It's actually really ridiculously expensive to be poor - an unfortunate truth that a lot of people are learning firsthand this year. There are even some among us who are too poor to be able to afford to work.
We know, it sounds like a complete contradiction; but it's a reality for a shockingly large number of people.
One Reddit user asked:
and yeah ... poverty is complicated.
Fees On Fees On Fees
Overdraft fees. Oh, you ran out of money? We'll just charge you more then!
My bank just switched our free checking to an account with a monthly fee. $7.00 a month if your account goes under $10. So if it goes under $10 they basically just help themselves to your remaining balance? It really chaps my behind.
While charging overdraft fees they also want to charge you fees for your debit payments failing - each one. But they failed cause the bank processed them started with the biggest payment instead of the order you spent and each fee lowers your balance till the last one also fails.
NSF fees too. Juggling bills becomes hazardous. If you guess wrong, or lose track, or have a sudden emergency, or someone cashes a check you thought they'd already done, or an automatic withdrawal (which got me the most frequently). The payment gets refused, which, sure, if the money's not there of course the bill isn't paid. But then the company charges you an NSF fee, and so does the bank, and the bill you already weren't able to pay just got 50-100$ more expensive.
In the past 10 years, I've gone from borderline poverty to being upper middle class. Here are some of the differences:
- An overdraft/late fee could be as much as 10% of my savings account. Now it's a drop in a bucket, and having white collar job, means I know how to effectively negotiate to have fees waived.
- When you're broke you can only afford cheap products that break easily, Now I buy quality products that are built to last for years.
- Expensive dinners are completely out of the question when you're broke. Now I frequently eat great (And healthy!) meals because my job pays for lunches and dinners.
- When I was broke I had to purchase expensive equipment to learn my craft so that I could get a job. Now I my job pays me to use my equipment.
- Broke people have to pay for an expensive education to get a good job. Many people with good jobs are encouraged to take classes at the expense of the employer.
- People with good paying jobs can be 10 minutes late for work without fear that they will lose their job. If I have a good excuse, like my car breaks down, I can literally not show up for work for the day, get paid, and receive a heartfelt message from colleges offering support.
- Things like expensive booze and other luxury items are something you want when you are poor. When you work a high paying job, these sort of things are frequently gifted to you from bosses/co-workers and sometimes it becomes a hassle of trying to get rid of nice things you don't need (I end up giving away, re-gifting or donating a lot of stuff).
- When you are broke, it's hard to find a good paying job. When you have a good paying job, you are seen as a valuable and you will receive multiple job offers.
A few things that are new to me that I find weird about having money:
- Expensive clothes fall apart so fast, like the fabric will start to dull after a 3rd wash. I had an Old Navy shirt that easily lasted 20 years and never faded.
- Expensive things take up so much time and can be such a hassle to care for. Like fountain pens, nice wooden kitchen utensils, Linen place settings, etc.
Better shoes last longer before they need to be replaced. But they cost to much for me to afford them, leaving me with sub-par shoes that need to be replaced more often.
It's not easy staying healthy on a tiny budget. I stay fat. Shoes wear out. It's expensive for my body.
Definitely true irl. I wear duty boots every shift I work. When I was new I couldn't afford anything other than a cheap pair of $80 boots. My feet froze in the winter, sweated in the summer, and they weren't really waterproof. That first pair lasted me about 10 months, and that was a stretch.
I managed to scrimp and save for a $300 pair of Danners and that pair lasted me nearly a decade, kept my feet warm in the winter, didn't make them sweat much in the summer, and kept my feet dry in standing water up to about 6" deep. When they wore out, I sent them back to Danner to be refurbished about about $120 and have gotten another 7 years and counting out of them.
Housing. The longer you commit to stay, the lower your monthly price. But poor people don't always know where they'll be in a few months time, especially these days.
Oh man, got a really good look at that recently. Me and my fiancee wanted to move to a new house, and we didn't know how long it would take to sell the old one and find one we liked, so we rented an apartment in the meantime.
They had really flexible leases, with durations from 6-15 months, different prices for the same apartment.
We calculated the cost of breaking the lease at different times together with the cost of each lease, and found that even if we moved at exactly 6 months, it would be cheaper to sign a 15 month lease and pay the penalty than to sign a 6 month lease.
Moving at pretty much any point would be cheapest to sign the 15 month lease and break it (I think at 10 months, it would be very slightly cheaper to have signed a 10 month lease). Funnily enough, we ended up moving after 6 months, but we still made the cheaper choice with the 15 month lease.
The Breakdowncar trouble vintage GIFGiphy
Not being able to afford routine car maintenance and then having to shell out thousands when it breaks down
Nothing like having to push your car off an intersection because it suddenly died and won't restart, never mind if you were on your way to school, work or similar. It's a great way to lose your job.
This. THIS! THIS THIS THIS. And having a flat tire every other week because you can't afford new ones. Spending ten bucks a pop to have your old tires patched when a new one (for your cheap little clunker car) costs $85 but you can't afford that because you've spent ten bucks a week for the last six months getting patches.
