Poverty (S)kills

Poverty kills. There’s no disputing that being poor leads to a shorter lifespan, more health issues, and worse outcomes in virtually everything. However, when you live close to or below the margins, you learn a lot of useful skills…mainly because you can’t pay someone else to do it for you, and if you do it poorly, it’s just going to make things worse.

One of the things I learned from both of my parents is to use what we have on hand to make reasonably edible food that can be used to make other reasonably edible food if there are any leftovers.

Case in point: last night, I went to one of my long-neglected staples, red beans and rice, Creole-style. Sadly, I was out of tomatoes and andouille, so I made do with ground beef and tomato soup. I cooked the beans in my instant pot and cooked the ground beef on my stove. I then mixed the beans and ground beef (both drained) in my instant pot with the tomato soup and an assortment of spices. It came out so good that there weren’t really any leftovers. If there had been, I was planning on using tortillas to make burritos. I was both very pleased and mildly irritated that my ad hoc recipe worked well enough not to leave leftovers.

Another example is chili. I can make a pot of chili stretch for days, and it actually tastes better if you give it a day or two to let the ingredients get to know each other really well. (I also have a surprising secret ingredient that gives my chili a pleasing, unexpected depth of flavor, but I’m keeping it to myself for now.)

If I ever write a cookbook, I’m calling it “Reasonably Edible,” because that’s the baseline for good food in my house. I do my best to use what I have on hand to bring recipes to life, and I often have to tweak things based on what ingredients I have on hand. My goal is to fix food that is nourishing, filling, tasty, and affordable.

Another important skill I’ve learned is hand sewing. My stitches aren’t always pretty, but they’ll hold. I used part of the first COVID stimulus payment to buy a sewing machine because I went blind in my right eye, and threading a needle is considerably harder when one no longer has any real depth perception and one’s “good” eye doesn’t have very good visual acuity. I haven’t touched it yet because the bulk of my day is spent wrangling a very curious toddler, and I’m scared she’ll swallow a needle or sew her hand.

Basic plumbing is another important skill for a poor person to have. If you know how to get a hairball out of your tub drain, clear a clog, or install new flushing hardware on a toilet correctly, you can save yourself a ton of money. The bigger stuff needs to be done by a professional, of course, because an untrained person messing with pipes will likely end in a bigger mess, but the minor stuff is easily handled by anyone who can learn from someone who has experience fixing stuff like that.

Auto skills like being able to change your own oil and change out a flat tire are also important, but with new rules in most areas regarding doing automotive maintenance at home and distracted drivers, it’s probably best to rely on professionals for help.

As a person doing her best to claw her way out of poverty, my best advice to you is this: learn from people who have skills in various areas from cooking to home maintenance. If you can do things well yourself instead of having to hire a professional or spend tons of money on premade food, you’ll be able to stretch your dollars further than you thought possible (And when you’re stuck living paycheck to paycheck, every penny saved matters a lot.)

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