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January 19, 2012 12:42 PM   Subscribe

The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor (sl Cracked list)

Cracked writer John Cheese takes a surprisingly candid look at some of the effects of poverty in childhood.
posted by TheWhiteSkull (368 comments total) 237 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man. Yes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


You think in exact numbers because, at any given point, you have to know if swiping the debit card for gas will put you into overdraft territory. You have to be able to figure on the spot how much you can spend versus how much you need to survive until the next payday, and even the numbers after the decimal point are important.

I'm not poor, not really, properly, poverty-level poor. I'm just working-class poor. But man oh man, does that look familiar.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2012 [27 favorites]


Mandatory shit
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You buy exactly what you need, and no more. That six-pack of toilet paper is only three bucks. But there's a sale on the 12-pack for only two dollars more? Fuck that. That's an extra two bucks that I'll need before the week is done.


This. And it's a reason many poor people stay poor. I've had to clean out what little savings I've managed to scrape together on multiple occasions because my car broke down. And my car broke down because I had to buy the junkiest pice of shit that was out there. Because I was poor.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2012 [72 favorites]


I wonder if there's a difference, financially, between growing up poor in America as someone with roots, and growing up poor in America as immigrants. Most of my friends growing up were the children of working-class immigrants or children of immigrants -- mostly from Russia, Italy and China -- and many of our parents were hardcore savers with long-terms plans in mind for any money made. On the other hand, people I know who grew up poor in the US did more what the articles describes, with much less mind toward savings or planning. So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on January 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


Who grew up as poor non-immigrants in the US, I mean.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on January 19, 2012


This article should immediately pop up on your screen every time you type the words "personal responsibility."
posted by theodolite at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


Oof, some of that hit close to the bone.
posted by The Whelk at 12:53 PM on January 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


Remember that time you were cleaning out your wallet and found an extra $5 bill stuffed inside one of the pockets? Poor people are laughing their asses off right now because I might as well be asking if they remember the time they found an extra minotaur in the kitchen.

This is a very good line.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2012 [67 favorites]


Reminds of my youth. And right now.
posted by Jim Slade at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms
posted by kmz at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2012 [276 favorites]


"We have to spend this before it disappears."
posted by facetious at 12:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


LOL at my poor childhood (except my parents were big savers. Unfortunately saving doesn't help much when one parent has recurring emergency medical bills)

It's fun, having money and being married to someone who's never had to worry about money (his parents gave him a $600 a month allowance through college! I don't think I had $600 in my bank account after 2 years of working!) We are completely different shoppers - he wants to get the best value for his money, and to me there's no feature that is worth extra money over the top of your basic POS appliance or car or whatever.
posted by muddgirl at 12:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a college student who's basically living check-to-check at my just-paying-the-bills part time job, I'm relating to this article hard right now. It's interesting that Cracked is starting to branch out into non-comedic forms of listmaking, have they been doing this sort of thing for very long?

(I also feel compelled to point out that John Cleese's original family surname was "Cheese," but his father changed it upon enlisting in army during WWI, so the article writer is so close to being named after a Python.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:58 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


We've eaten these things for so long, we've grown to prefer them to the fresh version.

Wasn't this supposed to be a funny link? Then why am I suddenly so sad?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Man, everything about that list is familiar.

My only quibble is the use of the term "stupidest". These are (short-term) rational behaviors given the circumstances. The $3 deodorant rather than 2 for $5 is a rational choice given that it's two weeks between paychecks and my kids can't eat that extra deodorant if I'm a couple of bucks short before payday.

I was surprised to read it coming from this author, but Megan McArdle had what I thought was a surprisingly savvy take on the cycle of (urban) poverty a few weeks back that explores a little bit how rationality is context-dependent and your economic context will play a large part into your economic rationality.
posted by gauche at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


They can't shake the idea that the money is perishable.

This hits the closest for me. I've had a stable job with good pay and insurance for 12 years now, something that was absolutely foreign to me as a child. And windfalls, tax refunds, bonuses, etc., are like a TIME BOMB. Panic is the right word. I HAVE TO SPEND IT NOW, before it's gone, hurry, hurry! I can't shake it, even though I know exactly why I feel that way and where it came from.
posted by peep at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


So accurate, creepy.
posted by muchalucha at 1:01 PM on January 19, 2012


A friend of mine calls this "long-term survival mode." It's hard to get out of.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


This was actually a really fantastic article. We've had a lot of discussions about this in my household because we just started actively working on not doing these things. I think in round general dollars when I think about my bank account now, but despite it having money for the last 3 years, I still obsessively reconcile the thing at least once a week. We've also started what we call "long game" shopping- and actively thinking about whether a more expensive item might be a better choice for the long run, even if it costs more. A lifetime of living on the very edge is exhausting and hard to break out of.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 1:05 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't read this at the moment, being at work, but I've read some of the other stuff Cheese has done on Cracked in recent times, and it's starting to seem like the guy has a whole lot to say about going through really horrible depressing shit. I keep expecting to see a Cracked article by him with a title like "Twelve Mind-Blowing Facts About Being Completely Alone and Putting the Barrel of a Gun in Your Mouth and Sobbing Huge Body-Wracking Sobs but Not Being Able to Go Through With It (That History Books Get Wrong)"

or

"Five Reasons to Go On Living You Learned In School (That Are Total Bullshit)"
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [87 favorites]


he wants to get the best value for his money, and to me there's no feature that is worth extra money over the top of your basic POS appliance or car or whatever.

I took a different set of lessons from growing up poor white trash - I want the value for the money. I won't spend a dime unless I am certain that it is a good deal.

Consequently I shop backwards from most people. I will have decided what I want and for what price before I enter the store.

But like the boot thing quoted above, I cannot abide spending my precious little money on crap. I don't get the most expensive or the most blinged out, but it also won't be the cheapest crap available.

My wife is more like you - she hates to spend a penny and saves money like crazy. She would ask why I need the 50 dollar boot, even though the math is there that it is better.

The other thing I learned from poverty was how to do it myself - when my timing belt went bad - I borrowed a manual from the library and replaced it. And so on. I only call in a pro when I am in over my head, otherwise I do it myself or do without.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


That said, maybe writing this stuff out is his process of surviving it. Either way, they may be depressing but they're always really compelling and insightful.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agh. We didn't grow up that poor, honest, but I have all of these bar the beancounting (instead I just have an anxious dread whenever I buy anything pricey without really knowing what all the figures are, on the assumption that I'm probbaly broke.)
posted by Artw at 1:08 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still, I think my mother in law grew up much poorer, and she got obsessive compulsive hoarding and condiment-and-napkin based kleptomania, so at least I don't have that.
posted by Artw at 1:09 PM on January 19, 2012


I'm shocked that a link to cracked is actually meaningful and not merely linkbait.
posted by Pants! at 1:10 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is this a thread where I can talk about how John Cheese is maybe-probably the best writer on Cracked's staff? And how his I find his painful, honest writing hard to read, but also really something that makes me hopeful, because it is possible to make your life better. Because all of that is true, and I fucking love his columns. His writing style is something really special.
posted by kalimac at 1:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


see also...
posted by multics at 1:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


We used to have cracked links about twice a day, and most of them were grabage. Nowadays you hardly ever see one, but they've generally been pretty good when they've turned up.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can not speak for growing up poor these days but I recall that having been born when The Great Depression started there was this saying:

You can take the boy out of the depression but you can not take the Depression out of the
boy.
posted by Postroad at 1:14 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


I had a co-worker once who came from a wealthy family and married into the hundreds of millions. For some reason at some point the subject of wasting money came up. I explained that regardless of how much money you had access to, lighting a dollar bill on fire was a waste of a dollar. The man seriously could not wrap his head around that: "who cares? If I have a million more, how is that a waste?" I began to wonder if was the one who was out to lunch, because this guy couldn't seriously have been dumb enough not to understand...

But I think that's when I realized that having or not having money as a child (or young adult in my case) wires your brain in a very specific way.
posted by klanawa at 1:14 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is something my sister and I talked about the other day...we had the same "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"-style poor backwoods West Virginia upbringings, but it affected us in really different ways now that we're adults:

My sister lives like she doesn't ever want to be poor again.

I live like I don't want anyone to think I'm poor ever again.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:14 PM on January 19, 2012 [50 favorites]


This is how I grew up and even though I've been well away from the actual socioeconomic level of being poor for, goodness, nearly twenty years now, it's how I still catch myself thinking. It's hard for my husband to relate because he grew up fairly well-off and our conversations about money and financial planning can get complicated and teary, because I still haven't worked out how not to think like I'm poor.
posted by padraigin at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember going shopping toward the end of our poverty streak, and I told my kids to pick out new bedspreads so we could get rid of their old, ugly ones. My oldest son looked around for a second and then said, "Thanks, dad, but I don't really need one."

In a whole article of sad, this is the part that made me choke up.
posted by kmz at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2012 [29 favorites]


My dad was nine years older than my mom: he was 11 years old in 1929, while she was 2. So her earliest years were spent during the worst years of the Great Depression, while he was already a teenager. Actually, I think my dad's family took it on the chin worse than my mom's, since my mom's father owned a general store and as a result the family didn't really want for food that badly.

Their spending habits: she always wanted the best price, while he would typically not object to spending more money on an item of quality. (She typically did not buy crap, but it was the '70's and cheap plastic crap wasn't around quite as much as it is today.) It's also important to note that he came down with systemic lupus during WWII and by the time I was born, he was probably already familiar with the notion that you can't take it with you. My mom, not so much.

I suspect personality and my dad's lupus played a big part in their different attitudes toward money, but it's interesting how those attitudes played out given the 10-year difference in their formative years.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:17 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read this today too and it hit close, but in a sort of different way. I'm very lucky to have never been "poor" but I've also never really been in a position of what I'd call financial security. The closest was two years in DC with a job paying very well that led to a surplus I could put toward students loans. Student loans I am still paying off.

I moved out of DC for a dream job, lost the dream job, was on unemployment for 8 months and then got a temp job. By temp, I mean I have been working at this job under the auspices of a staffing firm for just shy of two years. It's, in a way, an awful feeling because I have had this job for two years and yet I am aware that like the Dread Pirate Roberts they most likely can fire me in the morning. I have pretty much been worried every morning that I am going to be fired. For two years. That's combined with it being a "temp" job meaning I will never get a raise and I will never get health benefits.

The part about "having to spend money" really got to me because in my situation, it's the exact opposite. I am terrified of spending money. And I don't mean on luxuries, I mean on the stuff that, at 30, I really should be putting money into-- retirement accounts, maybe classes on something, etc. Instead I'm scared to death that at any moment, the car could explode and then I suddenly need $5000 on hand, like, tomorrow.

So, in that sense, I understand what it's like to have the urge to only spend money on what you need right now. It's hard to think about the long term when I have been scared to death about tomorrow for the last 900 todays. And this is someone who freely admits and accepts that he is one of the unbelievably lucky ones right now talking.

I don't think these are just habits you develop when you're poor. They're habits you develop in any situation of financial uncertainty- you switch to survival mode. Being practical and making better investments- whether it's a stock portfolio or a CostCo-size bundle of toilet paper-- has become a luxury the way "can I get the 30 or the 60 gig iPod?" was my crisis when I was pulling 40 grand.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:17 PM on January 19, 2012 [27 favorites]


I told my kids to pick out new bedspreads so we could get rid of their old, ugly ones. My oldest son looked around for a second and then said, "Thanks, dad, but I don't really need one."

Yeah, that was me, you better believe it. The only thing is that now my mom goes overboard for Christmas even though she still can't really afford it. Things are better for her now, but it's a tightrope walk.

I got lucky, and wound up going to a rich-people college practically for free, and it mostly broke me of my poor-people habits, but some of this stuff still hits really, really close to home.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:17 PM on January 19, 2012


But I think that's when I realized that having or not having money as a child (or young adult in my case) wires your brain in a very specific way.

I think it's more like the opposite. Never knowing a period of famine/want/need wires your brain in a very specific way. I would argue it's the unnatural position for an animal.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:18 PM on January 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


I grew up mostly poor but escaped most of that, my dad however grew up seriously dirt poor and had all of that stuff. He grew up in the depression in a house in a little mining town and had no hot water, no heat and no bathroom. He never did figure out how to handle money and totally did that thing where you gotta spend it right away. "I won the Pick-3 this week, we're all going out to eat!"
posted by octothorpe at 1:18 PM on January 19, 2012


I like a lot of this, but...

You think in exact numbers because, at any given point, you have to know if swiping the debit card for gas will put you into overdraft territory.

Why is this a bad habit? I'm not poor, and though I don't need to keep track of my finances down to the cent... I can't see why that'd be a bad thing.
posted by valkyryn at 1:20 PM on January 19, 2012


So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?

For one thing, immigrants typically move to another country (such as the US) in search of new opportunities. On the other hand, people who are already living in "the promised land," and whose parents were poor and whose grandparents were probably equally poor, often acquire a form of learned helplessness, especially since the US is not a great place to be poor in.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I found the 5 things nobody tells you about being poor that he linked to even more powerful about how expensive it is to be poor. Seems very apropos given current rhetoric about the poor.
posted by idb at 1:21 PM on January 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


valkyryn: "Why is this a bad habit? I'm not poor, and though I don't need to keep track of my finances down to the cent... I can't see why that'd be a bad thing."

I think the title of the piece is really just meant to make it fit into the Cracked format.
posted by charred husk at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, I didn't grow up poor, but my father did, and really internalized a version of the "prefers worse food" thing outside the context of food.

Specifically, he believe as a matter of faith, that there is absolutely no difference in quality for almost any product at different price points. Telling him you spent an extra 30 bucks on pants because they'll fit better and last longer is like telling him you bought the microwave with the highest MPG, he'll think you're spouting crazy nonsense. Basically, he believes that all wealthy people are being duped all the time.

My wife's family does most of their clothes shopping at Brooks Brothers, so I'm glad the subject has never come up at Thanksgiving.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


John Cheese and David Wong are two of Cracked's best writers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]



Why is this a bad habit? I'm not poor, and though I don't need to keep track of my finances down to the cent... I can't see why that'd be a bad thing.

Because it's a disruptive neurosis. On one hand, knowing what your spending limits are is good, obviously. On the other hand, keeping a well detailed running tally can get overwhelming.

I've learned, now, that I have a decent paying job and some reserves and access to credit, to not care so much because I don't have to. And it is so liberating.

One of my worst fears is having to go back to knowing down to the cent how much is in my checking account.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:26 PM on January 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Why is this a bad habit? I'm not poor, and though I don't need to keep track of my finances down to the cent... I can't see why that'd be a bad thing.

It's a really unpleasant compulsion based on anxiety. I constantly fear that if I don't know exactly how much money I have _right now_, then it's really not there and my card will be declined, and I won't be able to get gas and go to work, and I'll get fired and . . .
posted by Garm at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


I can't see why that'd be a bad thing.

I think it's meant to be understood as a bad thing because attention and discipline are finite resources and when you're out of paycheck-to-paycheck or benefits-check-to-benefits-check poverty, presumably there are better things you could be paying attention to.
posted by gauche at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why is this a bad habit? I'm not poor, and though I don't need to keep track of my finances down to the cent... I can't see why that'd be a bad thing.

It's not a bad idea to know where your money's going, but if taken too far, you run the risk of excess anxiety and/or becoming "penny wise, pound foolish."
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've long since come to the realization that Cracked isn't all crap articles but I was still pretty stunned how impressed I was by this. It's hard to be that self-aware sometimes. (If it wasn't, I wouldn't have recognized some of those behaviors in myself for the first time.)

As for whether or not 'bean counting' is stupid or not, yeah, it's not really a bad habit. But focusing too much of your attention on your balance down to the cent when you don't have to is still arguably not healthy. It's stress you don't need. In all things, moderation. You should know if you're anywhere near overdraft area -- but that doesn't mean you need to be constantly aware of where every nickel is. I can't explain why except to say that thinking like you're poor when you aren't is really fucking miserable and not worth the nickel.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went furniture shopping at somewhere other than KMart or Bob's Furniture Depot or National Liquidators Warehouse or Target or Ikea last night, for the first time ever. I felt rich.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's a really unpleasant compulsion based on anxiety.

Ah. I didn't really get that that was the point of the item, but it makes sense to me.
posted by valkyryn at 1:29 PM on January 19, 2012


Hmm, I agree with Artw, imh experience a major "poor habit" is compulsive hoarding because "you never know if you'll need it and can't afford to buy it": napkins, condiments, cardboard boxes, you name it.
I remember the first time I stepped into the home of old money and was stunned that there was no mess anywhere, instead every object had its rightful place and there was lots and lots and lots of space and air and light.
posted by ruelle at 1:30 PM on January 19, 2012 [36 favorites]


We've eaten these things for so long, we've grown to prefer them to the fresh version.

This wasn't really true for my house. We were a frozen veggies house. Still cheaper than fresh, but the canned stuff was smelly and limp and weird. We were also doing things like making hummus before it was something you could buy at the grocery store for 10x what it should cost to make your own, because it was cheap (we had middle-eastern neighbours so got exposed to a wider variety of food than we might have otherwise on our budget).

Even weirder, at my father and stepfamily's house, which was upper middle class and had far more money, they ate canned peas and beans etc because the kids simply preferred the taste.

But yeah I still eat things like cheap frozen pierogies frequently, and I still like Kraft Dinner even if I don't eat it much anymore. Homemade macaroni and cheese is way too rich.
posted by Hoopo at 1:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


How did Cracked evolve from a Mad Magazine wannabe to this? Seriously. I read their articles all the time and the funny ones are hilarious and the serious ones are incredibly good.
posted by tommasz at 1:32 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Slight tangent, but I've noticed a lot of these dynamics even in organizational units. In these days (which is actually as long as I can remember of my working life) of "doing more with less," organizations that should be ok are having to fear the budget reaper every funding cycle and give up the "smart, but non-essential" stuff.

On that level, you can add the "we have to spend this money now, or else it looks like we don't need it and our budget will get cut" wastefulness.
posted by ctmf at 1:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Slight tangent, but I've noticed a lot of these dynamics even in organizational units.

Oh my word, yes. We just did the budget at my church. We are very financially blessed, but there are still old ladies who remember 15 years ago when we were begging Con Ed not to turn the lights off on Christmas Eve who think if the bulletin ends up being too long on Sunday, we'll spend too much on paper, go bankrupt, and have to shut down. Talking to them about the actual numbers will make them shut up but I can tell it doesn't sink in.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:35 PM on January 19, 2012


How did Cracked evolve from a Mad Magazine wannabe to this?

The Cracked name was bought in '05 and it was turned into a Maxim-style lad mag that failed. It was then bought again in '07 to make Cracked.com. The current editor has been trying (and succeeding) at making it a Good Website; even right off the bat they got old-school internet writers like Seanbaby on board. The more serious stuff liek this is pretty recent, but they've had quality writing up there the whole while.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on January 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


I live like I don't want anyone to think I'm poor ever again.

Ouch. I've been putting off renegotiating my monthly cable/internet/phone bill (which I could easily get dropped $50 a month) because I don't want the person on the other end of the phone to think I'm poor.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:36 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


We are poor, but I never grew up that way. When I first moved in with my husband (boyfriend at the time), we were eating these $1 frozen dinners every night and I NEVER was able to buy jeans. Finally after a few months of this I broke down and told him I wasn't used to living like this, and I wanted to go home.

We still laugh about it to this day!
However, we've been poor for a couple years now and I check our bank account multiple times a day. I have a constant running tally going through my head, I wake in a cold sweat trying to remember if EVERY transaction is accounted for (omg omg did I forget the $20 in gas charge), and I get physically sick when I have to swipe my debit card.

The light at the end of our tunnel? TAX RETURN BABY! I got that planned out and just counting the days till it arrives. Christmas happens at the start of the new year. Not December 25.
posted by Sweetmag at 1:36 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've never been poor, and I've still devolved into that bean counter habit at certain times when I've felt employment insecurity. Keeping track of money is one thing. Spending two hours trying to reconcile a $1.98 difference in your accounts isn't healthy in any context, and when you get convinced you need to know things to the cent it can become an unhealthy obsession. Really, almost any other planning or purchase research is probably a better use of your time than worrying about tiny discrepancies.

What this is really saying is that the skills it takes to build and use a financial cushion are neither automatic nor obvious. It takes practice to make one, to keep one healthy, and to tak advantage of one properly, for the psychological as well as financial benefits.
posted by meinvt at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2012


you run the risk of. . . becoming "penny wise, pound foolish."

Now that I see all the time. I knew someone who came from a pretty disadvantaged background but had gone on to college and professional school who would spend hours clipping coupons but couldn't find the time to get her licensing situation squared away so she could make upwards of $100 an hour moonlighting. She also had no idea how to price things like a home warranty or disability insurance. So her grocery costs were pretty rigorously controlled, but she'd waste hundreds of dollars on larger expenses she couldn't get her head around. And this from someone with an advanced degree.

