The Difference Between Being Middle-Class And Poor


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.

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.

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.

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:

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!

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.

It’s isolating

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.

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.

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:

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.


  • Interesting article, is there an income threshold you had in mind that counts as poor or middle class?

  • This all just sounds like a bunch of poor people complaining.

    I’m that guy that judges

    Here it is guys, your troubles dont disappear when you’re not poor

  • Had a chuckle at the “Cranky Nursing Socialist” and the one with sickle and hammer in his Twitter handle. Their feeds are far left (economic) nonsense who seem to think that US Capitalism is the only form of capitalism.

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