Moving Toward Self-Reliance for the Working Poor
There are many of us who are or have been classified as the working poor, meaning we are employed and we earn a few bucks above the national poverty level ($12,140 for a single person and $25,100 for family of 4—2018 figures), but we don’t earn enough to pay for everything, e.g., food, shelter, transportation, medical, child care, etc. We live paycheck-to-paycheck; robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am not a big fan of government handouts but when I was down and out I sure would have accepted a few until I could get back on my feet.
According to the dictionary, self-reliance is the state of not requiring any aid, support or contact for survival; it is a type of personal independence. Another version of self-reliance is confidence in one’s own capabilities, judgment, or resources; freedom. I know many people with confidence, even arrogance in their abilities; but I don’t know anyone who is totally self-reliant. Instead, I like to say we are working toward becoming more self-reliant.
This article is for the people who think being prepared and learning to be more self-reliant is out of reach for them. These are folks who work one or two jobs, pay rent, make car payments, don’t have medical insurance and don’t really own anything. I used to be that way and I still have people in my extended family just like this; good people who are running the maze and think they are trapped. Some may be slightly depressed because they’re in the same downward cycle of go to work, come home, go to sleep and repeat the cycle day in and day out.
They are sick and tired of being sick and tired. I know because I have been there. Getting out of the “I’m trapped” (victim) mode is important. As Viktor Frankl wrote, all people will suffer tribulation but each individual can choose how to cope and overcome it. So, break the cycle, set goals and try to do one thing a day that will help you work towards independence. Try it; one thing a day which moves you toward self-reliance is not that difficult.
There are many stages of self-reliance but most of us begin with realizing that no group nor the government is able nor wants to help us. Just read/watch the news for a week or so and you will understand what I am saying. If you don’t want to be a victim then the next thought should be realizing you (and your family) will always be way down the list to receive help. That should lead you to the “aha” moment of I/we have to move toward self-reliance now while there is time, rather than later when a disaster event occurs.
A Change of Attitude
The first step in gaining independence is changing your attitude from “I can’t” to “I can.” Many people have been told and/or treated as if they were stupid, told they are less than someone else or compared to (insert name here), which can produce a defeatist attitude.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a fan of the liberal “everybody-is-a-winner” policy because success at anything can be brutal and painful; young people need to realize they are going to be evaluated by someone all their working careers.
But negative school or work evaluations do not translate to “you-have-no-value.” If you are a believer, do seek support from your religious leaders. Realize that everyone has a positive value; it just surfaces in different ways. So take off the destructive baggage you have been carrying around and realize you can become more self-reliant if you want to.
Control Your Money; Spend Less and Save More
Beginning the self-reliance journey, one of the primary things to do is to get control of your spending and debt. Almost every depressed person I know is in financial bondage. As long as you are in debt to someone or some company or some bank, they control you, you are the servant; the lender is the master.
As many articles have mentioned, getting out of debt is worth the sacrifice. If you don’t have a budget for your family, make one; at least list how much and where you spend $$ each month. It will be an eye-opener to see how much money you fritter away on temporary pleasures.
Pay for the critical items first; for me that was shelter (apartment rent) but for you it may be transportation or medicine. I figured I could always stand in line for the church food handout. Sometimes I was late with the electrical bill but I would call them and tell them the payment would be late. They never cut my electricity off. When my old car broke down, I found a retired fellow who liked to fix old cars and he fixed the car quickly and would let me pay him off a little every week. I never missed a payment to him.
Don’t Try to Compete With Others
Stop trying to keep up with your brother, sister, neighbor, etc. and discipline yourself. I have family members who try to impress others by having a bunch of stuff; boats, ATVs, lots of parties, vacations every year, etc.; but they are in debt to everyone in town.
Live within your salary and income. Pay cash for most items and put some cash away each month for emergencies or get-out-of-town funds, even if it is $5, it is a start and it will grow. My very first savings account began with $1.00 each week.