Still, it sort of fits into some of the other items, about only spending for the short term, spending any extra money right away, and going overboard on gifts. All of which seem to basically be variations of the "penny-wise, pound-foolish" theme.
posted by valkyryn at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even though I would've always described my upbringing as very solidly upper-middle class, a lot of this hit really close to home for me. My experience will have been a lot less traumatic than most people's on Metafilter, but I still count it as a pretty integral part of why my personality is the way it is.

When I was growing up, my parents had just moved to Germany from China Both of them were studying for their PhDs and living off of stipends; my mom didn't speak German and wasn't allowed to work, technically, so she did work under the table. I had a very strong sense of money and how much it was worth from a very early age, and I distinctly remember resenting the school for mandating that I had to have "indoor shoes" because it meant I had to ask my mom for a second pair of shoes, and I'd have to watch her expression tighten in that awful way I hated. In 4th grade I told my parents I wanted to leave the after school program that they'd put me in to help me acclimatize to living in Germany because I knew it was costing them several hundred Marks per month. We were all vociferous readers, but I don't recall buying a single book in Germany, and I wasn't given a book as a gift except for just shortly before we left Germany for Canada, when the 4th Harry Potter book came out and my mom got it for me in English as a way to encourage me to practice my English.

My sister was born shortly before we moved to Canada, and she had a very different experience of growing up. While we were still struggling with my dad's occasionally ill-thought-out financial decisions, and trying to put down roots in yet another country, we were never as tight as we'd been back in Germany. Both of my parents had full-time jobs now with government institutions; these jobs came with health and dental and other benefits. She might not have had lavish vacations and every latest gadget, but she doesn't quite grasp the concept of money the way I did. She's 12, and when she needs money for fundraisers or yearbooks or school pictures or school lunches, she just asks for it, and my parents give it to her. They complain to me, but they still give it to her.

I remember feeling jealous that she got to have pizza lunches, because back in grade 8 I was so terrified of asking my parents for money that I just didn't tell them about the option, and subsequently was the only kid in my class to not get pizza lunches.

It's interesting, too, how my parents don't realize how much I've internalized this. The one time I mentioned to them how I just didn't tell them about events that went on at school because I didn't want them to pay for it they were utterly taken aback.
posted by Phire at 1:43 PM on January 19, 2012 [36 favorites]


You think in exact numbers because, at any given point, you have to know if swiping the debit card for gas will put you into overdraft territory.

Corollary: Knowing which gas station puts a ~$75 hold on your checking account that takes two days to clear and which puts a $1 hold on your checking account that takes two days to clear. Hello, pre-payday fill-up.

n.b. not poor, just your standard garden variety backcountry lmc tightwad
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:51 PM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wow this hits close to home. Especially (as others have said) They can't shake the idea that the money is perishable.

We do without for so long, that if any money comes in it is our one and only chance to buy new shoes, go to the dentist, replace our bedsheets, replace five-year-old eyeglasses, get new tires, etc etc, and *poof* the money is gone. The thing is, if we hadn't spent it right away, six months from now it probably would still be spent, only we still wouldn't have had dental appointments. So what do you do? So it goes RIGHT NOW, to all those things that have been on the "someday" list for a long time.

We're working hard at overcoming this, but wow is it difficult. I got a bit of a windfall recently and it's sitting happily in savings, but a big part of me is itching to replace our ten year old bed, get the piano tuned, buy a second pair of glasses, and go visit my family.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?

No, it's a poor thing. Not temporary poor (like living for a couple of years on a graduate school stipend) or striving, new-immigrant poor (like living six to a room so you can save up the money to buy mom a house or open a deli), but ground-down, multiple-generation poor. I'm not omniscient enough to say it is 100 percent universal, but certainly it has worked this way in every country I have lived.

There's a rational component to it, in that you buy $5 small bags of food instead of $8 large bags because you know your moocher brother in law will just come over and eat the extras. And there are components that are maybe economically irrational, like blowing a windfall on a big party, but that are culturally expected by your friends and family, and you rely on them for things, so... And then there's the ground-down piece, where sometimes people just get tired of having things not work out, and just stop trying.

And it's a reason many poor people stay poor. I've had to clean out what little savings I've managed to scrape together on multiple occasions because my car broke down. And my car broke down because I had to buy the junkiest pice of shit that was out there. Because I was poor.

I'm not rich, but I'm a long way from poor, and it's one of the enormous unfairnesses in life that my relative prosperity can allow me to live cheaper than someone poorer. I can buy cheap shit at Costco rather than expensive stuff in small portions; I can afford to own fewer possessions because I always have the option of simply going and buying what I need on the spur of the moment. I have access to available and extremely cheap credit, rather than getting ripped off at the payday loan place. I have a regular bank account, so I'm not paying high check cashing fees, or paying for money orders. I can go to the dentist or doctor at the first hint of a problem when it's cheap, rather than waiting until it's serious.

Being poor is expensive on its own terms, which doesn't even get into the costs in terms of health and longevity and happiness of the traumas that go along with poverty.
posted by Forktine at 1:53 PM on January 19, 2012 [51 favorites]


My sister lives like she doesn't ever want to be poor again.

I live like I don't want anyone to think I'm poor ever again.

I am absolutely neurotic about money in private (or sometimes among trusted friends) and have some really genuinely crazy habits like food hoarding and eating spoiled food (which I'm better about lately). But in public I am very much all "hey, money grows on trees!" because having people look down on you (or arguably worse, treat you like you're invisible) gets really old.

Great article, thanks for posting.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:54 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


"We have to spend this before it disappears."

I lived in Brazil in the late 1980's, during the crazy hyper-inflation period, when every few years the government would just chop three zeroes off the end of the currency and give it a new name. (I remember once standing in line to check out at the drug store and having an announcement come over the loudspeaker that as of that moment, all the prices in the store were being increased by 30%.)

When I moved back to the States, it took a long time for me to unlearn the "buy it now! Before the price goes up!" mentality. Because in that place, at that time, money was perishable.
posted by ambrosia at 1:55 PM on January 19, 2012 [21 favorites]


How is this different than the other gazillion personal finance articles from formerly poor or blue-collar people saying the same thing? I don't understand why everybody likes this article so much.
posted by michaelh at 1:56 PM on January 19, 2012


This explains so much of my life. While I wouldn't call my upbringing poor, my mother grew up in a one-room house at the end of a dirt road. She was terrifically bad with money and we ate a lot of mac and cheese and Taco Bell and shit. She lives very comfortably now, but she still goes waaay overboard at Christmas.

Habits of the poor trickle down to their children even when financial circumstances change.
posted by desjardins at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because we learned to like generic articles when we were poor :(
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [32 favorites]


ha sorry desjardins. that was not to you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:58 PM on January 19, 2012


Because we're not discussing those generic personal finance articles, michaelh. Link me to one that is well-written and insightful, and I'm sure I'll sing its praises just as fervently.
posted by Phire at 1:59 PM on January 19, 2012


This didn't resonate with my (formerly extremely) broke ass as much as I'd have liked. The author isn't off the mark, I just think maybe I'd be able to find better examples. I didn't find anything wrong with it, but it didn't speak to me.
It's fun, having money and being married to someone who's never had to worry about money ... We are completely different shoppers - he wants to get the best value for his money, and to me there's no feature that is worth extra money over the top of your basic POS appliance or car or whatever.
I stand firmly with your husband on this. I'm the cheapest mofo on this website - but if I have to buy something - like food, a car or a house - then I buy will only buy something I see as being worth buying. I haven't ever bought plain Wonder Bread with my own money, my condo is on the lake, and my cars are the luxury models with the highest reliability ratings.

But then again, you'd never be able to look at my clothes and guess how much money I made last year.
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 2:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


my dad however grew up seriously dirt poor .... He never did figure out how to handle money

I think the "poor habits" take lasting root or not based on some personality traits like how resilient and open to learning and change you are, and how good you are at logic and planning. If you have that resilence and ability to plan you soon discard habits that no longer make sense in improved circumstances.

I grew up in a home where money was tight (five kids, disabled dad, both parents making not very much money), but what we had was very carefully managed. We grew our own food and made things and fixed things for ourselves as often as we could. My parents never ran into debt, though they weren't able to save much at all and there was no money for luxuries. We five kids have had wildly different financial management styles, and two of my brothers have always been simply terrible with money while the other three of us manage quite well. I don't really understand why my two brothers couldn't manage money when they should have learned the same habits I did. One is a smart but very egotistical guy who is absolutely certain that he knows better than anyone else, and my best guess is that he just makes his decisions and never questions whether he might make better ones. He blames his lack of money on the fact that he's just never made much. I don't know what "not much" is in his book. I've heard him say $40K a year is "not much in Toronto", though I would say it's enough to do a lot with, even in Toronto, if one is careful. I'm pretty sure he has to have made at least as much as I have, and I have a house that will be paid for in another six years while he has no savings or assets whatsoever.

I know very well what it was like in my early twenties to not be able to take advantage of a sale because I needed that extra money for other, more pressing needs. I really had to consider every penny. I remember the first thing I bought when I first got steady work: a $25 cookbook. It felt like a major splurge. I thought about it for two weeks. (Still have and still use that cookbook 15 years later.) Now, though I am still careful with money, I think in larger increments and am more relaxed about it. Yesterday I spent $25 on materials and a pattern and notions to make a blouse that I didn't really need after just a few minutes' thought. I'll wear the blouse and enjoy it and there's room in this month's spending money for it, so why not. A week ago I stocked up on six boxes of hair colour because they were priced at $5 instead of the usual $7.50. I gave some thought to how nice it felt to have that $30 for that, and what a time saver it was to have six month's worth of grey coverage on the shelf instead of having to remember to buy a box each month.
posted by orange swan at 2:01 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


My mom is the exact same way, the young rope-rider, and sometimes it drives me crazy. I will have to remind myself in the future that it might be embarrasing or even shameful for her to be 'treated' by her daughter.

I'm sorry, Critical_Beatdown - it's kind of hard to formulate a response to what is essentially "I've got money and I spend it in the right place. You don't." I know I have a fucked up mental attitude about money.
posted by muddgirl at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


One of my worst fears is having to go back to knowing down to the cent how much is in my checking account.

My only goal in life, the only serious one, is to be so financially secure that I never go to the grocery store while worrying about what bill I have to delay paying so I can eat. Forget the white picket fence and the house in the suburbs, I just don't want to be afraid (even in a nonsensical neurotic way) that part of the price of eating fresh fruit may be having the power turned off.
posted by winna at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2012 [35 favorites]


I feel like there's a real danger of shielding one's kids too much.

My parents are both in academia -- my mom a professor, my dad formerly an instructor now a university IT specialist -- so while we weren't rolling in it, there were never any real cutbacks, nor was any tension over money discussed in earshot of us kids. Plus, both parents went to college (and one a Ph.D.) for finance, so thinking long term has been drilled into me since I could comprehend what an interest rate meant. Probably earlier. I basically only think of my own finances in the abstract, because I never saw the real impact of day-to-day decisions they made.

That has its obvious downsides. When I first graduated from college, I bought a single piece of furniture -- a reasonably nice couch -- because all I could afford in terms of beds, dressers, etc. was Ikea, and I knew that wasn't a good value in the long term. So I slept on a mattress on the floor with clothes on a PVC rack and in Rubbermaid containers and sat on an expensive couch watching an expensive TV sitting on an awful Ikea table-thing that I got from one of my college roommates.

So I had a large empty apartment because the space was worth it to me (coming from dorms and studio apartments), but Ikea furniture wasn't. (Nor was normal-people food, so I ate a lot of hot dogs cooked on an expensive skillet-- not All-Clad, but close.) That was a weird year, but everything that I said was "expensive" I still have (except the TV, which was stolen).

My wife comes from a family closer to the article's author's. I think the theory and the pragmatism make a good mix.
posted by supercres at 2:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


My only goal in life, the only serious one, is to be so financially secure that I never go to the grocery store while worrying about what bill I have to delay paying so I can eat.

The first time I felt rich was when I realized I no longer look at the price tags in the grocery store. I throw anything I want into the cart, recognizing that I have enough money in the bank to cover even the fanciest groceries.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:08 PM on January 19, 2012 [26 favorites]


I grew up quite poor, and still am. But what intrigues me most are that my parents' abilities at coping with being poor are so different.

My father, who himself grew up very poor, with a mother who was poorer still, just can't help economizing to the extreme. He buys the cheapest things he can, uses them to the last, and refuses to throw things away if he believes they might come in useful at some point. He will take old food home with him from my house to cook and eat, and even wears his work uniform so as to avoid having to buy more clothes. The man believes a telephone and central heating are luxuries to be avoided.

My mother grew up in a relatively well off family of small businesses owners who could afford the newest things and to treat their kids. When she married my father and became poor, she knew how to shop and what was worth spending a little extra money on to get good quality. Fresh food for all her kids, but second hand clothes that still had lots of wear in them. You could walk into her house and not know she earnt less than another who lived much worse. Saving comes easy to her in the stead of discretionary purchases, meaning that there's never been a time when an emergency could have wiped her out financially.

The people who think that social class is nothing more than a higher income and nicer accent just haven't seen its effects. You can make my mum poor, but you'll never make her a lower class of person. Likewise my dad is never going to relax with money as his poverty is so ingrained in his character.
posted by Jehan at 2:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Forktine is totally right- being poor can be very expensive. I'm not poor, I have a teaching job which practically makes me a goddamn millionaire according to the new york post.

However, I was at the dentist yesterday wondering how I was going to pay for a procedure and I just started looking around at the other people there. Some people were in a lot of pain, because they had waited too long to see the dentist, probably due to 1) no insurance, 2) no time off work and/or 3) fear of procedures probably even more likely to be more painful and expensive also due to delays.

Then I was looking out the street level window at the traffic on the road thinking how screwed you are if you're poor and your car breaks down because you can't get to work and it's more likely you are driving an old car so it's more likely to break down.

Basically more things are likely to fall apart when you are living closer to the poverty line and things breaking down like cars or your teeth are then going to cost you even more money that you just don't have and time off work which you just can't afford to do, even if 'your boss lets you'.

Also, I work in a low income area and now one of my students' families is now living in a hotel, which I'm sure is expensive, because their house (apt?) 'burned down' (was told that today). Most likely due to a lack of smoke detectors, lack of a good landlord, lack of inspections, lack of decent wiring and/or heating systems etc. It just is such a vicious cycle. Maybe I sound totally clueless but I've just been noticing all of this so much lately, things that I was never exposed to as a surburban white middle class kid. In Canada, the land of free health care and much more generous social assistance programs.
posted by bquarters at 2:13 PM on January 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


The exception to not buying in bulk is beer. I don't buy six-packs any more. I don't buy twelve-packs either. I buy 30-packs. Of Busch Light.
posted by Curious Artificer at 2:14 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the second paragraph of the article, he links to why he's no longer poor (he's an alcoholic who quit drinking). It's really touching.
posted by desjardins at 2:15 PM on January 19, 2012


I'm sorry, Critical_Beatdown - it's kind of hard to formulate a response to what is essentially "I've got money and I spend it in the right place. You don't."
Not what was I saying!

In fact, I'd argue there is no right and wrong here. I'm saying that growing up poor doesn't necessarily mean you spend money on the cheapest stuff out there. Nothing more, or personal about that.
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But in public I am very much all "hey, money grows on trees!" because having people look down on you (or arguably worse, treat you like you're invisible) gets really old.

That's another example of how much cheaper it is when you aren't thinking poor. I have a coworker and friend who grew up in what was basically a chicken shack and is always afraid of people looking down on him for that part of his past. So we can't go into a bar without him starting to buy rounds of drinks, or buy drinks for the bartender and waitresses, not to mention the overly lavish tipping. He's firmly in the upper middle class now, but I swear if he ever ends up poor again it will be because he spends so much money trying to convince people he has money.
posted by Forktine at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, and a previous post of mine has lots of good stuff in the comments: You Have to be Rich to be Poor
posted by desjardins at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man. My family was fortunate enough to never be truly poor, but we did have some financial issues when I was about 10 that left us in a drastically reduced financial situation for several years. Though my parents tried to keep me and my brother out of it, they did answer the questions I asked, and as a result of learning a lot about the state of our finances from day to day and what my parents sacrificed to keep my brother and me clothed, fed, and educated, I have all kinds of complexes about money. The biggest is to ensure it is never anyone else's problem. Can't say I've been the most fiscally responsible person since entering the real world, though I've gotten much better, but I go to great lengths to never let my parents worry about me financially. I also always have a horrible guilt trip if they lend or give me money, even if it's giving me $20 to buy gas on my way home after a visit, and was absolutely horrified when they offered to contribute to my wedding because in my head they still can't afford it even though they can. This is going to be interesting with my fiance as we start combining finances, since I've noticed I have the same complex with him (hoo boy, did ring shopping cause serious inner turmoil). I always find it surprising when politicians insist that social programs will just make people lazy and expect handouts; on the contrary, my experience as a kid with financial insecurity has made me feel extremely guilty doing anything I could interpret as spending someone else's money -- accepting a loan, monetary gift, or agreeing to let someone spend money on me.

That said, our family Christmases are always pretty fantastic as we all try to compensate for our insecurities by being lavish (by middle-class standards) in our gifts to each other.
posted by olinerd at 2:21 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there's a difference, financially, between growing up poor in America as someone with roots, and growing up poor in America as immigrants. Most of my friends growing up were the children of working-class immigrants or children of immigrants -- mostly from Russia, Italy and China -- and many of our parents were hardcore savers with long-terms plans in mind for any money made. On the other hand, people I know who grew up poor in the US did more what the articles describes, with much less mind toward savings or planning. So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?
The difference is that the vast majority of people who came over as immigrants were not from the 'poor class' in their countries, or if they are they are among the most ambitious, the people most willing to get outside of their comfort zones, etc. If you go over to Russia, China, places like that I'm sure you'll find tons and tons of people who are just like poor Americans here, people who don't ever leave their local area, etc. And it's also the fact that they probably didn't have these cultural habits ground into them at a young age.

It's also interesting to see this play on the "theme" we've had recently of threads about poor people and bad eating habits.
---
Also, in this day and age it's hard for me to believe that "the most expensive thing" is the one that's really going to last the longest. People use price as a proxy for quality and companies really know how to take advantage of that. Take Nike shoes, for example. They're expensive as hell but it's not because they last. I remember when I was a kid, I got Nike shoes a couple of times. I was excited, but I don't think they lasted very long (this was before the human rights stuff came out). On the other hand mid-range Airwalks (like $30-$50) from payless seemed to last longer. I mean I didn't keep notes or anything, but that was my impression.

Or compare a Mercedes to a Toyota. Which do you think will have fewer mechanical problems (now, granted the Benz will probably have great service if you ever do have problems, but in terms overall cost I seriously doubt that would over cover the price differential)

Maybe that was true 50 years ago, but really when you spend extra these days you're mostly paying for the brand, not the intrinsic quality.
I stand firmly with your husband on this. I'm the cheapest mofo on this website - but if I have to buy something - like food, a car or a house - then I buy will only buy something I see as being worth buying. I haven't ever bought plain Wonder Bread with my own money, my condo is on the lake, and my cars are the luxury models with the highest reliability ratings.
Uh, no... you are definitely the cheapest mofo on this website.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


The one item around the house that makes my wife feel financially secure is boxes of Kleenex. She considers it a luxury item and, if we ever get to the point that we can't afford them, she knows that the financials are bad.
posted by Jacob G at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I remember back in college my boyfriend and I were in an anthropology class and the discussion turned to reservation life for Native Americans. It was pointed out to us that poverty was so ingrained in their lives that when any money did come in (like a stipend or payout from the sale of land or casino money) that one of the major purchases was large appliances like dishwashers and washing machines

So our professor told us this story about working on Pine Ridge Reservation and seeing these houses with two and three dishwashers or washing machines sitting outside on the porch. He wondered why they were just sitting out there and his guide told him it was because most of the houses didn't have running water at the time. But that they bought the appliances as an investment.

Later that night, I was puzzling over this. Why in God's name would people without running water buy a washing machine? It made no sense. My boyfriend looked at me and said very quietly, "That's because you've never been poor."

Decades later, I get it. I hate that I get it and I hate that it's something that anybody has to learn but I get it.
posted by teleri025 at 2:23 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I remember going shopping toward the end of our poverty streak, and I told my kids to pick out new bedspreads so we could get rid of their old, ugly ones. My oldest son looked around for a second and then said, "Thanks, dad, but I don't really need one."

kmz: In a whole article of sad, this is the part that made me choke up.

Naw, don't choke up! It's not sad. That trait, of knowing what you really need and just genuinely not wanting or caring about the things you don't need, is going to stand that kid in good stead for his whole life. It's incredibly freeing. This kid will not feel the need to keep up with Joneses. This kid is not going to blow tons of money and get into debt pursuing materialistic junk, like so many of his peers will.

This kid will probably be more successful at handling money than his father. And he will probably be happier. I'm serious, there are few things more freeing to the life of the average Westerner than not giving a shit about superfluous material goods.
posted by cairdeas at 2:26 PM on January 19, 2012 [35 favorites]


I haven't been really poor for a long time, certainly more than 15 years. But reading an article like this, it doesn't take very long for me to start to cry. It wasn't all that long ago that the only reason my kids could eat was because my boss let me take home leftovers from the diner where I cooked.

