Living on the Edge

17 October 2019 Anita Glass

Living on the Edge

Illustration by Sophie Beer

Poverty steals all your time.

Finding food bargains takes forever and I practically live at op shops, collecting towels, blankets and sheets, plus clothes in black and white so they can work together.

The biggest problem is my mindset. The prospect of being short of money terrorises me; I fight back by telling money it’s only an illusion. This sometimes removes its fangs.

Living with poverty is an ongoing battle, full of loose ends. If my outfit is acceptable, the shoes need mending. The meal I cooked is missing a vital (costly) ingredient. There is never enough of anything. I hate this…lack.

When everything works for once, life throws another (unbudgeted) curve ball.
I’ve read dozens of books about how to save money (anyone for making lipstick out of crayons?).
Most are not worth the trouble, but the following three make sense:

1 Pay yourself first, even if it’s just $2 per week.
2 Find ways to make extra money.
3 Buy the occasional luxury, even if you think you can’t afford it. My idea of decadence is to have a small latte and read three daily papers that come with it. This is a bargain. It makes you feel less isolated.

To survive I run my own micro business. This helps, but I need something less time-consuming.
My biggest expense is renting a flat that eats up my entire pension. Exchanging it for a cheaper one is no solution if it’s far from public transport, shops, food banks and other social services, because then the cost of living rises. Sometimes a solution is worse than the original problem.

My flat (two rooms) is the last word in minimalism. It has a small table, two tiny chairs and two narrow beds.

No TV, no washing machine, no heating. I’ll just have to find skinny new friends who’ll fit on my chairs. Of course, many people have far less and I am grateful for having made it this far.

I’ve learned to dodge the poverty traps: borrowing from a payday lender, skimping on self-care, putting off enjoying life until “someday”.

Being poor does not have to be a life sentence. I can and will work my way out of it. Besides, I’m not poor, merely broke, which is a temporary state. There, that feels better already. Must remember to pace myself, because poverty is a full-time state of being and one can only fit in only so much before burning out.

To stretch my resources, I do an audit every three months and come up with solutions.

The latest one is to get an (almost) buzz cut at a hairdressing school. Even a student can’t get that wrong and I’ll save a fortune in hair conditioners. The other is to improve my diet and stop eating cheap cakes. But an avocado is not a luxury; it’s health insurance.

The next step is to curate my thoughts and reframe them. Life is not a tangle of problems; it’s an adventure and an opportunity. Look for the copper lining – next time it will be silver.

Pick up the phone and ring your virtual friends, ask how they are doing. Assume they want to hear from you as much as you want to talk to them. Even if it’s been 20 years, they are bound to forgive you.

During my daily walk, I see a bird building a nest under the roof of a condemned building, with demolition equipment at the ready. Unable to read the sign on the fence, she blissfully brings yet another twig, another feather. She breaks my heart.

I bungle along as best I can, fighting off fear. My body is not acting its age and has symptoms it has no right to have until I’m over 80. I worry about the future.

Things look especially bleak at 2am. I remember that bird, its nest precariously balanced, and wonder if my walls are about to crash down as well.

Giving up is not an option. I live with a relative who has no income support and needs my help. So I order myself to get a grip, reboot my brain in the morning and start over.

This article first appeared in The Big Issue ed#598