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Janelle Irwin’s Fight for $15 Challenge: Day 4

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My Fight for $15 challenge is almost done. Day 4 of the challenge is winding down and my day-to-day spending has been at or below by $17 a day budget.

That of course is not counting the unexpected flat tire that required a $30 fix, extra gas from having to drive to and from Tampa to rescue my stranded beloved and a $100 expense for a medical appointment not covered by insurance.

To keep within budget tonight, my family will be dining on a modified breakfast for dinner consisting of cheesy scrambled eggs, grits and salad. That meal comes from ingredients already in the fridge, which means it didn’t eat into the day’s budget.

The kids took advantage of breakfast at school – a free resource to all students and pre-paid school lunch. I ate a grapefruit from the fridge for breakfast and leftovers for lunch. That means I haven’t spent a single red cent today.

However, my youngest daughter has her book fair family night this evening. I promised her she could spend up to $10 on books. The school provides a $5 coupon to add to her budget.

The remaining $7 in today’s budget will go toward putting enough gas in my tank to get me through tomorrow. I’d love to fill her up, but that is a luxury such a low-wage budget does not afford.

Something I’ve decided today is important to note is that this little test of mine is not real. I’ve been able to avoid spending money on groceries because my fridge had already been well-stocked before beginning.

Other expenses could simply be put off until after the challenge is over.

When I think about what would happen if I had to continue through another week – or worse, a month – I find myself reflecting on so many sacrifices our family would have to make.

Sure, I’ve foregone my evening glass of wine for a much cheaper cup of tea (OK, I may have squandered some remaining wine from last week.) Yes, I’ve avoided expensive cups of coffee from hipster coffee houses. Indeed, I opted for the $1 Softsoap hand soap for the bathroom in lieu of the much pricier ones from Bath & Body Works.

But to continue this experiment there would be so much more. I’ve already established that, as a low-wage worker, taking myself or even my children to the doctor would be a financial feat. Suffering an automotive breakdown would be near insurmountable.

But there are other little things like paying for school field trips that enrich my daughters’ lives, music lessons, soccer seasons, even trips to Fort DeSoto that cost $5 that would likely have to be foregone.

Fancy dinner Saturdays wouldn’t happen. New shoes would turn into newer shoes. Clothes would be handed down instead of donated. Haircuts would be basic and spread as far thin as possible. There would be no more organic fruits and veggies. No more cage free eggs or non-processed lunchmeats.

People living on minimum wage lack the financial ability to purchase healthier foods because that equates to a bigger grocery bill. They wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford to enroll their children in activities that promote healthier, less sedentary lifestyles.

There’s a reason obesity is more likely to plague kids from poor families than those from affluent ones.

Even things that seem like luxuries – dining out, catching a show, grabbing a relaxing mani/pedi – are things the poor go without but deserve none-the-less.

To make ends meet, low-wage parents often take on extra work. Arguably they need a glass of wine at the end of the night or a soul affirming night on the town even more than a white-collar worker.

I’m proud of my kids for sticking by me through this endeavor and embracing what it means to, even just for a blink of an eye, walk a day in the shoes of a low-wage family. And even more, I’m proud of them for encouraging me not to cheat.

Reflecting on the challenge has reminded me that there are so many good services to help kids who really live in poverty. Twin Brooks opens tomorrow and will eventually boast a sliding fee service for kids to get help with homework and learn to golf.

The city is putting more and more effort into after school programs. The YMCA offers scholarship programs so kids whose families can’t afford soccer or basketball can enjoy those valuable and healthy opportunities.

But it’s still not enough to reach every family that needs it.

I don’t think I’ve truly felt the pain of being a low wageworker in just four days of forcing it on myself, but I have increased my ability to empathize. As this movement spreads, it may go a long way to increase that awareness.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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