Time to Help a Fellow Non-Consumer Advocate Reader

by Katy on May 2, 2010 · 33 comments

The combination of nature and the frugality of my backyard clothesline gives me a happy feeling.

This morning, The Non-Consumer Advocate received this comment in response to the recent post titled Feeling Deprived? The reader called herself VERY Deprived.

All around I feel deprived.

I infrequently I buy clothes (1 per 3 months I get one new item $50 or less), infrequenlty I eat out (about 6 times per year – this includes fast food), I haven’t had a vacaiton in over 4 years (this includes stay vacations around my home town (like going to the zoo or camping). I can’t even afford to drive the 6 hours needed to visit my grandmother for a weekend (gas, wear and tear on the car, eating out for 2 days and hotel – my grandmother lives in a senior’s home is just too much).
Money is so tight – I avoid others at work as I can’t contibute to office gifts or endure the pressure of what to say when other’s ask if I want to join them for a drink afterwork (this to me is eating out). BILLS, BILLs, BILLs – yes I can pay my own the cost of doing NOTHING.

This comment is difficult to read. This person feels they are unable to visit a grandparent, eat out, maintain a wardrobe or even socialize in the workplace.

I look to my own life, which I consider to be rich and full of happiness. Yes, I do get occasionally treated to lunches out by my parents, but if those were to stop I would still be happy. I can’t remember the last time that I bought any clothing (for myself) that set me back more than $5, and in fifteen years of working in the same place, I have never gone out for drinks with co-workers. Sure, there are others that frequently do this, but that’s just not my scene.  But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t formed deep and satisfying relationships with the women who share my workplace.

I ask you, my readers to give your best advice to VERY Deprived. What can she do to help herself get past her current situation?

I’ll get you started.

My advice:

  • Gather all her bills together and see if there’s any way to decrease them. Maybe go to a smaller phone plan, drop cable, cancel her newspaper, contact her insurance agent to see if she’s paying too much.
  • Find free activities that interest her. This could be library events, walking with a friend, free concerts, swapping DVD’s with a neighbor.
  • Find a clothing swap to scratch that itch of new clothes. If there isn’t one in her area, she could organize her own. This can be as simple as having a couple of girlfriends over with the express purpose of swapping clothes and accessories. Make it a potluck to decrease the expense.
  • Try and find a free place to stay near her grandmother’s retirement home. Is there anyone she knows in the area? If not, would she be willing to try something like couch surfing, which is free?
  • Utilize her library to read books about money management. I recommend:
  1. The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
  2. The Complete Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn
  3. Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin
  • Make more money. This make sound like oversimplified advice, but who among us doesn’t have stuff lying around that couldn’t be converted into some spare cash? Craigslist, eBay, consignment shops and garage sales are all generally easy (okay, maybe not eBay) methods of selling household belongings. Take on extra work, ask for a raise, do odd jobs like vacation pet sitting or house cleaning. This isn’t necessarily easy, but it is doable.
  • My last bit of advice is to find and then do the activities that give her pleasure. Getting together with friends that boost her up, rereading beloved books or starting a gratitude journal.

Okay trusty Non-Consumer Advocate readers. What advice do you have for VERY Deprived? Please leave your advice in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine S May 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

Sometimes you have to look outside yourself to find happiness. I have found that if I depend on worldly things, my happiness suffers. Faith in God is what helps me stay happy, focused, and content! It seems to me that women tend to be more discontent — waiting for their life to: begin, get better, move forward, make more money, have less stress… whatever! I think Katy’s list is great advice, but we all need to focus our heart on what really matters: being stewards of what God gave us. With our hearts in heaven, and Katy’s good, proactive advice, happiness and contentment will come!


Lacey May 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I completely agree with Christine S. I would also add that this person seems very sad. Try and lift your spirits 🙂


jenniwaka May 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I’d agree with what Katy said, but add that depending on where he/she lives that possibly getting in touch with nature could help put things in perspective. In place of a strong religious belief system like the first commenter, I find going for walks and noticing/photographing flowers, animals and other seasonal changes helps me become more ‘centered’ when I’m feeling low. When I find beauty in unexpected places and look at the breadth of the world around us, material wants seem much less significant.


chppie May 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Something that helps when there’s no budget for clothes is to learn how to change what you already have. could you learn to embroider or modify something you like to freshen it up? Is there a swap o rama rama nearby that could help you with a clothes swap and refashion? Do you have some time in the evening to learn to sew, knit or crochet and work towards adding new items to your wardrobe? The library usually has great references and there are people who make clothes by hand. Sometimes there are also old sewing machines to be found. Ask on freecycle (freecycle.org) and you might find soemthing basic you can start with. Homemade clothes bring a lot of joy and i think help you to be satisfied with less because the clothing you have is more meaningful than off the rack. I have been starting to make basic skirts and tops from my husband’s worn out shirts and pants. there are also people with yarn to give away, which you can always overdye if you don’t like the color. Or you can learn to unravel sweaters in order to knit or crochet something new.


