How To Instantly Improve Your Living Conditions When Money Is Low And Times Are Tough

by Shawanda Greene

Tough Times ClockWhenever my extended family gets together, we reminisce about past events and how they shaped our lives. Whether good, bad, or horrifically disturbing, we recount the good old days, and we laugh. Oh, we laugh.

Over Thanksgiving, I was reminded of an incident that happened almost 20 years ago. It involved one of my aunts and her youngest son. She doesn’t know this, but her reaction to my cousin’s mistake impacted me more than she could ever imagine.

Growing up, I was fortunate to live in close proximity to my first cousins. Since we were around the same age, we often played together. One evening, as was commonplace at the time, my mom and I dropped by my aunt’s house after school.

We weren’t there long before my little cousin walked through the door. He was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time. My aunt took one look at him and, well, she lost it.

So, how did my cousin cause his mother to momentarily lose her mind? He wore dirty sneakers that’s how.

Judging from my aunt’s behavior, you’d think my cousin had knocked over a liquor store. She was incensed that her boy would dare leave the house looking like a *gasp* poor person. The crazy thing is, they were poor.

My aunt raised four kids as a single, working mother. And as far as I know, she never received a dime of governmental assistance.

After my aunt filled the living room with so many obscenities that some of them got stuck in the air vents, she concluded her verbal assault with a familiar, disciplinary tool used by many southern, black women from her generation – a belt.

She beat the hell out of my cousin. (Which was perfectly legal at the time, I might add.)

Throughout the entire ordeal, I remember one line my aunt repeated over and over and over again.

I’ll never forget it.

We’re poor, but we ain’t pitiful.

Although I felt sorry for my cousin, I understood where my aunt was coming from.

As convenient as it is to look to money to solve your problems, clean shoes don’t involve much more than a damp wash cloth and a dab of elbow grease.

It’s not okay to dress like a hobo just because money is tight. Regardless of where you come from or how little you have, be proud. Be grateful. Take care of your possessions.

There were times I didn’t adhere to these rules.

A few years ago, my now ex-boyfriend told me my hair looked like a rat’s nest. It cracks me up whenever I think about it now, but, back then, my feelings were hurt by his insensitive comment.

First, because he wasn’t joking. And second, because it was true. My hair actually looked like it’d been picked over by a flock of angry birds.

Although my friends encouraged me to see a hair stylist, I was using my free cash to pay off debt. I alone had to figure out how to NOT look like a crackhead. Surprisingly, everything I needed could be found in a bottle of $4 hair gel and a couple YouTube videos. Combine that with a few hours of my time, and I was gorgeous again.

What valuables are you neglecting?

Do you live in a small house located in a “bad” neighborhood? That’s no reason for your place to look like it’s overrun by filthy animals.

Are you driving an ugly, 15-year old beater you desperately want to replace? Until you scrounge up the cash for an upgrade, thank your current vehicle with regular maintenance. Keep the dashboard wiped down with Armor All – the carpets and seats vacuumed. Hang a pine scented air freshener on the rear view mirror.

You may not have the finest clothes, but they’ll look better ironed instead of like they’ve been crumpled up in a laundry basket for the last two weeks.

Just because you can’t get everything you want, doesn’t mean you’re free to let what you have fall apart.

I hurt my left foot while running over a year ago and haven’t been able to do a proper lunge since. (Shut up. I know I should get the foot checked out.) But a minor injury doesn’t stop me from working out. I won’t let the guy with one leg or the woman undergoing chemotherapy upstage me at the gym. I thank God for the rest of my functioning body and do what I can.

One of my favorite lines of poetry came from T.I. and Rihanna’s song, Live Your Life. I think it’s fitting.

Stop looking at what you ain’t got and start being thankful for what you do got.

Take inventory of what you “do got,” and appreciate it.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Minimalist Mommi December 6, 2011 at 10:54 AM

This is perfect!!! We too don't have much (partially by choice & partially by circumstance), but I try to keep what we do have in good condition. Cleaning takes more elbow grease than cash. All it shows when you don't care for your items & just so happen to be "poor" is that the stereotype is ringing true–poor people are lazy. I choose to avoid that by actually caring for myself and possessions! Thanks for the great reminder :)


Shawanda December 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM

"Poor people are lazy." That's the last thing you want someone thinking of you when you're trying to climb the economic ladder.


@Annienygma December 6, 2011 at 12:00 PM

As my grandmother always said, "Ain't no sin in bein' poor but there ain't no excuse in bein' dirty. Soap and water don't cost THAT damned much!" I still remember that quote to this day…


Shawanda December 7, 2011 at 2:20 PM

I'm not saying extreme poverty doesn't exist in the U.S., but you've got to be pretty down on your luck to not be able to afford soap.


JP @ Novel Investor December 6, 2011 at 4:57 PM

Dirty shoes! I remember having to do some major shoe cleaning as a kid. That whole pride in your appearance was big in my family.


@barbfriedberg December 7, 2011 at 12:20 AM

This is really excellent advice. (I need to have my car washed). I'm a big proponent of taking care of what you have. Although, at home, I'm regularly found wearing sweats and old t shirts:)


Nique December 7, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I agree! I was laid off for 2 years and I never looked like it. My friend is a hair stylist, I shopped at thrift stores, and I carried myself with pride. I once ran into a woman in a restaurant and she asked my place of employment. I responded I was unemployed. She gasped and said, "I can't tell. You always look like a million dollars." Just because you're down does not mean you are out!!


Shawanda December 7, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Amen! When I look good, I feel good. Even if you are unemployed, you don't have to tell the whole world your business by looking like you're out of work. Strong job recommendations rarely result from pity.


@101centavos December 7, 2011 at 7:51 PM

GREAT post! A little pride goes a long way. During our evening walks, it's irritating to see nice houses with expensive cars in the driveway, and shoddily maintained lawns and flower beds.

Money line: "After my aunt filled the living room with so many obscenities that some of them got stuck in the air vents….


Shawanda December 11, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Haha! Maybe your neighbors don't have enough money left over to maintain their lawns. :)


20's Finances December 8, 2011 at 8:01 AM

Nice post – I agree that we have more than we think. While I know you aren't saying this, it could be dangerous if someone took this idea and spun it towards the idea that you have to look like you have more money than you do.


Shawanda December 11, 2011 at 11:49 AM

You should look like you have more money than you do. You just have to figure out ways to pull it off without spending extra money. For instance, I've decided to start making my own jewelry. There are some initial start up costs, but it's cheaper than buying jewelry. Plus, it's kinda fun and beats watching hours and hours of television.


FabulouslyBroke.com December 13, 2011 at 11:56 AM

Poor or not, everyone should look clean and presentable. It bothers me when people walk around with holes in their t-shirts and say: I don't care what others think, I'm [rich] [whatever]…


A. Gonzales December 14, 2011 at 1:15 PM

This post is speaking to me!!


Jillian January 10, 2012 at 9:24 AM

Love this! I can never believe how many of my friends don't bother to polish their shoes! It's a simple thing that prolongs the life of their shoes, and makes you look…well, polished. Of course, since I score their dull, designer shoes at the consignment shop, and top them up with a $2 bottle of shoe polish…I'm not going to tell them! ;)


Lauren January 30, 2012 at 9:19 PM

Thank you. i needed this kick in the arse reminder to stop wallowing and be appreciative. :)


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