Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Am I "Have Not"? What Even is a "Have Not"?

My recent post about classism I experienced in regards to our recent camping trip to a free and bus accessible place got lots of positive feedback, thankfully. (To be honest I was a bit worried there, but I'm glad I wrote it.)

But one comment that I got about it got me thinking, not to mention a little hot and bothered.

"I find the assumptions amusing. For heaven's sake, how in the world can you lump yourself together with the poor? You own an apartment in [an expensive country]!!!! You travel. You buy goodies. You have therapies. [...] You aren't from the have-nots, not by a long shot. [...] Are you sure you know what you're talking about?"

And it sat on my mind.

And made me determined to write a post about this.

Am I a "have" or a "have not"?

This post was something I was planning on touching on previously, to be honest, since I read a post about what it's like to be living in poverty, and I wanted to talk about how I related and didn't relate to that article.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is that by looking at someone, you really have no idea what is really going on in their life. If they identify as poor, struggling financially, worthy recipients of charity, or whatever other terminology you want to use, they probably are. Just because someone 'looks nice' doesn't mean they are doing well financially. There are so many places where you can get cheap or even free nice clothes, that how you dress and present yourself isn't necessarily a reflection of your financial situation. I wrote about this more in a previous post about who is worthy of charity.

But myself? Am I a "have not"? I own a home. I go to therapy, and I go on trips.

Does this a "have" or "have not" make?

Let me tell you a story.

Once I went to the grocery store, not having any cash to spend on groceries, but hoping to be able to buy a few things and put it on the tab. But the store manager said that I couldn't put anything else on the tab until it was paid.

I didn't know what to do.

I literally had five dollars to last until next payday, and it was our anniversary.

I ended up buying some dry white beans and cucumbers, since that was the cheapest vegetable they sold, and for our anniversary dinner I served homemade baked beans on homemade bread, with sliced cucumbers. It was pathetic. And it was the time in my life that I felt poorest. Destitute even.

When I picture my lowest point financially, that is the scene that comes to mind. Homemade baked beans (of course vegetarian, and with white sugar, no molasses, that's too expensive) on white flour (eggless because eggs cost too much) bread with cucumbers. As our fancy anniversary meal.

When people talk about poverty, they often mention people going hungry. That's never happened to me. But not because I'm rich, but because I do things differently.

I have anxiety regarding food insecurity. If I see a pantry that is bare, or a fridge nearly empty, I get this huge knot in my stomach, and a very panicky feeling, and am not able to function.

I've never gone hungry and neither have my kids because instead of making a little food that isn't enough to feed everyone, I find the cheapest food I can make, and make enough of that, even if it isn't the best nutritionally. And I've been blessed to have a good head and a skill for cooking so I can do that.
When I was really really struggling financially, I somehow found a way to cut back even more, so that I could buy something in bulk for the first time. And that little bit of money I saved from having bought that item in bulk went towards the next bulk purchase. Each time it shaved a little bit off my monthly grocery total, and freed up some cash to be able to buy things on sale and make a stockpile. This meant that during the leanest times, when we didn't have any money at all for groceries, we didn't go hungry, because instead I did a "pantry challenge" also known as "I don't have a cent to spend on food now so I'll make do with what I already have at home" and call it a challenge so people think I'm excited about a game when its really something I'm doing out of desperation.
In addition to stockpiling, I ate what other people consider trash. I collected friends' leftover watermelon rinds to cook up for meals, I dumpster dove or trash picked at the market for fish and meat scraps and produce that was still salvageable if I cut off the yucky parts.
And I taught myself how to forage. While I made this into a business eventually, teaching people how to forage, I started learning about the edible plants where I lived because I didn't have money for groceries and this ensured that we wouldn't go hungry and would have good nutrition to go with our cheap fillers. Yes, I essentially "ate and served my family weeds" because that was what I needed to do to survive.
And I asked neighbors with fruit trees if they had any extras on their trees to spare and used that to fill my fridge and pantry when I canned those items.
And I shopped at salvage stores, buying food that was dented and expired, because food is food.

