Friday, March 6, 2015

"Hand to Mouth" and a quibble

I just got a chance to read "Hand to Mouth - Living in Bootstrap America". I've been wanting to read it ever since I heard that Linda Tirado, author of viral blog post "Poverty Thoughts", had been offered a book deal. For those of you who may not have heard, Tirado wrote an essay a while ago, attempting to explain the thought process (or lack thereof) of financially struggling people.

I have to say, I could identify with nearly everything she said in both the essay and in her book.

I just don't agree with it.

I get the grinding exhaustion, the feeling that you're running on a treadmill that's going too fast. It can leave you feeling like hopelessness is a natural state - that making progress is a pipe dream. She says that a certain income level, it makes no real sense to save money - after all, $5 a week is only $260 over the course of a year, if you can avoid spending any. Worthless! And useless, because she was talking about saving for a nice suit to wear while networking, and she could think of a dozen other things to spend that money on in a year.

But it's not true! Saving, even when you're broke, can improve your life and help pull you out of the poverty pit - by inches, it's true, but UP! and OUT!

For example, you can save that money to buy something that will help you keep saving money and/or time in future months. Ideas like -

a portable washing machine and a few drying racks to save the time, expense, and headache of going to the laundromat

a Republic Wireless phone so you can spend as little as $10 for unlimited talk/text every month

a bike trailer to make it easier to run errands by bike, saving money on gas and getting you some fresh air (good for both kids and stuff)

a bunch of LED lightbulbs to help lower your power bill

And the savings generated from THOSE things could be put toward bills, fun, another money saving toy - what could you think of that would improve your quality of life for $260?


  1. Hrrmmm - $260?
    Things that will continue saving us money that cost $260 or less:
    * garden seeds or seedlings - heirloom preferably so we can harvest the seeds for next year
    * decent gardening tools so we can continue caring for our garden
    * a nice lawn mower (on sale at end of season) - and our son can use it to earn money mowing other people's lawns too
    * A nice piece of hardwood or hardwood frame furniture from a thrift store, estate or garage sale (It won't wear out easily so we don't have to replace it often)
    * A good set of cookware and a crockpot to make cooking at home convenient
    * Stocking the pantry with basics so we don't always have to run to the store (flour, sugar, salt, yeast, oats, oil and some canned goods).
    * A higher quality appliance (refrigerator, clothes washer) on clearance sale (we got our range for just under $130 since it was a discontinued model!) that will last for ages
    * An entire business-casual wardrobe including shoes and jewelry from my favorite consignment store (they have incredible sales twice a year - two piece suit for $2, new with the tags still on? Sold! Knee high leather boots with unworn soles for $8? Sold! High end wool skirt for $1.50? Sold!).

    Hrmm - I guess I've lived such a frugal life for so long that I can think of lots of things that could pay it forward so to speak! I totally get that there are places and times where saving money seems almost impossible and often we can end up in a cycle of save-spend-save-spend but it doesn't mean we give up! Plus, with those savings we don't have to go into debt and we now have what we need going forward even it we don't carry a big balance all the time.


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  3. The writer of Hand to Mouth has been discredited. She is a married political activist with two children. She was educated in private schools, took private music lessons all her life, traveled Europe after school, owns a house with no mortgage, etc. She took money on Go Fund Me even though her story was fiction.

  4. All those things are true... AND she went through a spell of rough poverty. How? After going off to college at 16, she immediately screwed up, began misbehaving, dropped out at some point, and became estranged from her family for about 10 years. So, yes, most of the struggle was needless. And she bought her house through the "Bank of Mom", an institution that funded my parents first house - they refinanced, bought her house, she pays them.

    Tirado admits in her book and in interviews that she screwed up her life on her own merit, and I'll point out that she brought on a lot of her troubles on through dumb decisions and avoidable situations, but I'll never say her struggles weren't real.