Sarah May 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm

My husband and I recently took the Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace University” class. (As well as reading his “Total Money Makeover.”) It has helped so much! We have been in and out of debt. So it was a well spent $100 — which you can, by the way, take the class as many times as you want after you take it once. Dave Ramsey teaches you how to think and talk about your finances, prioritize your goals, and help you step-by-step reach a point where money isn’t the only thing you think about. (I know…I’ve been there and I’ve lost much sleep being stressed.) Now, I will add, we still don’t make gobs of money, but I know if we stick to his plan, we’re going to be okay. It won’t be wasted time or money if you follow his guidelines, I promise.


Nienke May 2, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Well, there is off course a difference between voluntary simplicity and involuntary simplicity, the latter being much harder to keep up. Like the other readers suggested, I think it would be much easier if VERY deprived had something else to focus on instead of the money issue. What I find very helpful is creating stuff myself. DIYing and crafting make you feel so empowered! Plus, you can make this as expensive or complicated as you want. You don’t even need a sewing machine (although it can be handy).
I feel like knowing I can make my own wardrobe is better than the thrill of buying. It makes me less needy or dependent.

Also, don’t underestimate contact with other people. Friends or acquaintances make it so much easier to set your mind off things, as well as finding solutions to problems.


Alicia May 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm

The most meaningful and touching part of her post is about visiting her relative — being unable to buy clothes is sure a pain in the neck, but being unable to visit someone close to you can be so much more than that. Especially if visiting would lift BOTH spirits, as I assume it would.

Maybe she can ask a friend or is a member of a church that could help out with expenses. Don’t some churches often have a little money set aside to help their members with small expenses like these? She could volunteer at church events as a way to pay back. Sharing the trip with a friend could cut her expenses like gas and hotel in half, and maybe they could find picnic-y ways to eat in order to cut the food bill. A road trip to a nursing home is still a road trip in my mind, and it could be fun.


Rebecca May 2, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I am not this woman, but I do understand her. Our family of five lives on a shoestring budget, 2 of my kids are disabled. We have cut our spending down to the bare bones just to pay the bills. We don’t have cable, air conditioning, etc. I spend $70 a week on food, and it isn’t enough, but sometimes my husb and i live on PB and J so my kids can eat better. I just applied for food stamps, the $70 we will receive per month means not that I can buy more food, but that I can get some life insurance which we desperately need. Our home is over 100 yrs old, and needs some upkeep, but unless I can score at the local reStore ( $3 sink!) we just don’t do it.

I try and make extreme frugality a game, to keep some humor in it. I think of it like an extreme sport! I already feel like an extreme parent with my two autistic sons. Having Christ in my life keeps me centered, there is nothing I can’t do when HE helps me. And the local library, which is only 2 houses away, keeps me entertained. Nothing like a trashy bodice ripping Regency romance to take my mind off things!!!! heee hee!

I hope one day we have the funds we need to live this way not by necessity, but by choice. I will always be frugal, but would love to be able to buy the food we need without worrying that I can’t pay the electric, and budget my husb and myself a few dollars a month just for fun. In the mean time we take it one day at a time.


Katy May 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm


Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It sounds like you’re doing a great job with a challenging task.



Laura May 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I can totally relate to how Very Deprived feels, like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, nothing extra to brighten her day or look forward to. I’ve been there. So here’s my advice: 1)Much, much easier said than done, but concentrate on what you DO have versus what you DON’T. This took a while to accomplish, but when I’m feeling down or that we’ll never get out of debt, focusing on how much we do have helps. 2) Start a small savings account with Smarty Pig or another online bank. Even if it’s only $10/month, or $5, an automatic savings that pays yourself first does add up. This was the only way we were going to be able to afford our annual August camping trip this year, but I managed to squeeze some extra $$ out of the budget every month and I’ve got nearly 70% of the cost saved now. 3) Make shopping at thrift stores/Goodwill a treasure hunt versus a penance. A year ago I wouldn’t have stepped foot in a Goodwill, but now I enjoy seeing if I can find “hidden treasure.” I have gotten name brand items, in mint condition, for a fraction of what I would have paid retail. My girls all like Plato’s closet more than any mall store because their money goes further. 4) Think of all the ways you could save to see your Grandmother; Alicia has some good ideas. Start putting your change in a jar, calling in your markers or whatever, or just flat out asking for help. Make it your number one priority and then go for it! 6) But at the same time, schedule in something special for yourself once a week. Plan it ahead so you look forward to it. One small cup of good coffee from somewhere; a movie from the library; a trip to a museum (most have a free day); any one little thing that is just for you, but isn’t so much that you’ll feel guilty. 5) Hang in there. Even though we don’t know you, we’re pulling for you!


