Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Dollar store economy

I hear or read stories of rich folks pretending to be poor in order to prove that all the poor folks need do is simply budget better or educate themselves better or move to a different neighborhood.   They (the ones pretending) decide to live for a month on the wages of a poor person just to prove better budgeting is the answer.  Let me tell ya, the low and fixed income people (poor) are the worlds best at budgeting.  The rich, meaning those folks with unlimited money, have no need for a budget.

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I must also explain that there is a HUGH difference between being rich and being wealthy.  Rich are the ones who believe poor people are put on this earth to serve the cruel needs of the rich.  Rich people are those who believe poor people deserve to be poor because poor people don’t budget well enough or educate themselves well enough or need to find a better job.  On the other hand, wealthy people are the ones who have money but you really don’t know it because they are like the friendly neighbors next door living in similar conditions as the poor families around them.

That said; now to my point.  It doesn’t matter how well someone budgets if there isn’t enough money in the first place.  Living on low wages or on a fixed income has forced many folks into a dollar store economy.  Think about it.  The 10 for 10 sales in grocery stores, the dollar menus at restraunts, the .99 cents a pound for produce, the pop up fruit stands on empty lots where all baskets are a dollar, and the stores that sell “everything for a dollar”.

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So let me explain this a bit further.  Budgeting can only go so far.   Saying someone should start an “emergency” fund savings doesn’t account for not having the extra money in the first place.  Fixed and low income (poor) people are the best at budgeting because they have to be really good at it to survive.  Poor people know budgets don’t actually work.  Poor people know what really counts is that unexpected flat tire, broken window, school fees, dental or medical costs, fast growing kids needing new shoes, or a sudden spike in the price of gas.

Have you ever opened a bill to find it’s two or three dollars higher than it was the month before?  I’m talking about your fixed expenses like the utility bill or water bill or phone bill or insurance bill.  These extra dollars are not expenses that can be accounted for simply by better budgeting, planning, or saving money from an already tight budget.  The new bill is often only a couple of dollars higher which you somehow manage to work into a new budget rather than do without.  But repeated raises of just a couple of dollars spread out over several months is in fact translated to a lot more dollars.

If, for example, a utility company announced a raise of 35% all at once there would a very loud public outcry against it.  But, if the raise is done by one, two, or three dollars at a time the actual raise could actually become 45%, 50%, or more. We don’t notice the big change because its done in such small amounts over time.   That means there is no public outcry.   We slowly, quietly accept the small differences into our tight budgets.

It doesn’t matter how well someone plans, sometimes there just isn’t enough money to meet all necessary expenses because of an already very low budget.  That’s why poor people will often end up with no teeth because they can’t afford dental care, which results in not being able to eat properly, which results in poor nutrition, which results in illness, greater expense, less ability to work, and possibly earlier death.  Ok, a little dramatic perhaps but it makes my point.

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Its the strong budgeting ability of the poor that has forced many of us into this dollar store economy.  We know paying a dollar for something less nutritious isn’t healthy but it will fill bellies.  We know paying a dollar for watered down cleaning supplies won’t be as good but its affordable.  We know we can’t keep paying higher and higher fixed expenses but that dollar store economy tells us to pay the extra dollar or two rather than give it up.

No disrespect; but to those people pretending to be poor who say a failure to budget correctly is the problem really should educate themselves in economics.  But that would require more work from them (the pretenders) than listening to the political rhetoric from rich politicians and picking a side.  The strategy of creating an emergency fund savings account is ridiculous when the majority of low wage earners and fixed income persons have absolutely nothing to save after expenses.  Its unrealistic to consider putting anything aside when we are constantly having to rob Peter to pay Paul.

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We (low and fixed income people) have been so busy struggling to make ends meet on less and less that we haven’t noticed our entry into this dollar store economy.  We no longer look to employers for more money and better benefits.  We instead look to retailers for lower prices which has been the reason for the creation of dollar items.  Nobody will complain.  Its only a dollar for gosh sake.  We can afford a dollar can’t we?  Yes, we’ve quietly, slowly gotten used to this dollar store economy.

In my younger days we used to call it being nickle and dime’d to death.  These days we are dollar’d to death.  Golly gee, even the phrases we use have suffered inflation.  🙂

20 comments on “Dollar store economy

  1. carenowplease
    June 2, 2016

    I was thinking more about this today after looking at a couple of supposedly ‘frugal’ websites, but the kind of things they were buying and ‘bargains’ being promoted weren’t anywhere even near my budget even on offer!

