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PJM Lifestyle

Rhonda Robinson


July 20, 2013 - 9:00 am


Every Saturday morning at PJ Lifestyle, join parenting writer Rhonda Robinson as she documents her strategies for getting her family’s finances back into shape. Check out the previous installments in her ongoing series:

Week 1: 5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship

Week 2: Where to Start When Your Financial Ship is Sinking

Week 3: Keeping Afloat With A Budget


This week was rough.

I had to remind myself of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a young man from Kenya.

He had a basketball scholarship at Vanderbilt University. His girlfriend was a good friend of my daughter. The couple came to our home to visit for the first time. He was extremely tall, a mild mannered guy with a huge smile. Teasingly I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He explained he was getting his degree in social work. “Not a lot of money in that,” I chuckled.

He just flashed a blindingly bright smile and looked down shaking his head. “That’s ok,” he said. “I’m not really in it for the money. I just really want to help people.”

At that moment I realized something and asked, “Poor in Kenya is a lot different than poor in America, isn’t it?”

He laughed, then said with a more somber tone, “Poor in Kenya means you have a dirt floor if you’re lucky enough to have a house.” He described the conditions that people in his home town live in.

It was then I realized that my idea of poor meant I don’t get to have what I want when I want it. I have to wait, maybe even save for it. That’s not really poor. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Even when we were our “poorest,” we still owned a home. I’ve never looked into my children’s eyes and saw hunger that I couldn’t feed. During that time, we also owned and maintained a vehicle. My family had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted.

By most standards around the world, I’m rich. In fact, I’m so rich that I can drive my car into a separate room of my house. Clean water is at my fingertips, and fresh food grows in my yard.

For most of us, being poor in America is more a frame of mind than real poverty.

My frame of mind is in need of some major repair.

Last week, I searched for the best budgeting software and decided on YNAB. I have everything set up, the budget categories are filled. Everything that is except the numbers that represent actual money. I backed out. Just couldn’t face doing it and looking at the numbers.

I know, that’s foolish. But not only is it stupid and foolish — it’s painful. However, it couldn’t have been near as painful as the consequences of not getting my budget set and consequently overspending.

The reality is that we are not poor — not by a long shot. You’re not poor just because you’re deprived of the luxuries you once had or someone else enjoys. Someone once told me that money problems are the best kind of problems to have, because they can be fixed. I didn’t appreciate the wisdom of those words at the time. I do now.

This week’s goals:

  1. Stop whining.
  2. Face the numbers. Because ignorance is not bliss, it’s financial suicide.
  3. Find something to be thankful for every time I begin to feel “deprived.”
  4. Take a close and honest look at my spending habits.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realized that the first thing you need to do to change your circumstance is to change your perspective? 

Rhonda Robinson writes on the social, political and parenting issues currently shaping the American family. She lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Middle Tennessee. Follow on twitter @amotherslife

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Top Rated Comments   
'At that moment I realized something and asked, “Poor in Kenya is a lot different than poor in America, isn’t it?” '

As Dinesh D'Souza wrote, 'They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, “Why are you so eager to come to America?” He replied, “I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” '

'By most standards around the world I’m rich. In fact, I’m so rich, that I can drive my car into a separate room of my house. Clean water is at my fingertips, and fresh food grows in my yard.'

By almost all standards we're richer than monarchs of most of history. Indoor flush toilets, hot and cold running water, refrigeration and freezers, heating and air conditioning, able to call up moving images and sound out of thin air better than any wizard, etc.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Most black Africans that I've met are polite, modest, hard-working, don't commit crimes and are very hospitable - so different from your average American black. Of cousre I'm a racist for pointing out what's obviously true - though many Africans who move to the U.S. realize the same thing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Having less than you might like to have involves one important lesson in life - you simply have to learn how to be content with what you do have. Once you learn how to count your blessings, life gets a lot easier even if you don't have all those nice little bells and whistles. Nothing says you can't still aspire to them, everyone needs goals, but once you stop needing them to make yourself happy, your ahead of the game.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (45)
All Comments   (45)
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
oy. I have, somewhere around here, a photocopy of a book on housekeeping, from the 1940's, that talks about floors. It starts with how to sweep a dirt floor, and then works it's way up to keeping a second, vacation home.

