My name is Sullie, and my partner and I live below the poverty line. What’s more, my partner is unemployed and will likely remain that way for the rest of our lives together. Considering we’re getting married in the fall, we’re looking at the long-term here.
So why am I okay with this? Because my partner’s health issues are chronic and difficult to manage. I could talk about the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through in the US to get medical care, but that’s a rant for a different day. Right now I want to talk about how we make our lives work with one bread-winner, under the poverty line.
Here are our steps to living below the poverty line on a single income…
Cook together, and make enough for left overs
My partner is a great cook, so several times a week we roll up our sleeves, kick our roommates out of the shared kitchen, and work together. I wash dishes and fetch things while he turns two pounds of rice and $5 worth of fresh ingredients into a world-class meal. He’s used to cooking in batches, so there’s always at least a day or two worth of left overs. He also packs lunches for me when I go to work. While all my co-workers are ordering delivery, I’m sitting pretty with my sandwich, carrot sticks, and apple.
Figure out which tasks can be completed by the stay-at-home partner:
Pet or child care: With my partner being home all day, this means our beloved dog is rarely left alone. He’s always there to throw her squeaky cow, refill her food dishes, or take her outside. Frankly, when I’m at work, I’m glad my partner and dog are both available to entertain each other.
Cleaning: And my partner helps keep things organized at home. We’re renting a room in a house right now. Aside from trips to the kitchen and bathroom, our whole life is contained within a single 10×14 room with sloped ceilings. It’s not a big space, should be easy to keep clean, right? With two people and a dog, it gets cluttered, fast. My partner helps me out by doing tidying tasks, like making the bed, sweeping the floor, and taking out the garbage. Every time I come home from work and open the door to our room, it’s like entering my own little oasis of calm.
My partner also looks out for my health, so I stay well enough to keep bringing home the bacon. Left to my own devices, I’m the sort of person to run myself into the ground by doing too many things at once. My partner picks up on symptoms and problems I don’t even notice, and will intervene when I’m neglecting myself. His own health issues have given him a crash course in doctor-ing, so when he hands me a pile of pills, or tells me my body is crying out for a nutrient, I listen. In the three years we’ve been together, I’ve noticed a definite improvement over my old way of doing things.
We make our budget together and we keep a bulletin board of envelopes for various regular expenses. If we’re getting close to the end of the month and we don’t have all the rent money yet, he cheers me on while I pick up extra hours.
Communicate and appreciate daily
Probably the most important things that my partner does to help me is communicate with me and boost me up. Most of all, we appreciate each other. He expresses gratitude that he doesn’t have to go out and quite literally work himself to death, and I express gratitude that he uses his skills to make our below-the-poverty-line life feel a little less austere.
Make peace with your circumstances
Would we rather be less poor? Sure we would, but we’ve made peace with our current circumstances and limitations. Right now, we have a rich and loving life together. We know plenty of couples with more money who are less happy.
There’s a really awful lie that society tells us, that we’re only worth as much as our paychecks, and the more money you make, the more important you are. The loss of a job, or the persistent inability to find a job, can cause depression and wreck a whole family. I think this narrative falls extra hard on men, especially if, like my partner, that man was raised in a “traditional” family where the father runs his own business or is the only adult with a job. The pressure to “be a man” and earn a living is toxic.
In this economy, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, and the jobs that are left are too physically demanding for someone with chronic health issues. Our decision to live on one income is not just a personal decision, it’s also political. I will patiently explain our reasons, repeatedly if necessary, to any hand-wringing family member or friend who thinks my partner is taking advantage of me. Short version: he’s not, and by sticking together, we increase our chances of survival.