The Upside of Being Demi-Poor

Kimberly's picture

I do not consider myself poor. What is poor? Poor is going without a day or more’s worth of meals so someone else in your family can eat. Poor is wearing through your only pair of hand-me-down shoes until your frostbitten feet brush snow. Poor is living out of your car because the monstrous corporate entity that took over your town cannot pay you a wage that puts a roof over your head, let alone “luxuries” like health insurance.

I am not poor. What I am is demi-poor, and as the world economy hurtles past Peak Oil, my demographic is consuming the demi-rich en masse. The prefix “demi” simply means “half”. I am half-poor. I have enough food, but it is the cheapest food I can get. I do not own a home and I am in the process of moving into a smaller, cheaper apartment because two bedrooms in a decent neighborhood is far more than I can afford. Though I’d prefer season tickets to the symphony orchestra, my budget cannot withstand a trip to the movie theater more than once or twice a year.

Sometimes, being demi-poor is absolutely rotten. Though my more rational side may realize those splendid, three-car garage mansions own their occupants as much as their occupants own them, my emotional side craves the chimera of stability an ostentatious, overblown structure represents. I grew up in the upper-middle class and like Blanche DuBois, I became accustomed to a certain lifestyle. I miss the days when Starbucks was an affordable habit and when the average adult had the option of switching to a new job if he didn’t like the one he had.

I see the entire economy on an intractable downslope towards a de-industrial future and unfortunately, I happen to be on the bleeding edge of the curve. My husband was one of the first to lose his job in the great wave of unemployment that I believe is just beginning. I was one of the first to be forced into a downsized beans-and-rice lifestyle and the former princess in me didn’t care for it much at all.

I have to force myself to remember: when I was young and rich, I was absolutely miserable. Suicidal. So it’s not like being rich was so much better. At least now, I’m rather happy and don’t live in a black hole like I used to. I believe the main reason why I was unhappy then and happy (for the most part) now is because I finally learned to make lemonade from lemons. When I was forced to pare down to the bare essence of what it takes to survive, I finally figured out how to belatedly appreciate the little luxuries that came my way. After all, it’s not like I live in Syria right now or have to go without clean water like a billion people on our planet. My biggest challenges are always to reduce, to simplify, and to make peace with stupid crap like the fact I don’t have my own washing machine.

I am disturbed by the fact I don’t have my own washing machine. I had one once and it was wonderful. Sadly, I cannot afford it now and must use the one in my building. It’s hard for me to let go of stuff like this because I grew up with a washing machine and one of my earliest memories is doing laundry with my mom. I liked having a private washing machine because nobody ever saw my grotesque armpit sweat stains or the patterns of my underwear. I never had to fight for the laundry machine or pump quarters into the damn thing. This is what being demi-poor is about: letting go of “stuff” like washing machines. It sucks. There is a lot of envy in being demi-poor, like hearing about so-and-so’s vacation to a warm place in a cold month, or wanting to give money to a good cause and being derailed because of not being able to make rent. Sometimes, one of the only things that cheers me up in my demi-poor depression is to think I’m helping some other demi-poor soul to save money or at least stress, so for this reason, I created my latest website called DirtCheapVegan.com.

Being demi-poor has forced me to adopt a myriad of money-saving behaviors, to state the obvious. When I get down in the dumps about my own demi-poverty, I try to look on the bright side on several fronts.

HOUSING

Being demi-poor means one of two things – either you will be forced to move to an extremely small space or you will be forced to move in with family. I have done both at various times.

Is it so bad? My husband recently met a rich man, a gregarious nuclear physicist who lives in a luxurious home with his wife. Of his fabulous home, the guy said “It’s just a place for us to sleep.” He then explained that he and his wife are so busy and overtaxed, they fall exhausted into bed and don’t have time to enjoy their glorious digs. It truly begs the question: What is the point in paying for a mansion you have no time to enjoy?

I believe as the economically-bleak future unfolds before us, moving in with one’s parents will lose its stigma because all families will be obliged to band together in one way or another order to combine resources. I think it’s about time we lost our shame over not possessing a single family home’s mortgage (a word that has death built into it) and learned humility in the face of financial beat down. Living on top of other people conserves a hell of a lot of energy, and not just in terms of literal heat.

In my lifetime, families have become more atomized than ever. Our electronic culture does not exactly foster cooperation and togetherness. Being demi-poor means that you have to put aside your differences, even if it means vegans living with non-vegans, cats living with dogs, and two people living in an apartment the size of my former childhood bedroom.

TRAVEL

I am a homebody introvert, so I have not often fetishized others’ ability to travel by plane to exotic lands. The demi-poor do not have the money to travel much further than a few towns over, and that’s my situation. It’s Staycation or bust.

I don’t think it will be long before the majority of people fly on an airplane once a decade or less. Think of what this will do in terms of helping the planet to breathe. My vacations may only take me to the forest preserve a few miles down the road, however, they render my carbon footprint miniscule. Over Spring Break, dozens of people I knew blew untold thousands of dollars on vacations to places like the Virgin Islands. To me, it seems like a crazy amount of money.

