I tried writing a post about one thing I learned for each month in 2011.  I bored myself.  I know what I learned, it’s not that interesting/witty/applicable to anyone else’s life, mostly because it’s the same thing over and over again.  Well, 2011, I get your point (finally).

The bare bones of this post have been waiting to be filled in for a month.  I finally found enough energy (despite the fact that I have apparently contracted some illness) to finish it.  So, without further ado, here it is:

How to be poor (and not fail miserably at life):

Step 1: Identify necessary and unnecessary expenses.

Pretty straightforward.  For instance, I cancelled my Netflix subscription the day I was fired from my second job.  Internet stayed, because I knew I’d be suicidal without it.  Limit extraneous trips in the car to keep gas expenses down.  Use a bicycle or walk to get to places that are close enough.  Don’t leave unnecessary appliances on or plugged in, and cut down on HVAC usage to keep energy costs down.

Pumpkin Scones

Step 2: Make the best of what you have.

All of these pictures are examples of me scrounging to make whatever I could from ingredients that I had on hand.  That happens to be a specialty of mine.  The same goes for other things around the house.  I made some of my own Christmas decorations and presents instead of buying new things.  This is also a good time to get to cleaning/rearranging your house, which might turn up some things you have new use for.

Single servings of corn pudding and broccoli/cauliflower/carrot/cheese casserole

Step 3: Don’t be afraid to accept help.

In America, there is a widespread taboo about poor people and government assistance.  Despite hitting several rough patches throughout my childhood, my mother raised me not to accept handouts, something that I struggle with to this day (it’s hard to go on dates when you have deep-seated guilt about letting someone buy you dinner).  When I lost my job, I didn’t have a choice.  I didn’t go around begging, but I did learn about the options available to me as a citizen of a democracy.  I also had a lot of unsolicited aid from friends and family (why, yes, I’d love your case of expired Ramen Noodles!)

Caramel fried apples

Step 4: Get to work!

The best tool you have at your disposal is yourself.  It’s up to you to get yourself on the right track, no matter how difficult it may be.  Touch up your résumé, apply for jobs, learn new skills, look for things to sell, utilize skill sets you already have to work for you, find what makes you happy, etc.  Stay focused.  If you don’t, you can end up in a whirlwind of sadness and despair.  Good things will happen if you continue to put in the effort.

Gingerbread cookies (click for recipe)

Step 5: Don’t let your health slip.

It’s hard to worry about your health when you have so much else on your plate, but it’s the last thing you want to let go.  How much harder is it going to be to find a new job (or whatever) if you’re not feeling your best because you put your personal health on the back burner?  Well-balanced nutrition is hard to keep up when you don’t have much money to spend, but it can be done.  Find ways to improve cheap food.  I use the basic Ramen Noodle packets, but toss out the sodium-bomb packets, drain the initial boiling water, add more water and some frozen vegetables, then add my own seasonings and let it meld for a few minutes.  Cheap and awesome.  And don’t forget exercise!  The stress/depression/anxiety of being broke may make you feel sluggish, but exercise will ultimately make you feel better.  Exercise is proven to improve mood and energy, a free boost that you definitely enjoy in times of need.

Step 6: Get a new routine.

For me this included many things: new health routine, new shopping routine, new work routine, new home routine,  and new social routine.  This step is kind of  a combination of every step, but it’s important on its own.  I couldn’t live without my prescriptions, so I shopped around for the lowest prices I could get without insurance.  I couldn’t afford to spend the normal amount on groceries, so I found the cheapest overall store.  I switched from mostly fresh foods to more shelf-stable foods, saving me gas from frequent store trips.  I cut back on going out and found cheaper ways to spend time with friends, and I didn’t let my feelings get hurt if they did things without me because I couldn’t afford them.  You have be adaptable to your situation, or else you’ll flounder under the pressure.

Step 7: Get over it.

Being poor is never easy, but moping around because you’re sad about it isn’t going to change anything.  It’s up to you to live your life to the fullest, no matter what’s bringing you down.  Positivity and a smile can get you a long way (or at least a free drink).