Nobody's mentioned how hard it is to stay on the right side of the law when you're broke. I got a parking ticket once, couldn't pay it, car got towed, I lost my job, got a failure to appear warrant, license suspended, got arrested, some shit went down, and it was only dumb luck that my English teacher's husband was my judge. He knew I had a little one and a husband in school, so he had his clerk work out a payment plan for me. It kept my ass out of jail and my daughter in formula and whatnot.

To the person who said they don't ever want anybody to think they're poor? A-fucking-men, a hundred times. Hell, I still don't mind shopping at thrift stores, but I'd stop in a heartbeat if anybody thought I did it because I needed to.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:30 PM on January 19, 2012 [21 favorites]


I grew up lower middle class from farmer stock and my Mom and I went through some really, REALLY tough financial times after my parents divorced. So although I've done pretty well since then, I still have some of the neuroses about finances.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, comes from old money. I mean OLD. MONEY. It's incredible to see how he approaches wealth and privilege. We often have discussions about our different approaches.

On a recent vacation, I suggested that I'd be happy to fly coach, because flying first class, as he was wont to do, would cost an extra $1200 for the four hour flight, per person. "It's like they're paying us $300 an hour, cash, just to fly coach," I laughed.

His tongue-in-cheek, politically incorrect rejoinder had me laughing all day: "Whoever would have imagined it would take a Scot to teach a Jew how to be frugal?" That's now become an in-joke between us, how, if he sticks with me, I'll teach him how to be Scottish.
posted by darkstar at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't always spend money on the cheapest stuff (nowadays I never spend money on the cheapest stuff, especially not clothes that will warp and get holey after one washing), but I think I will always have that instinct.
posted by muddgirl at 2:33 PM on January 19, 2012


I know a fellow who like Postroad is under the family magic spell of The Great Depression Experience. Second generation in his case as his parents were born in the early '30's. This man has living expenses banked, at his current burn rate, to last ninety years. According to the Social Security Administration Actuary tables he is going to die in around 28 years.

If you go to any financial planner in town this guy has financial security. He hate hate hates to spend money.
posted by bukvich at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2012


Yeah, uh, this dude fuckin' nailed it.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not sad. That trait, of knowing what you really need and just genuinely not wanting or caring about the things you don't need, is going to stand that kid in good stead for his whole life. It's incredibly freeing. This kid will not feel the need to keep up with Joneses. This kid is not going to blow tons of money and get into debt pursuing materialistic junk, like so many of his peers will.

That kid will put off buying necessities because they're not 'needed' right up until they have to do it. They won't buy little things that would make life smoother because it would be 'wasting money'. They will live lives impoverished by pre-limiting their possibilities based on affordability.

I can tell you that wearing shoes until they fall off your feet because you don't 'need' another pair is not freeing. It's crippling and the relationship you have with money in that case is just as bad as a kid who never thinks about where money comes from.
posted by winna at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2012 [30 favorites]


Why in God's name would people without running water buy a washing machine? It made no sense. My boyfriend looked at me and said very quietly, "That's because you've never been poor."

I dunno, I've been poor and that makes no sense to me either.
posted by ian1977 at 2:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Nobody's mentioned how hard it is to stay on the right side of the law when you're broke.

This. To infinity.

That boyfriend in college? The one who knew in the core of his being what poor was? Yeah, years later he almost did jail time for an accident that happened when he was 18.

He got in a wreck, got a ticket. But the ticket was mailed to his mom's old address (and no forwarding because she was skipping out on rent). So he never paid the ticket.

He moved to another state, got a new Driver's license in the new state and quietly lived his life. So any chance the old state could notify him that the ticket he never paid was racking up points and fines like no tomorrow was gone.

He moved back to old state and never bothered with getting a new license because that was $20 he didn't need to spend.

10 years after the accident and the ticket that never got paid, he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. Cop ran his license, found out that it was suspended in old state and even though he one issued from new state he was driving on a suspended license.

Technically you have to go to jail for at least a night when you drive on a suspended license. He was lucky because the cop was nice and let him go. It took him $1000 to pay off the suspension and get reinstated. Which took two full days off work to go to the DMV to pay. All for a ticket that was $20 at the time.

And God forbid you get picked up with drugs or do anything really illegal.
posted by teleri025 at 2:39 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I don't get it either.
posted by griphus at 2:39 PM on January 19, 2012


(That was re: Native Americans, washing machine.)
posted by griphus at 2:39 PM on January 19, 2012


I feel like there's a real danger of shielding one's kids too much.

There's also a danger of not shielding your kids enough -- especially when you don't have quite a good enough idea of whether you need to.

Something that i'm just realizing now, upon reading this article and the comments here, is that my mother was probably the daughter of someone who grew up poor, and never shed these habits. My grandparents both lived through the Depression, and my grandmother was also from an immigrant family and one of about ten kids -- and she was really REALLY frugal. Sweet, but frugal - and I think in some not-so-good ways.

So we grew up with my mother in a state of financial anxiety, as if we were a paycheck away from ruin. But -- I'm starting think we actually weren't in that state after all, it was just all Mom not having shaken the habits that my grandmother wasn't able to shake before her. And I picked up on her anxiety, but also picked up on how it really REALLY wasn't necessary, and that may have messed me up some too. I can still remember one day when I was eight years old and Mom scolded me for spitting out a cough drop that I thought tasted nasty -- her exact words were "doing that was like spitting a dime into the trash, what's wrong with you?"

Of course, actually BEING poor for the past few years hasn't helped all that much either. But now I'm suddenly wondering how much of what I grew up hearing about money may have been informed by bad-poor-habits from two generations ago,
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:41 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The way it was explained to me was that a washing machine means less work around the house and it was seen as an investment. The fact that there was no running water didn't factor in, it was that you could buy such an expensive item.

Like a nice car in the ghetto, it shows your wealth (that you don't really have.)
posted by teleri025 at 2:42 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grew up thrifty, with back-to-the-land parents who kept a huge garden and chickens, went through a middle class youth, then ended up poor by choice after I got expelled from high school. My dad always said the real world would prove my high-minded ideals wrong, but I was so dead-set on ever having to come home with my hand out that I starved in stretches and ended up homeless a time or two along the way. At the worst of it, I worked as a stripper and lived off the vegetables I stole from the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where I'd set up a comfortable little hidey hole in an abandoned building there, and I did some things very well, and some things badly enough that I still have little clusters of crazy habits, even twenty-five years later.

I'll never forget the desolate, desperate feeling in my core when I was so hungry that my stomach would be tied up in painful knots. I'll never forget how it was when I couldn't sleep because of that ache. I had great tricks, though. I could walk from my $105 a month room in the roach-infested basement of an off-campus Knox Box to the student union at UMCP, and for sixty-nine cents, I could get a Buckaroo Burger at Roy's, then take my bag to the Fixin's Bar, fill it with lettuce, pickles, peppers, tomatoes, relish, and other things, then tear up the burger and shake up the whole bag to make a hamburger salad. I'd buy a Big Bite for a buck at 7-11, quickly eat the hot dog and bun when the cashier wasn't looking, and fill up the Big Bite box with chili and cheese from the machine—two meals for a buck!

My poverty eating habits have stuck with me, and that nagging need to gorge when food's available is pretty intense. What about when there is no money? Best to eat while you can.

You develop these odd habits and workarounds, and long after the cause has gone away, you catch yourself persisting with your ingenuity even when it's not required.

"What on earth are you doing?"

"What?" I asked, half mumbling as I sat with pins in the corner of my mouth, blanket-stitching.

"Sewing up my underpants. They're all full of holes."

"Why don't you just buy new ones?"

"They're expensive."

"They're not that expensive."

"It's still money."

"How much is your time worth?"

Hmm.

I am currently making five times what I was making when I worked full time in a crummy pizza joint. I can afford socks and underwear, but I persist in sitting there while I'm watching TV, darning my socks on the well-worn little blue darning egg my grandmother used. It doesn't help, of course, because they wear so thin you stick to your insoles through your socks, but well, these are still good.

I'm smart in some ways, though, thanks to Mormons and my childhood encounter with the Free State Survivalists when I got lost at the State Fair in 1978. I buy toilet paper in that enormous 64 roll pack that's about forty cents more than the twelve pack. I buy the peculiar paste-style anti-perspirant I use in lots of ten when it's on sale, and I stock up on my chosen brand of double-edged razor blades when I find a good deal on ebay. I'm unlikely to stop crapping, shaving, or using anti-perspirant anytime soon. I make my own laundry detergent out of motel soaps that people give me. I tailor my own clothes, bake my own dog biscuits, and otherwise do a hell of a job living a sort of Waldenesque life when I can.

At the same time, my issues with debt and absurd binge spending have really set in, too, to the point that I've given myself a virtual Ludovico Treatment when it comes to loans. I've got a perfect, paid-for, reliable, sporty fun little Barbie dream roadster that I bought for $1250 cash in perfect always-garaged low mileage condition, and which is cheap to insure, emissions exempt because it's 22 years old, and it's given me two trouble-free years of service and would be good for ten more, except...well, I don't fit in it. I'm a giant circus bear in this teeny car where, if I sit up, my eyes are above the tops of the windows. I removed the sunvisor and sit in a slouch, and after a six month horror of chronic pain, my physical therapist pointed out that folding myself up to drive is absolutely the worst thing for my kind of nerve impingement, but—it's paid for, and reliable, and it's money I don't have to spend...I can't replace something that's perfectly good, right?

Ow, ow, ow.

I went looking for cars, and because I've driven nothing but insane clapped-out European oddballs that I bought for a thousand bucks or so, I'm completely unprepared for what's changed in the market since the last "expensive" car (i.e. more than $3000) I bought back in 2003. When the fucking fuck did these goddamned things get so expensive? Hell, last year I crossed over the income level boundary making me middle class for the first time since I left home twenty-six years ago, so maybe it's time I get myself a nice inexpensive little new car. Wait—how much is the cheapest car? Really? So if I bought myself a sweet little Fiat with a loan, it would be how much a month?

I get these headaches, these "fuck the modern world" headaches.

I'm still unwinding a debt that I built up in a two-year try at going into business for myself, when I left my old field behind and took up my tools to be a builder without quite understanding how to consistently produce a profit with skills that are virtually unmatched by any of the builders I've met. I'm a damn good gentleman craftsman, but I'm not an operator, and you don't make money as a gentleman craftsman without being a bit of an operator. Tried it, failed, burned through all my savings, my cashed-out 401k, and ran up debt again for about a forty thousand dollar hit on where I'd been when I was just an office drone and bored with my dronishness.

Every hit leaves a bit of scar tissue, and another financial tic.

Sometimes, I'm smart. The twenty-four dollars I spent on a classical French blue steel crepe pan back when that was worth a week's rent? Good money. Love that magical pan that never sees soap and fries the perfect egg. Oddly, buying a searingly expesive store demonstrator Bang & Olufsen Beogram CD 4500 and a pair of nice Klipsch speakers was a good investment, too. Ah, the Eno that's played and played and played on those purchases, bringing an atmosphere of tranquility into a house full of hand-me-down furniture and junk. I was lucky enough to have a wise friend point out that just rationing and withholding and being thrifty to a fault just was corrosive to the soul. Sometimes, you need to treat yourself like you deserve something wonderful, because you're wonderful. Even when the bill collectors are calling, and calling you a lousy human being, you're still fucking worth something, and sometimes, you're worth a splurge. It just needs to be in context, and something done with clarity and a well-defined comparison of benefits to the cost of receiving those benefits.

I was also lucky to hear an interview with the authors of a book that everyone but the 1% ought to read. It's got its issues, and you have to take some of what it says with a grain of salt, but Your Money Or Your Life went further in undoing some of my own damage than anything else. When money is a problem, sometimes the worst thing we do is to shy away from it, to think it's something dirty or outside any possibility of understanding, and to just keep to these terrible, terrible habits. It's the lack of engagement with our money that lets us get out of control, and enables the bad decisions.

Let it slide, and you will only ever slide downhill.

These days, bill collectors don't call. I'm not afraid of the phone anymore, except when I'm sure it's my mother calling for me to help with her computer. I haven't seen a late fee in years, haven't bought some stupid thing in a foamy desire rampage because something has me all insecure and upset and something shiny will make that feeling go away for a moment. I don't even tear through whole pints of green tea ice cream to soothe that foamy desire rampage, except on the worst occasions. I still have horrible financial tics and spasms, and it takes me months to get up my nerve to buy anything that's not an absolute no-brainer, and this car thing is making me nuts, but I suspect I probably will come to a decision soon in which I find some alternative course to either selling my Barbie dream roadster for a hoopty or just dealing with an agonizing pinched nerve until I purposely crash into a tree to make it stop hurting.

I never did go home for a handout, though. I wonder if it was all worth it.

On reflection, I removed the pins from the corner of my mouth, stuck them straight into the little fabric tomato in my sewing box, along with the needle and thread, and I wadded up my old holey drawers and stuffed them right into the rag bag. I can afford new underwear, goddammit, and if that makes me a member of the idle spendthrift class, so be it.
posted by sonascope at 2:42 PM on January 19, 2012 [98 favorites]


Also, a washing machine may be the least expensive part, relatively, of a very expensive problem. $500 for a washing machine shows you're on the way to the $25,000 needed to get running water to your place. Even, or especially, if you aren't.
posted by maxwelton at 2:44 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Something he doesn't mention, that we poor folk do sometimes:

The ATM will let you take out more money than you actually have, to a certain degree. It will warn you that the amount exceeds available funds, you may be charged the $35.00 fee.

The trick is, say you only have $18.00 in your account, and payday is 4 days away. You have to eat for 4 days. Hmmmm. Well, you can either buy really cheap bread, meat, cheese, and mayo and eat sandwiches for 4 days and not pay an important bill, or you can go to the ATM, ask for $40 or $60 bucks, and eat slightly better and keep that cellphone on. You can leverage the $35 fee against the incoming paycheck.

It's sad how many little habits there are that keep people in survival mode. I'm almost out of it, and really excited / scared of how that's gonna be.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


MoneyMart and the other evil god damn pay-day loan leeches.
Is that an American thing too? It's like a trap designed to punish poor people for being poor.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what a lot of parents don't realize is that when they're openly worrying about bills within earshot of their children, the kids worry, too. When they hit a certain age, they start to make sacrifices on the family's behalf, and they feel guilt for the rare small luxuries they're allowed.

I can totally relate to this. My parents always fought about money in front of us. I grew up convinced we were poor, even though we were nowhere close. It's funny how I picked up a lot of these behaviors, and a kind of chip on my shoulder about money, even though in reality I never had to worry where my next meal would come from.
posted by WASP-12b at 2:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grew up poor and stayed poor for years, one way and another, and now finally I'm doing pretty good. But the things I've been left with are a little different from the list, although there are a couple of things on there that I can't get past, too. I won't pay for things I don't really need, even if they'd be nice, or fun, or better, even though I can afford them right now, because I might really need that money later for something else, maybe for some emergency. This makes a pretty nice cushion in savings, except psychologically it's difficult for me to touch any of it. I stash wads of cash here and there, sometimes, just in case I somehow need it in an emergency later, as if everything I have in the bank accounts might just disappear. And I can't stand for people to give me things or pay for things for me, maybe from learning early on that it was a really big fucking deal. I want to pay my own way and I'll pay for someone else, but I don't want anyone paying for anything for me and I kind of hate getting gifts.
posted by dilettante at 2:53 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree so much with whoever it was that observed that learning about finances from a young age gives you a huge complex about money. I'm lucky enough that I had the social environment I needed to succeed academically, and that I could afford to go to a good school and get a very employable degree and graduate debt free. I live in Toronto, now, which is not known for its cheap living expenses, and while my place is small and I'm still fairly careful with my groceries, I make enough that I can indulge my gadget lust to a certain degree, and that I can decide to get a cat and next day go to the hardware store to get all the implements I need, without severely affecting my savings budget.

But that comes with so much mental baggage. I stay in a job I hate because I can't stand the thought of not being able to put away money every month. I feel guilty for living on my own even though I pay less than most of my coworkers for shared rooms, and even though I know my mental health breaks down in most roommate situations. I can afford to buy nice clothing now, and in fact, my work mandates that I wear suits, but I feel like I'm betraying who I am every time I do. My personal budget spreadsheet is more intricate than some businesses'. And, yet, I get into fights with my boyfriend about who pays for what, because neither of us is willing to let someone else take care of us financially.
posted by Phire at 2:54 PM on January 19, 2012


The first time I felt rich was when I realized I no longer look at the price tags in the grocery store. I throw anything I want into the cart, recognizing that I have enough money in the bank to cover even the fanciest groceries.

Yes. I guess then I'm the opposite of the people in this article, in that I absolutely won't touch food I associate with being poor now that I'm not. It is a little bit dysfunctional, I know.

I have this horrible memory of budgeting and buying all kinds of "poverty" food and then getting to the checkout and finding out I didn't have enough money in my account to pay for them even though I had budgeted so carefully. Then the cashier called the manager over and I had to sort through my groceries and put certain items back while tears welled in my eyes.
posted by melissam at 2:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


The exception to not buying in bulk is beer. I don't buy six-packs any more. I don't buy twelve-packs either. I buy 30-packs. Of Busch Light.

Love it. Grew up on it. My dad grew up poor (I thankfully didn't have to), but today he is 60-year-old multimillionaire. Yet, still when I go visit him in his modest house, there are literally always 10 or so cases of Busch Light in the garage and a few cases in the garage refrigerator. There will be a sale at Sam's Club on Busch or something and he will just clean them out. He'll have some bottles of Bud Light or Heineken, "the good stuff for my fancy lawyer son," for me, but he still prefers the Busch Light. Goes to a few points in the article I think!
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ATM will let you take out more money than you actually have, to a certain degree. It will warn you that the amount exceeds available funds, you may be charged the $35.00 fee.

I don't know if this is possible any more but a, er, friend of mine use to deposit an empty envelope at the ATM claiming there was a check for $80 inside and immediately withdraw $40. Figuring out that the envelope was empty usually took the bank a few days by which time his paycheck had cleared and the account remained in the black even with the $80 deposit being erased.

I'm just saying.

The interesting thing is that I was just about to write a snotty note about how it's not really hard to stay on the right side of the law when you're broke when I remembered this little exploit. So, umm, yeah, you can find yourself walking some tight lines to make ends meet.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


John Cheese and David Wong are two of Cracked's best writers.

That's because before Wong became the editor for Cracked, the site we know today was a completely different humor site, Pointless Waste of Time. It didn't have much in terms of list humor, except spectacularly absurdist pieces such as 50 Reasons Lord of the Rings Sucks and 30 Reasons Eminem is Bad For Music, and Which is the Greatest Trilogy which garnered huge internet outcry from the naive, the unassuming, and the illiterate. The site was great for some really surreal fake film reviews by the same Dr. Albert Oxford character (a few of which have remained: The Hulk, Terminator 3, The Punisher), and the whole site had a very charming, small-time humor site feel to it. John Cheese had his own section (also named Magic Pimp Bus) where he wrote a lot of personal outlook articles under his foul-mouthed, hard-drinking persona until he got sick of it and stopped- many of those pieces are collected in a book he published a few years ago. Sadly, with the advent of Cracked, the site became huge, many new writers joined, and what you see today is the list-based enterprise. Alas, most of the old PWOT content is no more, and there are no existing online archives of it. However, it's interesting to see how what used to be a very minor comedy site grow into one of the behemoths of the internet.

Finally, it appears that John is working on a novel of his own.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


One things that was missing from the list I thought was how money impacts relationships and who you choose to be with. A lot of people from the lower-income bracket are used to pitching in with close family, lending money when needed, borrowing when desperate.

And sometimes when you date you end up with someone that isn't pulling their weight financially in the relationship but because of the fucked up boundaries about money and relationships you learned growing up you don't call them on their shit till the relationship is pretty wrecked.

On the contrary, all the upper/middle class people I know are very proactive about money and expecting the other person to contribute equally and are much more likely to jettison the relationship if they feel taken financially advantaged of.

My family actually became pretty middle class by the time I got to high school but the lessons my parents learned growing up in extreme poverty and the tight financial circumstances we had growing up (plus I was majorly raise dby and Irish nana who lived through the Depression AND her family remembered the 1890's depression too) means I have some huge issues about feeling I am "worth" spending money on. My lesson of learning to eat very small meals so I wouldn't "cost" much was very ingrained, just not by my parents, by me. It was only when I was pregnant did I feel I "deserved" to eat properly even though I was the bread-winner in our household and was working two jobs. Trying to break these horrible thought patterns, especially around financial insecurity, is my number one goal for my children.
posted by saucysault at 3:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


... a, er, friend of mine use to deposit an empty envelope at the ATM claiming there was a check for $80 inside and immediately withdraw $40. Figuring out that the envelope was empty usually took the bank a few days by which time his paycheck had cleared and the account remained in the black even with the $80 deposit being erased.
In the hood, there was a term for it - it's a small variation on "floating."
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 3:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm serious, there are few things more freeing to the life of the average Westerner than not giving a shit about superfluous material goods.