    • Anita
      June 2, 2016

      There are different degrees of frugal and some sites are more about purchasing power than saving power. My blog is more about surviving with very little money to begin with. Its not how much you save that matters its how much you spend. I don’t think I’m explaining it very well.

      Here’s an example. A man staggers into his house panting, sweating, and exhausted. His wife looks at him with concern and asks, what’s wrong honey? The man smiles and says, I just ran all the way home from work behind a bus. I saved us $1.50. The wife replies, well honey, why didn’t you run behind a taxi instead and save us $40?

      You see? Its not the amount saved on a frivolous purchase that counts, it how empty your wallet is after a necessary purchase.

      • carenowplease
        June 5, 2016

        oh I get it believe me. I was talking to a friend the other day who told me they now get an overseas pension of $1400 a month ‘it’s not enough to live on’. I could easily live on a guaranteed income for the rest of my life of $1400 a month, supplemented by some creative work…

        One of my neighbors told me she has a storage unit, she’s in a two bed home just for herself so it seemed a bit strange to me, but it’s encouraged isn’t it, buy everything that comes out, even if it hoards out your living space, then rent space to store it…I imagine many people who do that don’t even know what they have by the time they have stuff stored for a few years.

        I feel very out of step with people around me though, I rarely buy anything and I am just around the US poverty line really. Yet I don’t have any debts, and everyone I know does, in fact they seem to revel in it!

        • Anita
          June 6, 2016

          Yes, people do hoard until the house runs over. I’ve found myself hoarding stuff until it starts to overwhelm me. Stuff builds up a small bit at a time. Then I start tossing as much as possible. I rarely buy anything anymore. I have all I need. Although I’m looking forward to figuring out exactly what I need at my new house.

          My concern with having storage space is having somewhere to put a lawn mower, garden tools, tree trimmer, bicycle, holiday decorations, and stuff like that outside instead of in a closet inside the house. Closets should be for clothes.

  2. Margie in Toronto
    May 23, 2016

    I find it so frightening to hear about all the issues you have with healthcare in the States – I thank God every day that I live in Canada – our system isn’t perfect but it’s miles better than what you all go through.

    I have a checkup with my GP this week that will cost me nothing – blood tests will probably be ordered (no cost to me) and I just had a mammogram and fecal test done (get them yearly) but no cost. I know that we pay for these through our taxes but I’d rather do it that way than go through the stress and worry that all of you do.

    As for those who “pretend” to be poor – I know that many do it in support of those who live in poverty (although as you write Anita – others do it to prove the poor are just feckless) but none do it as real life – they can stop at any time and go back to their old lives – its all a publicity stunt or an insult really. You summarize the situation so well Anita.

    • Anita
      May 24, 2016

      Marge, it is frightening for many of us here. The way I understand it, if I’m remembering right, the original idea of Obamacare started with Senator Ted Kennedy back in the 1970s. Kennedy wanted to start a healthcare system similar to the one used in Canada and (I think) Sweden. Lots of people wanted it too.

      What we have today is nothing at all like Kennedy’s original idea. Insurance companies have too much influence over the politicians. Politicians won’t give up the money given to them from insurance companies. A universal health care system paid for with taxes would essentially put insurance companies out of business and that is never going to happen. What many people don’t seem to understand is that Obamacare is essentially welfare to cover insurance for the poor. The insurance companies are the ones who have made it difficult and confusing, not the President, because providing coverage to the poor cost the company money. When people complain about the difficulties its usually connected to dealing with insurance companies about their coverage. Who provides the coverage and comes up with the plans? Insurance companies. The more difficult and confusing the insurance companies make it, the less likely people will continue using it. A big win for the insurance company because they don’t have to shell out money.

      As for the pretenders, Yes it is insulting but I have to give them credit for one thing. I hadn’t thought about it before but they do draw attention to the problem even if its in the form of negative criticism. Usually the negative remarks are from the poor. Hundreds of real life stories from those actually living in poverty for all to read. No reporter could do that many interviews in such a short time. Maybe it does serve a purpose after all. I just wish it wasn’t so insulting.

  3. carenowplease
    May 23, 2016

    Thank you Anita.
    When I tried to find out what this list of tests is for a ‘free’ yearly appointment my dr office admin didn’t know! I must not be the only one who asked though- there’s a list up now. It’s quite a few tests, I was surprised.

