We got our income taxes done last week. Let me tell you, I was stunned by the final number — it was staggeringly low. We fall way, way below the poverty line for our area. As in, guess a ridiculously low number for a family of two adults and one child, and then divide that by half. That was our last year’s income.
I was surprised by the final number I saw because I don’t feel that poor.
True, our annual income is alarmingly low. But I am so rich in so many other resources that survival is not a daily struggle. There are people who may have similar (or even slightly higher) incomes than us who are still way worse off, because they don’t have access to the other resources we do.
It made me think of just a few of the resources I have access to that make me comparatively wealthy, despite what the income tax forms say.
Skills in frugality
I was raised by frugal Mennonites. I learned early on in life how to care for a home. I was taught basic sewing skills. I learned how to cook from scratch — I grew up helping my mom bake bread, can tomatoes and cut pasta. I knew how to make a roux for cream sauce before I knew what that was. I even know how to butcher a chicken and make smoked sausage from a freshly-slaughtered pig. These are handy skills when your income is low.
My husband, Ben, learned how to change his own oil, repair an engine, build a fence and other valuable skills to help reduce costs.
My mom taught me how to find a bargain, how to scan a yard sale, and what to look for in thrift stores.
My husband and I both also learned the important skills of money management. We’re not amazing money spenders, but we know how to avoid debt: we’ve never had a credit card bill or purchased a vehicle we couldn’t pay in full.
Fluency in English
It’s easy to overlook the huge advantage we have in being fluent in English in North America. But English is not our parents’ first language, so it’s easier for Ben and me to recognize the advantage. We have seen firsthand (mostly through older relatives) what a disadvantage it is when folks can’t speak the language.
We can make our own doctor’s appointments and explain our symptoms. We can update our passports and set up savings accounts without (too much) trouble. We can call around and find the best insurance policy, or notify the sales clerk that they’ve overcharged us. And perhaps most importantly, we have easy access to unlimited information, thanks to our fluency in the national language.
We can read, write, do basic math and use the Internet. I’m even somewhat fluent in academic discourse (having gone to graduate school), giving me access to a greater range of information.
It’s an enormous blessing to be able to read books on natural healing, budgeting, education/parenting, gardening and the like. Our potential for learning is unlimited, since we got this strong foundation as children. Not everyone we know has received this enormous advantage.
And thanks to Internet access, we can buy and sell used items cheaply online; we can watch music videos for free on YouTube (no need for satellite here!); we can renew library books online; etc. There are so many ways to save money with the Internet!
Strong family and community support
We live within a 10-minute drive from both sets of parents. Between the two of us, we probably have a hundred aunts, uncles and cousins living within a half-hour radius of us. We hang out with my cousins on a nearly weekly basis, and know at least 10 couples from our church whom we consider “close friends.”
You know what that means? That means free babysitting almost any time of the week if we need it. It means free home-cooked meals when we’re sick or have a new baby. It means we can swap books and share outgrown baby items and clothes so we don’t have to buy everything new. These are also people I can go to for ideas, suggestions and emotional support.
And also, I get free eggs and garden produce from my parents.
Life is so much easier (and cheaper) when you have friends and family around you.
Universal health care
Our health care in Canada isn’t perfect. But at least I know that if I get in a car wreck, the only costs I have to worry about involve the vehicle(s). If my daughter breaks her arm, my only concern is her comfort as she heals. I’m also able to have a baby (wherever I want, with whomever I want attending) without paying a dime out of pocket. I never have to worry about crippling medical bills that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
So far, Ben and I are enormously healthy. (Thanks in part, I’m sure, to our education and health care, above. We also have access to good food, good sanitation, nutrition information and safe streets/jobs. Serious communicable diseases are rare.) Thanks to our health, we can do things for ourselves. We can hang laundry, clean the house, run errands, etc., completely independently. We can do all these money-saving things because we’re physically able.
A loving Maker
I tend to forget about this one. I have to remind myself every so often that even if I had none of the above things, I still would be rich beyond compare because I know that I am loved by the one who made me. My personal value does not depend on my bank account, my skills, or my health, but rather depends wholly on the fact that God bestowed upon my unsurpassable worth when he made me, and assured me of his love when he died for me.
So you see, I’m really quite rich.
The income tax statement may not agree, but our wealth can’t be measured in numbers. I personally think riches primarily come from relationships, health, freedom and access to information; but above all, the knowledge that I’m wholly and completely loved.
Kathleen Quiring lives in Leamington, Ont. She makes her own shampoo, deodorant and laundry detergent, and holds a master’s degree in literature. This post is part of a series on evangelism that originally appeared on her blog, becomingpeculiar.com.