Wednesday, February 25, 2009

'Tis A Gift?

Posted by Anonymous.

I don’t want to post this on my blog because it’s totally humiliating.

I got a phone call from my daughter’s school the other day. The teachers and staff wanted to add my kids’ names to the gift tree they do there every year. The guidance counselor said that she knew we were struggling and she wasn’t trying to insult me, but that she thought we could use the help.

I told her that I wasn’t insulted, just embarrassed. Because the thing is, she’s right.

We are broke. I bought some presents for my oldest last week because I’d had a little larger than expected paycheck. But I had to return them because we ran out of oil. And if you think that doesn’t suck, you don’t know jack. I hadn’t bought her much – pajamas, mostly, and a book. Nothing extravagant. But if I didn’t return them, we wouldn’t have eaten much beyond beans last week. So I took them back. What really sucked is that I bought them where I work, so, yeah. Fun.

I feel like I’ve really cut back a lot on our expenses. We never go out to eat. We may order a pizza once a month, but other than that, I cook every meal. I buy dried beans and cheap cuts of meat. We eat a lot of rice. I get my bread on the day-old shelf and buy produce from the about-to-go-off shelf. I obsessively check the grocery store ads for savings and will even go to the hated Wal-Mart if they have better prices. I bake my own bread and I don’t buy convenience foods. I buy 99% of the girls’ clothing at the Salvation Army and Goodwill. The only new things I’ve bought for myself in the last year are two bras and a package of underwear. We don’t rent movies, we don’t have NetFlix, we never go to see a film in the theatre. I don’t own a cell phone. I keep the heat at 64 and we all wear sweaters in the house. I never wash my clothes in hot water. I Freecycle like a madwoman. I haven’t been on a vacation of any sort in four years.

I could cancel cable and the internet, but I think I might kill myself if I didn’t have the internet. At $70 a month for both, it wouldn’t save us all that much anyway. I could hang my clothes to dry, but I have a very, very, very small house and three kids and a husband in plumbing. I do 4 or 5 loads of laundry a day – I don’t have the space to hang stuff inside in the winter.

I feel like such a failure. I’m not a stupid person. I have a part-time job, my husband has a decent job making decent money, but we can never seem to get ahead. We lost our house to foreclosure last year and are now renting in a rather sketchy city, somewhere more affordable than the college town we used to live in.

I don’t want to accept these gifts from my daughter’s school. I told the guidance counselor that I wanted us to be at the bottom of the list, that I’m sure there are other families out there in much more dire straits than we are in, who are in more need. She was very sympathetic and nice about it. I’m really hoping we don’t get anything – picking up charity gifts is going to break my heart.

But the upshot is that I can’t really afford Christmas for my kids. Sure, they’ll get some things and I don’t want it to be all about the presents, but still. It’s killing me.

(Ed. note - submitted before Christmas. I'm so sorry for these posting delays!)


Amy said...

I've had to accept help, in the past, too. It's hard. It's a little easier if you accept it with the idea that you'll pay it forward. When things are better for you, there will still be plenty of people in need, and you can help them. Then they can help someone else, and so on.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday, and that things are better now.


Kate said...

Like Amy - I know it's hard.

You're trying so hard, and it doesn't feel good enough and you get frustrated.

I once had to ask for help, waiting in line at the food pantry humbled me more than anything else.

But you do what you have to to survive. You go without, you give up, you take the help.

Maybe sometime soon, you'll be in a position to help, and you'll be grateful, and you'll sure where the people trying to help you are coming from.

I wish you the best, I hope the holidays were bearable and that you're still doing ok.

Mr Lady said...

First, I am so sorry for your situation. I'm so sorry that you're doing everything you CAN and still struggling. It doesn't seem fair.

Second, I was your kids when I was young. Go ahead and take the gifts. Your kids appreciate them, and they won't forget. That I know all about.

Hayley said...

Your post made me cry. But it sounds like you're very resourceful. Hang in there!

When I was a kid, we were on food stamps and got our Christmas presents from the church. My mom cut up some of her own clothes to make me school clothes. We lived in a trailer. But she never let us realize that we were poor. I had a great childhood.

So take the charity and don't be ashamed (I know that sounds difficult), because someday you'll be in a position to give back and that's what charity is about. For those who need it and will someday repay it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a firm believer in the concept of paying it forward, and I would encourage you to gracefully accept any help that's offered. It will all even out in the end.