    The pharmacy is very good with me, they can’t always tell me cost in advance, I don’t understand why, but if I can’t afford it there’s no complaint about me not buying it.

    I think you are right about going back to the old treatments ( or no treatments ) What’s the point developing and selling a pill or injection if it’s going to cost $4000 a month and no one wants to or can afford to pay for it?

  4. Jasna
    May 22, 2016

    That`s all very true down here in the Southern Hemisphere, too. Thank you, Anita!

    • Anita
      May 23, 2016

      Thanks Jasna. What do you mean by the southern hemisphere? South America or Australia? Just curious.

  5. carenowplease
    May 22, 2016

    Thanks for your advice Anita. That’s what I thought.
    However from 2016 PPOs are not available in Houston at all. There was only one in the healthcare marketplace for 2015.
    One large decent hospital chain started offering their own insurance plan; I looked at it- $800 a month. Plus copays.
    We don’t have Medicaid expansion so I just struggle on trying to make enough to keep my ‘obamacare’ subsidy, what that means in practice is if I don’t earn ENOUGH in 2016 I have to pay back all the subsidy when I file 2016 taxes.
    Yes- earn less, pay more.
    The ‘obamacare’ plans are very narrow networks so not a lot of choice with doctors, I got stuck with my pcp as a last resort because no one else would accept the insurance. Even though they are on the BXBS provider list the dr offices say they shouldn’t be!
    I know why the drs are reluctant- it’s almost impossible to use, there isn’t much thought put into the provider network so a referral to a specialist office is a waste of time if the hospital they are affiliated with to do procedures isn’t also included.
    Because 70% of ‘obamacare’ sign ups across the country get directed into the Medicaid program it’s a relatively small number of us whose only option is to take the ‘marketplace’ plans and hope for the best, and I don’t think many people are aware of just how many problems there are with some of them. Restrictions abound in the small print- not much has changed unfortunately.
    I’ve written to senators, DHHS, health secretary, dept insurance and no one is interested to get involved.

    So it’s the one thing I have been unable to budget at all- even paying cash which I do sometimes, it’s hard to get prices for tests and medications. I don’t know why it’s all so secretive! I had to cancel the ‘free’ dr appointment that comes with the plan because the dr will only do that appointment with a list of screenings and tests, when I called to ask for the cost of that I was told they don’t know, and I was broke that month so I just went in for my ordinary appointment to monitor diabetes. In any case if I run anything through insurance then the insurance won’t pay it ends up being two or three times the price.

    I could write a book about the experience, it’s been unbelievable.

    There aren’t any ‘free’ clinics available to my age/situation where I live but there is a sliding scale fee county system, I was earning too much to afford it last time I checked, but due to deteriorating health my income has dropped.

    But again it’s like another of your posts- where are the advisors to go see about all this and help figure it out? There aren’t any.

    Thanks for listening anyway. And for writing the blog- it does help, because as I saw you wrote somewhere, it’s a lonely experience, I find people don’t help and encourage like years ago, it’s not a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.

    • Anita
      May 23, 2016

      I hadn’t thought about the differences between states when it comes to healthcare. Sorry. I feel very lucky that our past governor went against his political party and chose the best healthcare plan for our state. It isn’t great but its better than most states. Other states went a different way and people are having a really tough time like you. Here in Kentucky we do have a choice of HMO or PPO. At least for now. Our current governor has decided he doesn’t like it and wants to go to a worse plan of no choices.

      Have you tried this solution? It may not help but certainly worth a try. I often call the accounting office of the place doing a test or procedure my doctor wants me to have. They are the ones who can tell you what the cost will be. Your current doctor wouldn’t have a clue what other people charge for services. Most times I can get a price before deciding on getting a test done. I figure their accounting office would be the one who knows how much they are going to bill someone. I also ask the pharmacy how much a drug will cost before letting them fill it. My pharmacy will tell me how much the insurance will pay and how much will be my part. And whether the Dr allowed a generic substitute or not.

      I believe people will have to return to old time medicine. The medicines used long before the “pill” generation. Its gonna be up to ourselves to keep ourselves healthy.

  6. sarasinart
    May 22, 2016

    That is all so well said, and all true.

  7. Donna
    May 21, 2016

    You sure hit the nail on the head! The government says we don’t need a raise but my health insurance went up $40 a month, utilities have gone up, food has gone up, Internet has gone up, and on and on. So you cut somewhere to find the cost of the increases. But eventually you can’t find anything else to cut. I am there now.