The problem, of course, is that once you reach this point, you feel kind of isolated because so many of your peers never go this route.
posted by 3FLryan at 3:07 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


My sister-in-law made an off-hand comment recently about how she could never buy a used pair of shoes and I said, "well, you've never seriously been poor" and then I felt like a total jerk.

I didn't follow it up with how one year for my birthday, my mom gave me her favorite pair of shoes. And we both cried when I opened it, because they were too big and she'd stuffed the toes with Kleenex hoping they'd fit.

Or how that same year, I'd pick up pennies off the ground and dig around in the couches and car seats everywhere I went during the week and take the change over to her trailer so I could hopefully buy a box of mac n cheese - which we'd make out of water - to feed myself, her and my stepdad for the weekend.

Or how I lived on food stamps my senior year of college (which I had gotten scholarships and grants to pay for, and still had to work 3 jobs) in HUD housing with 5 other people and slept on the floor.

Or that government cheese tastes like Velveeta and comes in a brick.

Or that even now, when I'm not poor anymore and donate to charity and volunteer at organizations every year, I'm positive I'll never retire because I'm afraid I'll be that poor again - and elderly, which is probably worse.

But I've never robbed somebody, and I've never dated somebody just so I'd have a place to stay - not even when I was homeless. I've never taken advantage of another person just to get by, basically.

And I have to fight the urge even now to foot the bill for my poorer friends and family whenever I'd like them to do things with me I know they can't afford, because I've tried that in the past and it usually (obviously) makes everyone feed bad.

I kinda do wish Cracked would get away from the numbered list format sometimes, though I know it's because it drives clicks.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:09 PM on January 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


*feel bad, oops. Freudian slip?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:10 PM on January 19, 2012


Also, poor people don't buy fresh produce, they buy frozen or canned (in my experience) because they don't have gas money to stop by the store whenever -- or cars, usually -- and they need to make sure they don't ever throw away food. EVER.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2012


I had a lot of conversations about this kind of thing with my ex-wife. I've never had to worry about money, and frankly the sheer luxury of never worrying about money wasn't something that sank in until I understood her background (poor to lower-middle-class, up and down over time) better. Her habits and reactions to money situations were a mystery for a while until I got used to them.

I didn't even use the same language -- not having the money really meant not thinking it was worth the money to me, not actually not having money for something (which was pretty rare). Even when we had debt early in my career, I thought of debt like a middle/upper class person does --- as a sensible financial strategy (paying X percent interest on this debt to leverage this other thing, or so I can invest money in Y which pays a higher interest), not a desperate situation. Credit cards were a useful tool (easy tracking, interest-free loan for up to 30 days, etc) not a dangerous trap. And so on.

After spending so long with her I can recognize a lot of these things in other people and see the difference in myself. But thats understanding/empathy. I am completely unable to grok this way of thinking (and frankly I hope that remains the case).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:15 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article really hit home, especially the bean counting one. And the short term thinking one. My parents made a lot of poor decisions even though they made the best decisions they could with limited resources.Many can't understand why poor people often make the decisions they do and John Cheese did a great job explaining it.

After booking a dentist appointment yesterday I was lamenting how it was just another symptom of poverty I couldn't outrun or grow out of. If only my parents could have afforded better dental care, or were more educated, or fed us less sugary foods, or doled out more than a half cup of milk a day, I might have been able to save thousands over the years :/
posted by Calzephyr at 3:15 PM on January 19, 2012


Yes. I guess then I'm the opposite of the people in this article, in that I absolutely won't touch food I associate with being poor now that I'm not. It is a little bit dysfunctional, I know.

I will never, ever, ever eat at Arby's, because my mom thought it was a 'treat' to bring home 5 roast beef sandwiches for 5 dollars.

50 Reasons Lord of the Rings Sucks

Amazing.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes please, more such analysis will increase social mobility even with our plutocrats campaigning against social mobility.

I've never been properly poor, vaguely concerned about long term financial vs. career plans, but poor no. And realistically I could finagle my way into a proper job quickly enough.

I'll quote for truth cairdeas comment that "there are few things more freeing to the life of the average Westerner than not giving a shit about superfluous material goods. I've friends working retail who must own the newest iPhone, just fucking sad.

Btw, you can consume any reasonable amount of fresh produce if you're willing to eat it instead of something else.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:16 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


More classic pre-Cracked PWOT humor, all non-list form:

Attack of the Clones DVD review by John Cheese
Underworld review by David Wong
Chamber of Secrets review (points to whomever can remember what other site this review is parodying)
Van Helsing
Star Trek Nemesis
Attack of the Clones theatrical review
posted by Apocryphon at 3:17 PM on January 19, 2012


Garm: "It's a really unpleasant compulsion based on anxiety. I constantly fear that if I don't know exactly how much money I have _right now_, then it's really not there and my card will be declined, and I won't be able to get gas and go to work, and I'll get fired and . . ."

My solution to this anxiety is pretty cheap. In undergrad I folded up a 2 dollar bill and hid it in the dark abscesses of my wallet, away from the "cash" pocket. Partly this was about bank account balances, it was also about not spending the last damn dollar I had on a Mountain Dew, since machines don't take 2's. No matter if my card was declined, I'd at least have enough to get some gas, make a phone call or get some food off the dollar menu.

Once I graduated and got a job, I upgraded to a 20. Sometimes it saves my bacon when they don't take my credit card or I leave my checkbook behind. I suppose I'll have to call it the "extra minotaur" strategy now.
posted by pwnguin at 3:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Jeffburdges, if you're walking/biking distance to a market that's true. That's why I made my comment; it's not just about gas money, it's about having a ride to the store AT ALL.

If you have to beg for a ride to the store once a month because you don't own a car and must ride with a relative, or take a cab (which you can only afford 2x per month on payday), that's not so much an option.

When you live in a rural area and don't have the time or land to grow your own fruit and veg - or the land's unhospitable - you make do with what you have. And sometimes, it's whatever cheap stuff lasts 2 weeks to 30 days. Most fresh fruit and veg isn't... optimal for that long.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:21 PM on January 19, 2012


In the hood, there was a term for it - it's a small variation on "floating."

Damn, just when you think you've come up with an ....uh, just when you think your friend came up with an original scam you find out there's already a name for it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: ATMs and floating
I'm guessing that is one reason Wells Fargo has those envelope-free ATMs now.
posted by soelo at 3:37 PM on January 19, 2012


#5 bad food and #2 bean counting for me.

Is Tupac Shakur Still Alive?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:42 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh, I guess banks in Canada are much more in tune with ATMs and floating because everyone I know that has tried it even once then immidiately get at least a week's "hold" placed on ALL their deposits from then on. I've been desperate, but never desperate enough to try the float because I knew I would never be able to afford to not have my cash for a week.
posted by saucysault at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first time I felt rich was when I realized I no longer look at the price tags in the grocery store.

A friend of mine measured her wealth by the "Money You Forget" standard. In college she knew where every quarter was, slightly after then she started losing track of dollars, and then the occasional $5.

The day she found a $20 in her jeans coming out of the washer she declared herself rich.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


About to read all of the comments... but just wanted to jump ahead and say that I've never *felt* poor. But this article made me cry. It's basically my life. I stopped the tears and I look forward to reading the comments that followed the post. And I've got new respect for my Mom.
posted by one4themoment at 3:48 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about not wanting to be seen to be poor is kind of saddening, but the most obvious manifestation of it I notice is that when I'm up in the hills where the fancy money is, the cars are all the sensible choices of people who understand money and are emotionally secure about it: sure, some are the predictable BMW 5s and 7s, but a remarkably high proportion of them are Toyotas and Volvos between 5 and 10 years old. Whereas when I'm in the crappy neighborhoods with peeling paint on cheap siding that looks like rotted cardboard and the McDonald's wrappers blown up against the chain link fences, there are a lot of very shiny late model domestic cars with aftermarket wheels, all looked after with a love and attention that the houses and yards will never get.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:49 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re: ATMs and floating

I, uh, happen to know that if I write a check to the supermarket on Wednesday, it won't actually clear the bank until Friday. And that you can buy a pack of gum, and then write the check for the amount + $25. A somewhat more legal version of "floating".
posted by anastasiav at 3:50 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's how we abide, dude.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2012


I had this huge long comment on how much it sucks to be poor and to grow up poor and how this article hit hard, but I started getting really depressed because I recently had to fork over the cost of a car to a bunch of very happy doctors and now there's a cold wind blowing through my wallet. So it's back to squirreling away every last coin - the next time some annoying bastard in front of you pays their bill with seven bazillion coins, that might be me. Sorry. I promise, I'm not being an asshole - it's all I got.

Sometimes, when you grow up poor, it's really hard to get out, no matter how hard you work. All it takes is one bad thing to happen to wipe out a savings account. Sometimes the hits keep coming, and all you can do is hunker down and wait it out. There but for the grace of God, etc.

I'm glad the author's doing better. It's not easy.
posted by zennish at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's a great sequence in Templar Az where one character can tell Ben is a " rich kid" cause he dresses like " he doesn't have anything to prove"
posted by The Whelk at 4:02 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been a fan of Cracked since it came to my attention, and don't really find it link-bait-y, at least not in a way which annoys me (yes, they'll spread their articles over two pages. I can handle that.) It's basically my daily source of "shit I never would have known about and am now learning about, humorously." Plus, they link their sources, which is an additional bonus.

John Cheese is great, though highly depressing. My personal favorite is Dan O'Brien. I was a little peeved when they brought Seanbaby on board, because it seemed like such a grab for the sake of hits at the expense of the tone of the site (like when the A.V. Club hired on Amelie Gillette.) Now, I'm not going to lie, Seanbaby can be funny as hell, and writes things that still make me giggle when I remember them months later (my favorite is a description of an MMA fighter who "leads with his face like he knows something about faces that we don't) but he's also got a casual homophobia which has gone unchecked in the face of a general view of openly calling bullshit on that sort of thing.

But as for this article, yeah, it hits home, as most of Cheese's stuff does. I grew up rich, but am currently poor, and most of these habits don't take multiple generations to sink in. Suddenly having money when you've been without it will always feel like surfacing and gasping for as much air as you can before going under again, whether you grew up with money or not. And because people are people and have a sense of dignity, we will buy ourselves luxuries in the short term that we can't afford in the long term because these are our lives and we need to enjoy them from time to time.

But like the stratification of society being necessary for economic growth, there are certain things which just go unacknowledged in our lives because they are simply too ugly or distasteful to contemplate, and the biggest one we must face right now is that it is cheaper to be middle class than it is to be in poverty. You have to have money to save money, or, more specifically, you have to have a cushion and infrastructure in order to live thriftilly, which is something most people will apparently never understand.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:05 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reading that was pretty unsettling. It also explains a lot of my bad habits. Fuck.
posted by tmt at 4:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what a lot of parents don't realize is that when they're openly worrying about bills within earshot of their children, the kids worry, too. When they hit a certain age, they start to make sacrifices on the family's behalf, and they feel guilt for the rare small luxuries they're allowed.

Worry they do. I suppose it's one thing when parents are willing to acknowledge that their children being stressed out is normal and natural. When your folks don't get that, though, it makes for a lifetime of feeling like an awful, entitled person.

As long as I've been old enough to understand my family's financial situation, I'd been constantly told that I was immature or stupid for being driven to anxiety about it because as far as my mother was concerned, everyone has money problems and we weren't actually poor. Both these things are and were true to some extent, but I know that not every 11-year-old is taught how to screen calls to hide from creditors. Before I had my first job, I knew to treat every slight uptick in her bank balances would be squandered straight away on take-out for two weeks straight or a Bose stereo or something worthless like that. By the time I was old enough to start doing my mother's taxes, I'd figured out that she could probably afford to save a little bit of money, but I was constantly told that saving money -- even a small amount over two pay periods -- is unrealistic. I felt helpless; I knew that my mother's financial situation was born out of her long-standing attitudes regarding personal finance and social class in Canada rather than any personal exposure to long-term poverty, but what the fuck did I know? Knowing about interest rates and TFSAs and was apparently only for the affluent, and I was (and, in my mid-20s, apparently still am) a dumb child who knows a lot of math and book learning but nothing of the real world.

As I got older, all I cared about was proving to my mother that I knew what I was talking about. Unfortunately, my anxiety over money never went away, and some of the bad habits in the Cracked article -- my mother's habits -- came flooding in. The anxiety got in the way of making good long-term choices about work and school. Being too scared to spend money on textbooks is a great way to kiss one's scholarship goodbye, just in case anyone was looking for ways to do that. Assuming that any little mistake at work or school would lead to intractable poverty isn't motivating for everyone -- for me it was paralyzing. Heck, it even got in the way of me paying tuition and graduating from university anywhere close to on-time because I started having panic attacks when I got near the financial aid office to pick up my student loan papers and thus lost an entire year of studies.

The first half of my 20s (and in fact, my entire childhood) was done in by not only a fear of money, but by the intense self-loathing I felt for thinking that things could be any easier and constantly being told that this was the only way it could be for anyone and that my weak, privileged ass would just have to suck it up. Now that I'm a little more financially comfortable, I can vaguely afford to tackle this pain with medication and therapy, but the moment I hand my debit card to the pharmacist for my meagre co-pay, I get just a little bit scared that I may never have that kind of money again, then I see my mother rolling her eyes at me.
posted by thisjax at 4:11 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just a comment about having a washing machine even if you don't have running water. I've done without a washing machine while I was living in Cameroon for three months. I would have been very happy to have hauled water from the well to fill up a washing machine so it could wash my clothes for me if it meant I didn't have to do that drudgery every week by hand.

Of course, that would have required electricity, too, which we also didn't have, but still.
posted by darkstar at 4:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for the washing machine thing, these are people largely swept along on the waves of politics they are nearly completely powerless to effect. $5,000 won't get them running water or electricity. But the next government program might get them those things, and hope springs eternal. When that day comes, won't it be nice to be ready for it?

That's the mentality as I understand it, and as much as it pains me, I get it.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate how much this article explains about me, and please - even as I recognize the relative privilege of this request - may I never, ever have to eat .39 bologna again.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've eaten slightly moldy bread because I felt conflicted about throwing it out and wasting food. I told myself toasting the bread would sterilize it.
posted by Renoroc at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


yep, yep, nope, nope, nope. next.
posted by sleepy pete at 4:35 PM on January 19, 2012


I'm shocked that a link to cracked is actually meaningful and not merely linkbait.
posted by Pants! at 1:10 PM on January 19 [3 favorites +] [!]


Cracked has been excellent since David Wong took it over in 2007.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Btw, you can consume any reasonable amount of fresh produce if you're willing to eat it instead of something else.

This is the real difference between "grew up poor" to my mind and "grew up with parents who may have been bizarrely thrifty but actually weren't poor even though I thought we were until I went to college." or something similar. It's easy to think-yourself-thrifty. It's really hard to imagine what your life would have been like without medical or dental care or regular access to nutritious food unless you lived through it in which case it's not tough at all. Some people manage to shift from actually-poor to happily-intentionally-thrifty but especially in internet land you get a lot of non-poor folks who do sort of subculture tourism for a few months and then tell everyone else either how terribly hard it was [food stamp vacation stuff] or how not-hard-at-all it is [swamp yuppie types, and this century's back to the land-ers]. People with access to media outlets, that is. The books sell like crazy.

So, my mother was a miser, a serious miser. Her grandparents were immigrants, her folks were well off [I did not learn this until much later] and she sort of learned thrift as a choice. And her and my dad fought about money all the time. And then he moved out and she became worse. And my sister and I felt that we were somehow one paycheck away from total ruin because my mom implied that, and yet we didn't have the toolkit to know that wasn't true. To know that if we had separate bedrooms, and got braces, and lived in a house, and were never hungry, and got allowances, that that wasn't poverty. And we lived in a rural area, but near a lot of suburbs, so I went to school with a bunch of kids who were well off and some who were less well-off but not a lot of poor kids although I'm sure they were sort of invisible to me. We wore hand-me-downs and darned our socks and kept the heat at near freezing temperatures and wore hats inside. For my mom, for whatever weird reason, this was her choice. For me, this was my culture. Even now, as an adult lady with a real job and money in the bank I still won't buy a book in a bookstore and even though I swear it's because I love the library and have some sort of anti-capitalist bent anyhow, I'm never sure that it's not because I spent so long thinking I was poor that I'm sort of broken about money.

And all I know is that my perspective is off. And so when I read that article talking about why people rent furniture (Freakonomics? I can't find it now) with my initial feeling being like "Man that is so not a good use of money" and then someone explaining well if you don't have a car or a friend with a car, how are you even going to get a couch HOME and rental places deliver with very little money down... and I just feel that there's so much more I don't understand. And so knowing that, knowing that I continue to have these dumb "Aha!" moments that embarrass me because they point out my obvious privilege that I was so unaware of for so long, I feel like it's mostly my job to listen. I was surprised how non-obvious some of the stuff in this article was to me.
posted by jessamyn at 4:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [44 favorites]


Reading this article was kind of weird for me because I have most of the habits listed but I didn't grow up poor at all. My dad had a really good job...and a stock market addiction(along with some other issues) and wiped my parents out a few times while I was growing up so I guess they were always afraid that it would happen again. They fought all the time and obsessed over every penny which I didn't understand because I was surrounded by middle-classness and no one else's parents were like mine. There were other money issues that were also directly related to irresponsibility on the part of my parents. I was aware of all of the tension but they never talked to me about any of it.

Anyway, the bit about the new bedspreads rang a bell with me - if/when I have kids I am going to go out of my way to either a. not let them hear us talking about money, or b. explain to them what is going on.
posted by fromageball at 4:47 PM on January 19, 2012


The line between comedy and tragedy is... around here... somewhere...
posted by LogicalDash at 4:50 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Before I read further, I have to note re griphus' comment that for at least one hard-working Russian immigrant (my mom), credit cards were such a foreign concept that we were nearly ruined by the surprise nightmare of only paying the minimums. Ooops, Communism did not prepare her for this.

My parents' leftover poor thinking drives me absolutely insane, because it's phone calls. I want to call my dad in Russia all the time but it's "expensive." No, it was expensive for many many years, but then we made it and now we can afford it. But in their minds, it's "expensive." We can all go eat at a nice restaurant and buy bottles and bottles of wine and take cabs everywhere but I can't convince my dad to just fucking call me for five minutes because INTERNATIONAL CALLS ARE EXPENSIVE. No they are not! Not anymore! So if I want to talk to my dad I have to be home and have my computer there and plug in my shitty 90s camera and use Skype. I hate it.

I had no idea that we were poor when I was growing up. My parents never let me feel it. Plus I was only interested in eating spaghetti with ketchup on it and the only activity I wanted was to spend the day at the library. So I missed it. Except that phone calls were rare and expensive.
posted by prefpara at 5:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you're poor, Megaupload is real loss.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 5:02 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is the real difference between "grew up poor" to my mind and "grew up with parents who may have been bizarrely thrifty but actually weren't poor even though I thought we were until I went to college." or something similar. It's easy to think-yourself-thrifty. It's really hard to imagine what your life would have been like without medical or dental care or regular access to nutritious food unless you lived through it in which case it's not tough at all. Some people manage to shift from actually-poor to happily-intentionally-thrifty but especially in internet land you get a lot of non-poor folks who do sort of subculture tourism for a few months and then tell everyone else either how terribly hard it was [food stamp vacation stuff] or how not-hard-at-all it is [swamp yuppie types, and this century's back to the land-ers].

This, a million times over. I grew up thinking I was poor, because we wore homemade and second hand clothes, ate weird stuff out of the garden, literally ate out once a year, and I rode around in the back of a series of such incredible hoopty jalopies that parts would literally fall off, routinely. Meanwhile my friends' parents drove nice cars, they wore name-brand clothes, and they had bedrooms full of sweet toys.

In retrospect, it's incredibly obvious that my parents were living that way by choice, and as a way to use thrift to skimp on things they didn't value (cars, clothes, eating out) in order to have the things they did value (books, a comfortable home, travel, education, dentistry). And many of those friends who I thought were wealthy were actually quite poor, but their families were doing exactly the things described here, buying short term luxuries and not being able to afford dental visits. But when I was a kid, I misread the situation totally, and no one ever bothered to explain things to me.

And then I worked overseas in some seriously poor places, with people who were food insecure and had to make choices about which children ate on a given day. (That the Congolese have a word for this, délestage, was the saddest thing I have read this year.) I figured out pretty quickly how comparatively wealthy I actually was. There couldn't be more difference in the world between being semi-poor or thrifty by choice (such as my parents when I was young, or being a graduate student), and being genuinely poor.
posted by Forktine at 5:15 PM on January 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Remember that time you were cleaning out your wallet and found an extra $5 bill stuffed inside one of the pockets? Poor people are laughing their asses off right now because I might as well be asking if they remember the time they found an extra minotaur in the kitchen.