Rebecca May 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Another thing I try and do is say thank you every day for what I Do have: healthy family, friends, a roof over my head, etc. There are so many who don’t have even the basics, eat garbage go barefoot, have no heat in winter, by comparison, my life is truly blessed!

Volunteering is a great way to keep perspective, and it never fails to put a smile on my face. Donating clothes and old toys to a battered women’s shelter, these families have NOTHING but the clothes they ran with. My complaints are hardly worth complaining about.


Cindy May 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Go see your grandmother. Even if it means not doing something else. You both need the visit.


Lorna May 2, 2010 at 5:38 pm

If she could change what she sees as involuntary simplicity to voluntary simplicity…a change of attitude…from seeing the cup as 1/2 empty to 1/2 full. When i was young i was a “hippie” and spent 13 years without indoor plumbing, electricity, cooked on a wood cook stove, etc. As my children got older, I became guilty about what I was unable to provide them. I became a Realtor and began making scads of $$. Then, 3 years ago, due to the economy, it all began to go away. Your blog has helped me to re-connect with my years of simple living and to WANT to do it again, at least partially…too old now to haul water! LOL She needs to keep reading your wonderful blog to help her see her situation from a new angle…in a new light…the light of giving and gratitude and then to be able to leave pity behind.


Marie-Josée May 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I feel a a lot of loneliness and isolation in FEELING DEPRIVED’S words, in addition to the sadness that another poster has commented. I agree with Katy’s suggestions and would add focusing on finding activities that involve some type of interaction with others:
– I live in a housing coop. The benefits are a really low rent in exchange of your skills (accounting, maintenance, secretarial skills etc.). The social benefits are great, I know all my neighbors, we socialize a bit during meetings and the communal yard is a real social hub during the summer. I know this is a big item, and may not be at all suited to FEELING DEPRIVED’s condition, but I couldn’t pass it up, as my coop experience has really enriched my life with community.
– I just joined a collective garden where we all decide what we will be planting, we will garden and share a potluck together weekly and share the harvest (as opposed to gardening a small individual plot in a large community garden). So far we love it! $5 membership for organic heirloom veggies all summer long. Community + free food!
– Library book clubs, or movie clubs.
– In addition to the clothing swap, perhaps FEELING DEPRIVED could barter working in a thrift store in exchange of clothing items.
– What about organizing a lunch pot-luck at work, or lunch-time walks with co-workers?


Jessica Wolk-Stanley May 2, 2010 at 6:00 pm

My youngest sister was just visiting me last week. When it was time for her to head down to Portland from Seattle, she found a ride on Craiglist. I was extremely skeptical and worried about her going on a ride with a stranger, but the woman she rode with was very very nice and was offering a place in her car because it’s the green thing to do. Perhaps your reader can find a ride on Craigslist to visit her grandmother. If when you meet the driver they seem creepy, you don’t have to get in the car with them. My sister ended up having a really interesting ride and made a new friend.


namastemama May 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I think all these suggestions are great. Mostly focus on what you have and not what someone else has. Think outside the box. Take the train or a bus if you can. It’s very inexpensive especially if you plan ahead. or share a ride with someone, yes, even a stranger, that’s going that way.


Sharron May 2, 2010 at 9:22 pm

For me finding at least one thing each day for which to give thanks is really important. It’s part of seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty. I would also advise making connections. When one is alone, it is so easy to be sad. Find a communty of like-minded individuals: faith community, common interest group (like organic gardening or cycling), or anything else that’s free or low cost and healthy. Say affirming thoughts to yourself each day–post them on the bathroom mirror if need be. As one of my favorite authors, Brenda Ueland, says, “Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.” Hopefully, VERY Deprived, will not forget this!


Caroline Franklin May 2, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I totally agree – social ties are an absolute key to being happy! As I moved from total hedonism to voluntary simplicity – which is very different to the involuntary kind as someone has already pointed out – the biggest shock I had was negotiating my social circle with their constant demands for consumption.

