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I can tell you about stretching a dollar|
We had to survive without a paycheck
By ANDREA GRAHAM-MELVILLE
For the Monitor
May 06, 2008
After my husband lost his job, we spent four months with no income whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.
We applied for state assistance, but the process was so long and involved, and the rules so contradictory, that we just gave up.
How did we survive?
At first, we paid for gas and groceries on the credit card, which is an extremely foolish thing to do. We came to our senses after a few months, cut up the credit card and are still working on paying it off. Meanwhile, my health is poor enough that I cannot work outside until it stabilizes, and we have my medical debts to pay off, as well.
We haven't had health insurance for years, due to the instability of my husband's chosen field (he's an I.T. professional). The annual layoffs have made it impossible for us to really get ahead. Just as soon as we have any significant amount of cash saved up, his department gets outsourced to India, or the company does an Enron or the boss has to sell the company to pay for his divorce . . . and there goes our savings while we try to get by until my husband can find work again.
We live with my parents, who are extremely generous to us regarding rent. We had already saved two months' worth of living expenses, but that was soon exhausted due to my medical bills. We cashed in my husband's Roth IRA, which after we paid the early withdrawal penalty, was enough to get us by a little longer. Once I was able to sell enough of my handmade jewelry to pay for that week's groceries.
Meanwhile, we were selling off some of our possessions. The TV went early on. It was followed by some clothes, the coffeemaker, a few of our son's outgrown toys and some furniture. My husband sold some textbooks and computer parts. We talked of selling my computer as well but were just barely able to hang on to it by skimping on the car repairs. When one car came up for registration, we did not renew it. We saved gas by having him ride his motorcycle until after it snowed.
For groceries, we stopped buying anything except staples: meat, vegetables, rice, flour. We made our own bread and stopped buying packaged mixes for anything. We stopped buying much meat and learned how to cook with beans and other sources of protein. We started buying our milk and eggs straight from the farm, where they're a little cheaper.
Instead of using the electricity to run the dryer, we started hanging clothes out to dry instead - yes, even in winter. Instead of buying expensive cleaners, we started cleaning with vinegar and baking soda. Now we're healthier because of eating better and because we're not using toxic cleansers anymore. We have discovered that our house gets just as clean with baking soda, borax, and vinegar as it did when we were using Pine-Sol, Tide and bleach, and it's more environmentally responsible.
Sometimes the help we got seemed miraculous. Whenever my truck was running on fumes, that's when a buyer would show up for something I had advertised. When we had absolutely run out of food and had nothing to buy groceries, a check came in the mail for a rebate I had sent in almost a year ago! Someone once sent us $100 in grocery gift cards in an envelope with no return address. We never found out who.
My husband finally got another temp job, which looks as if it will become permanent soon. With careful spending and budgeting, we may be able to pay off the credit card and my medical bills within a year of his working at this job. The back rent owed to my parents may take longer.
We use the paper-envelope system of budgeting, because it's easiest to keep track of where the money goes and how much is allotted to which bill each week. He gets paid weekly, so we put aside a little each week for each monthly bill. It is taking a discouragingly long time to dig out of the hole that this last year had left us in, but I am sure that if we're careful we'll be able to do it.
If not, we will sell off some more of our things.
(Andrea Graham-Melville lives in Concord.)