I did actually find an extra minotaur in the kitchen once. Let's just say that my roomie was into tabletop RPGs and collectable models. So it does happen from time to time, just not very often.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:17 PM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?

In my experience, a lot of it is cultural.

Nearly everyone plots out a course to escape their poverty, whether it is blatant escapism (unwise purchases), relying on their social network (which is everything from a godsend to a barrel of crabs depending on circumstance), or making baby steps towards being middle class and upwards from there.

You have war refugees who have hustle and upon arrival here, have no place to go but up. They haven't really been indoctrinated into the whole materialism thing here in the States, understand the well-tread path to escaping their circumstances (education, savings, and hustle), and get that the next few years of starvation might as well be for something important (like getting the fuck out).

And similar to having enough money to take advantage of sales, etc. there seems to be, for lack of a better term, a certain luck plane to take advantage of. It's not simply being in the right place at the right time, but putting yourself in a position to be in the right place at the right time. Luck favors the well-prepared.

Of course, this is a different scenario than for the rural poor. It takes quite a stake to get enough money (and leave your social network) to move some place where you have the option not to be poor. For several, the cost is too high.

Most seems to be what you are taught and what you are exposed/have access to. As many people will point out, aspects of American culture are toxic. Not having to deal with that from day one puts you at serious advantage.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 5:27 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hugs you all so hard. You truly are my people.
I named all but one of the 5 just by seeing the title of the article.

And I am waiting for my income tax to buy my son his new bed. Old habits die hard.
posted by ShawnString at 5:28 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


We've eaten these things for so long, we've grown to prefer them to the fresh version.

I actually remember the exact point in my childhood when my parents started to have money and suddenly I was expected to like Tropicana orange juice from a carton, with pulp, rather than the stuff you mix in a pitcher from frozen concentrate in those little paper cylinders.
posted by Sara C. at 5:39 PM on January 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


I grew up poor (foodstamps, handmedowns, shame, etc) and as an added bonus, I've got the extra shame from having been spoiled rotten while poor, due to an ongoing tit-for-tat war with divorced parents. We were broke, but I learned that I could get what I wanted if I played people off each other, and I honestly don't think I'll ever stop feeling ashamed of that.

Now, I'm comfortable, moreso than pretty much anyone else in my immediate family. I'm married, I have a house. And I see in myself a lot of the stuff this guy talks about. I over gift, radically. I give gifts to people who I probably shouldn't, and I spend too much on the gifts that I give. When I go home, I feel like I have to bring gifts for everyone that I'm going to see, and I agonize about what to get and for who. But then receiving any kind of gift (aside from, say, my wife) brings back every ounce of shame I feel. My father-in-law frequently takes the family out for dinner. I love going out with them, I have a wonderful time, but at the end of the meal, he wants to pay, and it's a pride thing with him, and it's almost impossible for me not to flash back to being a kid and demanding stuff I didn't deserve. I'll do anything I can to pay the bill before he has a chance, and the problem is, he takes us to nice restaurants (because when my wife was a kid, they had no money, and couldn't afford it, so now he wants to spend the money he does have), and there I am, realizing that, wow, dinner is crazy expensive, and I can't really afford it.

I also can't justify buying things for myself. I've wanted a new computer for, oh, four years, but I always put it off. At my current job, we got a winter bonus, and I thought, hey, I'll get some stuff I want. Roughly five or six times, I found myself in stores, picking up things that I wanted, and had wanted for a long damn time, then telling myself I don't really need them, and that I should just put them back. Each and every time, I walked out of the store, empty handed, feeling absolutely incapable of any kind of happiness. Finally, shopping with my wife, I showed her a TV that was on sale for a ridiculously low price (old model, old stock) that I wanted to put in a spare room where the exercise bike was languishing, so that I could watch tv/videos and actually use the damn thing. She was totally supportive, thought it was a great idea, and I still talked myself out of it, and only after we'd left the store did I realize how stupid I was being. Of course, after I bought it, I immediately got angry with myself for wasting money.

So, well, thanks for this article. It was great. And thanks for the comments because it's good to know that I'm not the only one still dealing with this crap.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:40 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's kind of opposite of the way we bought food when I was a kid -- where you should be stocking up because buying in bulk is cheaper and the stuff is on sale, you wait until you're scraping the residue off the lid. Then you have to take whatever goddamned price the store gives you that day, because you can't wash your clothes otherwise.

A lot of people on the internet like to make fun of people like me who use coupons. But coupons have really revolutionized my relationship with my grocery budget. The laundry detergent thing really rang home for me, because just last week I bought 16 bottles of laundry detergent, which will get us through until next year. They were B1G1, and I had coupons, which, when doubled, meant that I paid $1.23 per bottle for a great name-brand detergent that works well and that lots of people use. This type of shopping frees up so much money in our budget for better foods, but it was a tough adjustment for me to feel like I could spend $20 of our bi-weekly budget on laundry soap, because I couldn't quite get my head around the "but it's enough for the whole year" part.
posted by anastasiav at 5:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know if this is possible any more but a, er, friend of mine use to deposit an empty envelope at the ATM claiming there was a check for $80 inside and immediately withdraw $40. Figuring out that the envelope was empty usually took the bank a few days by which time his paycheck had cleared and the account remained in the black even with the $80 deposit being erased.

This is called an empty envelope deposit and is considered fraud. I know for a fact that Wells Fargo will immediately close your account, no questions asked, if this happens (even if it is a genuine mistake). I'm guessing other banks do the same.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:07 PM on January 19, 2012


I just spent about half an hour trying to figure out my finances, how I could put more away in savings, and how my husband and I can save more money each month so we can buy a house. A NICE HOUSE, not because I am a snob (I don't think) but I guess just because that's what I've come to expect for myself...and then I read this article and all the comments. And I think I will stop feeling (just a little) sorry for myself that we can't afford a friggin down payment, and start feeling very very lucky that I can even consider owning a home, or that I have a savings account.
posted by chela at 6:16 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's fairly eponysterical of you, chela.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:19 PM on January 19, 2012


Goddamn - that's the first cracked.com article to actually make me cry. Fuck you.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:20 PM on January 19, 2012


This hits close to home. I was not expecting that from Cracked.
posted by pemberkins at 6:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've only gotten halfway through reading the comments here. Lots of comments:) I have mixed feelings about the list. Boy do I identify with #3. On the other hand,
Being poor is a mindset. And it's one that, if given the chance, will make your ass poor again.
feels an awful lot like victim-blaming to me. Yes, there are certain ways of dealing with money that are rational if you are poor and not-so-rational if you are rolling in the dough, and it can be quite difficult to change one's habits in this respect if one's economic circumstances change. But I see this as a symptom, not a cause of poverty. I've heard tell of rich folks with horrible financial management skills, but they have family, friends, or other resources to bail them out and help them start over when they make disastrous financial decisions, so they are still rich. I've met many poor folks with very good, and not neurotic, financial management skills, but life happens and all the correct attitude in the world doesn't mean squat when the amount of money you have to pay out for even just basic survival needs exceeds the amount coming in. Poverty is a structural problem. And while I think there's also a use in identifying attitudes or cultural trends that are affected by socioeconomic class as this list does -- it helps for those of us who grew up with less financial stability to share our common experiences, so I'm happy with the long comment thread here, and with the half of the comments that I've read so far -- I am very hesitant to place value judgements on these cultural identifiers, or to set up the upper middle class or rich cultural attributes as the norm, as the linked piece implicitly does.
posted by eviemath at 6:45 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm never sure to characterize how I grew up. It varied - definitely not rich, but also not "poor" in the toughest way, at all. We didn't have money, but my parents had Army trainings and good educations and intellect. They did not identify as "poor" and as a younger kid, it never occurred to me to think of myself as poor. And yet we used food stamps for a couple years, went clothes shopping at Sears once a year before school started, ran out of heating oil for a few days in wintertime on more than one occasion, saved up quarters and did wash Saturday afternoons in the laundromat, had one beater car so my dad could get to work and lived on one income, my dad's. We rented until I was 10, when they bought a house, which was only possible because it was my grandparents' house and they retired and downsized to a rented apartment, and sold my parents their house for about half market value. Otherwise, probably no home ownership for my folks. We took vacations, but only one kind of vacation: driving to other states to visit and stay with family there. We went to the beach a lot. The beach was free for residents and we were lucky to live nearby there. We went to the doctor when we needed to, and though we ate a lot of saltines with peanut butter and a lot of rice and a lot of spaghetti, we always had something to eat. We had birthday presents and Christmas, we sometimes went out to buy a magazine or walk on the boardwalk and play games. I got to go to Girl Scouts. When the school sent us home every year with the "you qualify for free or reduced lunch!" form, my mom promptly threw it out. And I brought my lunch, but sometimes got $1.20 to buy, just on Pizza Day.

When my mom went to work when I was 12, things got easier, but then my dad got laid off a couple years later and things were harder again for a while. My dad worked at a hardware store part time and my mom took a second job at night, giving her a 12 hour workday. I had jobs from 14 on and sometimes lent my folks a $20 to make the bills or buy some groceries. Sometimes they lent me the $20 for gas to get to work. We ate at home all the time, and that's why I learned to cook. I started doing family cooking at 12 and thank goodness, it's helped me through my own lean times to have those skills.

Then there were good times, when dad got a new good-paying job, mom got promotions, and I got a college scholarship. We ate out more and took weekend trips. But in high school I felt "poor" still because many of the kids I went to school with were from wealthier towns, had never had these ups and downs, lived in one house all their lives, had Izod sweaters and ski vacations and Trapper Keepers, and we just didn't have that stuff. I am certain that part of my decision to become a vintage-style-thrift-shop-bohemian, clothing wise, was because that was what I could afford. The thing is, it's a checkered history. The good times were good to us, I did finally get braces (at 17! wore them to college! That's when we could afford them). But I still think of them as just that: good times, as opposed to the default condition of hard times.

So above all, no matter what happens, good times or hard, I just don't feel secure. When I think about my financial life plan - I'm not even sure how much it would take for me to feel secure. You gather up money but you can always imagine another crisis, another tragedy, another need. I think the ups and downs, the cutting corners and making do and going paycheck to paycheck took a permanent toll.

On top of that history, I chose a career that pays lower than private sector wages and has a long dues-paying leadup to the "real" jobs. So throughout my 20s and early 30s I made peanuts and had second jobs, just barely scraped by, drove without car insurance, floated checks, went to any event that offered free food, juggled bill due dates, cashed in change.

But I would say this: the article frames it negatively, but honestly, what you learn in poverty can serve you well in voluntary frugality. I have financial goals now, and some - not all - poverty habits are helpful. Some of the habits I learned for survival purposes are not stupid. One of the best is that tracking of every penny and constant awareness of bank balances. For a time when I started making more money I stopped tracking my bank account with every purchase. That's a bad idea. When I totalled up spending at the end of the month, I was shocked. I don't do that any more - I'm back to reconciling every day or a few times a week at least.

And once I can make better food choices, I definitely have. We didn't grow up with a lot of processed food, we just tended to eat a lot of 'filler' food, but we enjoyed the good stuff as it came, and so I appreciate being able to buy a variety of food and do it on any day of the week. But I still Do. Not. Waste. Food. I make a meal plan that aims to use up all perishable ingredients in a timely manner. I buy or grow fresh veggies and then blanch them or freeze them. I make certain things at home, like bread and pizza dough in the breadmachine, pesto, hummus, bean dip, bread crumbs, tomato sauce, chicken broth - because it's cheaper and uses things I have on hand. I buy split chicken breast on the bone and cut the bone out myself because it's a third cheaper than boneless breast (and the bones are good for stock). So what I learned as a make-every-penny-count strategy still keeps my grocery budget way low and my diet fairly nutritious.

The thing I could really do better is not buy the smaller package thing. But I completely understand - cheaper/shorter term is the way to go when cash flow is thin and irregular. I still tend to get the small bottle of contact lens solution for $4.89 rather than the big one for $10.99, even though by the ounce it's waaay more expensive in the small one. The thing is, it is absolutely essential that you have a slush fund of cash money that does not need to be spent right now in order to make those choices that are more frugal in the long term. And since I'm still getting out of debt, I find this a hard decision. Do I go with the smaller purchases and pay more against the debt this month? Or do I make the larger expenditure now to save more over the course of the year and reflect that in larger debt payments later? It's hard to purchase anything at all when you are seriously interested in de-debtifying yourself.

Anyway, good piece. I've been reading the blog Get Rich Slowly lately, which is awesome, but there's a very unwelcoming comment/post thread sometimes about "smart habits of the rich" that credits people who have become rich with all these wonderful abilities to think long-term, show restraint, make better choices and yadda yadda yadda. And it rankles, because though I do believe smarter financial habits can be learned, it is all too easy to credit yourself with hitting a home run, finance-wise, when you were born on third base. Unless you've personally experienced a true lack of money and really had to draw on your ingenuity to get through just to survive to work another day, it's hard for people to understand the incredible wit, problem-solving, cooperation and internal resources shown by poor and working-class people every single day.
posted by Miko at 6:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


Being poor is a mindset. And it's one that, if given the chance, will make your ass poor again.
feels an awful lot like victim-blaming to me.


Speaking as one of the many many "victims" in this thread, allow me to tell you that he is absolutely correct, and saying something that all of us "victims" need to be reminded of from time to time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


And it's one that, if given the chance, will make your ass poor again.

But I don't necessarily think so, as I said. With the intervention of some good luck and some education, some of the habits can be put to good use. In fact, I am constantly in awe of the wasting power of the well off, the grocery baskets full of crap, the complete lack of perspective as to how much, say, a mass-produced couch is worth (hint from me: not $10,000), how often you need a new car or how big a car you need, or whether you are getting good, satisfying value out of what you choose to buy.

WE don't talk enough about the stupid habits of the rich. They are so well insulated from their stupidity that it doesn't cut or bruise them, so they appear blameless.
posted by Miko at 6:58 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


money gives the license to fuck up from time to time, sometimes a lot.
posted by The Whelk at 7:01 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


On the contrary, all the upper/middle class people I know are very proactive about money and expecting the other person to contribute equally and are much more likely to jettison the relationship if they feel taken financially advantaged of.

This thread makes me feel like a real asshole for growing up comfortably middle class, and continuing more or less to be so even after college. Or at least I can spend money without having to count every penny, and I have yet to clean out an entire account even though I shop like hell. Someday I may have to learn how to be poor and dear god, it's gonna be ugly. You can't trust that you're going to stay comfortable these days, and I have been a privileged puss to manage it so far.

Years ago I had a boyfriend from a poor family. Now, boyfriend was kind of a financial deadbeat/hated working/hated schooling sort of guy who didn't take care of himself and probably wouldn't have been much different had he grown up comfortable, but it was a total shock to me to be with someone where out of 7-8 people in the house that weekend ("accordion family" situation, of course) and no food, I was the only one with money to even get a meal. And since I was the one with money and a regular paycheck, I naturally bought about everything while we were together. Because I had to. Otherwise nobody ate. I was amazed at how much money I had left in my account after we broke up, because I wasn't supporting for two. While socializing in his town, I had to pretend to be as poor as his friends were (I wonder how they thought I afforded public transport to get to his house every weekend?) because he warned me they'd mooch off me if they could. And they'd be trying to scrape up $1.10 among five of them for a small pack of fries.

I also didn't get how whenever he was employed, he would blow his entire paycheck within 12 hours. I don't mean like, he paid the bills first and then bought stupid stuff for fun, I mean he'd spend the entire thing on virtual accessories for The Sims. I didn't get why he did that until I read this link today. Damn.

And yet, it bothered the crap out of me that he wasn't able to take care of himself. Like, if we had gotten married and I ever got sick and couldn't bring in the bacon, what would happen? Probably something bad. Now, the guy genuinely had no idea how to do otherwise, and his parents were only slightly less bad than he was and nobody taught them either. Eventually he broke up with me because he was tired of me nagging him to get a job and be able to support himself without my help.

I feel awful now, realizing that I was trying to hold him to middle class standards he wasn't going to manage. Equal contribution wasn't going to happen, and in his world, maybe that isn't an issue anyway. I don't know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:10 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also didn't get how whenever he was employed, he would blow his entire paycheck within 12 hours. I don't mean like, he paid the bills first and then bought stupid stuff for fun, I mean he'd spend the entire thing on virtual accessories for The Sims. I didn't get why he did that until I read this link today. Damn.

I feel awful now, realizing that I was trying to hold him to middle class standards he wasn't going to manage.


You know, I don't know that this was a "middle class standard" per se. I also don't know that I agree with the link that it's a habit one gets from growing up poor, in and of itself. Different people have different reactions to poverty (and wealth) and different temperaments. Some poor people react to a windfall by spending frivolously, some react by clutching onto every dime for dear life. I think what really may be going on is what was alluded to a few times above, that when rich people do this, they're insulated from the consequences.
posted by cairdeas at 7:19 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I have to say I've known some guys from affluent families with no excuse whatever who were equally shiftless. Earning your way isn't a "middle class standard" - in fact, it's all lots of poor people know.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


the children of the rich are the best argument against eugenics
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” - James Baldwin
posted by mlis at 7:52 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Miko writes: it is all too easy to credit yourself with hitting a home run, finance-wise, when you were born on third base

Not only that, but the whole thing is swamped with selection bias, in that those who are rich or get rich are credited (or only too eager to credit themselves) with having these wonderful habits; but we don't see their screwups and misadventures; nor what strings, resources or family connections they were able to call upon to pull them out of it. Nor does it take into account that a rich person's temporary setback is a poor (or increasingly in the US, middle class) person's utter catastrophe.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:53 PM on January 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies Ouch. I've been putting off renegotiating my monthly cable/internet/phone bill (which I could easily get dropped $50 a month) because I don't want the person on the other end of the phone to think I'm poor.

Rest easy, seriously. The rich are often quite assertive about insisting on the best possible price.
posted by mlis at 7:56 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Rest easy, seriously. The rich are often quite assertive about insisting on the best possible price.

I remember upper middle class high school friends going to trips to Africa and bragging about how they bargained down the tailors they were getting custom made copies of designer jeans from, down from 8 bucks to 5. They were very proud of this, for some reason.
posted by cairdeas at 8:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


That kid will put off buying necessities because they're not 'needed' right up until they have to do it. They won't buy little things that would make life smoother because it would be 'wasting money'. They will live lives impoverished by pre-limiting their possibilities based on affordability.

You have just described my mother, who survived a poverty-soaked childhood and worked her way into the college-educated middle class. Most of the parental fights I witnessed growing up were due to my mother clinging to the limits created by her fear of returning to poverty, which my dad was never able to understand.

My dad died suddenly and my mother broke down two days after the funeral, sobbing, "We were supposed to begin traveling! We were going to spend time enjoying ourselves. I feel so robbed." And that sort of helped her break through 50-odd years of the "poor" anxieties.

Mom travels now. She buys herself Aveda conditioner instead of Suave. She has stopped saving the cashmere sweaters I gave her because they're too "nice" for everyday use; they are her everyday sweaters now. She uses the silver for meals. She's taken up remodeling houses as a hobby. She dreams big.

It is terrible how this came about, but I am so, so happy for Mom that she will spend the rest of her life believing, finally, that she can afford to be good to herself.
posted by sobell at 8:15 PM on January 19, 2012 [28 favorites]


Too close to home, too near to the bone.

Not sure I agree with his first point though about never being able to develop a taste for fresh food. As soon as I moved out I ditched the awful pasty white bread I grew up with and became a vegetarian. Food, even now after all these years, is a huge deal. I worry the two of us will starve despite the kitchen being packed with so much food I could feed a small army.

In Canada, the land of free health care and much more generous social assistance programs.

I don't know whether to get angry, or cry.
posted by squeak at 8:24 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am comfortable financially, I have one brother who has always had very little money (A), and one who does very well (B). Even though we grew up just below lower middle class, B and I are still always amazed at how much harder things are for A, who lives just about everything in this article. It’s the whole "one disaster leads to another" thing. Meanwhile, because of his position and such, B gets a break on everything, even getting lots of stuff (cable TV, services and such) for free. He actually gets kind of angry about it. His boss, who is extremely rich, gets seemingly everything for free.

I work with and am around people who’s incomes range from $8 and hour to millions a year. The rich people are always being offered things for free or at a discount. The poorer ones never are.
posted by bongo_x at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I really have nothing to contribute here. I've spent my entire life in what, by any sane standard, is tremendous privilege. The closest to "hardship" I've encountered is that I grew up in a suburb where you really could only get around by car, and my parents merely loaned me one of theirs whenever I needed one, instead of buying me a car for myself. Oh, and we never took particularly interesting vacations or went very far away. That was my "deprivation," when I started comparing myself to friends in college and high school who got to go to Disneyland, or even San Francisco or Paris for vacation, and who often had 16th-birthday gifts of a beat-up 1994 Toyota Corolla. My entire career can be traced back to my parents being able, and willing, to buy me the graphing calculator I learned to program on. They could spend $120 that wasn't even necessary, because it would help me out in school. I didn't even see that, at the time, as noteworthy.

