Relative poverty line

My husband suggested that we live under the Australian poverty line. The word ‘poverty’ doesn’t ring right to me since we have a house, cars, dogs, lots of electronic stuff (albeit outdated), and postgraduate education. People like us don’t live in poverty; we just struggle financially.

Bills and expenses are looming like a cumulonimbus cloud, and we now have a dangerous budget hole.

I’ve been paid for the training, driving and home work I did the last couple of weeks and got slightly more than expected because I’m under the Australian tax threshold (wow… I don’t think we have such a threshold in my home country… anyway, that is a pretty bad sign).

Most went straight into the mortgage account, and more will follow the bills, but right now I’ve got a bit of breathing room. I could fill my car with petrol without worries. It might even get an oil change. I could fill the fridge and stock up on dog food. I could keep my appointment with a specialist. I can buy woollen underwear and a blanket to combat the cold weather. I’ve gotten so used to the $0 situation that I wasn’t aware how stressful it was all the time. I didn’t realise that scarcity is like a relentless battle, and money is peace.

 

Scene from Disney movie Up:  cumulonimbus cloud

Our budget gap is like a cumulonimbus cloud


 

 
Frugal with things, greedy with time

I’m a frugal consumer in a material sense. I haven’t bought any new clothes for years, and rarely have money between my hands that I can spend. When I do (e.g. $20) then I tend to keep them; I am so used to not having money that I forget about them when I do have some. I rarely go out. I hate shopping. I rarely buy newspapers or similar niceties.

However, I do consume a massive amount of time.

I’m always busy following my own preferred side tracks; I’ve never been good at prioritising people and their schemes. I get impatient when I can not pursue my own interests. When I can, I loose sense of time. My life is ‘a land lost in time’. That may be my biggest employment problem.

 
Time destroys everything… eventually

My default reaction to poverty is frugality: when I want something but can’t afford it then I just learn to live without it, and life goes on. However, unfortunately things don’t last forever. As time goes by, more and more essential items break down and leave gaps that cause daily inconveniences, waste of time and barriers to productivity.

Clothes are wearing out, and presentable clothes have become very scarce (plus socks and underwear). And shoes. There are now 3 surviving pairs, of which two pairs are essential but old: my nice shoes for work, and my gradually dissolving running shoes, still on heavy duty every day running on the firetracks in the bush with the 2 spunky dogs.

We’ve had to cancel our insurance policies and have nothing set aside for emergencies: dental visits, vet, technology breakdown (laptop or phone). We just hope nothing bad happens. It it unwise, but necessity has us cornered and it is hard to act long sighted. We also have a broken window (Thank you dogs!).

 
Scene from Disney movie Up (bonus extra): pink clouds

 
 
Freezing nights, trashed mornings

The Australian winter is here. The temperature drops notably around 8 pm, and the freezing night hell breaks loose. Yes, I know I come from a much colder country (everybody keep reminding me), but back home houses are properly insulated, and then there’s central heating everywhere.

 

Disney penguins

How people think I grew up

 
We have one heater that works; it is a small intensive-light electrical ‘toaster’ that can be carried in one hand. It looks expensive to run, so until my husband went overseas we only used it for the evenings and the beginnings of the nights. Now it runs through most nights.

The dogs and I currently cuddle up in the office, which is the house’s smallest room and the easiest/only one possible to warm up. Even here, the warmth seems to evaporate straight through the walls as soon as it is made. There isn’t space for the mattress in here, so I sleep on the floor with the blankets over (except the one I cover the dogs with and the one I sleep on) and wearing multiple layers of sweaters, waistcoats and fleece jackets, and sometimes even my long woollen winter jacket on top*.

The mornings are crap. The temperature rises mercifully about 8 – 9 am, and at that time I feel so completely trashed that I just want to stay under my blankets and suck any warmth out of them. We still don’t have hot water because we can’t afford to replace the dysfunctional water heater. I wash by cooking water on the stove and pouring it in the bathtub (usually 2 – 3 rounds), and it quickly becomes cold because the air is cold.

From the perspective of waking up, the day looks like a big hassle and I don’t know where to begin. So I delay the decision. And so, my days start way to late, way too often. I guess that is an employment problem too.