Your children might not have had a ton of presents under the tree, but they do have a mother who loves them and works hard to take care of them. They are lucky to have you, and I think you're doing a great job in difficult circumstances. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how it works where you live, but I do know that food banks here are desperate for volunteers.
Even one morning a week. They help the volunteers out with provisions in return.

CALLIE said...

The staff in our office work together to help sponser a family every year at Christmas time. I can't believe the joy it gives people to know they are helping someone in need. We do it completely anonymously and don't even know who the gifts/food/clothes are going to.
It must be so incredibly difficult to reach out and take someone's hand, but I would be so glad if our sponsor family was a family like yours - you work hard, you save hard, you take good care of your home and your children, and you just need a little bit of help... you deserve it.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that things are looking up for you.

Anonymous said...

I think that everyone in this country is struggling in some way right now. I can't imagine what that phone call must have felt like and I fear that soon things like that will start happening to my family.
I feel guilty because soon I will be leaving them in the midst of one of their worst chapters, my father is loosing the job he has had for 25 years. I feel bad because I have a job and he won't soon.
I just hope that soon things work out for you....and that you did end up having a good Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is the person who asked Catherine to post this. I wanted to say thank you for all your kind words. I wound up calling the school back and having our names removed from the list. The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I was in receiving anything when there really are families worse off than mine.

Since writing this, things have improved financially and I no longer feel like I'm dancing on a wire to keep food on the table - things are still very, very tight, but we're no longer scrounging quarters to buy milk at the end of the week. My husband moved from a commission-based paycheck to salaried and it's made a huge difference.

Thank you again.

Jamie said...

1.) let me say that I have been there. Being a working family says a lot. It says you are trying and doing your best. Shit happens to good people and it isn't fair.

2.) You may not want to hear this but there may be more ways to cut back without sacrificing the quality of your life. Nowadays internet is almost necessary - it keeps you connected, plus you can use it to make a little extra money by selling outgrown clothes on craigslist or ebay. But could you downgrade to basic cable? How about your phone plan? I know you said you don't like to hang your clothes up to dry, but that may save a lot. I have been hanging clothes to dry for at least 12 years, using the dryer only if absolutely necessary (usually towels). I wash around 6/7pm and then hang the clothes up (I hang shirts on hangers and hand them off the door trim of all the doors and closets, and hang pants over anything I can including chairs or on hangers) so that we don't have to look at them for very long - usually by morning 95% of the load is dry and what isn't will dry shortly after (my house never goes above 62 in the winter so if they dry in my cold house, they will in yours). Believe it or not, I have saved thousands of dollars over the years- at least $100- $200 on the gas bill a month. An old inefficient dryer can cause you to waste a lot of money.

Have you tried couponing? There are millions of sites - blogs even, that explain how to get free groceries and things with maybe an hours worth of effort each week. I do this myself - I don't pay for 25 to 50% of my groceries and other necessities just by paying attention to what is on sale and using coupons. Feel free to email (email is on my profile) me and I'll give you a lesson.

Also, if you eat meat and think it might be worth it try angel food ministries. We don't eat meat so I haven't tried it but know many who swear by it.

3.) Take the help if you haven't. You are lucky enough to have the option available to you without having to beg for it. Our daughter was the lucky recipient of an angel tree gift when she was a baby. We were surprised with the gift because we didn't ask to be helped... and it was truly one of those moments that made me appreciate what we have so much more. We've been able to pay it forward ten times over and it makes me feel so good to be able to do so. I never anticipated being able to pay it forward so it brings me great joy now. You will get to that point in the future, even if you can't financially swing it. Your time does count (time = money).

4.)Can you trade / barter a service you do or item you have in exchange for something you need? For example my husband does web design and trades his services with various business in exchange for items they sell for free. I have a friend who cleans the house of a vet in exchange for free pet medications and clinic visits.

5.) Screw the video games and expensive stuff. Have the kids make gifts for each other. Look up their likes on the internet and see if there is something you can make that focuses on their interests. There are tons of craft ideas out there that may be a better gift for them than something they will eventually discard or grow out of. They will cherish spending the time with you and each other, whether they admit it or not. I painted an abstract for my daughter before she was born and she still has it hanging on her wall. She thinks it is the coolest thing ever! (and I can't really paint, either)

6.)Don't feel bad about shopping resale. I started shopping resale for myself when I was in high school and have done so with my kids as long as they have been alive.... they don't care where their stuff comes from as long as it fits. My oldest actually likes vintage stuff now and loves getting a good deal on things. She realizes that the further we stretch our money the better off we are. My daughter brags that she got a pair of shoes at the Goodwill for 50 cents to her friends. Then she tells me how foolish she thinks they are for spending $50 on shoes at the mall.