    • Anita
      May 22, 2016

      Oh me too. I believe I’m at the breaking point myself.

    May 21, 2016

    Those wanna be poor people imitators are not doing their test run in a leaky roach ridden apt where the landlords have been promising for years to fix problems, I’ll bet. Nor do they face 10- 20% rent hikes, sometimes even twice a year!
    Nor are they facing irregular on – call temp jobs that require people to be available 24/7, but weeks can go by without any job calls…just try to make monthly budgets with those situations!!
    In short, why are the social safety nets for the poor always called upon to balance the National or states’ budgets??
    Eg, how about cutting 10% from the Pentagon’ weapons budget?? How about cutting the Big Agribusiness crop subsidies on all corporation of more than 3000 aces???

    • Anita
      May 22, 2016

      Yup, I agree and just as upset about it. The social services programs are always cut before the wasteful pork programs. I’m always extremely angry when I hear of the big agribusiness crop subsidies being awarded and at the same time see the senior commodity foods program being cut. I’m hopeful that a new “dig for victory” campaign will start among the low incomed people. Michelle Obama suggested it when she put in a white house back yard garden but the big wigs in DC put a halt to her campaign by suppressing it in the news. Regardless of what people think of her husband, Michelle Obama is a big supporter of better nutrition and social services programs. I’m really hoping she will continue campaigning against the food companies after they leave the white house. Somebody really needs to stand up to the people who control our food supply and demand better from them. I think she could be the one to do it if she is willing. Have you ever heard her talk against the major food companies or how people should learn to grow at least one or two foods?

  9. carenowplease
    May 21, 2016

    I think by far the worst ( and most immoral, corrupt, evil, greedy ) example of this is in trying to budget for health care. No price lists, no guarantee the insurance will work or their provider lists are accurate, spurious bills, endless ‘mistakes’.
    ‘Obamacare’ means dealing with the insurance co, the pcp dr having to make all referrals, plus ( don’t bother with the website, it still doesn’t work ) and DHHS. At any point one of them makes a mistake it can cost hundreds ( or thousands ) not to mention the stress and time it takes sorting things out.

    I have given up trying to use my insurance, and I only see my dr if I have to. The $10 generic prescription she wrote me last time cost $28; that’s nothing on her salary but that’s a week’s food for us.
    When I try to explain she suggests I borrow money?

    That’s been the worst aspect of poverty for me, I can manage without possessions, new clothes, vacations and outings, but getting older and sick has been a horrible experience, seeing into the chaos and corruption behind our US health industry. I’ve given up as I say now- the stress was making me more sick.

    • Anita
      May 22, 2016

      You think maybe its time to find a new doctor and a new plan? Believe me, I do understand. I could have died from worsening health issues only four or five years ago. I was having the same problems with health care until I changed to a more sympathetic doctor and went with a PPO plan instead of an HMO plan. What you need is coverage that does NOT require “in system” or “in plan” referral. A PPO plan. I get to make my own choice of doctor when I need to go to a specialist. I had to go to more than one doctor before I found one who actually cared about me and my situation. I believe I went to about 7 or 8 before finding my current doctor. And above all, absolutely stay away from health care clinics for the poor. That means any place giving care based on income. Those places are so overwhelmed with patients the doctors can’t take time with individuals. The patients have become 10 minute time slots instead of people.

      When I explained to my doctor that my diet was dependent on food bank foods she understood my struggles with my diabetes diet and doesn’t pressure me about it. She makes suggestions. We actually share recipes. When I really can’t afford my medications she gives me samples or finds a generic version. I remind her that the prescription must be written so it allows generic substitutions otherwise the pharmacy won’t change it.

      There really are some good doctors out there. Many doctors are just as confused and angry about the health insurance problems as we are. Doctors don’t handle the billing, the accountant does. The doctors went to school for learning health issues, not accounting or insurance. Doctors went to school to learn what medications do to help a patient but don’t have a clue about how much those medications cost.

      Yes, I agree the insurance companies are manipulating the system in their favor. They are no different than any other big corporation or rich person at the top. Everyone deserves health care but someone really should put a halt to the insurance company’s power over us.

  10. Jackie
    May 21, 2016

    Wow! Thank you!

  11. craftytadpole
    May 21, 2016

    Great post. Thanks!

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