The current governor of Texas, Mr Rick Perry, grew up in a house with no indoor plumbing. That would be--an outhouse for a bathroom, and a handpump, for water. My great-grandparents, same state, had a similar arrangement. My father remembers what a big deal it was that their grown daughters married factory workers, who had mechanical skills. These men put a hand-pump with a leather o-ring- into the kitchen. This was after World War 2.

The former governor of California, Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger, likewise, grew up in a house with no running water. He, too, used a hand-pump, and an outhouse, during his youth. When he was 16, he began a job as a shop-clerk, and paid his parents for food and housing, until he moved away to live in a closet at a gym on a very rough street in a city. He was in Germany, after World War 2.

Right now, Child Protective Services, in Texas, have been in the newspaper explaining that they will steal a child from his/ her parents for that level of poverty.

I've seen grown women, with professional careers as school principals, in tears, remembering that when they were starting out they could barely afford a single present for their child at Christmas. Their kids would return to school, and then the kids in the project, all of whom were on government aid, would make fun of them for not owning designer shoes and designer jeans, and not owning new, cool electronics. These are now substantial, respected members of the community- mayors, principals, ranchers, business owners- weeping b/c the feral, dependent riff-raff bullied their independent children.

Poverty is relative.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Poverty I believe is the death sentence God gave to ALL of us. This is why saints take the vow of poverty. They know how material wealth and all the pleasure it can bring is such a distraction from the main issue. And a bigger distraction to the have nots with eyes to see the haves.
THis is where a relationship with God can help the have nots who also understand many of the haves are thrown in Hell along with the DEATH sentence
Jesus say: It is much more easy for camel to go though the needle of an eye than for rich man to get into heaven. This nips eny in the bud for the have nots who are rich in a relationship with God
The atheist agnostics secular as you can see with so much envy released destroy themselves
why wait for that to happen and mourn ye were stupid?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
from new york Times this is a good one about having to deal with the death sentence God has given all Human beings and the constant nag to pay attention to your DEATH SENTENCE
constant trauma
the saints are the ones who reach for a coherent life lived as the deceived call them wackos
Jesus say: go sell everything you have and give it to the poor
Perhaps it is very wise to resist doing this too soon. Because all that Jesus wanted the rich person to see first is his great rebellion against God just like every other human given the DEATH SENTENCE . Who is a rich person? A person who has two coats or two shirts or two cloth underwear one should be ready to give away to the poor person . yikes!
9I must being bringing trauma to my 5th wife the great harlot of Babylon now chained to see what it may mean to be marry to me
God have mercy on the world from the likes of me
in weakness we were born but what about all that kicking in screaming I hear from new baby born to our family yesterday when the prince of England and his wife arrive at foot of the white mountains?
This baby kicking and screaming will be nipped in the bud so parents get more sleep at night I believe
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
how does one create a picture of the habitat to carry these words from Jesus
"13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
along with
"God is a spirit and those worshiping must worship in Spirit and TRUTH"
know about you unfaithfulness first your weakness and how impossible to approach the True God and yet God comes to you first you cracked vessell that can not hold the holy spirit but God heals this vessell to carry the living water is the authority claim of Jesus Christ the LORD and liberator of man
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree with the your article but I don't think we appreciate enough how much our attitude and our life is affected by our opportunity to become more and more "non-poor". While our entitlement programs are destroying the fabric of society in our lowest economic rungs, both those who would try to escape those conditions and the middle class are seeing the opportunity for upward mobility blatantly stolen by an unholy alliance between government elitists, public service unions, wealthy greens and the government's crony capitalists partners. Just consider our runaway income tax rates, sales taxes, regulations and fees - do they change things for any of the aforementioned groups? No, of course not. What they do is prevent the rest of us from accumulating wealth.

