Friday, July 07, 2006
the reluctant immigrant--starting poor in USA?
starting off bare in the USA has been quite challenging, with many adjustments. i remember thinking, we were better off when we came here as tourists. but last year as permanent residents, we couldn't buy anything or go anywhere without a financial plan. (i.e how are we going to pay for that?) i bought only in walmart and costco and everywhere else where the prices were lower,(like salvation army and goodwill--but don't tell my mom!) considering there were 5 kids to feed and clothe. i did not enter macy's or any mall. we did not eat out. and i found myself nervously holding my kids back to "one treat each!" at the dollar store. one dollar na nga nalang, nervous pa ako!
but the real test of how poor you are in the states is what my brother, miguel, calls the mcdonald's price index. i had gone without breakfast, in the field at 2 p.m. and i was hesitating to buy a dollar double-cheeseburger. one dollar na nga nalang, pinag-isipan ko pa!
i guess, if you have no money to buy mcdo, the index says you are poor. . .
i burst into tears to my husband when i my kids asked to go to mcdo and i said maybe next week--not because there was no time, but because the budget was too tight. and i whined about the fact that at least, in manila, we were not that poor to not be able to buy mcdo for lunch.
with our family's income just above poverty,there were times the monthly budget just would not fit (and none of my articles were published) and we had to dig into our savings which was difficult for me as those dollars were converted 54 times from pesos. that's one big stage of migrating--converting. it was always times 54 to the dollar. thus, everything was expensive because if you can get a kiddie shirt for P75 pesos in megamall, you will have to think about $5dollars for a tshirt in Kmart, because of course, i would have to buy 5 tshirts at a time for my 5 kids.
we watched movies rarely and only during matinee ($6.50 vs regular after 6 p.m. $9, versus P120 in the philippines--stop converting!) and none of the kids could buy the enticing butter popcorn/nachos combo for $5 dollars that make watching complete because we packed a backpack-full of snacks, sandwiches, and drinks even if it was discouraged and wa-poise, and saved maybe $20 dollars at a time.
i had to get up and dust myself when i couldn't buy the kids shoes at the same time. although no one else noticed, i saw them in the school playground with worn out shoes, compared to their classmates. one pair for one child every month was allowed by the all-ruling budget. and i cried when my husband was late to pay his credit card because they put on a finance charge of $15. when you pinch a dollar for lunch, you will cry for $15 down the drain. (which also equalled 1 pair of shoes for some one).
my generous husband, ricky, pegged food expense at $150/week and i thought, "wow, that's a lot of food!" but the budget couldn't support it so i reduced it to $100/week, and then to $80/week (for 8 people!)--when $40/day for 1 person is considered frugal--there's even a show for it in HGTV. so let me tell you, $80/week for 8 people to budget our food is phenomenal. and if it's kulang, i ask my husband to stop eating and remind him he's on a diet.
this is the first time, kabado ako sa pagbili ng school supplies, ng pambaon, books, christmas and birthday presents. and my heart breaks when my kids want a new toy and i have to keep stalling month after month. birthdays are special--because you get the ONE toy you like, and i get to bake a flat chocolate cake with sprinkles on top.
i thought, "is this the better life we left manila for? i can't seem to see the land of opportunity as just that--yet.
i have been poor before, worked from paycheck to paycheck--but it's so hard with the kids. and so hard at this age.
lest i look like a whiny brat, i count my blessings and realize how lucky we are. i pay tribute to all who have gone before us. i remember my cousin who started out with no status, scrubbing mcdo's toilets. or my cousin who kept 2 jobs--counting candy as inventory at midnight, and then running off to his second job on a bicycle. starting out poor in the USA can really make you sob. my friend ate once a day because he would not buy lunch at work and his wife had to tend to a newborn. my cousins had to sleep in used mattresses. and many friends had to live with a relative to get by. my aunt worked as candy-striper (nurse's aide) at the hospital, on the graveyard shift, and my uncle sold life insurance, while folding the laundry. (he later became consul-general of new york--yey!)
i also think of the ones who buy $400 for a purse (because it had to be green and on sale), and the many who throw away untouched, perfectly good food--should i pick it up and bring it home, like the give-away furniture at the curb, or crayons, supplies, books? i am amazed at how almost everything at home we bought from a garage sale--but how beautiful they become after some paint and stencil.
many have said, "maawa ka muna sa sarili mo." and i think we have just passed that stage of migrating. it's true, and it's not so bad--because lately, things have started to look better already. i feel so blessed for hurdling the first stage. we may be poor but we are remarkably blessed and actually quite happy.
ricky's birthday marks our first year in the states. i got to make him a semi-homemade strawberry shortcake. nico gave him a car magazine, magu gave him a back-scratcher, selena gave him a night-light with jesus and mary on it, syrel gave him a rosary, and monica gave him a box of junior mints. (all from the dollar store!)
i have never seen him more touched.
(next: counting our blessings in the USA)