A Week In Texas On Disability (Follow Up)

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Welcome to Money Diaries Extras - a Money Diaries series that takes a deeper look at our diarists, our readers, and the world of money.
Editor's Note: Last year, this unemployed woman living on disability in Texas wrote this Money Diary, and readers loved her for her positive attitude, her ability to stretch a dollar, and her generosity in sharing her story. Ahead, we caught up with the diarist and got a few updates about her life since her first diary as well as a follow-up diary of her current pandemic life.
First of all, how are you? How has the pandemic been for you?
Isolating. That's one word I would use to describe the pandemic. I have a bubble because I need one. Due to my autoimmune illnesses, it's a bit more dangerous for me to be around too many people, however, I also require assistance for certain tasks. Birthdays, holidays, etc? I've missed them all for safety reasons so that can be quite disheartening. My bubble is made up of two neighbors and two friends who help me with everything from food deliveries to errands to taking my dog out.
Last we heard from you, you were living on disability in a camper in Texas — is that still the case? How's it going?
Still here! Just celebrated my two-year anniversary two weeks ago. It's been.....an adventure, to say the least, hahaha! I spent a few months without running water, a couple of months with no hot water, the roof needs to be replaced because when it rains outside, it's also raining inside, two of my three doggos passed away of old age (one was 20 years old!) — it's been a rollercoaster. But I'm here. I'm here and I have a home and a roof, however leaky, and I'm getting it done. I'm doing my best and I'm very grateful to have friends in my life who are willing to help.
Are you still living with your roommate?
I haven't had a roommate for a while. He is now my neighbor if you can believe it. He bought his own camper and he lives about twenty feet away.  I can open up my kitchen window and holler at him!
Do you have any financial updates? Do you still receive disability at ~$600/month?
Oh, I got a "raise." From $639 per month to $645 per month. BIG raise! (Yes, I'm being sarcastic. My apologies.) My annual income is now roughly $7,700. I also received both of the standard stimulus payments, which saved me this year. When the first stimulus check came in, I cashed the entire thing out, then held those twelve one hundred dollar bills in my hands, took a deep breath of that money.....then gave it all to my landlords. Same with the follow up $600. Cashed it out and sent it straight to them. It's more important to me to have the safety and security of knowing I have a place to live than it is to buy a thing or stuff. Also, my landlords are just amazing.  They are absolutely and truly incredible humans and I am insanely grateful to them for all they do. Making sure they get paid is very important to me.
Have you had any unexpected or large purchases this past year?
I had to buy a water heater. That was horrific. About $480. That's a substantial portion of my monthly income and it took a while to save up.  It's also why I simply went without hot water for a while. My bedroom needed to be insulated because it wasn't at all and I believe the total cost for the insulation was around $120. Any purchase to me is a large purchase, though. I'm a bit of a tightwad. I can squeeze six pennies out of a nickel.
Any other financial or health updates?
I'm going to have to hire an electrician soon. My lights have decided they want to be strobe lights and/or quit working entirely. We actually have a joke around here, "Let me turn on a light" means opening a curtain. If you don't laugh, you cry. It's honestly not that big of a deal to me. My eyes are quite sensitive anyway so living without lights isn't major. The expense is going to be insane. I'm looking to replace my roof first so it'll cut down on the damage inside; I've already lost an entire kitchen cabinet to rain. Then we can worry about the lights.
As far as my health, I had strep throat twice in the last two months. I suffered a couple of falls (I walk with a cane) and some gnarly bruises came out of those. The surgery I was supposed to have was delayed due to COVID being too much of a risk to my health so I'm feeling the effects of not having that done yet but we'll get there. I've also lost a massive amount of weight for a currently unspecified reason, so we're trying to figure that out.
I'm a mess. But I'm a happy and content mess. All of these are solvable problems. It can all be handled and dealt with. I truly, truly am happy and grateful for the life I have, for my friends, for my landlords. The rest is inconsequential. It'll all happen when it happens.
Okay, we have to ask, how is your dog?
My remaining girl turned 17 years old in October. She's always joyful but her time here is coming to an end likely in the next few weeks. I almost lost her last month but she held on. That girl has an amazing spirit. It's impossible to be sad when she's around.
Anything else you want to add?
There are things we simply have to accept in this life. I'm Deaf. That's a reality. I have chronic illness; it's unfortunate but it's true. My dog is going to pass away, my lights don't work, and my roof leaks. Bad things are going to happen. It's how we get through them that matters. For me, it's who I get through those things with. I would be nowhere without the love and support and help of my friends. They are priceless.
In today's follow up diary: an unemployed woman on disability who spends some of her money this week on groceries.
Occupation: N/A (on disability)
Industry: N/A
Age: 35
Location: Texas
Salary: $7,740 (disability)
Net Worth: In the negative hundreds of thousands (Home + vehicle: $4,000 minus debt.)
Debt: Hundreds of thousands in medical debt; I stopped counting when it got into the hundreds of thousands, likely pushing a million at this point.  I'm in collections with several agencies due to multiple hospital visits and stays and a couple of ambulance rides. There is no way I would ever be able to pay all of it off and I don't have enough income to make payments on all of the bills but I try to do what I can. The bills themselves are what's left after Medicare pays their part. I think my last ambulance ride and hospital visit was around $26,000. Talk about sticker shock. That one visit would be approximately four years' worth of income for me.
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $645 from disability
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $400 (I live in an RV and this is what I pay to the RV park where my trailer is. It has a community center and wifi access)
Cell Phone: $15
Shared Streaming Account: $6
Propane: $25
Medical Supplies: $50
Fuel: $20
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Absolutely. It was always assumed I would attend a university. No question. It was also assumed I would figure out how to pay for it myself. My education was quite intense and very draining, with advanced classes, extracurriculars, etc. By the time I graduated high school, I was exhausted and chose to go directly to work instead.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents have never been open about finances in general. We were taught things like how to balance a checkbook using (made up) numbers and we knew we were poor but we weren't let in on any particular details.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
My first job was probably helping out the family business; my father owned a small shop. I was usually paid in lunch and sodas. It was actually a lot of fun because it made me feel useful. My second job, something I was actually paid for, was working as a part-time caterer. That job was tough at times but I did enjoy being able to purchase things I wanted or needed for myself since I was receiving a real paycheck. That felt great.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Money was a constant worry growing up. Money and time. There was never enough of either. Both parents worked multiple jobs. We lived very frugally but never felt "without." We were latchkey kids because we had to be.
Do you worry about money now?
Always. I always worry about money. Money is always a worry when you don't have much. It's incredibly stressful, though I do try to remain positive. Not knowing if you'll be able to pay rent the next month or to buy food in the next week, the next day — that weighs on anyone. Or if a disaster happens? Something breaks or needs replacing in the house? It's terrifying because I know I have no way of affording those issues.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I suppose I was around 17 when I became financially responsible for myself, for the most part. For a brief period (a few months), I lived with an older sibling who took care of everything in exchange for me watching his children.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