 
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*Most of this post was written last week. I now have warm clothes and don’t sleep on the floor anymore.

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15 thoughts on “Relative poverty line

  1. Shelley

    I appreciate your struggles. I grew up without running water. We didn’t get an inside bathroom until I was 14. We finally got a washer and dryer when I was 16. When I return home to the reservation, I am reminded that culture still exists and without complaint. It’s accepted. Life truly is hard when stripped to its bare bones. I’m glad things have improved for you.

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    1. Mados

      Thanks for your input, it is interesting to hear your perspective. You grew up in a reservation? Are you of Native American origin? (I hope I am not being too nosy).

      I think many tend to loose their humble appreciation of what they have when they have ‘too many’ conveniences and luxuries. Like a kid who get too many Christmas presents every year;-)

      I am happy for what we have here (although I wish it would include hot water;-) We have a house and our own private outdoor space… That is amazing. And I can do more with it although we lack some typical convenient remedies like lawn mower, shovel, saw… just with more effort.

      The situation has slightly improved with my salary from the research organisation, but it is not enough work in itself, though… so I hope it will continue to improve.

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      1. Shelley

        Hello,

        Good to hear from you. I know I came across as far too simplistic. It would be good for all of us to live in similar situations to gain a better perspective of those who truly struggle to survive.

        Yes, I am Native American who grew up on a reservation. I love going home (who doesn’t?). It’s the one place I can be with people who laugh from the inside out.

        I’m sure this plays a large part in my own perspective ( as well as age).

        I love reading your posts, you’re a strong writer.

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        1. Mados

          That is very interesting! ‘People who laugh from the inside out’… I like that:-) I imagine it must have shaped your perspective tremendously although I wouldn’t have guessed it by reading your blog.

          What is a reservation like, what makes it different from non-reservation land – does it have to do with ownership forms, infrastructure, houses and living arrangements, land management (e.g. is there no agriculture?)

          How was it to move out and start to live in the mainstream world – was it a big change?

          (I hope I am not asking stupid ignorant questions)

          In my home country, we’re all native (except recent immigrants). When I was a kid, I would stop and look if I saw a non-white person on the street – it was that rare. My country was invaded by Germany in the past and by Sweden and Norway even earlier (and invaded them too) but they had similar or compatible cultures and societies and didn’t stay forever.

          Here in Australia, there are the Aboriginals who where initially invaded by the whites who built up a modern busy society all around them, which (in prob. most cases) they are not interested in and have no idea how to fit into. I think it can be said safely that most aboriginals live on the bottom of the Australian society whether in the cities or in the outback, at least if measured by mainstream success criteria. They are in a strange cultural situation, a weird socio-economic limbo.

          Aboriginal peoples* have territories in the outback owned through traditional collective land ownership. Not reservations – they reclaimed the areas according to original (pre-white) Australian ownership customs and won them back in court… some of them at least.

          I know that is not like Native American culture, of course… different races, different cultures. Just the history has some parallels.

          Thank you very much for your lovely compliment!

           
          *I do mean people in plural, because it is not just one people but multiple aboriginal ‘nations’.

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          1. Shelley

            Hope you’re ready for this!

            I imagine indigenous groups share a lot of similarities regardless of their location. I know when I lived in Okinawa, Japan, I was surprised how easily it was for me to fit into their culture. Even in such a nationalistic country, the mainlanders turn their noses up at the Okinawans. Ironically, Okinawa is considered the Hawaii of Japan because of their beautiful beaches.

            As for my reservation, it is 1 of 6 in New York State that makes up the Iroquois Confederacy. We (the Tonawanda Senecas) are the only reserve owned solely by the people. During the 1800s, native lands were being sold to big land companies (greed, ignorance), leaving the people without land. The Tonawanda Senecas opted to purchase land for their people to secure a place for future generations. This differed from the other 5, as well as those around the country, in that the Tonawanda Seneca reserve would not receive any federal funds. State funds are received by way of medical, i.e. local clinic, prescriptions, vision, and dental as a result of treaties.

