Living on a low or fixed income – a major community issue


Editor’s Note:  Several days ago, “Newbie in Graham” columnist, Paula Morris, wrote an article that has touched a nerve in the community, namely, the difficulty of living on a low or fixed income, such as Social Security, Disability or unemployment.  Some of the comments posted at Paula’s column are particulary insightful and searingly honest, and the Mountain News felt it was important to re-print them as a free-standing post.

To begin, we offer a synopsis of Paula’s column and then add the contributions from Wayne Cooke, the founder of the Graham Self-Reliant Community, and a new subscriber to the Mountain News, Wendy Weger of Chehalis, WA.

The Mountain News will be delving further into this topic in future posts, and we welcome comments from our readers. 

 Paula’s Introduction:


As an employee, I earned a comfortable salary.  When I went to the store for groceries, I looked for anything new to try and shopping was a pleasure trip for new taste experiences.  However, as a retired person I have very limited funds, so shopping for groceries has become a challenge.  Given my proclivity toward organics and fresh whole foods, I find this unfamiliar territory a bit threatening.

 Nevertheless, a new way of looking at this issue has presented itself.  I now have the responsibility to put into practice some of the ideas I have been dreaming about:  I now must act decisively on my intention to grow some of my own food.

 In addition, I must also seek out ways in which I can purchase local, inexpensive produce from farmer’s markets and local farms, as well as learning to can that produce for future use.  I’ll have to stretch my food dollars as creatively as possible.


For most of my adult life I have purchased a new vehicle every five years.  When the car loan on my vehicle was paid in full, I would turn around and use that vehicle for a down payment on the next one.  That way, I always had a car payment, but also, every five years I had a new car.

As a retired person I now have to come to terms with the fact that I am not generating enough income to purchase a new car.  Now, I have to take really good care of my present vehicle so that it last’s as long as possible.  This situation would be very threatening because as a woman who does not know much about cars, I have always felt more secure with the dependability of a newer vehicle.

There is however, something good to be said about this new situation.  In a short while, I won’t have to make a car payment!  The day may even come when I decide that I don’t want the burden of a car at all.

No car.  No car insurance.  No gas…but then, no independence either.


This is a big one.  I’ve always prided myself on being independent, but now that I am really thinking about this, is it really being independent when one has a job, good salary, healthcare, a home, good food, and dependable transportation?

I was totally dependent on the system, on a job.  If I lost my job I would have none of those things nor have that feeling of independence.

Retiring is extremely unfamiliar and threatening because now I cannot fool myself into thinking that I am so independent.  Now, I know for certain that I am dependent – on Social Security.  This leads me to the core issue:  Loss of independence is uncomfortable, unfamiliar and threatening.

We are all part of a family, a neighborhood, a planet, and as such, are any of us really independent?  Is there a better way?

In these terrible economic times, so many people have lost their jobs, had their homes sink into foreclosure, and don’t have enough food for themselves or their family.  So many depend on their own two feet to take them where they need to go.

Embracing “Interdependence” as a new way of being is a truer reflection of what makes humans feel comfortable, non-threatened and at home.

I can ask for help when I need it and I can offer a hand when one is needed of me.  I can share a meal or a ride with someone, and I can open my heart and accept this new way of being with grace.

In conclusion, I have decided that old familiar ways, although difficult to give up can become wonderful new ways.

Wayne Cooke’s Comment:

I just returned from working on the fence around the Spanaway Methodist Church food garden.  At 80, I get tired easily and also needed a lavatory, so stopped at the $1 Teriyaki place on Pacific and 176th.  For a dollar, I got a styrofoam bowl of rice, (and use of the lav.) and it was perfect.  (My wife) Barb and I are trying our best to get to the end of this particularly bad month – when the check comes in – so a dollar spent was significant. 

Another young couple there, seeing my well-worn work clothes and my tiny order, offered me their leftover sauces, which I politely refused.  They must have assumed that I was possibly homeless, at least having few resources.  Sort of embarrassing, for a college grad to realize he was mistaken for a down-and-outer!

By the way, the Gardening Summit this Saturday 10-2 at the Manitou Community Center will have hands on workshops in square foot gardening, composting, inspirational speakers, etc… and plenty of starts and seeds to take.

 Paula’s reply:

Bless your heart Wayne. I empathize with you so much and I see that you empathize with me, too.  It’s pretty sad when $1 is so significant. and of course, I identify with being a college grad, yet feeling embarrassed at the fact that I don’t even have $1 by the end of the month.

If I may get on my soap box just for a minute: Our age group built this country.  We worked all our lives and put into Social Security, paid taxes, contributed to the economy, and now, these politicians and corporate thugs are trying to slander us by say that we want “entitlements” when all we want is our well-earned reward for hard work that we were promised.  These are not “entitlements.” They are benefits that we rightly earned.

Ok, enough soap box.  Wayne, thanks for the heads up on the Gardening Summit. I’ll look into it.