So no. I never went hungry. Neither did my kids. I never made my kids ketchup sandwiches (as in the title of that article on poverty) because that's all we had to eat (though my kids have had that by choice sometimes). But that's not because we were "haves" but because I have been blessed with a good brain and ingenuity to figure out solutions to the food problem.
This morning, I had a really bad panic attack about finances, realizing I was in a super bad place (for reasons I can't elaborate here) and asked friends for help. Some asked me if I needed groceries, and then I realized that no, I didn't need groceries since I do have a relatively full stockpile, and my family won't go hungry, because I've prepared ourselves for situations like this.

But am I a "have" or a "have not"?
I'm currently sleeping on a bed I built from wood scraps I had at home because my bed broke and I can't afford a new one. On my bed is a mattress that has springs poking through enough to rip a hole in some of my sheets and has cut me, but I can't afford a new mattress so I just pushed the spring's wire back in and bent it, then flipped the mattress and hoped for the best.

Am I a "have" or a "have not" if I accepted a job that paid only 20 dollars because that still was 20 dollars more than I had before?

Am I a "have" or a "have not" if my kids didn't get new school supplies for this year because I don't have the money to pay for them in addition to my mortgage payment, so instead friends are collecting school supplies for my kids?

Am I a "have" or a "have not" if the only way I'm actually remotely remotely surviving financially now is because we have tenants who pay us monthly rent and I get disability payments for one kid, because I don't get any child support, and the money I make isn't enough to cover our expenses?

Does my owning a home make me a "have" if there are 28 year left on the mortgage, and there's a good chance I'll lose my home in my very non amicable divorce?

What about the fact that I and my kids are in therapy? Is the fact that I go to a therapist so that I can be a functional human being throughout this really tough time I'm going through automatically a sign that I'm a "have"? Especially if the only way I can manage that is because I am getting a discount on my therapy? Or does the fact that my kids are in therapy make me a "have"? To be honest, I wasn't going to take my kids to therapy, despite knowing how much they desperately needed it, because I couldn't afford it, but some single mom friends of mine told me that I must, and if there ever is a time to make a "go fund me" page, this is it. So I did that, and I tried to raise funds to help pay for their therapy,  she gave me a discount, and even so I have a really large debt towards the therapist which she very graciously isn't pressing me about... I think its horrible that therapy is considered a luxury for the rich. Its like saying that surviving is only for rich people. Because for many people, therapy is the different between surviving and not. And fortunately with places like therapy is more and more affordable and not just for the rich.

Or the fact that I go on trips? Yes, I do go on trips. I do go on vacation. And when I say I need it for my mental health, for my sanity, I mean it seriously. My therapist tells me that I should be doing things like this as part of my healing process, and I do it as dirt cheaply as possible (and go to extremes, like taking overnight buses to cheaper airports, and sleeping overnight in airports), because it's something I need to do but I don't have money for, but can't go without.

Ok, so I know that there are people that are in worse situations than myself. Yes.

I know that I am blessed in that I have supportive friends and have been able to collect charity so I can survive.

I am blessed that my utilities don't usually get cut off...

And yes, I am blessed that I have a good, creative head on my shoulders, which allows me to come up with ideas of things to do to survive.

And I'm blessed that I thought to start this blog years ago, and have been able to make a small income off my teaching others to be frugal.

But does that make me a "have"?

When someone tells you they're really struggling, telling them they are a "have" and shouldn't be complaining... is just a lack of empathy, not to mention really invalidating.

Because "have" and "have not" is still all relative.

I don't live in a third world country. I have ways to earn money. My health is relatively decent. I have four wonderful children. All things that others don't have. And hey, if you're reading this post, it means you know how to read and have access to the internet, something many people don't have, so in some ways you're definitely a "have" too.