Be Thrifty With What You Earn or Have
All the usual money-saving tips apply: shop at thrift stores or yard sales, on trash day scavenge in affluent neighborhoods for cast-off furniture, planters, toys, repurpose old items into needed items, etc. A very wise person made me memorize this little jingle: “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without!” Don’t waste things.
Before you throw something away ask yourself if there is anything else you could use it for. Here on the farm, we have a boneyard of items that could provide additional uses, like PVC pipes, wiring, old lawn tractors, old gutters, chains, fencing, scrap wood, etc.
Take care of things; maintain tools, cars, appliances, etc., so they will last longer. This will give you money for emergencies. There also the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose. If you can incorporate these phrases into your daily life you will move more rapidly towards self-reliance.
A long time ago I decided instead of spending money each day for a soft drink out the machine, I would buy a liter of soda and take it to work with me. It only saved me around $4 a week, but that $4 gave me $200 of extra money each year.
Later on, I gave up soda all together and switched to water. As a young mom, dead tired from working 10 hours, picking up the kids from daycare I often wanted to stop at a fast food place to get something to eat.
Exercising some self-discipline on those nights, instead of $10 of happy meals, it was grilled cheese or PB&J when we got home. That gave me about $500 more of emergency money in a year. If you can cut out $30-$40 of restaurant eating each month you can purchase a silver coin each month.
Pay Cash Instead of Using a Credit Card
Stop using those credit cards for everyday stuff; keep one credit card for real emergencies and cut the rest up so you won’t be tempted. Take a get-out-of-debt course or read the book. Thousands of people have been helped by these courses.
Many sellers will give the buyer a no interest deal if the total amount is paid within 6 months. If you can pay cash, ask the seller for a 10% discount, most independent stores will give it to you. Paying cash for most things really controls how much you spend; if it’s not in your pocket you won’t spend it.
If you have a new car payment loan make a deal to trade the car and get a reliable used car. A neighbor of mine had two cars he was paying 5% loans on. He went to a car dealer and traded in both cars and got a used SUV, which freed him from $1000/month payments and reduced his cost of insurance and maintenance. If you have to drive long distances for work (salesman or regional manager) talk your manager into giving you a company vehicle. They can get it wrapped in company advertising and it can be a marketing deduction for the business.
The Poor Credit Syndrome
If you have poor/bad credit, work with your creditors to get relief. You don’t have to hire a company to negotiate a reduction of the amount owed. Call your creditors up and have a truthful discussion with a second or third level manager. To lenders, some money is better than no money.
Most credit card sponsors will dramatically reduce the amount owed. Once out of debt, don’t be tempted to spend money you don’t have. Work to improve your credit. If you receive a direct deposit check, you can work with your bank to “loan” you money.
For one of my kids, the bank gave him a $200 loan, which he did not spend but left the money in his account, and the bank took an automatic payment of $50/month from his wage check. When the loan was repaid, the bank gave him a positive credit reference on the big 3 credit check companies.
If you use a credit card do so only for emergencies and if your credit is average to good, negotiate a reduction of percentage on your charges. Call up the card sponsor and get your percent rate reduced. Most banks will lower the percent to 5-6-7 percent instead of the usual 18 or 20 percent charge on the unpaid balance. Many people pay the balance off at the end of every month.
A friend of mine who works for one of the big 3 credit companies told me it is best to pay one charge over a 2 or 3-month period each year, which improves your credit rating (go figure?). It shows that you are reliable and meeting your commitments when you repay on a short-term charge.
Last year I bought a scratch and dent refrigerator on sale for no interest charged if paid within 6 months. I paid the amount off in 3 payments to make the credit companies happy. My friend also told me to pay cash when I shop at discount or thrift stores because if you use a credit card there it looks like you can’t afford new things, which in turn, lowers your credit score.
Make the effort to manage needs versus wants; often times our desires are bigger than our wallets. Instead of taking the family to Disney World, go camping or to a local water park. Kids will beg for the world but they will be happy with your time and attention.
