Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why on Earth Only 14k a Year?

This question was posed on another blog when I made a comment offering a few tips on how someone on a lean budget of $50k a year with 4 kids could trim the fat a little. Someone else questioned me right back asking

"Why on earth are you making just $14k a year? I’d really like to know your story. Your comment offers great advice. You’re obviously a thinker and very resourceful. How is it you’re not making at least double your income. It’s just not making sense to me."

And then...

"Ok. A quick glance at the blog, and it seems this standard of living is her conscious choice."

If you notice, it was not mean, sarcastic and ill intended in anyway, it was a genuine question- at least that is how it appeared to me. Yet I lost sleep over it! This question really, really bothered me and I  tossed and turned, mulling it over well through half the  night.

Many times over the years I have questioned the fact that if I consider myself an somewhat intelligent woman ( which I do most days!) why is it I never seem to fully break out of the poverty cycle? What is it exactly that keeps me and holds me there.

Is it a conscious choice? Have we become immune and complacent with it?  Is it because we chose to not go to college? A past history that still stops us today?  Generational Poverty? Lack of resources? Lack of time? What exactly is it?

I am a thinker and resourceful because of low income levels in childhood as well as adulthood.

Yet if I asked myself these questions a hundred times, why is it that it bothered me and shook me to my core when a stranger asked primarily the same question?  The quick addition of the taking a quick glimpse at my blog makes it seem this standard of living is a conscious choice bothered me even more.

As I lay awake most of the night,asking myself a ton of questions and giving a deep period of self-examination I started to realize a few things.

Our initial choices most certainly were conscious and I have written about that here before that we are where we are now from the choices we have made along the way that led us here.

When hubby had his 2 heart attacks with a third on it's way any day, we left a $30,000 a year job that would of gone to $50,000 within a couple the expense of a dead husband or open by pass surgery needed at the very least.  This was  most certainly a conscious choice and moving 1800 miles away for drastic change was also a conscious choice.

It was NOT our choice this all hit in 2008 and we moved to a very RURAL area in North Carolina at the crash of the economy. It was NOT our conscious choice that were were there a whole year and driving up to 50 miles away to every town we could find and for a whole year there was NO WORK AT ALL.  We lived off our garden, scrap metaling (heavy competition at the time down there!) and wild game. I also freelanced articles which later got bought out from another company and I was no longer willing to write $2 articles when I had been getting $10 for them.

It was again our choice to move back to Michigan to be closer to family, but not our choice in where we ended up.Everyone kept backing out at the last minute after we thought we secured a rental as they got scared about whether we would find work and did not like the fact I was a freelancer.

1 hour before we hit the road I got our current homes landlord who is self employed and was homeschooled to agree we could move in and we would see him in 12 hours ( how long it took us to drive) We wound up in a very, rural area of Michigan where for the first year and a half they did not even have any form of high speed Internet here! Dial-up was the ONLY option!

As far as why we only make $14k a year I can only guess some of the reasons may be

Rural America- Rural America which is where I have always chosen to live is quite different than Metropolitan or Urban areas. Resources are limited at best and while housing is MUCH cheaper in rural areas most work is limited to a couple fast food restaurants in town, Walmarts  and a factory or 2 ( which hubby was denied employment to because his heart attacks were less than 5 years old)

Another issue with rural America is that to be honest, I get to the point where much of the time, I am comfortable and don't push myself as much as I should because EVERYONE we know makes the same income! I know one person making more than $18,000 a year and they struggle more than I ever have because they have no clue how to manage money!

People online may seem baffled about our income level, but in my world, everyone we know is making the same amount so in our world - we are the NORMAL. I can not imagine a $50,000 a year income and in part, I am sure that is a problem, not being able to see it, or imagine it can make it harder to obtain.

Growing up we were poor, my friends were poor and this never really changed for me as an adult, they say to surround yourself with financially successful people if you yourself want that.....well so far the only way I have been able to do that is ONLINE because I never meet anyone locally who earns a decent living! My world is surrounded with families in the same boat and their stories, many times we fair far better because of my skills.

Sick Twisted Pride- This one hit me last night, that I actually do get a sense of pride in my resilience and ability to do whatever it takes to  live on what we make, carry no debt, do not use credit cards, and trying to get it to where we live below our means in order to build an emergency fund. I do take pride on feeding my family well on very little, not buying tons of unneeded clothes, riding a bike for 15 miles when needed........whatever.

Health-We seem to have way more than the Average Americans health issues and that most certainly plays a role in our income levels. I wont go into it all but Hubby, myself, and our 2 youngest children have had serious serious health issues over the last 10 years that it is not funny and on more than one occasion had to face the possibility of each one of them dying.

