Monday, November 5, 2012

Living Frugally

Some of you may be surprised to know that my family is (financially) poor. For many Americans, discussing personal wealth (or a lack of it) is uncomfortable at best, shameful at worst. I do not agree that poor people should be ashamed of their situation.

I also do not believe in the "boot-strappin'-everyone-has-the-same-opportunities-if-you-just-work-hard" American myth. Class, race, gender, and other factors make folks start out in different places and earn different amounts. If you choose a career in a (what I call a "position of value"- meaning someone who provides direct goods or services to others in society (like a farmer, teacher, healer, builder, etc.) you will automatically make less than someone who has a parasitic position (think banking and investments or large businesses). I think if more people actually talked about their actual financial situation, we would be in a better position, as a people to make things better for all of us.

I also believe that (shock!) all people are entitled to housing, food, and medical care. It is a human right, regardless what Ayn Rand-ian capitalists say. So here we go- here is a Witch talking about being poor, living frugally, and making it work without sacrificing her principles.

We take government assistance. 1 in 6 American families get the food help that we do. The food money (SNAP) and vouchers (WIC) are never enough to last all month, but they certainly help. Especially now that my partner is a diagnosed diabetic and we have cut out most the "food stretchers" we relied upon previously like pasta, rice, and the like. But while I believe that eating meat is what is best for our family, eating ethical meat is expensive. I do not want to eat factory-farmed "meat of suffering". It is bad for the animal, bad for the planet, and I believe bad for me to consume suffering and other toxins. So... how do we do it? We start with "good meat" from a local meat CSA ($120 a month for 3 months up front gets us):

*2 whole chickens or one whole duck
*2 lbs ground beef (one pound packages) or 2 ham steaks
*one 3.5-4 lb beef roast or package of steaks
*2 packages of 2 pack pork chops-bone in
*2 lbs of thick sliced apple wood smoked bacon or bulk breakfast sausage
*1.5 lb package Italian sausage links (3 large links)
*1.5 lb package bratwurst sausage (3 large links)
*1 lb package smoked sausage
* A Surprise item (a bonus)
* 8 oz snow white lard or beef/pork soup bones or pork/beef liver or smoked hocks.

That is 9 to 11 dinners, plus some leftovers for lunches and a couple of breakfasts, too. It took us a while to find this farm/deal, but we are so glad that we did. For the rest of the month, we try and supplement this with meat that is organic and local. Our farmer's market helps with that, as does family. My mother-out-law often brings us pork up from her rural area. Earlier this year, they bought a whole pig from a local farmer and had it processed into sausages, ground pork, chops and roasts. So every so often, we get a local pig treat from their chest freezer.

I also often get veggie CSA leftovers. My church has its own CSA and often there is surplus for me to take home after everyone has their share. This week, butternut squash abounds!

We also get government medical care. The state of Ohio has decent insurance for people who qualify, and my whole family does (did I mention that we are poor?!). While there have been some annoying things (my partner getting only enough lancets for a month with no mistakes or losses and having to wait several days before being able to get any more -or- having to travel two hours to find a sleep study specialist who will take the insurance), we are so blessed to have coverage for Rowan, who is growing like a weed and my partner, who is not well. Through the state, we have better insurance than most do through their employers and we are so very grateful. My partner was recently hospitalized for 3 days, and we are not bankrupt or being hounded by collectors like so many in this country who had the ill fortune of getting sick.

We cut out other things that many people assume are "necessities" but just aren't. I do not use shampoo or conditioner. Baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and water are what I use. We buy an organic baby shampoo right now for Rowan that is tear-free, but once he is big enough to handle regular soap, he will use Dr. Bronner's like the rest of us, which we get in bulk at our local food coop (yes, we are members).

My partner gets his head shaved by me, I cut my own hair, and when Rowan finally decides to cut his hair, I will do that, too. I don't wear a lot of makeup- mainly eyeliner and lipstick, when I wear it, that is. I have worn the same clothes for a long time. While I need some new items, a wardrobe does not have to overflow a dresser and closet. I make clothing decisions very deliberately- each new item is planned to fit into what I already have and is purchased after I have thought about it for a while.

I make our other toiletries (like deodorant), too. While the initial cost upfront is higher (buying bulk ingredients), I can make much more for less doing it this way, and the toxins are nil, unlike commercial deodorants and antiperspirants.  I make my body scrub and moisturizer, our common medicines (often with things I grow myself), and many of our nicer home decorations. I like being Crafty- but this is no Martha Stewart hobby (monied enough to buy it myself but choosing to DIY because I am bored)- this is being deliberately frugal, believing in re-use as a lifestyle choice, and living well, amongst beauty.

