As we continue along this week discussing the working poor I thought I would share a little more of my own history of a time when I would have been considered poor.
It all began the year I graduated university and got married. You see neither my wife or I were able to get jobs in our field right away after graduation. So we needed some income to live while we continued to look for jobs in our field.
I actually still recall the interview I had for a cook’s job I had applied for. It mainly consisted of a the usual few questions followed by just one more “You realized your way over qualified for this job. So why do you want to work here?”
I replied “I still have to eat and pay rent.” Apparently that satisfied his curiosity because he then offered me the job at a whole $6/hour (just above minimum wage at that time). My wife was working at a similar job with low pay.
Despite the fact we made around $1500 a month after taxes of which $550 when to rent and another $400 when to paying down my student loan, I experienced something very profound. I was very happy during this time of my life. Till this day I still look back at the time period with some fondness.
Why if I was flat broke near constantly was I that happy? I think it was because several different things. One was without much for extra money life was fairly simple. You pay your bills, rent and buy food. With the small amount left over you buy a few extras like a night at the cheap movies. Today life seems more complicated mainly from the additional choices that more money brings: should you put in the RRSP, pay down the mortgage, have a nicer vacation this year or perhaps fund the RESP more?
Additionally during our broke period we came to use any help that was ever offered to us. We weren’t to prideful to reject any help that came our way. So we got rides to events around town from friends, we borrow my dad’s truck for a few months when he could spare it and I’ve fairly sure I never turned down a invite out to supper with anyone.
After about a year this period of my life came to a close. I got my first engineering job and we moved to Edmonton. Yet being poor to me was a incredibly useful experience at that time of my life. It taught me that money does not have any relationship to happiness beyond providing the essentials (shelter, food, love). To this day I give credit to this period to showing me I can live off a low amount of expenses which is partly why I know I can retire with a spending budget of around $26,000/year.
So rather than pity someone with low financial resources I tend to study them and learn from them. I ask myself how can I be so creative with so little money, how can I reduce my spending on things that don’t matter to me, how can I help support others around me to create a more sharing group of friends and family? In the age of excess consumption, the working poor may very well be some of the best teachers of how to have a happy life on a shoestring budget and thereby show you the key on how you can become financially independent.