More and more people are falling into poverty every day in our country. The federal poverty level for a single person is $11,170. Minimum wage in NC is $7.50 an hour. With a 40-hour week, that would produce an annual income of $15,600 (providing you were paid for vacations and holidays.) Still, how does a person live on that? Rent, groceries, clothes, car, gas, insurance. It doesn’t stretch far.
When I was in my 20s, there were times that I was probably close to the poverty level (amount adjusted for way back then.) $11,170 would have been a high salary for me when I was right out of college. Can’t remember what I made with my first job after college graduation…..but I worked for a children’s home where room and board were included, so it wasn’t even close to minimum wage. Then my next job was paying claims in an insurance company and still in the 4 digits. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6k-8k a year. (I had made more waitressing in college and working in the shipping department at Hunt for a summer!) Funny to think about now. And yep… that was poor even back then. I always had a roommate…..and my friend Al will tell you how I went to their house almost every night for dinner. He claims he could have claimed me on his taxes as a dependent. He is almost right! But then they had to go and move away from me (which I think was a move that Al got from my former college roommate, whose family once moved on her and didn’t tell her the address), and my income assistance was gone.
Nevertheless, those were some of the greatest years of my life. Most of my friends had no money….and it was a challenge to see how far we could stretch every dollar. We were united in this goal. This, of course, was before cell phones, so we had this list of phone numbers of singles from our church. Once we decided what we were going to do, we’d start at the top of the list, work our way down, and call everyone. (This may be why I hate phone calls now!) Most things were planned at the last minute. Anyone without plans was welcome to join us. We traveled in a pack and most weekend nights there would be 20 or so of us to get together. We were a community……we shared our meager stuff and did whatever we could to help out each other. I don’t even want to think about how many times I helped people move. But they helped me, too….including once painting every room in a house my roommate and I were moving into and I didn’t even lift a paintbrush (I am a very bad painter…..still.)
One of our favorite (and few) nights out in Greensboro during that time was dinner at YumYums and then a trip to the dollar movie (we had not just one, but two theaters to choose from!) YumYums is a hot dog place in Greensboro. The hot dogs were horrible. The kind that would turn the water red if you boiled them. (Nothing like JayBee’s!!!!) My friends didn’t seem to care. For some reason, some of them even loved them. As for me, it was cheap and tolerable. Throw enough mustard and slaw on there, and you barely can tell you have a yucky hot dog. They had a very limited menu and everything was $1. So, I would generally get a hot dog and an ice cream cone. The ice cream was awesome. Some would get a soft drink. Usually in place of the ice cream. Unless they really felt like being a big spender. Not sure there was anything else offered for sale. But for us, it was dinner out! And most of us would only spend $2. With movie, our evening’s total would come to $3. It doesn’t even matter what the movie is…..when there are 20 of you there to watch it, you’re going to have fun. We called these the $3 date nights.
We’d get together for ballgames (on tv), for movie nights, and if Lisa Davis (now Friesen) or Nancy Pensyl (now Krehbiel) was cooking we’d even get to eat real food! Really, really good food. We’d have silly parties. Lip syncing parties (where people would come dressed up and ready to perform acts. Like the Supremes, the Beatles, and 60s girls bands. I can still see some of those performances clearly.) Nancy and I invited everyone to a pool party at our house once and not one person questioned the fact that we didn’t have a pool. I do believe that was one of our best parties ever (and I don’t believe the kids even noticed their pools missing!)
We’d do beach retreats for Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. So finely tuned that we had a set menu and grocery list that we recycled time after time. You knew on Saturday night you were going to eat shrimp, baked potatoes, salad and homemade Oreo ice cream. We’d rent big houses, and people were sleeping everywhere. We almost always felt there was room for one more. Of course, one more meant one more to split the cost with….we loved one more! Tons of fun. Games on the beach. Times of solitude and reflection, having church together. And lots of spirited conversation and laughter.
Most of us were very poor….and we were very content. Few that I hung out with during that time had more than two nickles to rub together, but happiness was everywhere. Most of those people are still happy. And while we have upgraded our stuff, most of us could easily slip back into that lifestyle. Because the commonality was that we determinedly made a good life for ourselves. We were going to be happy regardless of our circumstances.
I’ve always said that one of the greatest gifts is to be easily amused and easily contented. I believe that life is an endless feast….and I am working to taste as much as possible. I cannot imagine not living on a budget, since I have had to most of my life, but I accomplish a lot on that budget. And if I had to, I could go back to living on minimum wage. I would find a way to make it work. And my life would be very good.
I know many people with lots of money, some with a moderate amount, some with none and others with less than none (major debt.) Sometimes money and more stuff just adds more complications. More layers of confusion. But those who are content would be content with whatever amount of money they have. How much they have doesn’t matter. It’s all about how you deal with the party invitation. Those who are content know they are invited to the feast of life….and it is time to chow down. They’re going to enjoy the party. And the best things in life are free. Take it from someone who knows. (Not that luxuries aren’t nice, too!)
Note: Speaking of chowing down, I will be on a cruise with my niece Maggie (celebrating her high school graduation) during the next week and will be unable to post to the blog. I will continue to travel through Proverbs when I am away, and will hopefully have lots of blog material to catch up on when I get back! In the meantime, keep reading the book! And feel free to post your thoughts to me.