Coin laundry :(
I'm feeling this one.
My washing machine went kerplooey two weeks ago. I finally broke down and went to the only laundromat in my rural county.
$4.25 to wash each load, $1.75 to dry each load. I spent twenty bucks doing three loads of laundry.
That's $480 a year to load up my stuff and take it to a communal laundromat, during a pandemic. Holy f*ck I miss my washing machine.
And that's not counting the time spent there. At home you can multitask while the laundry's going.
Can't Afford Health
So I'm in the US and it's "Open Enrollment" I've been looking at health insurance plans for a few weeks now. Here's my best option, as a 36-year-old single white woman with no health problems.
$235 per month (discount because I'm low-income) premium. $85 co-pay for normal doctor's visit. $145 if the doctor treats something in-office. I pay any in-office supplies that were used out of pocket. $13,000 deductible. Insurance pays 40% of hospital visits and overnight stays. Separate $7000 deductible for prescriptions. Zero dental or vision care.
Guys, I make between $800 and $900 per month. That's a quarter of my income as a premium alone. Which would be great, except if I pay the premium, I don't have any money left over for the co-pay, so I literally can't afford to both buy the policy and use it.
When I absolutely have to see a doctor I drive a couple hours to a clinic that offers huge discounts for people who self-pay. They are actually a god-send for things like sinus infections and strep throat. I had pneumonia a couple of years ago and not only did they give me the "self pay discount," making my office visit just $35, but they also found "office samples" of an albuterol inhaler and steroids, meaning all I had to buy was an antibiotic from the walmart $4 list.
I also drive an hour and a half to a Planned Parenthood clinic for my annual exam and things like that. They charge on a "pay what you can" scale. I figure out how to get by, mostly. But if anything big ever goes wrong or I develop a chronic health problem in the future, I'm gonna be so screwed it's not even funny.
I really need an eye exam as my glasses are giving me headaches, which means my prescription has changed again. And forget getting my teeth fixed, which is actually my biggest problem right now. There's no help for things like that. The healthcare situation just sucks.
Freebies For The Rich?
An inverse example is all the things rich/well-paid people get for free:
paid vacation days, gym/pool in your building, company cell phone allowance, commute reimbursement, retirement match and investing advice, paid lunches and travel, education opportunities, ability to participate in investment opportunities, references to even more highly paid jobs, etc etc.
It is definitely frustrating when I hear about rich celebrities getting giftbags with tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in them. That is just silly.
Everyone always argues "it's cheaper to eat healthy! Buy X, Y, Z in bulk, check A, B, and C specialty grocery stores, meal prep and freeze for the week, grow your own produce!" But these sorts of solutions really require a base level of wealth to begin with. Not a ton of wealth. If you're lower-middle class but still ending up in the red because you eat out too much, you can probably (probably) use these tips to cut your food budget enough to make a difference. But to do these things you need:
to live in a place with easy access to many different places to buy food (conventional groceries, discount groceries, big box stores, farmers markets, ethnic groceries, and bulk retailers)
When you live in a food desert, like many inner cities and rural areas, pick-and-choose grocery shopping is not an option. When you don't have a car or live a very short distance from the store, buying more than an armful of groceries is not an option. When you work multiple jobs to pay rent, spending many hours per week on shipping or food prep isn't an option. When you live in an efficiency apartment, complex cooking and infinite food storage isn't an option. When you don't have a surplus of money this very minute, buying in bulk isn't an option. When you live in an apartment, or a desert, or an urban house with a concrete backyard, or a place that is a snowy tundra 6 months out of the year, growing a garden isn't an option.
Plus, everyone gives this advice assuming a single adult or a two-adult, no kids household. But not everyone eating dollar menu and ramen noodles is a broke single college kid in a dorm blowing their allowance on beer then crying poverty. Children complicate all of this even further. So people end up buying dollar menu because it's Tuesday, payday is Friday, and they quite literally have $10 to their names to feed themselves and their kids. They could buy apples, but apples won't keep the the hunger pains away.
I used to think that Costco was good for bulk sales
My son founded a food charity and we started applying for business licenses. Guy mentioned a wholesaler to me.
My son and I went to the wholesaler and he had 200lb pallets of pork shoulder for pulled pork- which my son needs- for $140! 200 lbs of food, which my son uses to feed like 500 homeless people- for $140.
Or like 1000 chicken legs in cases for $0.29 per lb. something like $80 for 1000 chicken legs.
Can you imagine if you were dead broke and spent $80 on 1000 chicken legs- you could eat for 6 months. Working with real food wholesalers is so much crazier than anything I expected.
It's the set up for all of that - the ability to move pallets, have a huge deep freezer that all has to be there first. You're not going to have that if you're poor.
I remember there were these cabbages, like $20 for 40 cabbages. A guy was buying like 80 cabbages to make cole slaw for his restaurant. He could spin that into profit and make money.
I just felt like buying them and giving them to poor families. People have no idea how much more they're really paying than what food actually costs.
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