I got the kind of degree in college that, in a healthy economy, lets you walk out into the business world and have a well-paying job within a few months easily, so I did that. I have spent my entire life, without a break, in comfort, without real financial worry ever intruding.

Today I have friends from a wide span of backgrounds - but an awful lot of them came from far less than I did, growing up. Most of them are doing okay right now, but I still make a lot more than most of them. And because I came from privilege, I have advantages they wouldn't even if they had my paychecks: My credit is fantastic. I've never missed a rent check, and if I'd ever risked it my parents could have helped me out. My student loans are minimal, because my parents paid for much of my education.

I'm not really getting at anything in particular with this. I just want to say, thank you, all of you. I exist in a gleeful haze of luxury and comfort, and I have never known anything else. But that's not true of everyone I know. And even those who are well out of poverty often grew up in it, and have a very different set of priorities about money than I do, and yes, $20 is a rounding error for me when I check my bank account but that's not a universal truth. I forget that sometimes, and I say stupid things, and I forget how much I take for granted.

So basically, thank you, everyone, for reminding me of my good fortune; for slapping my face with the realities of a world I have never known, not because I'm so damn clever but simply because I had the good fortune to grow up outside of it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


I think that these habits are true - for some people. Other poor people go to the other extreme: no prepared food whatsoever (like making their own pickles, always baking their own cookies), not spending windfalls even when it could really improve their quality of life because they "might need it" if they get laid off, buying too much in bulk just to save that extra little bit, even though they don't have that much room to store it or it might go bad before they can eat it.

Right now, my mom is living in a house with almost no furniture (a few folding tables and folding chairs, and beds and nothing else) because she doesn't want to dip into her savings to buy the furniture she had to throw out when she moved out of a roach infested building. She now has $60,000 saved (mostly for her retirement, which isn't much for that), and she could borrow it from herself and then pay herself back in installments. But her long experience with poverty has made her too worried about losing her job to dip into her savings.
posted by jb at 8:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to admit - I'm still always duped by the buy 2 (or 5 or 10) for less thing. I buy stuff I don't need so that I can "save". I have to stop myself conciously.
posted by jb at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2012


A well-written Cracked article that seeps with truth and honest humor, that I can identify with? I...I don't know which way is up any more.

I mean, I actually got some good advice from this article, and I haven't been the kind of poor he describes since...well, actually, I still feel that poor, even though I'm not, because I haven't shaken that mindset, so pardon me while I go re-evaluate my financial life...
posted by davejay at 8:46 PM on January 19, 2012


No, it's a poor thing. Not temporary poor (like living for a couple of years on a graduate school stipend) or striving, new-immigrant poor (like living six to a room so you can save up the money to buy mom a house or open a deli), but ground-down, multiple-generation poor.

I think the temporal quality of the poverty does matter. Immigrants are often from middle or solid working class backgrounds; extremely poor people don't often have the wherewithall to emmigrate. Similarly, my mom (she of the homemade pickles and hoarding-like buying habits to save pennies) grew up in a lower middle-class family before she was on welfare. So maybe that explains the opposite reaction to poverty (the excessive saving, the planning for long-term even beyond what is reasonable).
posted by jb at 8:51 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


cheaper/shorter term is the way to go when cash flow is thin and irregular. I still tend to get the small bottle of contact lens solution for $4.89 rather than the big one for $10.99, even though by the ounce it's waaay more expensive in the small one. The thing is, it is absolutely essential that you have a slush fund of cash money that does not need to be spent right now in order to make those choices that are more frugal in the long term.

It's not just cash flow. It's things like: if you buy the cheaper-by-volume larger container, will you get to enjoy the savings of having it around for the next three months, or will it just get "borrowed" next weekend by your cousin, just like last month? Unless you have the space and security to safely store large quantities, it simply doesn't make sense to buy them. Just like in your cash flow example, spending more can be economically rational.
posted by Forktine at 8:51 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having spent a good part of my 20s as a student and only in the last 5 years having a proper career job while paying for student loans, wedding, house, child etc. I often find myself in a position where I have very little money - right now, for instance, until I get paid tomorrow I have $55 in my chequing account and a few hundred on the Visa balance. I've worried about having enough money in my account at the debit counter. I've pulled a lot of the little tricks mentioned above. I've had sleepless nights worrying about finances.

Still, coming from an upper-middle class upbringing I know I never have to really worry. I have a safety net. My parents are very comfortable and I know that if I ever got into real trouble my family would be OK.

I don't think it's been said enough in this thread - there's a big difference between having no money and being poor. We as a family (my wife and daughter and I) may not always be cash rich but we have resources that others less fortunate than us do not. We have educations, a well-connected social network, a supportive and close-knit immediate and extended family, a house (with a mortgage, mind), and other things that gain us a tremendous advantage. I'm able to leverage lots of available credit and choose to live very frugally in some senses (taking the bus, shopping sales) while having the resources to purchase wisely and strategically, and build capital with the savings. I'll buy more expensive shoes if I know they'll last me longer - my $175 pair of Blundstones has lasted 8 years so far. I'm very lucky to be able to do this.

It's very easy for people of means to 'slum' it and feel OK about themselves. I do it - I'm proud that I take the bus or can find deals or wear a sweater that has holes in it. I have the safety net and my status amongst my peers is cemented. I equally have experienced being penniless in university and in my early working years when not having any money is a very serious embarassment - I don't pretent to understand what it's like to be poor, but I do understand in a real way that need to not appear poor. I think I understand the posts up-thread dealing with that notion.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:05 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


That kid will put off buying necessities because they're not 'needed' right up until they have to do it. They won't buy little things that would make life smoother because it would be 'wasting money'. They will live lives impoverished by pre-limiting their possibilities based on affordability.

I can tell you that wearing shoes until they fall off your feet because you don't 'need' another pair is not freeing. It's crippling and the relationship you have with money in that case is just as bad as a kid who never thinks about where money comes from.


You have a point, winna. I shouldn't have phrased it like such-and-such will definitely be the outcome for this kid. Different people react differently and the scenario you described could definitely happen for him.

There's just the flip side, too. We don't which one it will be for any given person, and I can only speak for myself. Strangely enough, just this past weekend I wore my crappy shoes ($12 flats from Payless bought over 3 years ago) until they fell off my feet. On Sunday, I then bought the most high quality pair of sneakers I have ever bought in my life, because I can do that now.

But I find, generally, that having to live on very, very, very little money forced me to find a way to have a decent quality of life on that amount of money, and maintaining a lot of those habits has enabled me to have an insanely good and happy quality of life now. I couldn't afford TV, so now I don't care about having TV and am not spending hundreds on cable per month. I couldn't afford to go shopping at the mall, so now I still shop at thrift stores and still love it. I couldn't afford to eat out, so I don't feel deprived if I'm eating out all the time. As a result, I can spend my money on the things I DO want and need and be insanely happy with my life when a lot of people making the same amount of money as I am are often talking about how deprived they feel when they can't afford all kinds of luxuries. Even when I was broke I found to my utter astonishment that I was able to save a higher percentage of my income than my boyfriend at the time who was making over six figures. So, I totally hear what you are saying and don't disagree. It can just go either way.
posted by cairdeas at 9:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The more I read threads like this and this, the more insight I get into many of the people around me, and how their seemingly non-sensical behavior makes a lot of sense, sadly.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:50 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the real difference between "grew up poor" to my mind and "grew up with parents who may have been bizarrely thrifty but actually weren't poor even though I thought we were until I went to college." or something similar. It's easy to think-yourself-thrifty. It's really hard to imagine what your life would have been like without medical or dental care or regular access to nutritious food unless you lived through it in which case it's not tough at all. Some people manage to shift from actually-poor to happily-intentionally-thrifty but especially in internet land you get a lot of non-poor folks who do sort of subculture tourism for a few months and then tell everyone else either how terribly hard it was [food stamp vacation stuff] or how not-hard-at-all it is [swamp yuppie types, and this century's back to the land-ers]. People with access to media outlets, that is. The books sell like crazy.

On the other hand, I can attest that it is possible to grow up privileged and if you live in poverty for long enough in your adult life your brain will start switching from "thrifty but not panicked" to, well, the attitudes expressed in this article. I grew up upper-middle class. When I left home I estranged myself from my family and subsequently their financial support. So for almost the past decade I've been living off of less than $12K a year on average (I think my biggest year was $15K). When I first lived on my own I was the "buy in bulk, buy high quality, long-lasting items" type. I've learned that doesn't fly on my income. Now I buy what is cheap, period, even if it doesn't make financial sense in the long run. I wear things out to the bone. I hoard old shoelaces. I scavenge coffee thermoses, pants, umbrellas I find. I drove for over half a year with a tarp instead of a back windshield. And when I went home for the first time in years and my mom offered to buy me shoes, it ended with me sobbing like a baby in the middle of a DSW because I was overwhelmed at the possibility of getting new socks without having to worry about the cost.

I used to be really good at saving, but I am kind of shocked at how much worse I am the longer I'm poor. Or it seems that way, because whenever I get a tax return or something there is always something to spend it on: car repairs, textbooks, credit card bill, dental cleaning. I think part of it is saving feels hopeless--a crisis will show up, and I'll have to spend it anyway. So should I put that money away for the sake of putting it away? Or should I use it to buy the things I need?

I've gotten worse at budgeting for gifts, too. It is hard to not go all out because I hate giving a "poor person" gift. Otherwise it feels like I'm punishing the receiver with my poverty.

(also, this is NOT to say I don't still benefit from the other aspects of my childhood upbringing, like education, healthcare, etc etc)
posted by schroedinger at 10:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I grew up comfortably upper-middle class, but my parents both grew up poor. And the permutation of that is kind of interesting -- my parents had an incredibly messy divorce because of their competing attitudes towards money. My mom wanted to spend and enjoy it (not wastefully, but by taking real vacations once or twice a year). My father to this day is a bit of a hoarder who will drive to three different grocery stores to use his Sunday newspaper coupons, even when I mention that he's losing money on gas.

"But son, it's the principle," with no sense of irony.

I love my dad but man, he's the cheapest sumuvabitch you will ever meet.

Also, he's loaded. So I guess he wins, in a sense.
posted by bardic at 10:23 PM on January 19, 2012


Also, it's bullshit to say you can't eat healthy on low wages. You certainly have to learn how to cook differently though. A sack of dry beans is about the cheapest thing you can get at a store.

And learn to garden. (Learn to pickle if you're really ambitious.)
posted by bardic at 10:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yay! I'm not the only one screwed up in the head about money.

Personally I've been on the other Scroogely end of the spectrum. I grew up hearing my mom's stories about having to split tangerines among 10 people, and learning my dad's proudly thrifty product-of-subsistence farming ways. And it totally stuck.

And for this kid we're talking about:

cairdeas:
Naw, don't choke up! It's not sad. That trait, of knowing what you really need and just genuinely not wanting or caring about the things you don't need, is going to stand that kid in good stead for his whole life. It's incredibly freeing. This kid will not feel the need to keep up with Joneses. This kid is not going to blow tons of money and get into debt pursuing materialistic junk, like so many of his peers will.

winna:
That kid will put off buying necessities because they're not 'needed' right up until they have to do it. They won't buy little things that would make life smoother because it would be 'wasting money'. They will live lives impoverished by pre-limiting their possibilities based on affordability.

I can tell you that wearing shoes until they fall off your feet because you don't 'need' another pair is not freeing. It's crippling and the relationship you have with money in that case is just as bad as a kid who never thinks about where money comes from.


That kid is me, and you're both right. Having not had an income for quite a while, a major reason I'm not in debt right now is because of the tools and habits I picked up from my parents. Some habits, like being kind of minimalist about what I buy and thinking long-term, have been useful. Other habits, like thinking in terms of needing to justify my existence and feeling guilty over my personal use of resources, have not.

But even though I don't wear my shoes 'til the fall off my feet, the part where I superglued the soles back on has worn all the way through, so I guess I'll be forced to get a new pair. And I should probably make an appointment with my dentist friend (maybe I'll get free x-rays again, woo!). When I have an income I'm far less crazy in regard to spending on vital things.
posted by zennie at 10:32 PM on January 19, 2012


Some people don't have the balls to look at their bank balance, others can't do the opposite.
posted by neversummer at 10:45 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thank you for this FPP and thanks to all of you for the sharing of insights and experiences in this thread. I was afk yesterday trying to set up an immersion experience where I'm hoping to understand better how those who manage on irregular income streams in rural (developing country) are dealing with rising prices of fuel and food.

Some thoughts on some of the words that stood out from the comments :

On the other hand, people I know who grew up poor in the US did more what the articles describes, with much less mind toward savings or planning. So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?

I think its more challenging to manage in urban areas where you are unable to grow some food or keep chickens etc and it is far harder to be poor in America. As someone else said, immigrants aren't necessarily historically poor and also tend to have community networks and a different mindset.

I don't think these are just habits you develop when you're poor. They're habits you develop in any situation of financial uncertainty- you switch to survival mode.

This is true, afaik, having seen many of these patterns of fiscal behaviour among those who are in truly challenging and uncertain environments with few safety nets. A life of adversity creates an entirely different survival mode however, as this thread is making me ponder and reflect, I do wonder how much of a difference it makes to one's wellbeing when one isn't so "ashamed" of being poor or when the environment is not as extremely consumption driven as that in the United States?

I'm not rich, but I'm a long way from poor, and it's one of the enormous unfairnesses in life that my relative prosperity can allow me to live cheaper than someone poorer.

The poverty premium.
posted by infini at 10:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This article hits way too close to home. My husband and I both grew up poor. We're still poor and you can tell it. I can tell you exactly what is in our account, right now, how much I spent on groceries two days ago to the penny.

I wear clothes for years longer than I rightfully should, until they literally fall apart. Right now I'm in a nightgown that has holes in it, but it still has more cloth than holes, and even though I have repaired it several times over, I will continue to.

Hell, I have a nightgown, instead of wearing a t-shirt that one of your classmates' dead father's to bed. Or to school. One I bought in a thrift store for a quarter, not thinking my classmate would see her last name in the inside of the collar, and realize I was wearing her father's t-shirt. I was in fifth grade when this happened.

My classmates all knew how poor we were, made fun of me for it, other than a couple. Hell, I had a teacher that tormented me for my clothes, being chubby (and really, looking back, I was about 5 pounds overweight at the time,) getting free lunches, etc. She tormented me (and the other really poor girl) to the point that when our parents scraped the quarter together to buy us ice cream at lunch once a month or so, she pulled us in front of the class and asked us how we could afford ice cream, but not a lunch.

I just told my parents about that a couple of years ago, it happened more than twenty. I'll never forget it.

We still eat as cheaply as possible, albeit better food to try and keep me as healthy as long as possible. Unfortunately, today our fridge died, or yesterday sometime, and when I got home tonight, our food was ruined. The food I spent more than 100 dollars on just a couple days ago. Everything in the freezer, and most things in the fridge are destroyed.

When, I realized that happened tonight, I lost it. I don't know what we'll do, right now, I have no idea. We don't have insurance to cover it, we don't have the money to replace the food.

I never thought at almost 37 years old that losing more than 100 dollars worth of food would still be this horrible. I thought we'd be passed it, but, we're not.

Again, great article, but wow it hits so hard, especially right now.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:00 PM on January 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


It really is a huge difference, coming to poverty from the middle class rather than previous generations of poverty. My grandparents were quite poor, but they saved up and made wise (and also lucky) financial investments, with the result that my mother (the eldest child) went from poverty to comfortable middle class over the course of her childhood. She, in turn, spent a few years as a single parent of two children working as a GS2 or GS3 secretary in a government office, but she had the "buy quality, save long-term" outlook (other than a few twitches). She made sure we had a decent house, medical care, and cheap-but-nutritious food, and then starved herself and lived like an ascetic in order to do things like buy us a Pizza Hut pizza once per month (ZOMG BEST DAY EVER!).

In the end, being an intelligent woman with a Masters degree and a strong work ethic, she moved up in ranks and is currently earning a very comfortable income, but she still flinches a bit when she has to get rid of excess food or old clothing. She used to buy a jar of peanut butter as her lunch for the week, eating one spoonful per day.

For me, I got the best end of the deal, having frugality ingrained strongly in me but not actually suffering deprivation in the food/medicine department. I don't have any of the anxiety or flinches of true poverty (other than an instinctive revulsion at the idea of holding any debt, even sensible and worthwhile debt. And even that is something I can overcome with a teeny bit of willpower rather than letting it stop me from, for instance, buying a really good used car that will last for decades instead of a three-thousand-dollar junker.)
posted by Scattercat at 12:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grew up with cycles of being very (American)*** poor to moderately poor, probably like many of you on this website. Right now, I'd say I'm moderately British poor.

During the best of times, my mother had a post office job making $13 an hour (in the 80s) and my dad lived with us, so we could afford cable. (!)

During the worst of times, our electricity was off for 4 months and I chose to live with relatives who had more money. My mother cooked by burning whatever (charcoal, leaves, sticks) in the backyard and made a pit.

The worst part about being poor came from school. Times when we had to watch TV programs and write about them and we had no electricity... well that was embarrassing. Or times where we had to buy a specific thing and I couldn't get whatever it was for weeks.

I'm still trying to fix that "eat while you can!!!" mentality, along with the "I don't really need that new items, broken item will still work..." thing. My husband grew up British poor but had excellent spending habits thanks to his parents NEVER telling him about any money problems. I for a fact know they have severe money problems now, but he has no idea.



***I told a Chinese friend of mine I grew up poor. He was born in China in early 80s. He looked at me hard and said "Don't say that. You have no idea what that really means."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:47 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


This x1000. This article is bone-chillingly accurate.

My husband and I are living paycheck to paycheck right now. If we're lucky. We buy only the bare essentials, and if it wasn't for him getting free internet through his work, we'd have absolutely no entertainment.

There is no entertainment budget. There is no clothes budget. I'm out of clothes. The two pairs of jeans I own are worn down and soon to tear, and I have three shirts, one of which now has a hole. I do have one very nice shirt I wear for special occasions, and a skirt.

We were shopping today for food (it's payday) and I was looking at the clearance winter clothing section. Shirts were from between $12 and $5.

My husband tried to push me along. I said, "We're going to have to buy clothing at some point in time."

There was a long silence.

"I know.", he sighed.

Then we moved along to buy food for this pay period.
posted by Malice at 1:53 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


And learn to garden. (Learn to pickle if you're really ambitious.)
This comment seems well-meaning but a little tone-deaf to the realities being described in the article.

If you're poor in the city, gardening is probably not an option - no yard. Both gardening and pickling have significant start up costs as well, not to mention the time investment required.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 1:57 AM on January 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


About the fresh food thing, I do have to call him on this. It's simply not true. I grew up raised by a single mom putting herself through college who then went on to make small-town starting teacher salaries. So yes, we did the whole food stamp, hand me down and thrift-store (because we had to) thing.

And you know what? We ate fresh or home-cooked food most of the time. Yes, there was a lot of oatmeal for breakfast and Kraft mac-and-cheese nights but there was also fruit for breakfast and lots of home cooking for dinner. She SAVED money by not buying us overpriced processed crap like sugary cereals, sodas and the other things that every kid seemed to get. Fast food was something of a rarity and sort of a big deal (OMG KFC!!) We ate plenty of veggies (hardly ever canned and never frozen).

Gardening, having fruit and nut trees, knowing other poor folk with gardens and trees, all helped to offset the costs also but wasn't a primary source of food.

I certainly knew other poor families that lived the processed/fast lifestyle and noticed they always hated my mom's cooking in preference to pre-made while I loved it. I like to think that this influenced me to prefer fresher ingredients, cook for myself and generally avoid processed and fast food (of course... not always).
posted by melt away at 2:29 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is true. So is your experience.
posted by h00py at 3:55 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not "true because you're poor". It's true because you make bad choices with what you've got.
posted by melt away at 4:03 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are some people for whom the "good choices" are not available options.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


Big supermarkets may not always allow for purchase of smaller amounts (quarter of a cabbage for just that day's cooking, particularly if you're managing on a daily cash flow) whereas there might be family owned grocers or botegas or more flexible solutions in smaller towns. Its not really even town size - i lived close enough to chinatown in San Francisco that I could pick up fresh veggies for a couple of days of cooking for significantly less than any supermarket, also because they weren't prepackaged into fixed amounts/weights.
posted by infini at 5:04 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]



Fast food was something of a rarity and sort of a big deal (OMG KFC!!) We ate plenty of veggies (hardly ever canned and never frozen)

There is available, and there is practical. We ate fresh foods from the garden and actual home cooked meals; but only during those months when mom was either between jobs or worked in house.

Besides, we had one car, and if dad worked 65 hours that week at a job 2 hours away... well, it's a little difficult to pack up 4 kids and get to the supermarket; let alone getting us to hockey games, doctors appointments, and play dates.

Other than that, yeah, total piece of cake.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2012


My sister lives like she doesn't ever want to be poor again.