But there are many things that make me a "have not". No one is completely a "have" or completely a "have not". So telling someone they're a "have" or a "have not" is just silly.

But when someone tells you they're struggling, believe them. Listen to them. Don't tell them they don't know what they're talking about. Because you don't know their life.

(And if you think you know about my life based on this post... you still don't. There's still much I haven't shared.)

What are your thoughts on "haves" or "have not"s? What do you define as poor? Do you consider yourself a "have" or a "have not", and why?


  1. Good for you! Nobody can judge the crosses in someone else's life - especially not in the one dimensional realm of social media.

  2. I think most people can define themselves as both haves and have-nots depending on who they are comparing themselves to.

    Most people can afford what they need, depending on how they define their needs.

    It's all in the frame of mind.

    There are people to whom you appear as a "have" because they see your home ownership, your trips abortifacient, your privately funded therapy, and thank G-d you can afford those things, but there are ppl to whom you appear as a have not because you do these things on a budget and don't have much (any? I don't know) left at the end of the month.

    It's all subjective.

  3. Never gave much thought to "have and have nots". I'm blessed as far as I'm concerned and living within my means which I've always done. I call it being practical. I'm so proud of you for trying and doing the same and being so inventive when it comes to everything. Being economical just means your someone who knows how to save your money. Kills me when I'm clipping coupons and planning a shopping trip and my friends are like "it's too much trouble." No, it's not. It's easier than ever now with the coupon matching sites out there. I work too hard for my money to just give it away because I'm being lazy.
    I consider someone poor who has lost all hope and is no longer trying and has no incoming financial means. Living in America, there are so many outlets for helping people get back on their feet. Too many who don't need it abuse it unfortunately and that really gets me mad.

    Keep up the great posts. I'll keep reading 'em.

  4. Another excellent post, Penny. Thank you for writing about this. You really never know from the outside how much someone is struggling financially.
    I am sorry there is a possibility you loose your home in divorce, that is horrible. But yes, you have good, creative head on your shoulders, and I admire your positive, survivor attitude (which you may force on yourself not having the other option) when things go shitty - which I really admire, since I struggle with mental health and the worst thing is finding motivation and optimism in worst times.
    Hang on, and keep sharing!
    Warm hug from Croatia.

  5. Been there, done most of that at various times(incluuding the mattress. You and being a divorced woman with small children, some of whmo have special needs in a very-non-amiclble divorce is in a class by itself. But you have to judge "have" and "have not" by your own culture and community, nnot 3rd world conditions (which actually do exist where we are, even behind the doors of what look like nice, middle class houses there are people who'd be delighted for your baked beads, bread and cucumbers). But while you may experience a long stretch of "interesting times" in the sense of the Chinese curse, you remain a "have" because you have a bunch of resources--a good mind, creativity, talent, a willingness to learn and to work, perseverence, friends that make a whole lot of difference. They aren't accepted as cash on the barrel but they'll keep you going past all the rought spots. Feeling poor (and yes, its entirely valid) is another matter.

  6. 1. Proof, once again, that much in life is gray and not black and white. 2. 30%of the food we raise and manufacture gets discarded. Some of this food is discarded at open air markets and can be "saved" a minute before it is thrown in the garage.


  7. Excellent article! People have no right to judge others, especially on appearance.
    The lady in the expensive dress might need food stamps because her husband left her, took all their money and she has kids to feed. She might not have ANY family to help her. Many people, even the so called "upper class" are just one or two paychecks away from poverty. A sudden job loss or devastating illness can cripple a family financially. Everyone deserves a helping hand without judgement.

  8. Don't pay any attention to people who criticize you for being honest. And as someone who went through divorce and didn't get therapy because I thought I couldn't afford it, I can tell that now, 24 years later, I really wish I had. Take care of yourself and your children and don't listen to people who get pleasure out of pushing others down.


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