- You appreciate everything far more.
A few years ago I watched an interview on Youtube of Kurt Cobain, some rare footage from not long before he died.
Interviewer: ‘You know that old saying, that you can’t buy happiness, do you think that’s true?’
They both laugh
‘Well, (pauses) yer you can’t but happiness, I mean that made me happy for a little while (laughs again). But I mean I was just probably almost just as happy ….. I dunno, I look back on going to second hand stores and stuff like that, and finding a little treasure like that, and that actually meant more to me because it was more of a stab in the dark in a way, ya know? Because you didn’t know if you were going to be able to afford it, and you don’t know what you’re really looking for, and when you find it it’s more special to you. Rather than having a thousand dollars and going into a store like that and just buying the whole store, ya know? It’s not as special.’
When you can afford the whole store, your level of appreciation falls. I know for myself if things come easy, if I can have anything, it doesn’t feel so worth while. I’ll hold much more value over buying my daughter and I a piece of cake to share from our favourite cafe when I know money is tight, we’ll sit, cut it in half and enjoy every bite. But when we have plenty of spare cash (I think I remember how that feels, just about) we’ll have a piece of cake each, it will still taste good, but I won’t appreciate it in the same way, it won’t be so special, so valuable.
- It’s a test of who you truly are.
I have never been this broke before, and it’s challenging. Okay so being poor in the UK is not the same as being poor in say India or even America, in comparison I consider myself fortunate. We have the NHS and Universal credit (Universal credit is the new benefits system for anyone who doesn’t know). Because of those systems my family and I have a roof over our heads, and I’m able to pay our bills. There is a shortfall though, and without work I actually can’t afford food once the rent and bills are paid, as good as the system is, there is strong room for improvement.
For example, our housing allowance doesn’t cover our rent. Who knows where the government pull those ‘average’ rental price figures from, but I hazard a guess that it’s not from a world I’m familiar with. I’ve filled out form after form to get any extra help available, and I am incredibly grateful for what is out there for people in my position, we’ve been granted some short-term support which hopefully will see us through until I finally find work. On top of that the local foodbanks are available and amazing, more gratitude towards these and to those who donate. I’ve made the effort to seek help and the short fall financially is lessened, still not totally adequate, but better.
However, not being able to save any money each month can make me feel shit. I decided last year to start saving for a deposit on a house, I set a five year goal to save £15000. Which realistically by the time I get to that figure will probably be nowhere near what I’d need for a deposit with rising house prices, but it’s a goal and a good place to start. A year on, I have not banked my first £3000 as planned, in fact I’m now in debt, about eights times more debt than I was last year, with absolutely no savings to speak of. Things feel pretty bleak.
It’s hard. Some days an unexpected bill arrives in my inbox, or the car gets a flat and I have to pay out for a new tyre, or I try on all my socks to find every pair has holes in, and I honestly want to crumble. I want to curl up in a ball in a dark room and pretend that the world doesn’t exist – some people choose alcohol as there dark room, others find solace in spending frivolously on their credit cards, or ignoring the bills altogether in the hope that they may magically disappear. But for me none of these are options. I have a kid, she needs me present and on good form. So I ‘crack on’, as my Nan used to say. I find the strength to face the circumstances we are currently in, and work hard to improve our situation. I job hunt continuously, fill out countless forms, swallow my intrinsically enforced societal given pride and visit the food bank, and all the while, well, let’s say 95% of the time because after all I’m only human and hormones can be a real bitch, I keep on smiling. Everything is temporary. And like the most marvelous sculptures ever made, struggle will carve a person into beautiful definition when the right type of stone is used. So choose to be a strong stone.
- You realise that money is a concept.
My daughters Dad once said something to me which I found completely amazing, and still do.
‘Just think of money like tokens.’
At some funfairs or arcades you have to change your money into tokens, then it’s so many tokens to go on each ride or to play different games. Viewing money like this changed the way I saw it from then on. Before it seemed so much more important, so much more valuable. When in actual fact it’s something we need in certain places,
it doesn’t define our worth as a person. The number in your bank account doesn’t represent you, view it like tokens, give it less meaning, and it can’t hold so much presence over you.
- Finding ways to have fun for free is awesome.
I’d like to be able to take my kid to theme parks, pottery cafes and local attractions whenever we fancied it, we’d probably do paid activities a few times a week if we could. But we can’t right now. So instead I spend time thinking of awesome ways to have fun at home, and when my brain is frazzled and I need some inspiration I ask others for ideas or hop online. Sometimes I’ll spend a lot of time thinking an idea over and planning it out, other times it will be in the moment, like using stuff in the garden to make a quick obstacle course for me and the little beasty to run off some energy if we can’t get to a park.
The main thing quite simply though is quality time. My kid doesn’t care all that much how or where we have fun, what she wants is my time, dedicated, uninterrupted, proper eye contact, no phone checking or moments to ‘just got to do a quick job’. We can build a den, play hide-and-seek, pretend to be cats, run round the house playing chase (no ‘no running in the house’ in our home), if anything activities like these hold way more value than a day out because they are accessible all the time, and they get us using our imaginations.
- Gratitude becomes a regular practice
Numerous scientific studies have proven the power of gratitude and its positive impact on our mental health. It can lower levels of depression and help us detach from negative emotions. Being faced with financial struggle can of course cause these unwanted states of mind, so I’m always looking out for ways to keep myself feeling optimistic. I’ve kept a gratitude notebook in the past but dropped the habit when I started my degree, my days are full from dusk to dawn so I have to evaluate everything and decide what’s a priority, the gratitude notebook didn’t make the cut. However, it did remind me of the many things I have in my life that I am grateful for, which are now on a sticky note in my brain, and I recall it as often as I remember to, especially when the day feels a bit tough.
When your in a position where you seemingly have very little, you can sink, or you can grab on to anything and everything that you do have. Learning to keep yourself afloat is a skill that will always benefit you. Gratitude for me is that foam noodle kids use when they’re learning to swim, it’s the support I need when I’m treading water, in fact it means I can just lay back, head against it and float on the surface for a while.
So I’m broke. It sucks, and I’m not trying to play that down. Would my life be a lot easier if I had the income I need to cover all my bills with ease, as well as be able to build savings? Absa-fucking-lutely. Would I breathe easier if I didn’t have that financial weight pressing down on my shoulders? Of course. But can I be happy in spite of this apparent shortfall in my life? Hell yer. Everything is temporary, this will not be my situation forever, work is on the horizon and things will improve money wise. But for now, I’m focusing on the benefits of where I’m at, facing it head on, and not allowing my life or my happiness to be defined by a bunch of numbers.
‘Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.’ – Norman Vincent Peale