I live like I don't want anyone to think I'm poor ever again.
Ian A.T. at 4:14 PM on January 19

Yup. I've got this dichotomy too. God help me if anyone figures out on their own that I'm poor and/or depressed. I hide it pretty well in casual interactions. Shopping at Banana Republic's super clearance racks (but avoiding the factory outlets, because most of that shit just doesn't fit properly), scoring a brand new never worn pair of $400 shoes at the thrift store in my strange size. Buying the super huge package of toilet paper to avoid having to borrow a roll from the neighbors (this happened all the time when we were kids.) Cooking and freezing enormous batches of food. Only buying grocery "treats" like pasta and sauce when they are BOGO.

I applied for my state's versions of termporary assistances, and I don't work enough hours per week to qualify. Yay underemployment!

Meanwhile, I always hated the crap food. Bologna, frozen concentrate orange juice, canned green beans, canned potatoes, those HUGZ drink things that looked like little plastic barrels and tasted like syrup, generic american cheese slices, powdered milk, beanie weenies. Indeed, I am poor. But I have a baggie of fresh cherries, salad greens from the BOGO ad, extra sharp cabot cheddar, and BOGO guacamole. I eat food. Not that crappy fake food that makes me feel ill in a dozen ways. Luckily cooking beans doesn't do that to me, because nobody had the time or inclination to cook beans in my childhood. (There is one poverty food that is a comfort food to me. Angel hair pasta, a ton of butter and a tiny can of plain plain tomato sauce. I didn't realize it wasn't a luxury food until I lived alone and saw the ingredients in the store. My mom ate it in a way that seemed absolutely luxurious to me, and what does a 4 year old know?) But every time I'm at the fucking store, I'm sure, absolutely certain that my card is going to get declined because I miscalculated the gas I put in the borrowed car, or the $5 cheeseburger night when I also had a foofy mixed drink. Even if I'm just getting a 79 cent bag of rice and a red pepper so I can stretch out my last frozen chicken thing in the freezer.

And oh the generational aspects of this. My grandmother grew up in the depression, yes. That's true. She grew up in the depression with a vacation home in a private lake community in New Jersey, family trips to Florida, and well, no real material experience of poverty. She has gone to foreign countries to buy rugs. My 8th grade trip to Russia was bankrolled by the grandma scholarship, on the condition that she be allowed to go also as a chaperone. While every other family seemed to be arranging payment plans, she wrote one fat check for the both of us. Yet, when faced with larvae in her hot chocolate, she'll tell you to drink up, "It's just protein, dear." And if you ask her for any help, she'll say in a sad voice that she doesn't have a thin dime to rub against a nickel. Most sadly, I've heard that when she was asked why dhe didn't leave the man who was molesting her oldest daughter her answer was that she didn't think she could make it financially without him.

Indeed, wanting for money ruins people's perception.

As for this:
It's not "true because you're poor". It's true because you make bad choices with what you've got.
posted by melt away at 7:03 AM on January 20 [+] [!]
What I've got is a serious case of PTSD, intractable depression, an incomplete college education, a pile of student loan debt because going to college was the "smart thing to do" and a job that employs me 18 hours a week, which is not enough to qualify for assistance. From that I pay rent, buy bus fare, groceries, phone bill, mental health care and medication. I spent my $20 hoe allotment on a pair of Bass Enfields for myself that turned out not to be narrow enough. I had them sent to where I was celebrating Christmas so I could have another gift under the tree. They can't be returned, and even if they could, the $5 shipping wouldn't leave me enough for another pair. I haven't bought a full priced garment since early 2008, and that was a red jacket at Banana Republic that I still wear. It was $90, and aside from the wool coat I've owned for 11 years, it's my only jacket. I'd love for you to come visit me for a month and straighten out my decision making skills so that I can have some money left over to go to the goddamend doctor and find out if there's some medical thing underlying this depression. But I realize that it's much easier to just type a sentence than to actually approach either 1. the reality that this can happen to anyone (and thus, you), 2. that there might be some cultural thing going on here that people with money contribute to (un)knowingly (because if some people are disadvantaged, then the opposite side of the coin is some people are advantaged, or 3. that nobody chooses to be truly gut wrenchingly impoverished.
posted by bilabial at 6:08 AM on January 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


So does every discussion need to be riddled with profanity? I am by no means a prude but it is hard for me to glean useful info while alot of commentators gratuitously drop profanity laden statements. You may have something useful to say but profanity dosn't make it
more true just offensive.
Profanity dosn't foster healthy, respectful discussion.
posted by Mr Subway at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I spent my $20 hoe allotment on

dammit. My $20 SHOE allotment.

I am unable to afford a garden variety hoe, or any other.
posted by bilabial at 6:34 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]



So does every discussion need to be riddled with profanity?


Fuck aye.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 6:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


I spent my $20 hoe allotment on

dammit. My $20 SHOE allotment.


I just assumed they were sexy shoes.

And learn to garden. (Learn to pickle if you're really ambitious.)

The cost of food is historically extremely cheap. Except at the very bottom of the income distribution, exchanging a bunch of hours of your labor for some cheap food (aka "gardening") doesn't make much economic sense, though it can make sense in other ways (it's fun, the food tastes good, free exercise, etc). But purely economically, you'd be far better off with a part time job at minimum wage and spending part of the money at a Super Walmart. (I also think that people exagerate the cheapness and accessibility of gardening; in my experience, it is fun but not all that cheap, and definitely something that requires a lot of knowledge, energy, and time.)

Food insecurity is a huge issue in the US, in large part because it's one of the only parts of a budget that can be compressed or shifted. Your rent is a set amount, and not paying gets your stuff put out on the front lawn in the rain. But when things are tight you can choose to go food shopping next week and make do with stuff from the corners of the cupboards, or just skip a meal.

The solution to that isn't gardening, though -- it's giving people access to a social safety net, and giving people access to an economic system that provides opportunities even to the poor.
posted by Forktine at 6:45 AM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Profanity dosn't foster healthy, respectful discussion.

Considering how much of this discussion is (healthy, necessary) venting about being too poor to buy food and shoes, I'd think "you people are being offensive with your words" is the disrespectful statement here.
posted by griphus at 6:47 AM on January 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


Profanity dosn't foster healthy, respectful discussion.

But it sure as FUCK lets the people who've gotten the SHIT end of the deal through no FUCKING fault of their own vent their FUCKING ANGER, because it is FUCKING UNFAIR that they have been dealt a SHITTY hand and -- and using profanity is a FUCK of a lot cheaper than a FUCKING THERAPIST.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on January 20, 2012 [30 favorites]


And I actually don't recall seeing anyone using any profanity, for the record, untill I did just now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:00 AM on January 20, 2012


Poverty is everywhere around us, yet it remains so othersome. We need more writing like this to cut through the bootstrap mentality that many hold to. I didn't grow up poor, but my parents had to closely mind the budget. Today I'm middle class, but if you have ever had to choose between food and car repair you never forget that it could happen again.
posted by dgran at 7:06 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Empress, I think that might have been a response to my post. Which contains:

God help me if anyone

most of that shit just doesn't fit properly

I always hated the crap food.

But every time I'm at the fucking store,

I spent my $20 hoe allotment (unintentional)

some money left over to go to the goddamend doctor


These profane uses of words apparently distracted Mr Subway from the substance of my statement. Unfortunately all his statement makes me want to say is "Fuck off. When I'm speaking and writing to my peers, I'll use colloquialisms to express my frustration. When I'm trying to get help from an agency, or writing academic papers, I'll remain professional and respect the sanctified English language."
posted by bilabial at 7:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


When we had an actual house with a backyard, my parents did garden. When we hit the bottom of the barrel, though, we were living in a rental duplex on the highway with a concrete back porch. Lots of my friends lived in straight-up motels.

I think there's a lot of different experiences with poverty - urban, rural, exurban, and everything in-between. There aren't easy, general lifestyle solutions.
posted by muddgirl at 7:19 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies: "Damn, just when you think you've come up with an ....uh, just when you think your friend came up with an original scam you find out there's already a name for it."

And it's not even a definition you'd only find in urban dictionary. It's recognized by investopedia as def. 2, and by wikipedia as an economic term, which makes sense if you're trying to measure how much money there is in a nation.

Anyways, Check21 seemed like it might put an end to people floating checks by basically faxing them to clearing house OCR machines and clearing the transaction by the time you've left the door. Now that I think about it, the newer ATMs soelo reminded me of probably do the same thing. I vaguely recall having to sign a statement years ago at retailers who used Check21, but I haven't seen it in a while so maybe I'm just supposed to expect it now.
posted by pwnguin at 7:24 AM on January 20, 2012


The lesson I learned from being poor - when I was so fucking broke I lived in a cabin the mountains for about a year to save on rent - and still have to fight daily to unlearn - was that any one little thing can fuck you up for a long long time. Maybe forever. That feeling that there was always an impending spiral of doom waiting at the end of a seemingly trivial mistake.

Your tail light breaks and you get a fixit ticket but can't afford to get it fixed so you can't get your license renewed and you can't get insurance without a valid license so when someone runs into your car you're the one who gets busted and then you have to pay a fine that you can't afford... and so on and so on... and the next thing you know you're the neighbor who has a record and can't drive anywhere so stays home smoking meth and kicking his dog.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you're poor in the city, gardening is probably not an option - no yard. Both gardening and pickling have significant start up costs as well, not to mention the time investment required.

It might be an option, though granted, not always. It's not a total solution or an easy one. Still, it's not worth throwing out as a bad suggestion - it just might not work for everyone.

I live in a small city and have no yard, but our town have four community gardens which are free to sign up for. You exchange 2 hours' labor for a plot. This is not all that unusual and it's a growing trend across the country. It's not terribly hard to get a community garden started if you have the time, and don't have one yet. You can also do a little with container gardening, especially for something like lettuce which is at an insane premium in the store and grows really quickly in a thrift-store box or basket in the windowsill for a $1.79 seed packet, yielding the equivalent of maybe 10 full heads or, at my grocery, $11.29 worth of harvested lettuce. Consider also that if you get the $1.79 packet of organic mesclun greens, replacing that is the the equivalent of replacing not regular lettuce, but 5 clamshell packs of organic mesclun, or $14.95. It's a good return.

Startup costs are an obstacle, but if you can Google around you may find locavore and food-justice groups and cooperative extension programs that will help you to get started. Thrift stores often have pots, seed starter sets, growing boxes and garden tools. Also, other gardeners are often generous with seed and plant starts they can't use and will give them to you free. Lots of cities have garden groups and clubs that are interested in teaching and encouraging gardening. Cooperative extension has many, many tax-funded free programs to get people growing.

exchanging a bunch of hours of your labor for some cheap food (aka "gardening") doesn't make much economic sense, though it can make sense in other ways (it's fun, the food tastes good, free exercise, etc). But purely economically, you'd be far better off with a part time job at minimum wage and spending part of the money at a Super Walmart.

it isn't a viable option for everyone, I agree. However, I strongly feel it should always be in the toolkit of options. Exchanging labor for food is often worthwhile for many people. My garden yields me about $9 an hour for the investment of time. It's less that I get paid at work, but on the other hand, I am not in a position to take a second job because my fulltime work schedule is too variable and I'm in school, so it's not as though taking another part-time job is a viable option for me. I would say gardening can be the equivalent of having a side gig doing Etsy or eBay sales. You can fit it around your existing commitments - work, childcare, elder care, school, housekeeping - and go as big or small as you want, investment and yield-wise. Also, the quality and freshness of the produce is not equivalent for what you get at bottom-of-the-barrel cheap-food prices: it's premium produce, better than you'd get at Whole Foods. So even though my $9 rough average is based on basic grocery store pricing, it's actually much better than conventionally grown and distnace-shipped grocery-store food. And it allows me to sock away some food for winter in the form of frozen kale, tomato puree, etc. Thinking of friends, I know one person who is a SAH dad married to an adjunct professor. They have three kids and a house on her income alone, and are on the broke side. He maintains a 1-acre garden (HUGE) and it is a central part of his and the kids' daily lives, integrated into their chores and interactions. The bulk of their food comes out of this garden. This is helping them out a lot. Again, not for everyone, you need the infrastructure, but it can be helpful just as getting a second job, if you're able, can be helpful.

I don't think it's a glib solution and it won't work for everyone, but I think it's worth talking about as one useful tool in maintaining a quality of life while not spending a lot. I didn't grow up gardening. I learned it after the age of 30 as an adult when I got involved in a community garden simply because there was one at my job. I figured I'd give it a go and became quite a convert to it. Didn't have a lot - really, any - knowledge going in. I have spent very little on startup because of the things I mentioned - generosity, seed swapping, seed saving, going organic only (fertilizers are expensive) and cooperative extension. And there are other benefits - socializing, health, satisfaction of seeing something you have done grow - that are psychologically and physically beneficial. Yes, you need the right set of conditions to make it possible, but if you are in those conditions, gardening can be a very wise food-sourcing move.

We've had the "eating well can be cheap" discussion here ad nauseam and though there is truth to it, there are obstacles to be acknowledged and confronted as well. This was the last time I summarized the matter on MeFi, but it's also something I've looked at over the last half decade with my food justice work. It would be really good if more people were familiar with the complexities of the situation as part of the discussion, but also kept in mind that within the large and difficult picture, there is room for progress on some food issues for at least some people.

whenever I get a tax return or something there is always something to spend it on: car repairs, textbooks, credit card bill, dental cleaning. I think part of it is saving feels hopeless--a crisis will show up, and I'll have to spend it anyway. So should I put that money away for the sake of putting it away? Or should I use it to buy the things I need?

This is such a huge reason why people who are poor have trouble saving, and it's the content of the middle finger I want to throw at every critic who accuses the poor of making "poor choices" with their money. The thing is, they are assuming that basic needs are always met. And they are not. When you are poor, there is always something you are doing without because you don't have the cash. And when cash does arrive, you spend it not so much because you have a need to splurge and don't trust it will stay around, but often because it represents the solution to that actual need that you have been putting off for so long: Dental work. Shoes. A winter coat. A car repair. Eyeglasses. Home repair. If you're like most non-affluent people I know, you have a list of things that are not generally seen as extravagances that you are waiting to buy until things lighten up a little. When things lighten up - you get a windfall - that list is there. Should you go without adequate shoes and a coat and a cavity filling just so you can point to your bank account and say "how responsible am I, I have $200 in savings!" It doesn't make sense - needs are needs and they are fulfilled as we are able. Getting beyond basic needs for a functional, non-emergent, respectable life is something that wealthier people seem to forget is rarely possible, and basic needs come before savings.
posted by Miko at 7:31 AM on January 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


In Canada, the land of free health care and much more generous social assistance programs.

I don't know whether to get angry, or cry.


It is not perfect, of course, but the free health care cushions the blow. Two weeks ago I broke a bone in my foot. Emergency room, fifteen minute wait, three x-rays and treatment: total cost to me -- $0.00. I don't know what this would have cost me if I lived two hours south in the USA.

I spent the first fifteen years of my adult life at or below the poverty line. These days I am better off, but even now I work for a non-profit organization and make maybe a third of what most of my social circle does. It is frustrating having no way to convey to friends with six-figure incomes that because so-and-so missed my message and didn't come by to pick me up, the thirty-dollar cab ride to get to where we are all meeting is going to affect my grocery shopping for the next week.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read - I think Elizabeth Warren may have produced this statistic - that 2/3 of all bankruptcies in America are caused in full or part by medical bills.

That's the kind of cushion a single payer system offers. Effects far beyond health - much greater household stability.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


A lot of the poor, maybe the majority, are disabled and/or elderly. So gardening and part time jobs and repairing your own appliances are not a viable option for many poor people.

Here are some numbers I found: a total of 46 million people live in poverty (2011), 11 million of those are 65 or older*, and 10 million people receive Social Security Disability payments. Almost 11 million people live on SSI/SSDI alone (2008). I don't know if you can qualify for regular (old people) social security and disability, so there may be some overlap between the two populations. And we're not taking into account disabled people who don't qualify for SSDI (which is hard to get, from what I hear). Add in folks like bilabial who may be physically capable but have other life challenges. So, that's a good chunk of people in poverty who are probably not fully capable of doing things many of us take for granted.

*extrapolated from other figures on the site: 305 million people total, 26% of total population is 65+, 14% of those are poor
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


So does every discussion need to be riddled with profanity? I am by no means a prude but it is hard for me to glean useful info while alot of commentators gratuitously drop profanity laden statements. You may have something useful to say but profanity dosn't make it
more true just offensive.
Profanity dosn't foster healthy, respectful discussion.


This is some kind of 1600s Pilgrim cosplay, right?
posted by kmz at 8:09 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Two weeks ago I broke a bone in my foot. Emergency room, fifteen minute wait, three x-rays and treatment: total cost to me -- $0.00. I don't know what this would have cost me if I lived two hours south in the USA.

Interestingly, I could probably answer this exact question in a couple months when the insurance company sends me its statements....

Although, even here: I have gotten myself into a habit of not going to a doctor until the very last minute; not because i didn't have insurance, because I did, through my temp agency. But any time I took to go see a doctor was time I didn't get paid for, so I held off on most visits until something was clearly wrong.

In this case - I broke my foot precisely one hour after my new insurance for my full-time job kicked in. I waited a couple days, thinking it was just a sprain, then figured "oh, hell, I get sick days now, lemme just leave early and see my doctor to be sure," and spent a day getting the x-rays, learning it was a break, and then took another sick day getting to the orthopedist for a consult; he told me I was lucky because I hadn't walked around on it much, so I'd only need 6 weeks in the walking boot cast and I wouldn't need surgery.

If I had still been a temp, I'd have waited longer to see a doctor, reluctant to miss work for "just a sprain," and kept walking around on my broken foot until I couldn't any more -- by which point I'd have compounded the break, costing me more unpaid sick time with a more complicated cast and potential surgery.

The moral: another "poverty habit" is that fear of losing one day's pay could keep you from treating your small health problems before they become big ones.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Miko, that was a widely-reported statistic: CNN Medical bills prompt more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies.

I'll be sad to see this thread die out. You've all been really engaging on both an intellectual and an emotional level. And I keep wanting to tell my story, but I don't know how without sounding stupid. Nonetheless, maybe it's worth saying...

I come from a background where I thought we were poor. Well, I take that back: when I was a little kid, I never noticed. We never went hungry or anything obvious. As a young adult, I came to realize we were poor. My mother had grown up in what you'd call a dirt-poor family. She was teased unmercifully for it by her poor-but-not-as-poor-as-you schoolmates. She took all those habits she learned from her mother and used them in her new household. We spent conspicuously less money than my schoolmate's families. All my clothes were hand-made or well-worn second/third-hand, etc. We got really simple gifts for our birthdays, usually something like a jacket or some pants. Etc. So I have some mental habits about gifts and things that this thread touches on.

But here's the twist: when I wanted to go off to university, I discovered that my parents weren't poor at all. They came from poor families so they thought they were poor, they acted poor, they felt poor, but they had money banked. We'd been taking home extra ketchup packets from McDonald's to make meatloaf (but don't ask for extra packets just for that, son.. that'd be stealing) but they'd been socking away money regularly. Money enough to mostly pay for two kids' college education (note: at an inexpensive state college, but still).

So it's like I have these feelings about being poor... I remember seeing the kid down the street get a shiny bike and people making fun of my rusted ugly second-hander and my patched-knee jeans and torn jacket. But poor is relative. There are kids who have no bikes or jacket at all! But I didn't know that as a kid. We were just poor. But now, when I have conversations with friends or my wife, people who were genuinely, actually, positively poor it's like ... I can't talk about my feelings about my childhood, because everyone (now) knows my parents weren't poor. If I talk about it, I get a lot of looks from people who have more "poor cred" than I do, like I'm playing at being poor, like I can't really know what it was like.

And they're both right and wrong. When you're eight, you don't understand. And just because you do as an adult doesn't reach back and change how you felt then.
posted by introp at 8:13 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is some kind of 1600s Pilgrim cosplay, right?

Verily.
posted by griphus at 8:14 AM on January 20, 2012


Another factor is that when you have a vague ailment, it often takes multiple visits and tests to figure out what's wrong (if they ever do). I have good insurance now, but it's hard to get into the habit of going to the doctor right away when they'll probably just give me ibuprofen and tell me to rest. I developed a severe, life threatening case of pneumonia once because I'd convinced myself it would go away on its own.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(note: the pneumonia was before I had insurance)
posted by desjardins at 8:15 AM on January 20, 2012


As a Canadian, what I wish for my USian friends is universal and affordable health care.
posted by sneebler at 8:20 AM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Actually, if you think about it, HOW many AskMes have we ween in here from people who all ask "I have [medical complaint], what's going on? What should I do?" And a lot of people give the best possible all-things-being-equal answer -- "go see your doctor" -- but the reason so many of these people are turning TO AskMe is to find out whether what they have actually is serious enough for them to lose a days' pay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


As a Canadian, what I wish for my USian friends is universal and affordable health care.

