Saturday, December 27, 2014

On Poverty and the Change Jar

Have you ever had a Scarlet O'Hara moment? Scarlet's last line just before the Intermission in Gone with the Wind is (from memory): "As God as my witness, I will never be poor again!"

Poverty sucks. And for those who are into the voluntary poverty movement, as I was for a time, it seems to me that voluntary poverty has the danger of just becoming outright poverty. There is nothing glamorous about poverty. St. Francis might have been able to give away his clothes in the public square and, therefore, renounce the riches of his Father (adolescent rebellion?) and have a good life, but, for most, poverty is a mind numbing, belly hurting, chaos creating, crime producing, drug use inducing awful way of life that should be eliminated from the planet. And for those who listen to Jesus and think we must always have poor people, as when he said there will always be poor people---I say Shame! Perhaps Jesus was talking about the poor in Norway? I'd rather be poor in Scandinavia rather than Chad. Life for the poor in the US is becoming ever more desperate.

There is nothing good about poverty. Being poor is the number one predictor of mental illness. Poor people are less happy than people who have enough money (usually seen as an income around $60,000 a year in the US). Poor people get worse services, poorer health care and die younger than do middle class or rich people. If you are poor in the US, you'd be better off to go have your babies in Cuba because they have a lower infant mortality rate than poor people do in the US.

I have had times in my life when I was very poor. The poorest time was just after finishing nursing school and there were no jobs for RN's in Minnesota. This happens in nursing with ebbs and flows of jobs available, dependent upon economic conditions. Well, it was a poor time and I couldn't find a job. One day I managed to find a job opening in Las Vegas with interviews being conducted in Omaha, Nebraska. The problem was my girlfriend at the time and I had no money. All our credit cards were maxed out. Texaco sent me a letter requesting that I stop using their credit card at gas stations; I was using that card to buy food.

My girlfriend and I managed to secure an interview in Omaha. The problem was getting there. I managed to sell a story to the Fillmore County Journal for $25 bucks (gas money) and we found a can of peas and a can of tuna fish to eat on the journey. The $25 was just enough to get us to Omaha and back. We cleaned up in a Rest Area previous to the interview. We got the jobs and we were given a sign on bonus to get us to Las Vegas.

I vowed after that to never be poor again.

Of course, there have been times with little money since then. Just after Joni had to stop working because of her back, we were having a tough time making ends meet. I was picking up as many hours as possible, but with the responsibilities of home and  hearth and kids, it wasn't quite enough. It was then that the Change Jar tradition started.

During this poor episode, I had a Change Jar. As many people do, I take my spare change and throw it into a gallon sized pickle jar. This was my emergency gas fund to be used when funds were low in the checking account. I used to carry it in the trunk of my car for awhile, after one unfortunate incident in a gas station in Clear Lake when I was out of gas and our checking account didn't have sufficient funds to get more gas. Stranded in Clear Lake with 120 miles ahead to get home, I was able to find enough change in the car in order to eek out just enough gas to get me home. Thank heavens for 40 mile per gallon cars.

As we eased ourselves out of dire poverty, the Change Jar evolved into being a Christmas Fund. Every year, around Christmas time, I bring the jar into Safeway and put the change into one of those change machines they have there. Forget the name, but they take a cut of the money, which seems fair to me as banks don't do change counting anymore.

This weekend I will take the Change Jar (pictured above) into Safeway. I'm thinking there is $150 in that jar. And then, I will start anew, hoping that the Change Jar remains a Christmas Fund and not Gas Money.

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