a while, but I finally realized that while all those things were good things, I was still missing the key ingredient.
I hate this.
I can’t live like this.
I don’t want this.
My attitude was a recipe for disaster.
Eleven Ways to Be Happy – Even When You’re Dirt Poor
The hard truth – the truth that none of us wants to believe – is that nothing will make us happy. Rich, poor, married, single, healthy, or not – those aren’t the things that make us happy.
Happiness is a choice.
But it’s more than a choice; it’s a state of mind.
What does that mean exactly? Well, think about this: do you feel like you deserve what you have, or more than you have? Do you feel that certain things – an older car perhaps – or people are beneath you?
Or do you feel grateful for what you have? Are the people and things in your life a blessing? Does your neighbor’s kindness humble you?
You see, the former state of mind is entitled. The latter? Well, there’s lots of to describe it: humble, grateful, blessed, joyful, happy.
Do you see the difference?
So here are eleven ways to be happy – even when you’re poor as a church mouse:
Recognize that everything you have is a gift.
The truth is, we don’t deserve anything. When our worldview is in the right place, and we realize that every single thing we own is a gift from God, it becomes a lot easier to maintain an air of humble gratefulness.
Realize that this is a training ground.
You’re here to learn. Whatever you’re going through, you’re picking up valuable skills that can be used later in life. Whether that’s becoming super efficient with money, an ace budgeter, or communication skills cultivated as a result of having lots of heart to heart talks over a sensitive subject with your spouse, you’re growing as a person.
Consider that status symbols are arbitrary.
Everyone in your neighborhood has a pool in their backyard, or a brand new car. Does that mean you have to? You don’t have to adopt their status symbols.
Read inspiring books.
If you’re struggling with the status symbol thing, I encourage you to read The Millionaire Next Door. Even if you’re not, it’s a good read for anyone who wants to eventually be financially secure, and be inspired to do what it takes to get there (even if it means living very poorly for a while). Some other Favorites are The Total Money Makeover, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and the Cash flow Quadrant.
Determine What You Really Want Out Of Life
Getting a handle on what I wanted for the long haul really helped me develop long term thinking about our situation, and be okay with the temporary state of being dirt poor. For me, that includes being home with my kids full time, and eating healthy, but also working toward being financially secure. All of those things require sacrifices, whether it’s a cut in income because I’m not working a job, or adhering to a strict budget so that we can save more money to invest.
Surround Yourself With The Right People
Take a good look at your friends. Are they cheering you on? Are they onboard with your goals? Do they truly care about you and your family? I’m not saying friendships should be all about you – it definitely goes both ways – but you need to spend the majority of your time with people who will build you up, who care about your goals, and not just whether their friends meet the status quo, or are easy to be around. Spending time with people who inspire you is a complete game changer.
Set Boundaries For Yourself
If you are constantly thinking about your financial situation, how you can squeeze more mileage out of every penny, and wondering how you’re going to make ends meet this month, you will burn out. Set specific budget meetings, brain-storming sessions, “worry times”. Write everything down so you aren’t trying to juggle it in your brain. I guarantee this freedom of thought will make you feel ten years younger! A bonus to this is, even though it breaks the rules, your best ideas and solutions will come to you when your mind is relaxed and probably thinking about something totally unrelated!
Believe that this is just a season
I’m not talking about believing the impossible, I’m not talking about pretending to believe, I’m talking about knowing that things will get better. Be determined, make a plan, educate yourself, and equip yourself to do what it takes. You (or your spouse) will find that job, or build that business, or pay off that debt if you’re diligent, and work hard.
Learn To Enjoy The Process
This may seem to be impossible right now, but I can tell you that there’s a reason why people call couponing “the grocery game” – because to those people who are really “in” to it, it is a game! It’s the same with nearly everything. You can either learn to enjoy meal planning, finding ways to save money, and living on next to nothing, or you can continue in your misery. If you can choose, wouldn’t you rather choose joy? Make it fun!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a goal. Being poor, mucking along, no light at the end of the tunnel, feeling trapped like there’s not way out – it’s disheartening. Have a goal. Having a goal – something you’re working toward is a complete game changer. When you look at your goal, you can see progress, however slow. You can see light at the end of the tunnel; it inspires you to keep at it. It gives you hope. I admit that it took me a long time to really “get” goal setting, but once I started doing it, I never looked back. It’s important!
Plan for the occasional splurge
If you’re budget can allow it at all, you should budget in a little splurge money. Even if it’s just two dollars a month – and yes, that’s a real number from our budget. Our splurge included to mini shakes from Sonic at a dollar each. A tiny splurge, but it was something special that Gabriel and I did together, and it helped us keep from feeling crazy.
Our financial situation ended up getting much worse over the next year, with our main business – the cattle operation – failing miserably.
But even in that, some good things happened. I got more adventurous in my business endeavors, read lots of books, and started dreaming big.
And out of that financial distress, my husband and I talking, and reading books together, we have slowly, finally begun to understand how the other ticks. It’s not that we never talked together before, but I don’t think we really understood each other. We weren’t on the same page.
I can finally say that we’re on the same page with our goals. Maybe we’re on different parts of the page, but it’s the same page. 😉
And that by itself has made a huge difference, because when we talk together casually, there’s an underlying understanding of each other. I can honestly say that when finances pop up in our conversations, it’s not stressful anymore, thanks to these lean times forcing us to communicate about it.
So yes, we tightened the belt even more, found even more creative ways to save and make money, and you know what? Things did get better. No, we’re not anywhere near wealthy (yet), but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve paid off nearly everything, and have made fairly ambitious savings goals for the year.
It really is exciting!
You can be happy – no matter how little money you have. It’s up to you!
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