Hey y’all. I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book. I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title. The power of marketing, right?
Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake. McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.
Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail. The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch. I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals. While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.
While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating. As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole. Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation. McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.
When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem. The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat. But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times? I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.
Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer. Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets! And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds. From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.
While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”. I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills. Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need. When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.
Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats. The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again. I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.
All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’. They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.
Until next time,