12 p.m. — It's the new year! This is also the two-year anniversary of me living "independently" in my tiny home. I say it in quotes because I would not be here without the support of some amazing people in my life. Especially during the pandemic when I can't leave my home, I feel so grateful for my friends, family, and even my landlords. I see that I got my stimulus check, so I put that right towards rent. I'm paying ahead of time since it gives me comfort to know I have a roof over my head. I'm super pleased with this day, even if I mostly just sit around with my pup.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

4 p.m. — It's getting close to grocery shopping time and it shows. I only leave the house once a month to purchase groceries to avoid contact with strangers as much as possible. Having autoimmune illnesses during a pandemic can be a real downer. I swear I saw a tumbleweed blow throw the produce drawer in the fridge. Produce is probably 85% of my diet, so an empty produce drawer is a travesty in this house. As it turns out, I may have needed to save a bit of that money for myself instead of spending it all on rent. I might be a little short on groceries this month. I get up and head to the store as safely as I can.
5 p.m. — I pick up some veggies and chicken and that should last me a while, or at least until I figure something out. I know there's always maseca in the pantry and that means tonight is looking a lot like chicken taco night for me. I make the chicken tacos and hang out inside the rest of the night — yum! $15.67

Daily Total: $15.67

Day Three

9 a.m. — I get up and think about how lucky I am. After my first Money Diary, I distinctly remember having a few people say it was impossible for me to be so positive. So happy. To be so joyful. To be honest, I didn't know how to take those remarks. I am joyful, I am EXTREMELY lucky as a human. Yes, there are issues and problems I deal with, but my life is pretty well amazing, and I'm so thankful.
12 p.m. — My friend, A., drops by with some food for me. She made tamales and made me a special batch with extra spice. I'm kind of obsessed with insane heat in my food. Luckily (see where that luck comes in again?), there are more than enough tamales to keep my belly full for a week! My illness makes it difficult for me to eat very much or very often and her gracious spirit brought SO many tamales. Half went into the freezer for a rainy day. Grocery problems are abated for the time being.

