Monday, September 13, 2010

Local Reader Lives On Less Than $15,000

A little while ago I asked if there were any readers who had or were living on $15,000 or less a year. I wanted people from different size families and backgrounds to send in their stories so we could all learn from those who have already done it. Here is one of those stories from a reader named Karen.

My husband lost his job, and ended up being out of work for 17 months!
He is in the education field, and it is a tough place to find jobs,
especially in Michigan right now. We have two young children, and we
both desired that I continue to stay home with our kids, and agreed I
would go back to work only if it became absolutely necessary. For
reasons too lengthy to explain, we did not qualify for unemployment,
so there was no steady income during the entire time. What is also
helpful to add is that we were debt free (except for our home and
student loans) to begin with, and we did not live off of credit cards
at all during this time.

Here are some things that helped us:
1. We applied for food stamps. (Before going on Food Stamps we had an
established budget of groceries for $300/month.) We chose not to
apply for cash assistance because we did not like the requirements of
that program.
2. Our kids qualified for Medicaid.
3. Hubby and I found a very inexpensive "major medical" type of
insurance policy for ourselves just to cover us in case something big
4. For medical care we went to a local free clinic (in our case that
was Catherine's Care Center). They were fantastic! Very low cost,
very helpful.
5. My husband contacted local tutoring businesses and found some
contract work. There were times when it was very slow, but other
times when he would be very busy. The money he made from these jobs
was enough to pay for our utilities and gas in the car. He also
advertised his tutoring on Craigslist and obtained a few clients that
way as well. He also did any other kind of work he could find. He
would fill in for people or help with a specific project (such as
landscaping or cleaning). He also worked a temporary job for the
6. We had a good income tax refund (partially due to my husband's
contract work)and we lived on that for many months.
7. This was one of the MOST helpful things. We put our home in
forbearance. We contacted our mortgage company as soon as we knew we
would be unable to make the payments, and we set up an agreement and
paid a very minimal amount each month. What we learned is that the
late payments would show up on our credit report, but once we caught
up (or set-up the loan to add the payments at the end) after the
unemployment, the late payments would be removed from our credit
8. We put our student loans in forbearance as well.
9. We cut spending in many (and some drastic) ways. We cancelled our
cable tv, set up an antenna instead, and "downgraded" our internet
connection. We found a cheaper phone plan. I made my own laundry
detergent...saved us tons of money. (May I add for the last several
months I never had to make it because people donated laundry detergent
to us!) We already used cloth diapers, but I had used some
disposables for going away. I pretty much quit using disposables at
all. If we needed clothing we shopped at thrift stores. (Family was
generous and gave us boxes of disposables from time to time...also
family bought us clothing and shoes when they were needed.) We did
not go out to eat, with very, very few exceptions. Not even fast food
(unless someone took us out). I cleaned using cheaper base
ingredients, such as baking soda, vinegar, etc. We did not use paper
plates (until somebody bought us a huge package!). We pretty much
did.not.spend except for absolute necessities. We did not spend money
on gifts. We found amazing ways to be creative.
9. What was VERY kind was that people helped us out. Family,
friends, and church family would come to us and ask if we needed
anything. If there was a specific need, we would share with them and
they would simply give it to us! Our church had several unemployed
people and set up a non-food pantry. We went months without having to
buy toilet paper or dish soap or hand soap! It was amazing. Once in
awhile money would show up in our mailbox at home or at our church.
God took care of us and provided even the smallest of items such as
toothbrushes and disposable razors. I cried once when someone gave us
a bag of goodies that included deoderant (the exact kind my husband
uses and had JUST ran out of). I have a group of mom friends and they
also gave us a generous gift and provided our family with things we
needed, right when we needed them the most. It is *very* humbling,
but people are kind if you let them know what is going on and are
willing to share. There were anonymous gifts too...and just always
came right when we needed a boost or a specific need. It may sound
strange, but I don't recall ever asking anyone to do anything for us.
They just knew we were unemployed and that we were being diligent to
look for work. They cared about us, and asked us if there was anything
we needed. We are very blessed. At times there were gifts of things
we didn't need! Someone gave us a little care package which included
little toy items. Someone gave us toys that their children had
outgrown. We wrapped them up (with leftover wrapping from last year)
and gave them to our kids for Christmas presents! Our children our
very young so they just thought it was great. We had friends who gave
us gift cards to go out to eat. I love to knit, and I had friends
show up one day with new yarn, just for me! So not only were needs
met, but extras too. This experience has been fantastic for us
because now we are more aware of how we might be able to help others
who are in similar situations.
10. Every time I thought I would have to go back to work something
would happen. We would get our income tax refund, or my husband would
get a contract job that gave us a boost.
11. We found lots of fun, free things to do. Date nights were always
something free, like a free outdoor concert, or ArtPrize, etc. There
are many free and fun things to do in Grand Rapids. We would use our
food stamps to buy deli food and pack a meal to take with us when we
went out. Honestly, I never felt "deprived" of fun or entertainment.
If we wanted to watch a movie, we'd check it out from the library.
The Grand Rapids Public Llibrary also has free passes to local
attractions that you can check out from time to time when they are
available. I was able to take our kids to the Children's Museum for
free on one of those passes.

There may be more, but that is what I can think of at this time. :)