NEED- While I most certainly would love and do work on increasing our income, we live at a level that we manage quite well and do not have a need for tons of money ( which to me $40,000 or more a year is a ton of money!)  As stated our rental payments are extremely low and therefore we simply do not have need for tons of money. If we made that kind of money we would be saving over $20,000 and to be honest I am not sure why I  would have need to save that kind of money every year. So in this respect I suppose it is a conscious choice. 

Standard of Living- This is different for everyone but for me I do not know why this is brought up on a regular basis, our standard of living is no different than others living on far greater of an income. The only difference is my roof over my head is not overly excessive,  it is small but comfortable But do we not technically have the same standard of living that most others have? We have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, good food on our tables ( never missing a meal ever) family, friends, trips and vacations, eating out occasionally and new experiences on a regular basis. Why is our standard of living considered so low in others perspectives? We have game systems, TV, computers and things of that nature I call "fluff" other than our home is 750 square feet rather than 2,000 does not make our standard of living lower than another.

Poverty is suppose to mean that one can not even cover the basics of needs, complete destitute, this is NOT US.

Time-most certainly plays a factor, my husband works 9-5 and it is my job to do everything else. I am the one doing all the finances, budgets, researching new savings ideas, homeschooling, gardening, foraging wild foods, housecleaning, cooking, freelance writing, blogging, self-reliant activities, home business ideas (even though they all failed for 2012)making all foods from scratch, preserving harvests, you name it, I do it..... this takes considerable time and frankly I do not have much energy left to put into much more. Do I need to prioritize? Most certainly but for now I feel very scattered and energy depleted by all that falls on my shoulders and really need a mental vacation at this point. But I keep plugging on and pushing through  it.

Off to think on this matter more.........especially why is it that this comment bothered me so much?  Maybe because I tend to complicate things and I am missing the simple route to rise above? Or is it that I really see nothing wrong with our income level yet know we are really capable of much more?

Have I sold myself and deluded myself into giving up into thinking this is as good as it will ever get?

Do I give up my goals to early in the game? Not that they fail, but that I do not keep trying long enough for them to succeed?

I have many questions circling in my head right now yet I am thankful for the person leaving the comment to really have me go into deep reflection in search of some answers I have not asked myself in a long time now.........



  1. Being judged, even if it was not meant in a mean spirit, rankles the soul! The good thing is that dialogues sometimes prod us to take a moment and evaluate ourselves. This is a very open hearted post Carrie :-)

    1. Could not agree more Shannon, sometimes an outsiders dialogues gets us to evaluate ourselves in ways we never would have all on our own. Thats one of the wonderful aspects of blogging is opening up a variety of perscpectives through dialogues of people from all walks of life!

  2. The same comment, and the one about your no-fridge experiment, led me to check out & actually subscribe to your blog, so there's some value in that :)

    I'm excited to read more about how your family is able to thrive on a low income. That's why I love to read MMM. Whether your income is a choice or circumstance or both doesn't matter to me, what matters is that you are living within your means, making choices that put your family and health ahead of money, and not borrowing from your future selves, and therefore you are very resilient and able to adapt to whatever comes your way, and that is all very inspirational!

    1. Glad to have you as a new subscriver and visitor Jesse! Thankyou for your comment and am glad you find it inspirational, look forward to your future commets.

  3. I just wanted to say kudos for your self analysis! I have had many the same thoughts, but I have come to the conclusion that those with more money are not any happier, better off, or better prepared in life.

    If people with "means" had to live on "meager means", I would hope that they would come to have a more humble view of other people they previously thought "beneath them" just because of the size of their bank account.

  4. DH's extended family is also rural poor. One of the problems that they have when they get over a certain amount is that family members start holding their hands out. So there's not an incentive to make more, even to get an emergency cushion.

    I really need that security cushion myself.

    Re: the freelance market... there are folks who make 6 figures writing articles... Laura Vanderkam is one, John Scalzi is another. Scalzi talks about how to do it on his blog (he also has a book that collects all the writing blog posts together, but that costs money and the blog is free)... it involves a lot of sending things out and networking and rejection and writing. Scalzi says not to accept less than 20 cents/word... now that's possibly too much for someone just starting out, but it is an order of magnitude or more off from $10/article (and two orders off from $2/article). It definitely takes time, but might be a better way to expand if you choose to do so.

