The ‘High Price’ You Pay for Being ‘Poor’


*I don’t mean to depress you, and I hope you won’t judge me too harshly (or even become concerned about me for thinking these thoughts) but just the other day I was thinking about how costly living is. Let me be clear, I am not simply mimicking the justifiable cliche, “Things have become so expensive,” I was actually going deeper, having a greater understanding of why people who simply couldn’t take it anymore chose to opt out…of life…because living is too expensive and there seems to be no relief in sight.

Rest assured, I plan to be here for the long haul. I have so much to be thankful for. But as a writer, and a compassionate human being, its my tendency to go deep. So when I came across an article by Kristin Wong of Lifehacker — that talks about how things actually cost more when you’re poor, it got my attention.

I don’t consider myself poor, but then again maybe I am. Over the years the look of “poor” has changed. Middle class is now, in many aspects, upper echelon poor. People on the brink of poverty may still be wearing the designer clothes they purchased before they got there.

Check out your local social services department. The parking lot in particular. You see that blue BMW over there? Do you assume it belongs to your worker’s supervisor. It could easily belong to the person standing in line next to you. The one who, at one time, had the resources to lease or buy it, but has since lost his or her job and now can’t afford to make payments and buy food.

So for now, they’ve opted to try and hang on to the car for as long as possible. But they need help buying food.

Meanwhile, the welfare office, in its whole cut and dry attitude says, “get rid of the car” or “get a cheaper car.” But this person just needs help for a little while. Being broke has without a doubt had an impact on their pride, but it has yet to take away their ego. And they have no plans to make food stamps (and medi-cal) a permanent part of their existence. So the BMW is their way out. It backs up the illusion they are now living in, and helps to maintain the friendships and business relationships they have (or hope to) develop.

You may have noticed: People don’t come around or call as often if you appear to have little or nothing to offer.

We need personal transportation to stay mobile. Public transportation is too time-costly; and buying an older model car, that may prove unreliable, is costly in more ways than one.

The BMW (or other decent car) serves as a reminder of where we once were, and where we intend to be again.

The Wong article I referenced earlier talks about a lot of the ways the poor is preyed upon by the free market and points out it’s all-too-easy to claim that “all one needs to do to escape poverty is to make sound financial decisions.”

She notes, and I am in agreement, that “when you’re poor, you are forced to make poor financial decisions.” And she provides examples of how being frugal is more expensive than one might think; using examples such as buying items in bulk (and the assumption that you can afford to) because you have money to do so, or a full enough pantry to enjoy the privilege of buying groceries when they’re on sale.

Being poor is actually capitalized on, as referenced in her article, in areas including bank accounts (you are penalized if you don’t maintain a certain balance or have no direct deposit), auto insurance (you pay more based on where you live), and even a college education (just ask someone still paying for federal loans).

Wong’s article says…

This (college) expense might come as a surprise. The general assumption is that the poorer you are, the more grants and scholarships you qualify for.

That may be true, but many colleges, especially private ones, use a method called “gapping” to squeeze more money out of poorer students—or discourage them from attending altogether. Basically, those colleges offer prospective low income students tuition packages that don’t really meet their financial needs. They under-fund those students and save the aid for wealthier students who can afford to pay full tuition rates.

There is so much wrong with this picture.

Read the full Lifehacker article here.

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