SO once we congratulate ourselves for not being as poor as the average Nigerian, then what? It would be nice to be let back in the game. The average public service worker will retire with a pension and benefits worth at least a million dollars - even after spending every penny of their income for the 30 or so years that they have to work. The rest of us cannot hope to accumulate even a fraction of that after taxes - even with extreme sacrifice during out long working years.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks to my military travel experiences, I have seen firsthand what the author is expressing. I am thankful and extremely grateful to have been born in the United States. I have been able to take advantage of the opportunities to improve my life and my children's lives over that of my parents' through education and hard work. (Sadly, thanks to progressives, I do not think my grandchildren will have the same opportunities.) I, like most in America, have been fortunate, but nothing I have came at the expense of any other individual in this or any other country...I do not feel guilty about any of it. There will always be someone doing better than you, and there will always be someone doing worse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The 'poor' in my city (83% black) want for NOTHING. Most have 2 of everything. O'phones don't count...most have more than 2 and the minutes to go with them. I do not consider them poor. They are 'takers' whose wants will never be exhausted. My spouse and I worked for every single thing we have...hard. Even now, our true needs are few. When we need something, we WORK to get it. Truly needy people take with gratitude the 'hand up' offered and use the help for good. I, absolutely, have no compassion or sympathy for the laggards in our society.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
what's the diff between poor in Africa and poor in America?

150 lbs. of blubber, an attitude of entitlement, air conditioning, gov. house and (on avg.) $65,ooo a year of government handouts. oh - and a blinding hatred of everything and everyone responsible for America's past success.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Each year the Heritage Foundation publishes its Index of Economic Freedom. Out of 177 countries, the US is ranked 10th, in the 2nd tier, "Mostly Free," while Kenya ranks 114 in the 4th tier, "Mostly Unfree." While not a perfect correlation, people in the freer counties tend to the better off economically. The US is as rich as it is because of a history of freedom that our politicians have gradually been transforming into a much less free welfare state.

It is enlightening to find that the Kenyan student in this piece wants to be a social worker, not a businessman or an entrepreneur. He thinks social workers help people while those in business are all about the money. But capitalists have done much more than social workers to improve the lot of the poor. The Kenyan would benefit his countrymen far more by starting or growing a business than by ministering to the poor.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You have a really good point. "the Kenyan student in this piece wants to be a social worker, not a businessman or an entrepreneur. He thinks social workers help people while those in business are all about the money. But capitalists have done much more than social workers to improve the lot of the poor."

I hadn't thought of that. I wonder, if in Kenya, the only real work is with the government. I honestly don't know if he (and now new bride) will go back to Kenya or stay in the US.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to ask him someday.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For real! What can a social worker do? Somebody who starts a business can provide a product that people need and employ people to lift their families out of poverty. How about start a prefab home business?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have a low income. I do not own a lot of things. But I remind myself often how extremely lucky I am to live in the first world. Look at what I have! A microwave, running water, a good bed, a nice home, a fridge, water, food, a computer, a doctor, an education, a bicycle to get to my job. There are many things I don't have, but it's not important. Don't compare yourself to others. The grass is always greener on the other side (or so you think).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I learned long ago that in almost all circumstances, no matter how impoverished the society, "poverty" is ALWAYS a mind-set. In places like Kenya and Ethiopia and Sierra Leon - the three countries I've met people from who actually lived in very poor conditions - you still have people who maintain pride and community. You may have a dirt floor and a shack made of scraps of wood and a 30-year-old corrugated steel roof... but you by crikey SWEEP that dirt floor every day, you keep the place neat and clean, you engage with your neighbors and support each other, keep the bugs out, keep the fire lit, and a pot on the fire for random guests no matter how meager the contents. When UNICEF comes by with a crate of last year's losing World Series team T-Shirts, you give them to the kids as presents and everyone has a party. If it's been a good year, you might even slaughter a pig and break out the local beer you brewed for a rainy day.

Life is what you make of it - you can live a good, full, happy life with a dirt floor... or be miserable with a cell phone, air conditioning, and a car, TV, and microwave. Your choice.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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