            Traditionally, women rule. Each clan has a clan mother and each clan mother chooses the chief of that clan. Her role is to advise and admonish both the clan and the chief. The blood line is recognized through the mother’s side. Even though both my parents are Indian, I am Seneca because of her. All land ownership comes from the mother’s side and only women can own land. Also, only those from that particular tribe are to be landowners/residents. For example, I’m married to a non-native. If I die first,he cannot stay unless one of the children takes over our home. My sons cannot own, but my daughters can. My sons can live there, but the land will always revert back to the girls. My husband can live with our children, but he cannot live there on his own. Also, I have one son with a wife from another reserve. He could live there, but if he passed she would have to move.

            As for government, most reserves have moved to a more democratic form of government. Ours has simply fallen apart. I grew up at a time when chiefs actively confronted situations and were problem solvers. They looked to the welfare of the community. If your dogs were out of hand, they warned you. Families with rebellious children were often forced to leave the reserve. Sadly, our young chiefs have criminal records. We’re left with a drug induced, self-indulgent generation readily awaiting their welfare check each month. They are beginning to outweigh those who are productive and law-abiding. The educated leave and don’t return.

            Living in two worlds wasn’t too difficult for me. My family wasn’t traditional, so we leaned towards a more non-Indian lifestyle. Even the reserve is divided into two sections: the traditionalists and the non-traditionalists. Kids from traditional families live in the vicinity of the Long House much like those who attend church lived near the church. Most of what I know about the traditional religion comes from reading.

            Although, we still did things that spoke of the culture at certain times. For instance, when there was a death in the family. There was the 10 day feast. We always left a plate with all the favorite foods of the one who passed on. Occasionally, we attended a Long House social like the strawberry social. I’m sure I’ve forgotten other things.

            As for laughing “inside out”, I can honestly say I get my fill when I go home. What I find is the white culture is far too serious. I miss laughing. Indians have the best humor.

            Well…I hope this gives you a little bit of insight! 🙂

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          2. Mados

            Thank you so much for sharing this unique insight! That is so fascinating, I have never heard anything like it! (from a personal perspective)… it is like a different world. Fascinating how social structures that are usually taken for granted can be rooted in entirely different ways. I’ll come back to it soon, this is just a quick rely to let you know that I read it and appreciate your work very much, it was very interesting to read.

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  2. A Quiet Week

    This pulls at my heartstrings. When my hubby and I first married we lived in a friend’s apartment, slept on the floor and relied on my husband’s dwindling savings. Yet, those times seemed so exciting and fresh now.

    Now middleaged, we both struggle with depression and anxiety. I am grateful that money is not an immediate worry, but I find that my capacity to find something to agonize over something is rather bottomless.

    Egor and I reached the conclusion that we will always have good times and bad times. The good times are when life is predictable and the bad times are when it is not.

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    1. Mados

      Thank you for sharing this. The poor beginning sounds romantic!

      Your capacity for agony sounds human:-) And I agree with your conclusion. There will always be ups and downs, and the downs are when life becomes unpredictable and unstable.

      We’ve been financially in the low for most of our nine years long relationship & marriage due to a variety of circumstances – studying, migrating, paying off dept, unemployment, starting a business, low income e.t.c. Financial struggles make life unpredictable and vulnerable… so I wish we could solve this and levitate our household to a safer level.

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  3. thedenude

    Yeppers. I guess I should be really thankful that I live in America. I would be considered “poor” over here, but my standard of living appears conspicuously higher than what you have described. Huh.

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    1. Mados

      Our standard of living is pretty much through the floor after most standards, I think. Australia doesn’t have real poverty as far as I know, with the possible exception of remote aboriginal desert villages with no resources, e.t.c. There is an economic social safety net so if our total household income had been under a certain threshold, then I would have been able to claim benefits (not that I would want to do that). We do have this nice house; and hopefully we will be able to get the things fixed that are out of order (such as hot water) in the not too far out future. I don’t really think owning a nice house is compatible with claiming poverty. So it isn’t really poverty, it is financial struggles with mortgage and so on. And it has a lot to do with my employment problems (and lack of focus on money)… that’s why I am taking it up as a theme on this blog for the time being.