7.) You are NOT a failure. Like I said, crappy things happen to good people who try. Keep your chin up and do your best. No one can fault you for doing your best.

(sorry I threw so many things at you)

Rachael said...

Your post has me in tears because I understand. My husband has a regular job. I got laid off last September from my part time job and haven't been able to find another job as of yet, and if I did it would have to be enough to cover our day care costs for our 2 year old, which most jobs I apply for don't.

We are smart people. We have college degrees. Yet, we don't even have enough to pay our bills and are lucky enough to have been able to close our 401(k) (after it lost 50% unfortunately), and got a settlement from a law suit from 3 years ago, but it's slowly being whittled away (it was only $2000).

It really can happen to ANYONE, and lately it seems like it is.

I'm sorry that you were embarrassed, and I hope that you managed to have a good Christmas. We're lucky enough that our son doesn't really understand yet, so he didn't really know we didn't get him anything.


Surprised Suburban Wife said...

It's killing me to read this. Definitely a reality check that reminds me again how lucky I am. I truly feel terrible for how embarrassed you must have been but hope you were able to accept the gift tree gifts, knowing that someday you will be on the giving end again.

And OF COURSE you can't give up the internet! That be crazy talk!

Anonymous said...

It is so very tough for everyone right now. I feel like my family has it better than many but we are still struggling. Peace and hope to all of us!

Anonymous said...

i have a friend who is using a food bank to get by right now. and things are so tight for us that i can't help her, which kills me. she sucks up her pride every time she walks in those doors... but she does it knowing that her family would starve otherwise and that in the future she will be able to contribute to that food bank.

Rosemary said...

Thank you for updating us.. I cried as I read your story.. I think because it was like that for my family when I was 11.. my parents seperated, then my dad lost his job. From big house, everything we needed, to food stamps and nothing much.. but my parents were like you and showed us that the family matters, not what the family has. There is no shame in accepting help when you need it, and to pay it forward feels wonderful. I think that I am a much more compassionate person now than I would have been, because I understand what it was like to have nothing. My husband and I are still doing well, but I know that could change very quickly if he lost his job. We both try to give back, adopt families at Christmas, do what we can, while we can.

God bless you for writing this.. and I hope that things continue to look up for you.

Avalon said...

Several years ago, we had a young family--distant relatives--who lived nearby. They had 3 young kids, and the Dad was injured unexpectedly at work. His Comp payments only covered a portion of what he normally made. We knew that they were struggling, but ashamed to accept help. So, anonymously, we dropped of 4 bags of groceries on their porch overnight. We did this every few weeks for about 4 months.

I hope that it didn't make them feel any worse, but I couldn't stand by and do nothing as I remembered what it was like growing up with almost nothing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the update. I am so happy to hear that things are actually better for you and your family instead of worse. With such bad news nowadays, it's heartening to hear that at least someone is on the upswing.

Best wishes to you and your family, and I hope things continue to improve.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the update.

While reading this I was so sad...and wanted to help so badly. (And I absolutely would if I had your info)

When I was younger I lived just with my Mom and we were very poor. We lived in the Bronx, she worked 4 jobs, and we never had any money. I got squeaky dog toys for Christmas and the tooth fairy was on vacation. However, it never bothered me. My mom loved me fiercely and I never felt like I was missing out. It sounds like you're probably the same kind of Mom and you should know that your kids don't mind. They understand more than you realize. And in the end they will be thankful that they have grown up knowing the value of a dollar but more importantly, knowing the value of love.

Hang in there. These times are hard but they will get better.

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget when my dad told me there's nothing shameful about being poor. I didn't understand it at the time (I lived in the keys and all my friends seemed like zillionaires), but now it's a belief that I treasure. I'm proud of the days we struggled for housing when I was a kid. It gives me the pride of knowing I earned all the achievements I've made as an adult.

Anonymous said...

edit: the keys = the florida keys :)

-- above poster

Mary Q Contrarie said...

You should not feel embarassed about needing financial assistance. Many people in this country currently need help. I think as a culture we were sold on the fact that we did not need to save for the rainy day. Now it is raining and many of us are not prepared. I wanted to tell you that I quit using my dryer two years ago. I am know using portable laundry racks. During the day I have them up in the bedrooms that are not being used then at night I move them to the living room and kitchen. I have found that has saved me 7% on my energy bills.