Finding fun friends who had the same financial values was a hugely important step in living a simple, happy life with little thought for deprivation. It’s hard to worry about what you don’t have when you are laughing till you cry over a silly boardgame, or contemplating the meaning of life while you bushwalk , or whatever it is you like to do. A wide social circle increases your access to resources too.


Marie-Josée May 3, 2010 at 5:35 am

Well said.


Jeanne May 3, 2010 at 3:18 am

I was indeed this woman 20 years ago, so I can relate. But I must disagree with a bit of your advice, Katy: if this lady makes more money, she will still feel deprived. Why? It’s the mindset. You can have lots of things and money in the bank and still feel deprived or have a penny and feel wealthy. It’s all in the mind. All of the issues she mentioned – not being able to buy new clothes or go out for dinner – with the exception of not being able to visit a loved one are feelings of lack because you cannot keep up with the Jones or do things that give you emotional satisfaction. No one “needs” a new item of clothing every month in today’s world. I would bet that every single one of your readers has at least 1 clean outfit for at least 1 week and lots and lots of clothing, shoes, and jewelry. It’s all in the mind.

I would urge her to begin feeling thankful for what she DOES have. I began practicing a gratitude list several years ago and it has increased my feelings of abundance. Just look around the room and say “I am thankful for…” and start listing things. “I am thankful for my computer, my desk, my dog, my home, my health…” You will feel rich in no time at all.

The truth is, more money is going to allow her to buy the gasoline to drive to visit her grandma, but I am wondering if even buying a few new outfits or whatever will make her feel better.

Sometimes, we need to make an inner shift, not an outer one.


Happy Mum May 3, 2010 at 3:59 am

Dear “Very Deprived” — If you give yourself some tender loving care, I think you’ll have more energy to tackle and change your situation. Try to get plenty of exercise every day (a brisk walk can work wonders); eat nourishing food and stay away from junk (this can be done cheaply — promise!); and get enough sleep. (Also — to state the obvious — alcohol and cigarettes are expensive and energy-sapping — cut down, or don’t start.) We are rooting for you.


WilliamB May 3, 2010 at 5:36 am

I have two suggestions, both of which are reiterations.

1. Every day, write down – ideally by hand rather than on a computer – one to three things you’re grateful for. It may feel really hokey at first but stick with it; it can help change your mindset away from what you can’t do and focus on what you can.

2. Volunteer.
Most of us, when we’re unhappy, withdraw from social contact but this is when we need it the most. Volunteering is something you can do to meet people that doesn’t cost money. There are many, many ways to get started. I think the best is to volunteer in a field that interests you – helping the elderly, gardening, at the local library or museum or zoo or… I don’t know what you like so it’s hard to say.

In addition to these ideas, I have a jumble of thoughts/ideas that I don’t know if apply to you or not. Could you take a weekend job to increase income, maybe one at a clothing store (although not if it causes to spend too much on clothes)? There may be ways for you to spend less money, which I’m sure this readership would be happy to help with if you want to share more details. There’s also a great syndicated column called “The Color of Money” by Michelle Singletary. In addition to good money and investing advice, every year she works with several persons/families to improve their financial situations. Those columns were particularly enlightening.


terilyn May 3, 2010 at 5:38 am

I am concerned that financial deprivation is not the problem here. Does depression run in your family at all? If you are sad about many things, other than money, a trip to your doctor might be in order.

Finances are a very small part of life. Even in the “great depression” of the 30s, people found happiness. You are blessed. You have a place to live, food to eat, and something to wear. That should bring gratitude and thankfulness to your heart.

Another thing to consider is how you were raised. You need to realize that if you were raised in a family that taught you vacations, expensive clothes, and lots of entertainment dollars were important, it will be harder for you than if you were raised in a family setting in poverty. Kids raised in lower socio-economic settings just naturally shop thrift stores and find fun in less expensive ways because they learned that in child hood. Frugal lifestyle choices don’t feel like deprivation to them because they grew up that way. Your lifestyle might feel worse than it is because you were raised in a family with more financial stability. Lifestyle is learned.


Karen @ Abundance on a Dime May 3, 2010 at 6:39 am

I don’t have much to add to the other wonderful comments, except perhaps a further book suggestion, along the lines of “attitude is everything”: “How to Want What You Have: Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence” by Timothy Miller may be a helpful read for Very Deprived.