12:30 p.m. — The best part of a friend stopping by? The part where we sit down like people and talk. Just talk. It's basically free entertainment and you get to feel loved and special. A. is a mother and a businesswoman and is always busy yet she takes time out of her life to spend a few minutes with me. We laugh, we cackle, we gossip, we are total goofballs. It is amazing. I am so grateful to have her friendship.

Daily Total: $0

Day Four

7 a.m. — My home is, well...she's falling apart at the seams. The work has to be done by someone and that someone is me. Having a physical disability doesn't enter into this equation — things need to be done. A roof leak damaged a kitchen cabinet so badly I have to yank the whole thing off the wall. Then the water damage ran down to further destroy the countertop. Oy. Welp, I needed to make some repairs anyway and I hated that cabinet. Then, I build, stain, sand, and install the new countertop. I use the lumber leftovers to make a new matching tabletop. Luck comes my way again. My neighbor (who is in my bubble) comes over and helps me install the countertop. There is no way I would have been able to accomplish it all in that brief period of time without their help. I'm able to make the countertop for only $40 worth of materials that I got the other day.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5:30 a.m. — Today I need to build a ladder. Not an actual ladder, a metaphorical ladder. It's something I heard from a wonderful person who also has autoimmune illness. She's truly incredible. "Build a ladder" means to crawl your way up to happiness, rung by rung, in small steps, applauding even the smallest of successes while actively seeking that joy. My ladder starts with me getting out of bed — a monumental task. Then, I need to do laundry. After that? Make lunch. Well, lunch ends up being some more of those amazing tamales. Each rung on this ladder is harder than the last to reach but I am very lucky to have so much support.
10 a.m. — The very sweet neighbor comes back to help measure for a new shelf in place of the old kitchen cabinet I had to rip out. A shelf will be more accessible to me and we can install it lower than the cabinet was so I won't need a step stool all the time. It's also far less expensive than building an entirely new piece of cabinetry. This is great news! My neighbor picks up some parts for me to make the shelf and I pay him back. Suddenly my ladder seems very climb-able. $17
Daily Total: $17

Day Six

1 p.m. — It's flooring day!! I've been living without a proper floor in my bedroom pretty much since I moved in; it was simply never done. This subfloor is a pain in the butt. Luckily, I have a friend that cleans out houses that have been abandoned and they found me some flooring! All I've got to do is purchase adhesive and boom, new floor. It won't be the most perfect or stylish or "fashionable" but it's gonna be amazing and it will be functional. I am insanely happy.
8 p.m. — This is what we call a "bad body day." It's when my body just doesn't wanna do anything. It happens and that's okay. The floor will wait until later and I probably don't need to spend extra money this month anyway. Thankfully, I have free WiFi and YouTube. I'll be entertained all night long at zero cost while I lie in bed with my heating pad. I'm thinking this is a night for watching drag queens and having yet another tamale.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

5:30 a.m. — I wake up hungry! This isn't a bad thing, it's actually kind of awesome. I almost never have an appetite especially not when I first wake up. Breakfast is going to be a taco because tacos are the best food. I make breakfast tacos with tortillas, a scrambled egg, and some random chorizo I find stuffed in the back of the freezer. I love the freezer. The freezer is pretty much my best friend for days when I don't have a lot of energy and to store leftovers. That thing is a serious money saver and helps me create less waste.
4:30 p.m. — After almost an entire week of slacking off and doing basically nothing, it's time for some physical therapy. I know, I know, I shouldn't skip workouts. A whole lot of life came at me all at once and physical therapy was sort of pushed by the wayside. I am very grateful to have a chart to follow at home to avoid going to my physical therapist's office frequently. It keeps me safe from the pandemic and also saves me money on co-pays. The actual work part isn't pleasant, however. I'm sore.
5:45 p.m. — Whew! It's been a busy day and I deserve a little treat. I head over to my neighbor's to hang out (I even put on real pants for the occasion). He clicks on the electric fireplace (sometimes it's cold in Texas) and we sit back to watch M*A*S*H. We're both crazy about the show. After the show is over, we discuss plans for repairing my roof. The possible price tag nearly makes me choke on my water. $3,000?! That's almost half my annual income. Oy. But it must be done, there's no avoiding it; the leaks are causing tons of damage to other parts of the house. I'll figure something out. I always figure something out. For now? I'm happy to sit in a recliner and watch a TV show with my friend.
Daily Total: $0
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