We cook most of our own food. We eat out once a week, maximum. Often not even that. We make these times family times- a choice to eat together as a family: breakfasts on days where we don't have to drive my partner to work pre-dawn and dinners together nightly. We talk to one another and take moments to communicate with our son and teach him things. Our ritual of talking about our "favorite part of the day" is a gratitude practice that we have cultivated in Rowan this early. It is asked every night.

We have a priority of getting our own dining room table and chairs to emphasize staying around the table, talking. Our ideal party is a dinner party and we hope to get seating for 8. We often host a "family dinner" with our neighbors, where we each bring food and both families benefit. We host a potluck twice a month as well.

We know other creative people and we trade or gift each other our services. My recent Boline photo shoot was with a friend who I met through Art Party Columbus. He insists on making the photos free. I paid another artist to make my Boline logo- $100, in installments.

We scour freecycle and craigslist for deals. We shop at thrift stores. I often will take free books off of freecycle and after I have read them, I sell them on Amazon to make some extra cash. I download all the free books I can for my Nook- Google Books and Barnes and Noble often have things available for free, especially classics.

We don't have a TV- we watch DVDs and Netflix/Hulu on my laptop. We may be gifted a TV for Yule this year, and if we get one, we will get a Roku box- not cable. We go to the cheap movie theater ($1.75 a person) as a family. We take walks and see what we discover. We use the library every week to get new books and have a fun group storytime. We listen to Pandora and the radio for music, news, and stories. We host "game nights" where people come over with snacks and we play games and laugh.

We grow our own food and medicine. This year, even after getting started late in the season, we had cukes, tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), eggplant, string beans, squash, and tomatillos. I grew marshmallow, peppermint, calendula, motherwort, and thyme. Next year, we are getting a beehive.

We were gifted memberships to the zoo and to the kid's science museum and we use them a lot. I think if we don't get gifted renewals, we will use our tax return to buy them ourselves. It is totally worth the cost, as we use them almost weekly.

We help others when we can, because it is the right thing to do. I am also confident that the help we give will make its way back to us when we need it- it already has! We are blessed with everything we need, even if we do not have everything we want.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree. We may not have evrything we want, but we have evrything we need. I have chemical sensitivities and so I make our laundry detergent, use baking soda for shampoo, and also combine the soda with coconut oil to clean my face. Works so much better than the ones loaded with fake ingredients. We have DVD's, the computer and our farm for entertainment (oh yeah, and the Xbox we saved for as Christmas gift). We grow and raise some of our food and are working to up our sufficiency. We are currently looking for a meat share. You found a great one! Thanks so much for such a honest post. Bright blessings.

  2. We are in pretty much the same boat financially. I'm curious about shampoo though, because I experimented for a few days recently with baking soda & apple cider vinegar, and I could NOT GET THE BAKING SODA OUT OF MY HAIR! No matter what I did, it would not all come out, and I spent several days with hair that felt like it was caked with something. Did you have any issues with this at first, or do you have any ideas about it? Thanks! <3

  3. @Alicia: How much baking soda are you using in your water? I use 1 tablespoon per cup. That seems to dissolve completely in the water and not coat my hair in any way. It may be your formula uses too much?

    Or perhaps you have hard water in your area? I lived in such a place for 6 months and felt like my skin and hair were "coated" as well. If that s the case, I would install a filtered shower head to filter out some of the harder minerals.

  4. Appreciated a truthful post that included kids activities and ideas. We are in the same small boat I imagine and hope you and yours are blessed this holiday season... you already sound pretty blessed with such an amazing family <3

  5. It's sooo lovely and a fresh change to read on the internet about people who aren't making 6 figures. (The impression I get on the internet, especially from all the ads, is that most people in the US make 6 figures lol.)

    I am also very much into natural cosmetics, and we use natural, handmade bar shampoos. I only wash with oil and natural soap, I never use anything else. However I could never use vinegar as a hair rinse, I have "medusa", self-tangling, waist-long hair and there was just NO WAY to drag the tangles out after using vinegar, so in the end I returned to commercial conditioner.

    (BTW, I don't know what name is being displayed when I post a comment, the preview says I am Anonymous even though I signed in with my WordPress account, I don't have a Blogger account and it may not let me post as me.)


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