Sunday, July 25, 2010

On the Cheap

My friend the Modern Muse (see link in sidebar) did the June Food Stamp Challenge and at the end she asked all of us out here (there?) in reader land if we would ever do certain things to feed ourselves if we were hungry. Well, MM, I have to confess, I have done most of those things you describe. I was not a single mom, but I was a grad student birthing thesis and dissertations. Because I have done them before, I made the choice to do them again as I write my novel. $101 dollars to feed oneself for a month just isn’t real, even with a garden, even with all the coupon tricks, even with three-bean salad that I can’t look at ever ever again. And boxed Mac and cheese just makes me want to hurl at the thought of eating it. But it got me through school.

I still think paying over $10 for a t-shirt is waaaaay too much. I love the thrift stores, even though I have the added problem of being plus sized. One can find amazing deals in the racks (last Thursday a Michael Kors silk tank in a color that works with my almost but not quite red hair and skin really well – with an orange tag – which meant half off that day - total cost $4.50 – original cost new $85). I make my own granola, grow my own ‘matoes, jar my own jams, knit hats and scarves and potholders for gifts, do alterations and sewing repairs, can unclog toilets, fix window sills and screens, change out spark plugs and so forth. I learned to do all of this not because I wanted to be the New Martha Stewart but because I was too poor to hire someone else to do it and too proud to admit I needed help. Or the alternative, owe someone for something I should learn to do myself, because you may not always like the payment asked for.

I will admit that I borrowed a lot of the Martha Stewart and Carolyn Roehm books from the library, so I could learn to do these things in a somewhat artistic way. Some of the stuff I just rolled my eyes at, because really, who needs to learn to stack wood in an artistic pattern? That is just stupid. But a lot of stuff was really helpful in terms of how to do things correctly, and how to make some money on the side. I have sold altered notebooks as journals, knit goods, food, swim lessons, garden expertise and even once helped make a telescope for a neighbors kid in exchange for an old lawnmower and some lumber that I made vegetable gardens out of. I am a big fan of the barter system and my artsy friends and I trade art all the time.

In grad school had the added benefit of being able to sell my body. And my main John was well known. I was a triathlete sponsored by a major protein bar company. My job in the military (now THERE is some quiet poverty) asked me to do some amazing things, and I did them. By the time I was ready for grad school my body was trained and able to ride 112 miles, run 26 and swim 2.5 all in the same day. I didn’t do to many of the full sized races, as many of them did not have my division (back then we were called Clydesdales – nice, right?). At 5’11” and in full training mode, I stand at 183 lbs. Well over the average of most women, and this means I need more food than the average woman, with the lesser amount of money that a grad student has to live on.

My point here is that once you have known poverty, there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing you can and will survive and that you might even me able to do it with style. The modern Muse is amused that she is now being touted as eco conscious because she sews, cans, and gardens. knits, cooks and has the Modern Domestic Skills. I laugh, because, like her, I have being doing these things forever, not be trendy but because I had to. I do them now, partly to save money while I write, but also, honest truth, I kind of like it.