Looking in the Window

26 Nov

Note to readers: I wrote this about three years ago about the challenge of living on Social Security. Since that time my circumstances have changed thanks to dear family members who graciously contribute their hard earned dollars to the cause. Thanks to them I am able to enjoy more buying power at the grocery store.


There are some movies I recall of life during the depression. One of the iconic scenes is of hungry children looking in the window of a bakery and longing for a piece of bread. As the camera followed them home, the bleakness of their lives was apparent.
Those kids represent how the poor feel. They can see how the more fortunate live and long to be in their shoes. They hope for a day when they will be able to buy something in that bakery.
I had some moments of that feeling this past summer although not nearly that heart rending. I was on a trip to the supermarket. I walked into my local store and displayed in abundance were red, yellow and green peppers. They were absolutely beautiful and their appeal pulled me deeper in to the store. I checked the price and realized I could not possibly afford them. They were $2.50 apiece! My budget for that month did not include a green pepper or any other color of pepper. My quest that day was for one tomato and it cost me $1.50.
I never went hungry this past summer but I realized that I was definitely fiscally challenged and would probably remain that way for the rest of my life. It took me a great deal of time to come to terms with all the life changing challenges of having less cash (which is not the same as being poor). Just the fact that I hesitated to pay $2.50 for one green pepper at the supermarket was pretty revealing.
My situation was further solidified at my granddaughter’s ninth birthday. I could not afford to buy her a present but was fortunate to have something on hand to wrap up and give her. The trip to her house would take up a good deal of the gas that I had budgeted for the month. I was happy to be there but was astounded at my reaction to the bounty of food being readied in the kitchen. Piled high were mounds of lettuce and tomatoes, cheeses, breads and rolls. All kinds of meat were being readied for the grill. I was like that little kid looking in the window. I thought about how lucky they were that they could just go out to the grocery store and buy anything they wanted.
I realize there are worse things than not being able to buy produce. Produce has become a luxury for me. The price of gas and food has definitely left me with fewer choices on my fixed income. After I pay all my bills like rent, insurance, phone etc., I have $38.00 for food and non food items like toilet paper. My food stamp allotment is $44.00. I am fortunate to have a pantry full of canned goods that I bought when I was working.
I don’t go out for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I don’t eat at restaurants except when there is a birthday party. I don’t go on vacations.
Recently I have been able to make some extra money babysitting for my daughter. I am able to buy luxury grocery items again and an occasional doughnut at the bakery. I can treat my grandchildren to an ice cream cone. I also have some extra money in the bank after all my bills are paid. It’s nice to have an extra twenty dollar bill in my purse. I feel rich again!
I am deeply aware however that those days of being able to buy whatever I wanted are gone. I avoid the malls. I really don’t miss them.
I was able to afford some luxuries this fall with my babysitting money. I bought a bike (through Craig’s list) and a good pair of rain proof winter boots. I also took a trip to see my grandson on his 17th birthday.
Despite all of the above, I know I’m not poor. I’m just less able to buy than I used to be. And it’s not something I really think about except for that time at my granddaughter’s birthday party and seeing all that food in one place. Or when I go out to dinner with my family and only drink ice water.
I do make those sacrifices for budget reasons. I am fortunate to have access to the internet and cable TV at home. I do buy cigarettes, a costly bad habit. I also buy an occasional magazine but not like I used to. I mostly use the library for my reading material. I do get the paper delivered, another luxury. If I gave up the cable and the newspaper, I could buy more produce and probably a cup of coffee at Starbucks so I’m not really poor. I just choose to spend my money on things that make me happy. If I went to Starbuck’s every day for example it would cost me $150.00 per month. I’d rather drink my coffee at home and have my cable and newspaper.
I have a choice to spend my money on those luxuries and frankly feel pretty fortunate. I do not have kids to feed. There is no one dependent on me for housing, food and clothing. I can still afford my rent and can still drive my car.
As I sit here in my cozy apartment I realize I am pretty darn fortunate. On a fixed income of less than $13,000 a year I’m doing pretty darn well.
Besides, green peppers give me gas.



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