The middle-class have financial challenges, but if you’ve never been truly poor, there are some things about how it affects your life that can be hard to grasp. So, let people who have experienced it tell you.
We’re living in a weird time where everyone wants to be rich, but no one wants to admit that they are. Middle-class people aren’t really rich-rich either, but they experience a level of comfort and accessibility to the world that doesn’t exist for the poor.
I’m writing this as someone who is pretty close to middle-class now and who was poor as a kid and in my 20s. There are so many things I no longer think about when it comes to money that used to torment me. And if I’d never gone through it, I wouldn’t even know.
We all should know, because knowledge facilitates compassion. Holly Wood, or @girlziplocked, is a writer with a large following on both Medium and Twitter. She tweeted the question, “What’s something about being poor that middle-class people absolutely don’t understand?”
The whole thread is worth a read, but here are the big responses.
Budgeting has its limits
It’s easy to accuse people of being terrible budgeters, but not making enough money can’t be solved with financial planning. If you’re underpaid, or still only making a minimum wage that doesn’t reflect the real cost of living, there’s only so much extra work you can do to make up the discrepancy.
That you can’t just “budget” yourself more money.
— ☭ sicko modus ponens ☭ (@babadookspinoza) January 24, 2019
Budgeting is a useful tool, but only when you have something to budget. And not having money can make it hard to get another job, from not being able to afford a uniform or invest time in training, to struggling to show up looking good for an interview. It used to stress me out to pay to print my resume, because I didn’t have my own printer.
The catch-22 of needing money to make more money (say, you can't pick up that second job without a car, but you can't afford a car without that second job)
— Sam Mills (@samtasticbooks) January 24, 2019
Being poor is expensive
Many people shared the ways that being poor is expensive. There are so many ways that having very little costs extra — for example, you can’t afford the regular maintenance of your home and health that prevents larger, expensive disasters.
Or dental work. You cant get that filling or cleaning so your teeth just get worse until its an emergency that you still cant afford, and you just pray the infection doesnt kill you.
— Gritty is Coming (@GrittyNRoses) January 24, 2019
An example is that my mother receives support in the US as a person with a disability and is charged a fee whenever she uses her benefits card. For someone who gets very little money every month, these charges add up quickly and can make a huge difference.
Another one is the savings you miss out on by not being able to invest in things like buying in bulk:
Yes, but also, "You should get a CostCo membership. Buying in bulk is so much cheaper in the long run!" Look, there is no "long run" when you're paycheck-to-paycheck, I'm not paying for a membership, and I have no room to store this food before it goes bad.
— Dr. Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) January 24, 2019
Having very little money means living from moment to moment, which is not cost effective. But you don’t have a choice.
Everything you do is judged
Had a tough week? Feel like kicking back, drinking a beer or having a smoke? How about some casual sex? Pretty normal human behaviour, but when you’re poor, it’s seen as a sign of your moral ineptitude. Of course you’re poor! You went out to Hungry Jack’s on a Saturday!
Everything you own is judged when you are poor, whether it's the hand me down car or the Starbucks you bought.
— brianneg78 (@brianneg78) January 24, 2019
The psychic toll when every single choice you make is policed. Your transportation, food, childcare, clothing, home. Everyone believes they have the right to offer comment and criticism about every aspect of your day-to-day life including the ones that aren't actually choices.
— The Cranky Nursing Socialist???????? (@claudbalog) January 24, 2019
The urge to police the poor in ways we don’t police people with money likely comes from fear; by asserting how those other people make bad choices, we distance ourselves from the injustice of poverty — and the possibility we might one day experience it.
Let’s say you are being “good” and not going out to party or spend on anything remotely pleasurable. That means you don’t get to spend time with friends. And I know you’re thinking you could still hang out at someone’s house and bring something. But what if you can’t afford the trip? Or even deli snacks?
That is a real concern for some; also, most social interactions can’t be so carefully tailored to your needs.
Oh man, this. So much this. Summer was ok because I had my bike but winter relying on the bus schedule ($$) was brutal for my mental health. I just stayed in all the time. As soon as I could I moved closer to the people I needed to see regularly.
— Felicity (@FBorgal) January 24, 2019
It’s time consuming
Taking public transportation, keeping up with the bureaucracy of Centrelink payments, juggling a millions jobs and side-hustles. It sucks up your time and energy. You can’t drop off your laundry or buy prepared dinner for the whole family or take a day off to rest. Your time is one of the few assets you have, and the world makes you pay and pay with it.
Poverty doesn't just take your money, it eats your TIME. Everything's always breaking. Especially cars. It can destroy any ability to make & keep plans, including the ones that make your life better.
"Why don't poor people just ___" rarely gives any thought to time constraints.
— Dr Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww) January 24, 2019
Ugh lord. The few years I had health care, I was AMAZED at how much faster doctors get to see you.
— Miranda Jade (@marpar12) January 24, 2019
The psychological toll
Like I said, I’m in a fairly good place now, but there are still some habits that I haven’t gotten over. Checking my bank account makes me feel panicked, even when I know there’s money in it; I expect my debit card to get declined every time I use it.
The daily stress of living without money is hard to explain, but it ruins relationships, raises anxiety levels, and causes all sorts of mental and physical health problems:
Really just the idea that you can DO THINGS. I haven't been poor for several years now. I still don't really understand that I can do things. Take risks. You can tell me a million times and I'll never believe it's safe to make life changes. So easy for people that weren't poor.
— Catma (@TheCatmatist) January 24, 2019
I remember being told my card was declined when getting Rx medication for my son, it hit me so hard, he kept asking why we could not get his medicine and I briefly got pretty mad at him. He was only 7. I apologized to him later, but was ashamed at not having the $ for his meds.
— Brian Sullivan (@BrianSullivan05) January 24, 2019
Lots of very smart, practical answers have already been posted, so I'll just say the stress. The constant, bone-deep, live-with-it-so-long-you-don't-now-it's-there stress. Every purchase is a mental calculation. It's exhausting.
— Orion (@OrionKidder) January 24, 2019
The cognitive load & physical health costs from the constant fear & stress, the enforced indignities & humiliation. And the rage: as a kid I would *literally get sick* from the helpless anger I felt watching the way other adults (& kids) looked at & talked to my mother & father.
— Yr buskined mistress & yr warrior love (@rhymeswithvery) January 24, 2019
Everyone has their problems, and many of them are invisible to folks who haven’t experienced them. Consider the things you take for granted, not just to feel grateful, but to appreciate where other people are coming from before you judge them.