Stress

While she was in court, Nicole used the word “stress” or “distress” about a dozen times. She said it so often it was noticeable.

I suspect her word choice was purposeful, because she was trying to convince the judge that if she had hurt feelings, Lisa should be punished, but it’s still interesting.

One of her continual mantras is that they’ve embraced this minimalist (meaning “ain’t got a pot to pee in,” literally) and that in doing this, they have gotten rid of all the stress that imprisons all of the “rats in a cage.”  You know, normal people.  We’re all subject to the stresses of daily life, so we’re unfortunate and unenlightened like her and Joe.

This sort of thing.

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They are “minimalists.”

We all know what she’s talking about. We all swear we’re gonna do it one of these days when we finally get up to here with all of it and clean out that closet and get rid of all that stuff.

I have lived both ways, at both ends.  We’ve had full-sized houses and too much stuff.  We’ve also lived in an RV and couldn’t have much stuff at all, in fact, hardly any stuff.

What I’ve discovered is that we typically expand to fill whatever space we are living in, so to keep it more or less manageable, we have a smallish house.

I refuse to discuss the basement.  🙂

And there is no question that materialism can be a negative thing. But that’s not what I am writing about here.

Nicole and Joe Naugler are poor.

They are not minimalists who have consciously chosen to live without a lot of material possessions.

They are poor.

Dirt poor.

Really poor.

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Raising a dozen children on approximately $34,000 annually is very, very poor.

While Nicole is wrong – poverty is not subjective at all – the perception of poverty can be.

The issue is this: what does your balance sheet look like?  How much is coming in?  How much is going out?  If you have more going out than you have coming in, either you have to reduce the amount going out or you have to increase what is coming in to find balance.

If you don’t, if you can’t, the result is. . . . stress.

When Dave and I were much younger, and Nathan was a baby, we made a decision that I would stay home with him.  It meant living as a one-income family, and it meant tightening up pretty severely, probably more than most people would have wanted to do.  I stayed home until he was four, and then we were able to arrange for him to go to day care a couple of days a week, which ended up being pretty much staying in my mother’s kindergarten class, and I went back to work.

When he was six, Dave turned the tables on me and went back to school and we were back to the one-income family thing for a couple of years. After that, Dave worked a full-time job, went to school for those last two years of college at night, and then held down a part-time job doing back-up tapes at the local courthouse until about 2 a.m.

It was pretty brutal for a short while but all of it paid off handsomely in the end.

But the deal is that we lived for a while in conditions I considered “poor.” My son was in school before he found out what a Happy Meal was.  I doubt he ate at McDonald’s three times in his life before he was 7 years old. He never got new clothes, except for shoes (no used shoes, ever) and jeans (kids wear jeans out) and underwear (eww to used underwear).

He was a kid. He didn’t care. He didn’t even notice. Kids don’t.

But adults do.

This period, of course, was while I was religious, and I remember making a deal with God.  I made deals with God from time to time, and none of them ever worked out particularly well, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

I made a deal with God that I would never complain about money if I just had enough to pay our basic bills.

I remember that at one point during that period, we went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Amish country and I looked at those people with envy.  They had security, cradle to grave, or at least that’s how it looked to me.

In the late eighties, we moved to South Carolina.  I was working full-time, but on weekend nights and we were homeschooling during the week. Dave was home when I was working.  Cash flow was improved, but we’d racked up a good bit of debt during those lean years, and I chafed.

Finally, I discovered Dave Ramsey. He’s religious, and I don’t recommend his stuff at all, because he’s basically just making a living telling you something I will tell you for free. Here’s what I did.

I took all our bills, with the exception of our mortgage.  A house is generally an appreciating asset, so you don’t count it. (The 2008 mortgage meltdown is a whole ‘nother subject, and you have to be careful getting a mortgage, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)  In our case, we had a car payment, and we’d bought a computer on time, and some credit card debt and a few doctor bills, and I can’t remember now what else.

I made a list of all that debt and sorted it by amount and interest rate.

The idea was to put the stuff with the highest interest rate at the top, especially those with the lower amounts due.

And then I started working on paying off Number 1.

That took a while. All I could cough up was an extra $5 or $10.  It didn’t go far. I remember that it took several months.  Everyone else got the bare minimum.  And it seemed like nothing was changing, but of course, it was.

Finally, one day, I sent off the last payment to Number 1.

The next month Number 2 got the payment it usually got plus the payment I would have been sending to Number 1.  This time, Number 2’s balance dropped more rapidly because I was paying so much more monthly.  And after a few more months, it was paid.

And then all the money for Number 1 and Number 2 went to Number 3, and this was repeated again and again until we were down to the biggies.  By the time I got there, I was paying something like $500/month extra to whatever was the current bill being paid off and they were disappearing like lightning.

When I got to the last thing on the list, it was paid off in two or three months and we were debt-free (except for the house).  In our case, our houses, because they kept appreciating and because we moved down the last time, paid for themselves. And Frances now pays for the taxes and insurance on this place.

The whole process, for us, took about three years.  It was painless.  We weren’t spending any more money than we’d been used to spending anyway (except for that first little while when I had to cough up enough extra to pay down Number 1), and when we were done, it was like we both got raises.

And suddenly, I figured out that God didn’t have to fix my finances. We did.

What I found out on the far side of all that is that being poor is stressful.

After we “snowballed,” which is what we called the Ramsey thing, I began to sock away money.  Dave referred to that as my “squirrel accounts.”  Dave would buy new tires. I would take that amount (say, $800), determine how many years the tires might reasonably be expected to last, and convert that to how much per month I needed to put in savings so that when we needed new tires, the money would be there.  Ditto for everything that wears out or breaks that we had.  Sometimes, the amount per month would be $3.  Nobody would bother with that, except me. I bothered with that.

And I never had to stress over money again. This happened in the late eighties.  I have never once worried about paying a bill since.

I’m frugal as hell.  I still only have about three pairs of shoes.  But I never have any stress over money.

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The poorer you are, the higher your stress level.  This is not a theory.  It’s a fact.

Yes, there is wiggle room there, as Nicole tries to say, that if you reduce your monthly outgo, you don’t need as much income to have the same equilibrium.  However, regardless of that, being poor is really bad for your health.

Not just for your psychological health, but in terms of chronic severe illness as well.  The rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure all go up if you’re poor.  Mental illness is more common in poor people.

And what is really bad is what poverty does to children.

Remember, I said Nathan didn’t care?  Well, he didn’t.  Sort of. He didn’t understand money or finances.  He didn’t feel deprived.

But having it tight leads to stress and children sense tension.

Poor children are more likely to struggle in school.  That is not because they are genetically “dumb.” It’s because they are poor.  Throughout their lives, they are less likely to rise to their potential, less likely to achieve success academically, less likely to succeed economically, more likely to develop mental illnesses and/or personality disorders, and on and on.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing what the Naugler balance sheet looks like, but I bet if their van refuses to start, they will experience a bit of stress trying to figure out how to pay for the new engine it needs, or even the new alternator. And I know her gas bill at the shop concerns her, because she keeps posting stuff about it.

From where I’m sitting, which is admittedly outside looking in, when they were faced with too much outgo and not enough income, they opted to reduce outgo.  Over and over, they reduced outgo, to the point that I doubt there’s any more outgo to reduce.

But all that time, they kept having babies.  It’s relatively cheap to feed three toddlers. Not so much three teenagers.

She complained bitterly about stress from the “trolls.” I do not doubt she’s under a pretty severe amount of stress and has been chronically for years. But I would posit that “trolls” aren’t the problem at all and never have been.

 

 

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