Teenagers will cry and complain they don’t have a $900 I-phone and unlimited talk-text-data plan that costs you hundreds of dollars a month. But rather than do without a phone, they will take a $100 Straight Talk smartphone with an unlimited talk-text-data plan for $45/$55 month.
Overcoming Dependence on Commercial Stores
Many years ago, after analyzing my spending habits, I decided to cut my weekly trips to various stores to once a month. This was really hard for me because all the best stores were on my way home from work and weekly sales helped to stretch the ole budget.
It took about five months to get to once-a-month shopping. I had to not spend the weekly grocery $$ on anything else, inventory the items I had on hand, plan some menus, make lists of needs (versus wants), drive to the farmer’s market and improve my self-discipline. Just achieving this one goal gave me the confidence to try to reduce my dependence on commercialism, plus it saved me a minimum of $100, usually $150, every month.
In recent years, some stores are offering to pull your orders for you (online order and local pickup). You can just go to the pickup window or park in a certain spot and your order is available in minutes with no wandering around the store. This saves time and stops the impulse spending! There are lots of ways to save money and I bet readers can list at least 50 easy ways in the comments section.
Don’t Become a FEMA Statistic
Realizing you need to get ready for emergencies is a big step toward self-reliance. Sure there are weather emergencies, tornados, hurricanes, floods, etc. These things are usually temporary and relatively easy to prepare for because you know they are coming…maybe not the exact date, but you know your location experiences these types of natural disasters and you better be ready for them. If you live up north you will have blizzards and flooding.
If you live in tornado alley you need a basement or separate storm shelter stocked with necessities. If you live near water sooner or later you will experience a flood. If you live in the east or south you are going to get hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and flash flooding.
If you live out west you will have droughts and wildfires. And if you live on the west coast you will have fires, mudslides, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and flash floods. There are lots of articles on internet sites explaining when, how and what to prep for natural disasters and even more articles on how to prepare to evacuate if needed. Take them seriously and store what you need to shelter in place or to evacuate.
Moving Toward Self-Reliance for an Emergency
Working towards self-reliance also means being able to cope with family and societal disasters. For example, what happens if you lose your job? How in the heck are you going to support yourself and your family? You may be eligible for unemployment benefits but believe me that check doesn’t go far.
How much savings do you have stashed in a bank or somewhere else? Depending on the state you live in and your cultural background, you may be able to get some assistance for example, food stamps, free public transportation and job training. But it takes time to receive these benefits and you have to fill out the forms, talk to the folks behind the desk and be willing to meet their requirements.
When I was unemployed, the state required me to apply for two jobs a week, either in person or via resume. I had to list those companies on a form and take/mail the form to the unemployment office in order to receive the check. I did not qualify for medical care and my kids were too old for WIC. I got a temporary job training the trainers in the job core, but I still got some unemployment and I was still looking for a permanent job.
After 8 months of being unemployed, I got a job in my field at half the salary of my previous job. By then my husband was mowing lawns for people and businesses and I got a second job keeping books for a small company. But we survived, mainly because we had some savings and about a 10 month supply of food stored.
There are many worse things than losing your job so you need to ask yourself if you are emotionally and spiritually secure to cope with a catastrophic loss. Losing your home in a wildfire or earthquake, severe accidents or war injuries where a limb is lost or the body paralyzed does happen to good people. Family members do pass away and many without insurance to help the surviving family.
These are life-changing events and if you are not emotionally and spiritually prepared they can overwhelm you. Without God to comfort you during such devastating events, healing may take much longer and some folks may never recover from such a devastating loss.
Moving Toward Self-Reliance While Living in the City
I understand that not everyone can or wants to live out in the country. I used to live in the city in order to have a decent paying job and go to night school. Every time I changed jobs or apartments I moved further out of the city. Eventually, I ended up at the furthest little town on the edge of a large metro area. This meant cheaper rent plus it was great for safety and quality of life, but terrible on the commute.
