Is This You?

I located a gallery on CNN Money featuring some who have now run out of unemployment benefits after a long dry stretch of unemployment. If you are one of these I feel for you!

I have friends who are now breaking up their families, sending one member out of state in hopes of employment.  I have others who are still holding on here and yet others who are preparing for their unemployment benefits to end with no job in sight.

It is stories like this that fuel me to live as cheaply as I do.

When I managed to escape an abusive relationship I discovered myself jobless, no money in the bank, three hungry kids and an electric bill in excess of $600. We had one week to pay the amount before losing our electric.

Two older vehicles from the marriage were in my name, so I sold the best one of the two, begged Community Action for help and literally begged every manager in the area to give me a shot doing anything!

By the end of the week Community Action had managed to persuade Kentucky Utilities to accept payments on the balance due, I was told the engine was failing in the car I had kept—but I had landed a job in a local fast food place.

Things like that change you. Once I got back on my feet I worked long and hard to put myself through computer repair school, picking up odd jobs in addition to working on computers and keeping that day job. It was exhausting just trying to pay for all of the bills—and frustrating because I had no time for my children.

I pared down my living expenses not only so that I would have to make less money to live but also so that I would be able to watch my youngest daughter grow in a way that I was unable to watch my older children. It is my hope that this extra attention will prevent her from leading the lives her older sisters have chosen.

Each of us has our own path, and some consider me crazy for living in an old trailer on a shoestring budget, but my bills are paid and my belly is full.  I have no fears of losing my house or my car, for they are paid for and I am able to save toward my dream of owning a small piece of land.

One of my dearest friends is really feeling the brunt of the economy. She has always been generous to those in her family and is now being forced to cut back. Soon she will no longer be able to afford cell phones for her family members and may be forced to reduce to a prepay account herself. She discussed having to argue with her satellite company to reduce her package yet again so that she could continue to afford the service and worried that she would have to cancel it entirely and live like me.

I feel for her as I watch her struggle.  It hurts to hear her cell phone ring incessantly with bill collectors. Every month is a struggle just to make her car payment and she worries what will happen next.

Another friend I have to give kudos to. She says it is out of necessity but the sacrifices she has made to make ends meet are incredible. Her water pipes froze over the winter, which she cannot afford to repair.  Instead of crying she had her water disconnected to save the money while her family showers and hauls water from friends’ homes.

No phone save a small prepay used mainly for text communications (a texting package is cheaper than actually making that many phone calls) she uses the Internet at her work and at other hotspots to avoid paying that bill and concentrates her money on catching up her electric bill and car payment. Instead of using electric she uses a few coals on a charcoal grill to prepare small, simple meals.

She says that she has made these steps because she had no choice—her husband and daughter are unemployed and her hours were drastically cut at work and frankly I admire her guts at the sacrifices she has made.

My sister struggles with her bills. At times it seems she makes inroads on one to lose something else. This past month she achieved a dial-up Internet account—only to lose her phone in a billing dispute. She is considering converting a shed at a friend’s home into a simple cabin—the only way she knows to save enough money to purchase a travel trailer or something to reduce her housing expenses. Exactly what she will end up doing I do not know—I have no way to communicate with her until either phone or internet is restored at her home.

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I watch the lives around me as they struggle to make ends meet while I celebrate the little things. My current electric bill is the lowest bill I have ever received from this electric company–$30.27. This is a significant savings from last month’s bill of $86, and judging from the bar chart on the bill my usage has reached the lowest point in the history of living here since last July.

Life can really stink when you have more month than money, especially when you have no method of making more money. I cannot say I am so much better off than family and friends cause dips in income and unexpected expenses hit me as much as the next person, but somehow I feel a bit more in control with the little frugal steps that I take.

What do YOU do to stretch your money as far as it can go?  I would love to hear your stories…