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  4. autisticook

    Ohhh, this post brought back a whole lot of unpleasant memories. The only time I’ve lived in poverty was in Australia. Cutting out all the coupons so we could afford to buy eggs (and eating nothing but eggs the rest of the week). Budgeting food for two people and petrol and everything else left after rent and amenities on $30 a week. It really is a crazy country. I guess having all that room makes up for it though.

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    1. Mados

      Oh, so you have lived in Australia! Which part? and why… Were you studying? (I hope I am not being too nosy)

      I can’t really blame Australia for our financial struggles… It is due to our income VS mortgage/bills imbalance. I’ve been “on the low edge” financially most of my life due to the types of jobs I’ve had, plus some of the times I had no job or studied. And moved around a lot… Not to speak of, migrated. So I haven’t built capital, and neither has my husband, and here we are.

      However, the situation has improved. About the time when I wrote this post is probably the lowest point we have been at while we were together, ignoring that before that we did not own a house (/mortgage).

      It is winter again, but we have plenty of heat now… Found out the old built-in gas heater in the big living room works! that is a nice detail! The big living room is now our main office and has some furniture, such as ottomans and a futon.

      At the time of the post, it was empty with no furniture and no heat. As far as I remember, that was the case with pretty much the entire house except those few “spots” we used such as the small office and the bedroom.

      We still don’t have warm water – gas water heater still broken on second year;-) I don’t even think about it any more, just heat the water on the stove (that helps warm up the house too). And we’ve got our insurances back, and I recently saw a dentist (because I cracked a tooth). And the dogs are vaccinated…

      We also have things. My husband regularly buys speciality equipment for his hobbies, but also things for the house and for the dogs. He has bought or fetched most of the furniture and a TV. I’ve increasingly been buying some things online I wanted through the last half year or so, where my income has improved due to more assignments from the same employer (not a stable trend… They were a person short so I covered some distant regions as well as my usual area). So I’m sometimes buying books and other (relatively cheap) things for myself, which is a new priority.

      Not clothes though… but that is also because I hate shopping, and it isn’t good to buy clothes online. So what still applies is worn down clothes & shoes, and over-consumption of time. Re-reading “Frugal with things, greedy with time” made me feel strange, almost like deja-vu… because it hasn’t changed.

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      1. autisticook

        It’s good to hear things have been improving for you! Especially the gas heater, I never understood why the little electrical units seemed ok to most Australians. Those aren’t even space heaters. They’re foot heaters. And the lack of insulation? Don’t get me started.

        Anyway. I lived in Brisbane for 3 months in 2009. Ended up there because of incredible naivete and inability to read facial expressions and body language. (In other words, I fell in love with someone who turned out to be a huge liar and everyone saw this except me). Weather was nice. People (apart from the huge liar and his scary controlling mother) were nice and friendly. Money was shite. Visa ran out. That’s what saved me in the end. Well that and my last shred of practicality insisting on a return ticket, not a one-way ticket. Glad I survived and learned some valuable lessons (like how I never want to be living off $30 a week again and when someone’s mother is scary and controlling and refuses to talk to me, I SHOULD RUN AWAY). 😛

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        1. Mados

          Heh:-) Australian men are supposedly the worst husbands in the world according to a British study from 2009 (links to a newspaper article about it).

          I hope something good came out of your little overseas adventure! Apart from the lessons learned. And it was a smart move to have a return ticket. I didn’t do that:-) and there is no way I would be able to leave Australia even if I wanted to, the ticket “home” to Denmark is simply too expensive.

          I agree with you about the insulation… Central heating like in Denmark would be impractical in most of Australia though, I think. We are not Australians as you know – we are Danish + Romanian (my husband has Australian citizenship now though). Since I’m not a very integrated person in general and don’t watch TV and rarely read the news or visit people, I am not very insightful about the mainstream culture around me, so I don’t really know if it is common to have little move-around heaters. I suppose so… since there is only one built-in heater in the house, which is in the living room.

          On our electricity bills there is for each month’s consumption always a visual comparison of our consumption with an “average” household for the same month. Our monthly electricity consumption tends to be around the average monthly consumption for a one person household. It seems that the average Australian two person household tends to use significantly more electricity than we do despite our pretty much constant computer/technology use. Then we use gas heating as well, of course.

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