I talked my employer into letting me work early hours (05:30 to 14:30), rather than the standard work shift. It was good for them because the stuff that people didn’t get done at night, I would come in early and finish.
This enabled me to beat morning and afternoon rush hour traffic and get home in time for the kids getting out of school, thus saving the cost of extended care for the kidos. Less time sitting in rush hour traffic and no after-school daycare meant more money in my pocket.
Learning to Grow Some of Your Own Food
The first things to disappear in an emergency are food and water. A big phase of self-reliance is learning to grow some of your food. I say ‘learning’ because gardening is more than putting seeds in the ground. Mother Nature is in charge and no matter how long you have been gardening, the weather, the bugs, the dirt, even the seeds can change your harvest.
For a while, I had to plant double the fruits and vegetables I wanted because at least half of them died! Every year I tried something different to see if one way worked better than another. Even now, some years I can grow summer squash and some years I can’t. This year I sprayed a homemade potion for beetles and I almost killed a tree!
The city apartments I lived in didn’t have patios or balconies so I didn’t grow any vegetables. However, a family from church shared their excess fruits and vegetables with me and encouraged me to try planting vegetables in window pots.
Of course, it wasn’t a huge harvest of radishes and cherry tomatoes but it got me thinking about a future garden. When I eventually moved to another apartment I wanted a balcony for potted vegetables. Nowadays, cities sponsor garden plots so apartment dwellers can have gardens. Just do your research and garden in groups. Other people working in a garden can help you learn and could become friends.
If you live in a city townhouse or single family home, even the strictest HOA will allow some container gardening or a small garden in the yard. You can plant a few fruits and veggies mingled with lovely flowers, maybe an apple tree. Growing a salad garden with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers is moving toward self-reliance. If you start something you will be moving towards self-reliance.
Many of you already know that when you cut off the root end of spring onions, celery or romaine lettuce, etc., you can stick them in potting soil and they will sprout again. Just an old can or large yogurt container with a drain hole in the bottom, some decent soil and water will get you veggies growing in a window.
Food prices keep going up; so anything you can grow, even if it is in a pot in a window, gives you experience, saves money and puts you ahead of where you were six months ago. When you can live somewhere with a bit of a backyard, turn it into an experiment and grow some veggies!
If you don’t grow your own veggies or have a garden now, buy from the farmer’s market or road-side vendors or on sale at bulk stores and learn to preserve what you buy. Get a pressure canner and the Ball Blue Book on canning. I got my first canner at a yard sale along with a couple dozen canning jars.
I’ve had that canner for 38 years and it still does the job. When I lived in the city I used to buy fresh veggies from a Vietnamese family who had a roadside table. I asked them if they had any ugly vegetables for canning and they began bringing me a box of tomatoes, cukes, squash, peppers, peaches, etc., every week. They had the biggest laugh selling me the uglies for half price, but I always thought I got the best deal!
Overcoming Water Worries
There is nothing worse than that terrible feeling when your water goes out. Anticipating and planning for the lack of water-on-demand will go a long way in keeping your family calm during a crisis or temporary outages. Having the newer toilets which flush with 1.3 gallons (instead of 2.5 gallons) makes difference in emergencies because you can store less water to flush.
Having water stored in gallon containers for your small animals, dishwashing, flushing toilets and having several cases of bottled drinking water on hand allows you to focus on the emergent issues. Get one of those bathtub size bladders comes with its own pump to fill with water for emergencies they are relatively inexpensive and easy to store. Just a few simple steps will keep you moving toward self-reliance, even if you live in an apartment.
Practicing Good Health Care and Learning First Aid Procedures
A very important part of moving towards self-reliance is health care, first aid or emergency treatment. I don’t want readers to think I am against doctors and hospitals; that is not the case. I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for good medical professionals and hospital care. I suggest folks change their mindset from “I’m not a doctor so I can’t do anything,” to “Is this something I can treat at home?” I recently read about a hand, foot and mouth disease going through daycare centers and schools. There is no pill or cure and although it looks scary; it can be treated at home with TLC for about 2 weeks.
