The Secret Life of a Poor Single Mom

We have a wipe board on our fridge. We use it to write down grocery items that need to be replenished.

I have a love-hate relationship with this board. No sooner have I made a trip to the store, erased the items I have just bought, and a new list is right there before my eyes. It’s as if I never went to the store.

The endless list

Feeding four kids is expensive. If I go to the store and spend less than $100, I’m amazed. On average, I spend close to $300 a week on groceries. And I’m frugal. When things are on sale, I buy extra, if I can afford to. I mostly buy non-name brand items. I also buy bulk if I have the money to do so. And I rarely buy non-essentials like chips, cookies, or soda. When I do, it’s the cheapest I can find. Buying lunch meat for my kids sandwiches, I feel a pang of guilt as I buy the cheaper meat. I know that the quality is less but it’s what I can afford. I stopped buying organic milk some time ago as well. That was one item I swore I would never compromise on. We go through a good three gallons of milk per week, on average. Good bye, organic.

Going to the grocery store is a very stressful experience for me. Before I go in, I look over my list. I check my wallet and my bank account to see how much money I have available. Walking through the aisles I consider every item, it’s price, looking for the best deal. I feel guilty buying coffee, as I look for the most inexpensive brand. I even grapple with buying that because its a non-essential although it is a welcome cup I start my day with. Little things can give us small moments of pleasure.

Standing in the checkout line I already have a pretty good idea of the total, because I keep a tally as I go through the store. Even so, I still hold my breath and literally have heart palpitations as I hand my money to the cashier.

We all have a definite relationship with money and the feelings finances conjure. There are people who are greedy with their money even though they have plenty of it. They just don’t like to give it away. Then there are those of us who are terrified of spending because we don’t know if the next time we need to make a trip to get groceries, that there will be more.

I think about money all the time. I think about the bills that need to be paid, the things my kids need, and the fact that what’s coming in currently is not enough to cover what needs to go out. Every day is a list of choosing. Of overdraft fees. Of cancellation notices.

Every moment is a feeling of defeat and a pang of failure.

My son did not get boots this winter and still needs a new pair of sneakers. He’s 13. A boys feet grow a lot when they are 13.

Up until recently I have helped my 19 year old pay his car insurance. He uses his car to get to college. This month I couldn’t swing it. It’s a pretty low feeling when your 19 year old berates you for not managing your money well enough. When he questions you about why you can’t do your part as a parent. And while my closest friends who know my plight, and who see how hard I work, reassure me that I am doing my best, I still feel pretty useless.

Lately, I feel myself losing momentum and every day it’s a battle to make myself do the things I need to do to try to move forward.

Just like my grocery list of endless items, the to do list of my life also includes endless tasks that need to be accomplished. Many of them require money. Like advertising for my business. Getting my taxes done. Creating online services for remote training clients. Thinking about it all makes my head feel like it’s about to detonate.

Since originally launching my blog series “The Financial Adventures of a Single Mom”, many men and women have reached out to tell me about their parallel stories of struggle. Some are in the thick of it, like me. Some have dug themselves out and can look back with remembrance of how hard it was, with sympathy in being able to relate, and gratitude for now being in a better place.

There can be struggle behind a smile

So many people have responded to tell me that 2015 is going to be my year. Well, I hope that all of you are right in saying that. Thank you. I’m certainly not sitting around just waiting for the magic to happen.

But every day does feel like a test right now. Every moment I am aware of time. It’s like the clock and I are in constant competition to see who can move ahead faster. There is always a small part of me that just wants to throw my hands up and surrender. To just lay down and stop.

I know that this post may be a downer for some but this is what the struggle is really like, minus the inspirational Facebook posts and the shallow memes.

To the outside world I present an upbeat, strong persona. And those are authentic qualities that I posses. They are not put on. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more that I’m not sharing.

Prior to sharing my story publicly, I reached out to a new acquaintance in private and told her about the realities of what I am going through. This divulgence of my truths was preempted by a public discussion on Facebook and I thought perhaps it would be an eye opener for her to know more of who I really was. She was floored. Her response was that people just assume that I am successful because I’m “beautiful and fit”. People would never expect that my real life is as hard as it is because I (at the time) don’t talk about it.

Well, I would just like for all of you reading this to keep in mind that people, above all else, want to maintain some sense of decency and pride.

We live in a society that holds extreme prejudice against people living in financial struggle. There is a lot of stigma tied to being poor. No matter your story or your plight, if you cannot hold your own, there are many people who will judge your every move and look upon you as a blight to society.

And there are a lot more people living through this difficulty than social media will ever divulge.

Please remember that.

As I’m sitting here finishing this blog, my 19 year old just came downstairs. Passing by he notifies me that he is almost out of deodorant.

I smile ironically to myself. “Write it on the wipe board”

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