ATTIRE

Most women I know put a lot of money into their hair. I am sad that I have also been guilty of spending $200 at the salon, long ago. I wish I had been smarter with money than that. I think we are arriving at a place where most women will be like me and they will grow their hair very long so they don’t have to deal with it. I know it seems counterintuitive that long hair is low-maintenance, however, most women throughout history had long hair. If you were over “a certain age”, the custom was to put your hair up. I know that for me, butt-length hair is easier to deal with than shoulder-length because I can put it up if it annoys me. If my hair wasn’t so incredibly coarse, I’d cut it short, however the problem with short hair is that you often need someone else to trim it and sometimes those people require money. My husband, with his short hair and regular trims, spends more on his hair than I do.

As for clothing, I get pissy with vegans who think buying new clothes is a good idea. There are very few industries as devastating to the environment as meat production, and one of them is the textile industry. Fast fashion is destroying species and poisoning waterways faster than you can say “Sale at Nordstrom”. Even if I became rich tomorrow, I would still buy all my clothes from Savers, GoodWill, or the used tab on eBay. I am also perfectly happy to own less clothing in general and thrilled to take good care of the few good pieces I have rather than always being on a quest for something new. Perhaps if I had Elle McPherson’s body, I’d be more interested in fashion. Most of us don’t have her body, so I propose we collectively say “Who gives a shit?” to the fashion industry.

FOOD

Being demi-poor has been a revolution for me where it has concerned food. To be successfully demi-poor, I would argue you must become a capable vegan cook. One must be vegan for health reasons, if nothing else. One must become a cook because cooking is cheaper and healthier than eating at restaurants. Where weight is concerned: One has to eat a great deal more beans, rice, and vegetables to become fat than meat, dairy, and eggs. If I maintain a reasonable distance from my sweet tooth and refrain from drowning everything in oil (oil is expensive anyway) then I can maintain my current weight without heroic effort. This is not so for most of my meat-eating, forty-something contemporaries. At my age, introducing calorie bombs in the form of dead animals and their secretions would be physically disastrous, never mind the arbitrary moral imperatives I have in place.

Another consideration is the sheer expense of meat, dairy, and eggs these days. McDonalds and Taco Bell can sell all the ninety-nine cent value meals they please; it still doesn’t avoid the real problem of a heart attack costing a cool million, and that is if you have health insurance. Imagine paying someone for the privilege of cracking open your chest like a piñata and squoozing out a yellow snake of congealed fat from your hardened artery. No thanks, I’ll pass.

The government subsidizes meat, dairy, and eggs in order to make them artificially cheap. Subsidies do not render null the costs of chronic disease. Cheap scrambled eggs and cheeseburgers cost in terms of medicines that don’t work, futile trips to the doctor for impotent advice, and encroaching disability.

I have not caught a doctor-worthy flu or cold since I went vegan in July of 2010. My immunity is unparalleled, despite suffering bouts of pneumonia in my college days, a factor that predisposes me to getting pneumonia. I am simply no longer prone to colds and flus and I suspect one of the reasons why is that I don’t introduce the latest factory farm-bred super-flus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria to my stomach directly by consuming the corpses or bodily secretions of sick, diseased animals.

The best way of compromising one’s own immunity is to assault it with large amounts of pathogens and this is exactly what meat, dairy, and egg eaters do on a daily basis.

Going to the doctor is expensive – I remember!

BABIES

You know you are truly demi-poor when you are too poor to afford a kid. This fact never seemed to stop people in the old days from having children, but nowadays as women have become slightly more empowered, people are facing the facts that children are extremely expensive and not at all mandatory. Choosing not to have children remains one of the best decisions I have ever made, though I am sure I would say the same thing had I chosen to procreate. There is a blessed sense of relief knowing that no matter how strapped for cash I become, I did not exacerbate the situation by insisting upon a child of my own. I may never know the joys of seeing a mini-me frolicking in her Hello Kitty themed-bedroom (yes, it would definitely be Hello Kitty!) however, I will also never know the disappointment of not being able to send her to college, nor will I terrorize the last of other specie’s babies with my child’s First World existence. For even vegan babies need diapers, don’t they?

You would think being demi-poor is about the lack of travel, children, new clothes, and certain foods, but it is not. Being demi-poor means I appreciate things I took for granted when I was upper middle class. Take an avocado. An avocado is a creamy, tropical delight shipped from warm places to me in frigid, frozen Illinois. How lovely it is, and how lovely is the orange I eat alongside it. In my young, depressed, suicidal, self-obsessed stupor, I never delighted in avocados or oranges nor appreciated their ephemeral delights. I didn’t think twice about the store that sold them twenty-four hours a day in the middle of a safe neighborhood that has never known the threat of bombs raining down on the street. I didn’t think of how lucky I was to exist in a technological golden age where it is possible to reach people around the world without a traditional publisher or his financing. I did not take peace in anything I possessed here and now – I was always trying to manipulate the future or chastising myself for past mistakes. Being demi-poor has made me realize I am rich. I have an abundance of friends, the mammoth gift of health, and the inexhaustible wealth of the present moment.