I knew a rancher out west who broke his ankle during calving season; he and his son set the bone and used his western boot as a cast. When he finally went to the doctor (days later) he wouldn’t let the doctor cut the boot so they used vegetable oil to work the boot off. He let them put a cast on because his foot was itching and the boot made it impossible to scratch his foot. I remember thinking that is one tough dude but when I look back on the event I realize he lived a lifetime of home-based medicine and was comfortable with setting his own bone.
I used to think a majority of folks could handle what I would call “the usual health problems,” such as colds, sore throats, flu, sprained wrists or ankles, or common diseases like chickenpox, stomach and bowel issues; but I have been proven wrong on that assumption. I have neighbors who run their kids to a specialist for antibiotics when they have runny noses or throw up, others who call an ambulance at the drop of a hat and a bunch of neighbors who can’t tell the difference between when to use home treatments or to go to the doctor.
For those folks (probably not in this audience) who identify with running to the doctor, please take some classes/courses in basic health care, many of the courses are free from the local county extension service or fire departments. Get a copy of “Where There is No Doctor” (free download from the internet) along with similar books and read and study them. If you have a grandmother or other senior citizen nearby, talk to her/him about how she/he handled illnesses at home.
A good basic website detailing free home remedies is https://commonsensehome.com/home-remedies/.
If you have an on-going medical issue where you need to be monitored by doctors/PA/nurses, ask them to get you home monitoring equipment so you can cut back on doctor visits. I have a medical issue that is not going away, but I cut my monthly visits to once or twice a year by getting online monitoring. I can still get face-to-face visits if I think I need them, but not having to drive 2 hours each way, every month, to the doctor’s office is liberating.
Learning to Use Herbs and Essential Oils
There are tons of articles and books about herbs and essential oils, when and how to use them and several experts on this blog who can advise you on what to keep on hand. Essential oils and herbs can save you big $$ on medical bills if you are uninsured or under Obamacare.
A while back I had an attack of vertigo which totally changed what I could do and where I could go. I couldn’t drive nor attempt any work where I could fall nor handle any kitchen utensils due to dizziness and loss of balance. A friend gave me her doctor’s name and said he had helped her over a period of 6 months with pills and inner ear procedures.
I could not endure vertigo for that long as I don’t have someone to do my work or drive me around. I asked for advice on the blog and some knowledgeable people shared with me their experience about peppermint oil and oil of oregano. I immediately followed their counsel and even though oil of oregano tastes worse than antifreeze, I was healed in 3 days. The cost of the essential oils was about $15 while my friend told me her medical bills were over $3500.
Learning to Differentiate Between Medical Issues
I am not saying people shouldn’t go to doctors and other medical professionals; all I’m suggesting is folks need to learn to tell the difference between a medical emergency and when chicken soup, aspirin and bed rest is appropriate for healing. You can save a bunch of money if you can learn to recognize symptoms. Talk to a nurse or doctor, get some used medical books sold on Amazon and eBay and obtain the necessary items for basic health care and first aid. This moves you another step toward self-reliance.
Taking Advantage of Free Services
Some drug stores have free tests (like blood pressure) plus free or low prices on a group of tests (blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI), glucose and total cholesterol screenings) several times a year. Check out a Kroger Food Store or CVS/Walgreens store that have walk-in clinics to have a required school/CDL/work physical. We found the Kroger charged $85 for a basic physical with a urine test, while the doctor’s office charged $145. The Diabetes website (http://www.diabetes.org/) offers a free diabetes risk test to determine if you are heading in that direction.
Costco members can get a free heart, diabetes, osteoporosis, and lung health screenings throughout the year at some locations. If you live in or around a large city or metro area there are lots of free health screenings from organizations like The Kidney Fund (www.kidneyfund.org). A word of caution, there are some scammers lurking out there so be careful what personal information you give out; we have never been asked for anything other than our name. Never give your medical insurance ID number, Social Security number, or banking information to anyone.