    1. We have some family with the hands out occ too. Never could manage their money. Just because we maintain our home/car etc doesn't mean we have extra to keep you afloat. They make more than us and donate way too much to bad habits and casinos.
      Sheila - UP of MI

  5. theres a song that says "its not having what you want it's wanting what you have" you are doing fine, could you make more perhaps do you need to i think not, the more you have the more you spend......keep on keepin gon...ronaldj

    1. LOL Ronaldj I can always count on you to bring a smile to my face :) and yes I know many of the income inflated lifestyles that keep up with how much they make. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I too came here from MMM. The main thing I came away with is that life in a rural area is very different from the life most Americans understand (at least the ones who post on money blogs). I grew up in a rural farming community. Like you, our family was just like everyone else we knew, barely making ends meet. We were probably mid-range income, with my parents having purchased our 720 sq. ft. trailer house (but now it would be called a mobile home) brand new and owning the land it sat on. "Things" are less desirable when you have to drive an hour or two to shop for them. Also when a trip to "the city" means getting up early, driving 2 hours, buying the groceries you can't get in the local grocery store (the word "supermarket" really doesn't apply), shopping for either school supplies or Christmas presents (since those are the only two times a year your family goes to the city), going to Sams or Costco to buy tires and a car battery because it's so much cheaper than at home, then getting back home in time to fall into bed. Anyway, that was my experience. My husband and I both have college degrees (mine was paid for by Pell grants) and live in a middle-class neighborhood and I can't relate to these people and their spending (mani-pedis, traveling club ball for the kids, etc). And my first thought about your Suburban was that you needed the ground clearance for bad weather. No one on MMM considered that.

  7. I grew up in a rural area. Low income like those around us -like yourself. My parents had their priorities straight. Huge garden and all the weeding and canning that goes with it. Venison in the freezer. Barter for beef. Dad's mechanic work for farmer cousin. Sewed my own clothes. I never thought of us as poor because I was well taken care of and loved. Dad was a hard worker. Piece-maker lumberjack before the big harvesters were invented ;)Mom did the house and finances. Did a Chicago trip to see cousins every 3 years. Camping and short overnights to see the area around us (Upper Penninsula of Michigan)
    I realized when my husband got laid off and we started living on just my income (RN so very decent for the UP) that we have been just blowing most of his wages. (We've done new roof and windows and boiler furnace so not all wasted I guess.) His lay off gave me the reason I needed to tighten all the budget leaks. We have been banking his unemployment and all my overtime. Never had an emergency fund more than a couple of thousand. Now feel secure. House will be paid off in 18 months. One son married this past summer. Used some OT for that. Reasonable kids and low budget wedding. Still paying on the car. Need reliable wheels here to much open road to get stuck in the winters with a dead beater.
    I think a self evaluation is good once in a while. Guess my question would be - Are you happy where you are?
    Sheila - UP of MI

    1. Hi Sheila thanks for stopping by and commenting! Ah the UP, I miss it! We lived in the Keeweenaw for 12 years, that is where hubby left his good job! We do the gardening and fishing and foraging things too and yeah in the end it only matters if you are happy and for the most part we are happier than anyone I know. My biggest issues are lack of medical insurance and no emergency fund but I am working on those!

  8. Carrie, I think the most important question here is "why does it bother that commenter so much that you make so little?" I honestly think you probably caused her to think on 'could she do it' and 'what if?'

    For those of us who live below the poverty level and defy the odds, we have to constantly defend ourselves, I think, but we also set examples to those who can't imagine it. Keep your chin up and don't beat yourself's truly that person's problem....not yours..:-)


    1. Mary, I think that is a great way to look at it, thanks for the quick change of perspective on tirning the question around! You are right though, it seems we always are defending ourselves.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. I didn't read through all the comments but after reading through that post I did want to add my two cents. I feel somewhat as if you are living as happily as anyone else despite what may seems like a really small income and the thing that really bothered you about that comment is probably not so much that you should consider making more money but that other people making $50000, $100000, $450000 couldn't imagine making any less. It's always going to be difficult when someone judges you based on what they know when you know perfectly well that they will NEVER understand what you know; the whole walk a mile in someone else's shoes. This person was wondering, why aren't you trying to walk in my shoes? But no matter how much thought you put into, no matter how many words you put out there, there really is no way for you to ever help them see that there is nothing wrong with your shoes. That would bother me, and does sometimes.

  10. Aw. It's really sweet that you are willing to consider another perspective. If it makes you feel any better, I saw your post at MMM and I was intrigued and here I am. I plan to read lots of your stuff. You seem savvy and down to earth and those are just the kind of people I like. Good luck dealing with the cancer. I know that that can be really scary. Best wishes for a full recovery.