Comments from Wendy Weger

 I just read these comments and want you to know that I have been living off my SSI disability check for several years following a brain surgery in 2003 – it is $664.00 a month. 

 I personally am so thankful that I have learned to rearrange my spending prorities in such a way that I feel I have a rich and fulfilling life.  I am blessed to live on a good bus route, so do not need a car.  Yes, I don’t just jump in and go wherever I’d like anymore, but with the current gas prices that would be greatly curtailed anyway.

 I rent from some wonderful people – a home that I love with a view over the Chehalis River.  For my medical needs the hospital is just around the corner.  I have a sweet little garden, which is the right size for me to manage, and I have great neighbours – we look out for one another.  I do not have family close by, but everyone is family.  I’ve found if I allow that and when things get tough financially I just buckle down and deal with it.  I don’t pay for TV.  I just cover that end online, and go to the Goodwill to find clothes and shoes and basic household items for close to nothing.  It’s all out there if you look and are willing to be humble.

 So I feel like a queen when I sit down at the end of the day and have a lovely plate of nutritious food in front of me, a glass of clean pure water, warmth and my wonderful kitty, “Cookie,” curled up on the sofa in the living room.  I give thanks for what I have and the quality of my life, although I would be considered poor by some standards.  But I am rich in that I HAVE the food available, I HAVE clean water in abundance and breathe fresh air, sanitary living conditions and I HAVE medical facilities on hand.

 I do not intend to be self righteous by any means, these are the basic things of life that I have, and any of us living in the Western World are blessed in comparison when one looks around.  I am NOT being threatened 24/7 by war, I am NOT trying to put the fragments of my life back together after Mother Nature has left a path of devastation, I have people at the “top” who care about this country and it’s citizens.

 Change is inevitable.  It is a good thing.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable sometimes because we are hard wired in our own personal comfort zones, but in my opinion I have to be flexible and roll with the punches; my soul and Spirit are alive and well, I live in the present, and I have learned to trust that my basic needs are met and they always are.

 I nurture the God-given gifts I have on a daily basis and give thanks.  I find joy in the simplest of things, like the first bumble bee that sleepily buzzed around my deck yesterday evening, groggy from his winter’s slumber, or the Canadian Geese that gather in huge flocks behind my house to make their harrowing journey back up North to bear their young and then return before the year is ended. 

 Plus, the two baby raccoons that re-emerged after the long nights passed are now no longer “babies” and recognize me when I call to them, watching as they amble on their way to do raccoon business. 

 And there are others:  the Japanese Cherries in their pink-tiered petticoats, and the little hummingbirds who get annoyed outside my kitchen window when the feeder is low.

 Anyway, enough for now.  I have the utmost compassion for everyone who is “pressed” right now, which is universal for the most part, but I think it is important to focus on what we DO have in our lives that doesn’t cost anything after the basic needs are met.  When I remember how blessed I am with the things I’ve mentioned, it is easy for me to “give” a smile, a kind word, or help someone less fortunate, and therein I find the greatest treasure of all and the greatest joy that no amount of money can buy. 

I hope everyone has a week whereby your needs are met and that there are moments of sheer delight sprinkled in, here and there!

 Wendy and Cookie Cat.

Paula’s reply:

Wendy, thank you for a beautiful comment.  You see the beauty in the natural world around you and feel blessed by the simpler things in life.

 Yes, it is truly amazing how little we actually need to live.  Basic needs being water, food, housing, clothing.  You make a good point by stating that we in the western world have so many things available to us that third world countries do not have such as clean water, soil to grow our own vegetables and fruits, relatively clean air and are not in a war zone 24/7.  I think if we all decided to live more simply, more sustainably, we could truly change the world.  If we could appreciate the real value of clean water and land, perhaps we could be kind enough to extend that blessing to the rest of the world.

 I’m glad for you that a hospital is right around a corner.  Many people have hospitals nearby, yet getting medical care can be complicated.  One major illness that becomes a chronic problem can put anyone into terrible debt.  The medications needed to manage these chronic problems can be cost prohibitive and can mean the difference between buying them or food.  Having hospitals and clinics nearby does not guarantee that anyone can access them for free.  So many clinics are being defunded presently.  I believe this problem will become even more complicated in the near future.  Will doctors and emergency rooms turn people away if they don’t have insurance or money?

 I just have to ask this glaring question:  How is it that someone like Wendy can live on $664 a month and feel happy about it but others are not happy with thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars a month?  And further; why should so many people be relegated to living on $664 a month or less?

  ©  2011  The Mountain News



This entry was posted in Culture, People Profiles, Self Reliance. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Living on a low or fixed income – a major community issue

  1. My husband is 80, I am 73. We are grateful that we began a home based business before retirement which offers valued service and technologies to teach other people in health and wellness plus how to create an extra stream of income in their own small home based business. It keeps us busy making new friends and allowing us to be of service to many folks.

  2. Paula Morris says:

    Ok Claudia,
    Are you going to reveal this home based business? Come on now, fess up.

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