Self-Learning, Education, and Training
I get it that you are tired after working 10 hours a day and going to night school is hard; but; knowledge is power. Maybe going to college for a professional degree is not for you; maybe a technical apprenticeship in plumbing, electricity, welding, engine repair, etc., might better fit you. A degree or license does not guarantee you will get the best job; instead, it gives you more options. Knowledge and skills help you learn to be more self-reliant.
Currently, YouTube and similar video sites offer how-to instructions on an unbelievable number of things. Most of these can be downloaded for future reference. Even the smallest cities and counties have public libraries providing a free loan of books, movies, DVD courses, etc. If they don’t have a book you want they will order it from another library for you.
The larger cities and counties have evening and weekend adult education programs for minimum costs which include courses covering things like basic auto mechanics, house painting, basic plumbing, etc. When I lived in the city I took an adult education basic auto mechanics course to learn how to perform standard service on my car.
But it also taught me to know what-was-what so I wouldn’t get ripped off by some unscrupulous person if I took my car to a shop. Later on I took a beginner gardening class held on Saturday mornings at the county’s gardening site.
Some things you can learn and practice on your own but other things you will need guidance/supervision so you don’t hurt yourself or your family. The school of hard knocks, aka experience, certainly teaches us, but it is time-consuming. I would rather learn from someone else’s mistakes than make those same mistakes myself. Whatever learning you can acquire now will save you time and money later.
Learning to Use Renewable Resources or to Create Usable Products
I read an article a while back and the author said “If you are a prepper, there comes a point after your preps have been consumed there is no way to keep living.” Unfortunately, I misplaced the website and can’t give credit on who said it; but I recognize it as a simple truth. Look around you right now; what are you using or making that can be a renewable resource? Solar and wind power are renewable energy sources but you need a supply of equipment to harness them.
Small livestock such as chickens, ducks, rabbits, pigs are renewable resources that are relatively easy to raise if you have a little bit of private land. Many people are on prescription medications; what happens when you can’t get access to those medications?
Do you know enough about herbs, natural plants or essential oils to substitute healing herbs for medication? If your power goes out for weeks how will you heat your home? Do you have a wood stove?
If your city/county water supply is damaged or contaminated will you have water to use? Do you have a water source to give you access to drinking, cooking, bathing water plus water for your animals? The list goes on and on. Learn to be more self-reliant now to survive in the future.
Trading and Bartering
At some point, alternatives will be needed. As I said earlier, I don’t think there is anyone who is totally self-reliant. Even the mountain men, Alaska homesteaders, or southern swamp people need gasoline, kerosene, cast iron cookware, etc., etc. A lot of what we don’t have or can’t make can be bartered for, but we have to have something the other person wants to make a good trade.
Homesteading in 2018 is hard physical work and the older we get the harder it is. I really don’t want to go back to living a “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle, but I know all of us must learn to be more self-reliant, especially for water, food, and shelter.
I don’t know how to make gasoline or propane, nor can I smelt iron ore to make tools; however, there are a lot of things I CAN do which are survival related. This knowledge can be used to trade and barter for what we can’t do or don’t have.
Some of the most valuable assets are located out in the country and on farms, such as sources of water, hidden gardens, small livestock and a forest full of trees for building or fuel and which also feeds and shelters wildlife. But can you make clothing, repair shoes/boots and preserve food in multiple ways along with other survival skills? These will be powerful bartering assets when the time comes.
If you are not prepared for emergencies, if you are without self-supporting skills, if you have a dream of becoming independent, begin now to work toward becoming self-reliant. Take an inventory of your knowledge, skills, and abilities so you can determine what you need to learn in order to survive in the future. Don’t wait for a Haiti or Venezuela crisis to come to your area. Do one thing a day which moves you toward independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence.