This is the second in a series. Read the first part here.
I've let this stew for a long (long) time, as you may have noticed. While it's true that other things did get in the way – the holidays, etc. – I've just been putting it off for fear of…well…what people will think. It's hard to admit to some of these things. But my aim in putting it out there is that it will make it easier. For myself and others.
From this point on if you've read my blog carefully, you'll already know parts of the story.
I left off with us hightailing it out of Texas with a belly full of tiny baby, a UHaul truck packed to the gills with us, all our earthly possessions and two very unhappy cats…
We stayed with friends when we arrived in Maine. And as much as I loved living with them, and would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to, having 4 adults, 3 children and one baby-to-be under the same (small-ish) roof was a little intense for us, having just moved from our apartment where it was just us and the cats. (Oh yeah, in addition to the people add in two cats and a dog. Plus, chickens and ducks and turkeys and a sheep or two, but they're outside so do they really count?) We moved into our own place a few months later and here we remain to this day. We're fortunate that our landlord is a little lax and didn't check our credit or jobs or anything, since we didn't, well, have any. We used our unemployment to pay the rent and qualified for MaineCare for health insurance for me and baby-to-be, but not M.
Things haven't changed much. M has only been able to get a few temporary jobs and so decided to go back to school to hopefully improve his prospects. I started a job working from home right before E was born and have been doing that ever since. In addition, I was lucky enough to get a very part-time job in my field (wow!) when she was about 7 months old. That job has increased in hours over the past year but I'm still only a half-time employee. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I make decent money, per hour, but since I only work half time, it doesn't add up to quite enough to pay (all) the bills. The yarn business brings in a teeny amount, mostly just enough to be able to sustain itself, pay for unexpected bills or an occasional indulgence. The photography business has barely brought in a cent. (Yet! Tell your friends! Please!) And now M is trying to maneuver around his school schedule and find a job that will work around it, or switch his schedule up to make full-time employment work. So, again, I find myself living off student loans, credit cards and my meager earnings and relying on various forms of government assistance.
Hi, my name is Laura and I receive food stamps.
That's another one of those things nobody talks about – help. We don't talk about how broke we really are and we don't talk about who or what is helping us through. (And God forbid we have to ask for help…but that's another story.) I know a few people around us are aware of the fact that we get food stamps. (Which aren't actually stamps at all – the money comes on a preloaded debit card that you swipe just like any other at the grocery store.) But it's not common knowledge that we receive this assistance. And, frankly, without it we would be either very hungry, more in debt, or…something. Our food stamp money covers about half of our food expenses in any given month, more if we need it to and can be extra frugal. (I'm tempted to do a project to see if I can stretch it to cover all our food expenses…stay tuned…) We do not eat lavishly. We do eat fresh, organic when possible, local food. But I am fairly food-savvy and can cook well, which helps. Heck, you've seen my blog – the recipes here, especially in recent months, are pretty inexpensive. I don't tend to use exotic ingredients, or even much meat. (Meat is expensive, yo!)
Our other main source of financial assistance is health insurance. Like I mentioned before, we qualify for MaineCare, which is the state of Maine's insurance program for us po' folk. Without it, I don't know where we'd be. (Well, besides completely uninsured…) They paid for all of my prenatal care with E, her birth, and now for all her well-baby checkups and miscellaneous doctor's visits. M and I are covered too, for the time being*, but as relatively healthy adults, we don't make nearly as much use of it as she does. If I had to pay for insurance through my job, it would cost me well over half what I make to cover our whole family. Even just to cover E and I, it would mean a hefty bill. Between that and daycare, I'd be spending more than I make. I am eternally grateful for the MaineCare program, despite its drawbacks and difficulties and I sincerely hope that it can continue to help my family and others like us, while we need it. I have high hopes for getting off food stamps, but insurance is another issue. Without a major change in our situation, there's no way we could afford it on our own. Hopefully that change is coming sooner than later! We're working hard to make it happen, but it doesn't seem any closer than it was a year ago.
Despite it all, I feel lucky. We're all in good health, we can (so far) afford to keep a roof over our heads and stay warm. Thanks to food stamps, we can eat relatively decently. We live near my family and they are all in relatively good health. I don't feel like I'm lacking for much, as long as I don't put my wanty pants on.
But we economize in almost every way. We almost never go out and when we do it's with a coupon or somewhere cheap. We rarely travel. (My Rhinebeck trip was my big trip this year and the whole thing cost me less than $200.) Most our gifts are homemade, which I would probably do anyway. I make most of our bread products. I've started making our own yogurt too. We don't buy breakfast cereal, but instead make our own oatmeal and granola. I cook almost all our meals from scratch, using aforementioned inexpensive ingredients. We cloth diaper. We don't have cable or smartphones. We have one cell phone that has prepaid minutes, for emergencies, which costs us about $40 per year. Yes, per year. I only get my hair cut once or twice a year. The vast majority of E's clothes, toys and other items are hand-me-downs and/or gifts. We don't buy books, but go to the library. I make our dishwasher detergent. So when I hear suggestions to save money by, say, not buying that morning latte? I get a little frustrated.
Because even though I feel pretty lucky, sometimes I start to think about our financial situation and I get all stressed out. I wonder when, if ever, we'll have enough money to just be able to afford to buy, say, a new pair of shoes when we need them. (And I do mean need, not want.) Or if I'll ever not have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt hanging over my head. (I currently owe more than 3x my annual salary.) Or if we'll ever get that credit card paid off. (I have high hopes.) Not to mention big picture things – will we ever be able to afford to buy a house? Give E the things she needs and wants as she gets older? Get a new(er) car? Save for retirement? Meet any of our life goals that remotely involve money? Those are questions I can't answer and they make me nervous to think about. We are one large car repair or unexpected health issue away from really and truly not being able to make it. As it is, I'm rather thankful we don't own a house and therefore don't have to worry about losing it…
How many people are in the same situation? Uncountable numbers, I'm sure. I know I'm not alone, but sometimes it feels like it.
Stay tuned for the next installment – why? And what does the future hold?
*For the time being, we are covered under MaineCare but the governor is working hard to change that. We are exactly the people who will lose coverage if the proposed cuts go through.