Eleanor May 3, 2010 at 6:55 am

I feel for “Deprived.” You sound very sad. Having been through a major depression myself, I know that “snapping” out of sadness and frustration can seem impossible. Here are three activities helped me.
My brother shared with me that “Heaven is relational, hell is isolational.” We watched our Mother succumb to multiple depressions and one of her standard actions was to withdraw from everyone. “D,” instead of eating out to socialize, get together with friends for a potluck. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many friends will be relieved to save the money and eat in instead. Also, since there is no pressure to clear the table for the next patrons, you can relax together and play a game; something interactive.
Next, get outside! Sunshine and fresh air are mood lifters. A walk is great, but if you aren’t even up for that, at least sit outside. Is there a public park nearby? Even a gazebo in a nearby neighborhood?
If you live in a town of any size, most of them have spring festivals/neighborhood festivals, with free opportunities to browse, people watch, and even listen to music. Pack a picnic lunch. You’d eat at home anyway, right?
Third, pick ONE of your activities you miss and make it a goal. I strongly recommend visiting your grandmother. Select a weekend a few months away to give yourself time to save a few $$ for the weekend, and to give yourself something to look forward to. Post notices at work, church, anywhere else you frequent, that you are looking to ride-share to X location the weekend of X, and are willing to help pay for gas. Ask you grandmother about her friends- specifically, who still lives in a home or apartment? Most elderly people would be thrilled to have overnight company, even if you sleep on the sofa. Pack meals- your host will have a fridge. Fruit, nuts, cereal, milk, bread, peanut butter and jelly, raw veggies and homemade dip; doesn’t have to be fancy, just nutritious.


WilliamB May 3, 2010 at 10:08 am

Eleanor wrote: “Heaven is relational, hell is isolational.”

You reminded me of something I heard when I was a child. It was a verbal description of a painting of heaven and hell. Hell consisted of many people seated at a banquet table covered with good things. The people didn’t have arms like we have, though, they had extra-long forearms (with ladles for hands, maybe?) so they couldn’t reach their own mouths. The diners were trying to feed themselves, screaming and hitting each other with their hands (ladles?), trying to eat directly from the plates and upsetting the dishes so no one got food.

Heaven was laid out just the same, but in heaven the people were feeding each other.


Marie-Josée May 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

Great suggestions, especially the one about making visiting her Granny a goal. I was thinking of Feeling Deprived this morning, after having read Katy’s post yesterday, and was thinking: maybe they have a day-bed in the senior home facility where her Granny lives? Perhaps she could ask if they could accomodate her there.


Michelle May 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

If you’re going to visit your grandmother by yourself (i.e., not bringing young kids), try going for just one (LONG) day. Leave home at 5 AM (pack breakfast), get there for lunch, leave in the late afternoon, stop for dinner on the way home, and go to bed when you get home. That way your only expenses are gas and 2 meals, but you still get to visit for several hours.


H. Steller May 3, 2010 at 9:37 am

Just a notion — the people who care for your grandmother may want the best for her, and might be happy to help you arrange things. Could you contact the senior home owner/administrator and ask if there’s someone in your area who also has a relative there and who comes to visit? You might be able to travel with them sometime. If that isn’t happening, then they may come up with some other solution, along with knowing about affordable overnight options if you find a way to make the trip. They’re probably familiar with problems like this.


JackieJ May 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I, too, was in the position of living an involuntary simple life 20 or so years ago. I was divorced, had 2 part-time jobs, 3 kids, and lots of bills. I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul. I decided to go back to school at the tender age of 37. It wasn’t easy, but it was my ticket out of debt.

During those hardtime years, I found many ways to amuse myself and my children for free. The zoo had free days, the library had free videos (ok so the movies were always a few months old, but they were still good) and popcorn was cheap. Went ice skating on ponds in the winter/swimming in those ponds in the summer.

When I tell my kids today that I really don’t know how we survived those days, and that I sometimes feel sad that I wasn’t able to provide more for them, they look at me as if I were nuts and say they had a grand old time during those years.

There’s not much advise in this post, just wanted to tell you not to give up. Now that I make more money than I ever thought I would, I still live very simply and still do the same stuff I did when I was living an involuntary simple life.

I totally agree with the others…It’s an attitude.



Jinger May 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I think we have to be careful until we have walked in someone else’s shoes. Those of us who choose to live simply, but could easily live otherwise may not have the view point of someone who is truly deprived. Someone who is truly deprived doesn’t have options or resources to live otherwise.


Jackie B. May 4, 2010 at 11:09 am

Regarding visiting your grandmother. Please ask the retirement home if they have a visitor’s room.

My father-in-law lives in a retirement community, and they have one or two small rooms available for guests at a very low rate, like $20 a night. Even if they don’t have an “official” room, they might be willing to accommodate you if you just ask.


Madeline May 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm









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