If you could throw some pot in there, that would be great!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding washing machines:

Well, two things. First, getting the right kind of washing machine is a god-send in places where you don't have 24/7 running-water (aka, most of urban India); you have these types where you can store water after you're done washing. Very very useful.

Second, there's at least one economist who makes a (to me) compelling case for the washing machine having changed the world, mostly by increasing productivity at home, so to speak. So there's a good case to be made that washing machines are a sort of "good" aspirational items to buy, like computers are often seen to be.
posted by the cydonian at 8:46 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not poor. I have never been truly poor -- not in the way some of you, or the way John Cheese, has. Thank god. This thread has made me tear up.

I am also Canadian, so the idea of not going to the doctor when you're sick is truly frightening (and I've always had excellent health insurance on top of this, so much so that I was genuinely surprised when I learned in my late teens getting a prescription filled costs more that $2.00).

However, I'd just like to make a point about the glib and overly simplified "poor people should garden!!" being bandied about here.

At my poorest, in University, I thought I should garden. On my balcony, because I'm in the city and that's the only space I have. I bought a few pots on sale and some cheap soil and some seeds. Came out to $25. I failed to grow anything at all. I killed the tomatoes, the spinach, even the grow-anywhere potatoes. Even though I borrowed "vegetable gardens for dummies" from the library and did all the Googling possible, and this is as a research-loving student.

This made me cry. I am a smart person, I thought. How did I fail at this simple task? I even cried a little for the $25 when I called mommy and said I wasted my grocery money on a failed gardening experiment and now I was hungry. She emailed me $50.

How could I have stood that $25 loss if I didn't have a backup plan? How can someone suggest to someone who needs food now that they should spend at least $25 on the potential -- the POTENTIAL -- for food later?
posted by AmandaA at 8:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


I find it astounding how people in the US had such hesitation about having universal health coverage. One of the startling things about living in the UK was the lack of fear. People didn't fear about going bankrupt over medical or not having enough money to cover meds or seek medical help. There were some things I did not like about UK medical care but having that fear removed from the population is so worth it.
posted by jadepearl at 8:55 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


How can someone suggest to someone who needs food now that they should spend at least $25 on the potential -- the POTENTIAL -- for food later?

This is another area where personal background matters. My mom and her siblings grew with gardens because their grandmother gardened. They planted, tended and picked okra, tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplant and all sorts of things when they were kids. They hated it at the time, but my mom had the lesson etched into her bones, which she then transferred to me (despite hating being forced to garden as a kid).

In short, someone has to teach it to you. The funny part is that I never made the monetary connection until later in life. To me it was just to have better tasting food in your backyard.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:03 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was an elementary school librarian, back in the nineties, I worked in a very affluent area that had a few small pockets of poverty. One activity I did with my children was a "Poverty game". A combination of role playing and monolopy where each person had an identity and during the course of the game "luck" happens. Sometimes good - a promotion!, recieved a government subsidy; sometimes bad - hours cut, a new mouth to feed. it also incorporated a budget where they had to look at the classified for apts, and flyers for the cost of food so they could see the actual result of too much month left after payday. It was very carefully done, I included information like the "vice" of smoking that seems like a waste of money is often used a hunger surpressent to minimise food costs.

Recently I was helping my region devise a strategic plan - including what priorities we should place on spending: infastructure vs social spending. The Regional Chair, head of one of the wealthiest regions in Canada spoke passionately about the need to eliminte systemic poverty and its causes. He pointed out that if the wealthiest region "couldn't afford" to help then how could any region will less resources be expected to help (since everyone agreed poverty and hungry kids is bad and should't occur in Canada). It was appalling how, when the chips were down, the priorties decided by the residents were more soccer fields and wider roads over helping people they felt should be making more of an effort to help themselves.

Education is definately a big piece in eradicating poverty, but like mental illness, the stigma prevents people from speaking out and humanising it. Except here on the faceless internet. I've been working on my dissertation on the how marginalised groups present themselves on the internet, I had been focusing on the traditional gender, orientation and national identities but I think I will be doing a chapter on class-based identities too. On the Internet, no one can tell you are poor.
posted by saucysault at 9:04 AM on January 20, 2012


So is it a cultural thing? An American thing? What?

Some people don't lose hope.

It is not perfect, of course, but the free health care cushions the blow.

First off health care isn't free in this country, we all pay for health insurance coverage. Secondly, ofc it does, but in BC on that generous social assistance? When you're on assistance Pharmacare pays for medication, though if it isn't on their approved list of free medications they'll cover you have to pay the difference so a lot of people are forced to choose less effective medication, reduce the amount they take, or not take any at all because they can't afford it. If you're lucky enough to find a dentist that will take you, since that's also somewhat covered when you're on the dole, you will again have to pay the difference because there has been a long standing dispute between dentists in this province who feel the ministry is short changing them. And heaven forbid if you have to see a specialist in another city since that will come out of your monthly budget too. If you're single and employable you'll have to do all of that plus feed yourself and put a roof over your head on a measly $610, if you're disabled it's about $300 more. Which coincidentally is about the same amount you'd get if you were working a minimum wage job. But ultimately apples to oranges comparisons will always miss the point because it strikes me as a dismissive "suck it up and stop yer whining because there are people out there who have it worse." which will always be counter productive and ineffective.
posted by squeak at 9:08 AM on January 20, 2012


Thinking of friends, I know one person who is a SAH dad married to an adjunct professor. They have three kids and a house on her income alone, and are on the broke side. He maintains a 1-acre garden (HUGE) and it is a central part of his and the kids' daily lives, integrated into their chores and interactions. The bulk of their food comes out of this garden. This is helping them out a lot.

This sounds like my parents when I was a kid, and again, this kind of thrifty-by-choice has pretty much nothing in common with serious, mutli-generational poverty. Being highly educated and making a conscious choice to have a lower income in order to have other things (eg future opportunities, one parent not in the work force, more time with kids, go on a crazy Mosquito Coast-style trip overseas) isn't the same as being capital-p-poor, even if your monthly income is low.

I'm absolutely not saying that there aren't poor people who garden, or even that gardening isn't sometimes a good choice. But "they should garden!" comes up every time poverty and food issues are discussed, and almost always in a way that misses the point in a big way.
posted by Forktine at 9:20 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I find it astounding how people in the US had such hesitation about having universal health coverage. One of the startling things about living in the UK was the lack of fear. People didn't fear about going bankrupt over medical or not having enough money to cover meds or seek medical help. There were some things I did not like about UK medical care but having that fear removed from the population is so worth it.

A friend who moved to Australia a couple years ago was recently back in New York for a visit, and told me about a recent incident where she had to rush her husband to the hospital when he was complaining of sever stomach pain -- localized on his right side. Yup, it was appendicitis, and he went into surgery and had a fairly good prognosis (it hadn't burst, he was prescribed a couple weeks' antibiotics and would just have to rest from the operation and that was it).

My friend said she took a nurse aside and quietly asked -- since she wasn't originally from Australia, she wasn't sure how the system worked; what, my friend asked, would she have to pay? The nurse blinked at her and said, "well, just the cost of the antibiotics from the pharmacy, the surgery's all taken care of." My friend said she burst out crying when she heard this, babbling that it would have been a five-figure debt in the US even with insurance and...and the nurse just soothed her, joking that yeah, they got that reaction a lot from American expatriates.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on January 20, 2012 [71 favorites]


I wonder how much of this crippling cheapness some people have (almost got in a fight with a roommate in college because, while they could deal with me never turning the AC or heater on, one couldn't deal with me setting the refrigerator to slightly less than room temperature) is linked with an obsessive-compulsive trait? Seriously.
posted by resurrexit at 9:30 AM on January 20, 2012


Cracked has certainly become a better website since the change in ownership and I completely forgot my contribution to the thread because I'm near tears from half the comments. There's a hell of a lot of character in you people.
posted by pink candy floss at 9:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obessive compulsiveness, like most mental mental illnesses, is both biological in origin as well as a reaction to stress in the enviroment and an attempt to control as many variables in the face of the stress. Lower economic status is definately related to mental illness and the resources available to prevent/treat it before it worsens.
posted by saucysault at 9:40 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing is, they are assuming that basic needs are always met. And they are not. When you are poor, there is always something you are doing without because you don't have the cash. And when cash does arrive, you spend it not so much because you have a need to splurge and don't trust it will stay around, but often because it represents the solution to that actual need that you have been putting off for so long: Dental work. Shoes. A winter coat. A car repair. Eyeglasses. Home repair. If you're like most non-affluent people I know, you have a list of things that are not generally seen as extravagances that you are waiting to buy until things lighten up a little. When things lighten up - you get a windfall - that list is there.

Trade offs in decision making - what so many who do not *get* this don't understand is that the trade off in the shop isn't about "ooo should I buy the red shoe or blue shoe" but "which child will get new shoes"

The biggest challenge is that these patterns of cash flow and these behaviours are not simply only the 'minority' in the what someone tweeted as "formerly rich world" but daily life for 70% of the planet's population. Yet, the ones in marketing and business development and strategy continue to create models that are only designed for those for whom these tradeoff's not only don't exist but aren't even on their radar of realization.

I'm sorry for ranting here, not only does this thread hurt me (because you lot are supposed to be teh goddamn rich world) but because I see this every day in my work and life everywhere else in the world.

/aargh

Ok, rants aside, what Miko's just described I have tried to communicate using this rough sketch - When point C your lumpsum or bonus comes in, you spend on a long planned purchase/s or a consumer durable or some such. If the irregularity is within a danger limit you are able to manage - say it falls below - point A but not a huge shock like D or for too long a time B - you can recover but D or B are the danger areas in the fluctuating managing of the variances between income and expenses.

((hugs everyone in the thread))
posted by infini at 9:43 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


is linked with an obsessive-compulsive trait? Seriously.

I've often wondered that about my mother and to a lesser degree about myself. I have what is almost a phobia about throwing things away, or spending money, a lot like what Ghidorah describes. Other members of my family have some hoarding-like tendencies that stop short of full-on disaster stuff but that are far from normal. One of the multitude of overlapping issues in the cycle of poverty is people with untreated mental health issues. And if you're better off and have these sorts of issues [lockstep controlling of thermostats, or controlling of use of resources generally, or fetishistic-style recycling practices] you're thought of as quirky or eccentric but if you're someone who is living on some sort of social assistance, your actions are often up for more scrutiny and you also may not have the educational and/or emotional toolkit to discuss and explain the choices you're making even if they are rational at some level.

That said, college roommates are known for that sort of line-in-the-sand behavior generally.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm absolutely not saying that there aren't poor people who garden, or even that gardening isn't sometimes a good choice. But "they should garden!" comes up every time poverty and food issues are discussed, and almost always in a way that misses the point in a big way.

and every time someone talks about we have to have a conversation about how gardening doesn't work. The truth is, it sometimes works. It's a tool. Food stamps are another tool. They don't work for everyone, because if your income is overqualifying, you can't have them, even if you have a need for food assistance. Soup kitchens don't work for everyone, because they don't exist in all places. Etc. I don't believe in quashing the discussion.

this kind of thrifty-by-choice has pretty much nothing in common with serious, mutli-generational poverty.


I'd say yes and no. In fact, these people aren't thrify-by-choice. The SAH dad is doing that because he's been unemployed for over 10 years and isn't looking likely to be re-employed now that they've structured their household economy around his work. The wife's job is not secure and its' the best she can get. They may not represent "serious mulitgenerational poverty" but they represent a low-income household, and their kids are experiencing many of the same struggles mentioned here, regardless of their parents' background and education level.

The statistics about the elderly and disabled are interesting too, but those conditions alone may not disqualify people from something like gardening or bartering. Again to discuss the community garden in my last city: half the gardeners there were over 65, and in amongst us was one garden run by a group of brain-injured people (not able to live indepdently) facilitated by their social service agency. Again, not all elderly and disabled can garden, but some can. And it's not a total solution, but it can be part of the solution. I see no need to attack it on principle every time it's mentioned. If you have the ability and opportunity and assistance in learning how to do it, it can be very helpful. If you don't, you'll need some other supports. I have experienced it as a personally very helpful strategy and seen it help others and helped others with it - otherwise I wouldn't mention it and defend it as I do. I don't expect everyone to do it but it can be an option.
posted by Miko at 9:52 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm no longer poor. Objectively, our family even qualifies as "middle class"- without the lower prefix!

I've wondered recently why it is we still feel poor, and I sometimes catch myself referring to ourselves as such. This article helped me realise that it's because I'm still acting poor, despite my best efforts. We're still paycheque to paycheque, but at least we have everything we need, our bills are paid, and we even have some luxuries. I do worry about car accidents and surprises though, because we never seem to scrape together much in the way of savings, and our outside finanacial resources are slim.

A few years and raises back (but still above the poverty line), my husband's cheque was withheld just before christmas- we hadn't had any plans for presents, but our cupboards were bare and we were struggling to stay afloat on bills already. We had just moved to a new town. Didn't know a soul. Since it was christmas time, the food bank was expected to be shut down for a week, limiting appointments. I spent several frantic hours phoning them to make an appointment, getting only a busy signal. Finally, I was able to make one, but I was told that I'd better find a car so that I could get my goods back home. A car!? If we could afford a car, lady, we'd have food. It's ok, have a friend drive you. I'm almost positive a friend would lend me cash before driving me, if I even had one in the area. Ok, so take a cab. Lady, if I could afford it...! So I bussed. I missed my connection, but couldn't risk missing my appointment. What do I do? I had to run 3.5km to make it on time. Through the slush and the snow. To add insult to injury, I felt like a total douche strolling in there in my Calvin Klein coat (granted, it had been a gift). If I could have worn anything else, I would have, but it made me feel like such a failure. Surely, someone who could own a fancy jacket like that should be able to manage their finances well enough to stave off a visit to the food bank? Then I had to drag what I could [barely] handle back home- they would have given me more, if I could take it. 500m through deep snow in shoes to the bus stop was brutal. Waiting for my connection downtown, a well-meaning lady asked me where I shop (all my bags were different!), and why I'd do it all alone/on the bus. I'm not sure what I said to her, but I managed to fight off the tears and get her off my back without telling her the truth. I marched another 500m or so from the bus stop near my house, and broke down some 50m from my door. Between my frozen feet, quivering muscles and emotional distress, I was done. I left half my groceries in a snow bank and rushed the rest home, and back again, hoping no one had noticed/taken the only food I hoped to see for a month. Now, looking back I'm proud of how I handled the situation. I did what I had to do. I don't think I'll ever shake the humiliation I felt because I was still poor, even though I shouldn't have been .

As with so many others in the thread the idea that money is perishable is still strong within me. I cried when I read arcticwoman's comment, because we're still in that retched cycle.

I felt so fortunate this year being able to buy proper boots as my christmas present. They were expensive, but they will last. They will keep my feet dry and warm for years... unlike the walmart boots I had to buy 3 years ago because I was desperate. Those shitty boots were never any good, and I had to tough them, and cold, wet feet out for several years before I could justify the expense of a "real" pair.

I still have trouble buying things for myself. My dad still buys clothes for me sometimes because he sees that I have trouble justifying that expense for myself when I still have a few functional items. Appalled that I would be wearing my dress-coat (it's of good quality, but not very warm) for the winter, he insisted on sending money for me to get something more adequate for the harsh eastern-ontario winters. Now I have a down coat that will last me 10+ years, I hope. Something I never would have sprung for myself.

So yeah, we're working on it... I hope we can start shaking some of these habits as things start to look up. My husbands pension payments going up 100$/pay was a kick in the pants this month, but at least we're in a place that make small surprises like that a little easier to bear. It's tighter than I'd like it, but we're getting along.

Thanks all for sharing your stories. It's been humbling.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:55 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't expect everyone to do it but it can be an option.

Miko: if we agree with you for the record that in general, that yes, it "can be" an option, could you see yourself to perhaps taking it as read that, when you meet someone who doesn't garden, that they have already considered that option and rejected it as untenable for their particular circumstances?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:02 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Urban gardening or rather kitchen garden vs ornamental can be a status symbol interestingly enough. I was having this conversation with my Kenyan business partner who told me yesterday that on getting married and getting this house with a backyard the first thing he told his wife was they were NOT growing maize or vegetables there!
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on January 20, 2012


The one item around the house that makes my wife feel financially secure is boxes of Kleenex. She considers it a luxury item and, if we ever get to the point that we can't afford them, she knows that the financials are bad.

Jesus Christ, you guys are making my stomach ache. Seriously, this thread has sort of spun my head a bit, and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. Not that you're all asking for help, but... can we help? Even a little?
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife, an intelligent, creative, handy person, had never gardened until we moved in together in our 30s. She grew up poor, in Miami where a garden wouldn't have take much effort, but she had not ever considered the possibility of having a garden--it simply wasn't something that anyone she knew did, so the thought never occurred to her. I introduced her to home-grown tomatoes, and now she pretty much manages our year-round, productive garden herself.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:10 AM on January 20, 2012


Not that you're all asking for help, but... can we help? Even a little?

It strikes me that some of the people here are fortunately past their poverty days (others aren't, and I'll let them speak to your question). But it strikes me that the one thing everyone could do that would help all the poor is: remember this thread when you go vote this November.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


...could you see yourself to perhaps taking it as read that, when you meet someone who doesn't garden, that they have already considered that option and rejected it as untenable for their particular circumstances?

Why would someone take that stance without asking and without inquiring how they gardened, to see if they made some basic mistake that could be corrected? It sounds like you're insisting that no one can ever be questioned about gardening, which is silly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:15 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why would someone take that stance without asking and without inquiring how they gardened, to see if they made some basic mistake that could be corrected? It sounds like you're insisting that no one can ever be questioned about gardening, which is silly.

Why do they need to justify their choice to NOT garden for you to find it acceptable? Do the poor have no autonomy in which to make their own choices?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think some people are reacting to the garden issue because it reminds them of the paternalism and judgment that poor people often get. It's reminiscient of the concern trolling that overweight people face - "Well, all you need to do is eat right and exercise, stupid fatty!"

I am willing to give most people here, especially Miko, the benefit of the doubt, but it twinges a nerve for a lot of folks.
posted by desjardins at 10:23 AM on January 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Why do they need to justify their choice to NOT garden for you to find it acceptable? Do the poor have no autonomy in which to make their own choices?

What the hell are you talking about, who said they have to justify anything?

A simple "Ok, you're poor, have you tried gardening? No, maybe I can help you try that. Yes, you did and it didn't work? Can we talk about what you tried, see if we can fix that?" sounds beyond reasonable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:24 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


A simple "Ok, you're poor, have you tried gardening? No, maybe I can help you try that. Yes, you did and it didn't work? Can we talk about what you tried, see if we can fix that?" sounds beyond reasonable.

Actually, it sounds condescending. And I'm speaking as someone who was poor, and who does garden.

I may have been taught fucked-up money habits by my mother, but I was also taught that it's rude to offer advice unless advice is requested from or solicited of you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's part of a pattern of assuming poor people have never thought of those things, as if being poor was exclusively about bad choices. Sometimes being poor is just having been born in the penalty box.

Also, it's embarrassing enough to be broke- having to feel like you have to justify your life to everyone who comes up with the same hackneyed suggestions gets very, very old. You start out being defensive, because in America being poor is being a loser. And worse, a stupid, lazy loser, thanks to the notion that everyone can be middle class and the people who aren't just didn't try hard enough.
posted by winna at 10:32 AM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


It can come off as telling people to get an extra job in order to more healthily feed themselves, the unintended implication being that they have to do even more work because they're poor, and also that they're fucking up even the basic act of feeding themselves. I would imagine that people are also sensitive to the class issues which arise as a result of being told that, unlike John and Jane Q. Middle Class, they should grow their own food. It's a class marker thing, even if it's not intended to be.

If people were hyperlogical robots, this would be less of a problem, but they aren't, so it isn't.

Also, gardening is generally a small-scale solution which not everyone can implement. Many people literally, physically lack the time and energy to garden, let alone the weather or space, outside of growing some herbs and tomatoes on their windowsill during the non-winter months. In an urban environment, it's pretty hard to grow more calories than you take in.

On the other hand, normalizing gardening for food is a great idea. It would be a good idea for some modern day, charitably-minded Don Draper to make gardening to seem like a cool act of independence, as opposed to work where you literally get your hands dirty.

...

Getting more support for food coops would also be a good idea, in my layman's opinion, but what do I know.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:35 AM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sunshinesky, your story about the cost of/lack of transportation reminded me of another difficulty about poverty. It can really hurt your relationships. Especially during my really low earning years as an adult on my own, I found myself constantly in the position of having to make excuses for myself about why I wasn't going out for a drink with everyone after work, why I wasn't able to go to my friend's moving-away goodbye party in the next state over, why I was only staying for a two-day visit instead of a week when they knew I had the time off. Friends would invite me to dinner and I would cringe about accepting because I knew I could not reciprocate by inviting them for dinner at my house. It's hard to do the things that maintain your relationships and build connections with others.

It also becomes really obvious how people who don't have to reckon these costs are fairly blind to them. Even if you're invited for a simple supposedly low-cost visit staying with friends or family, people just don't "see" the costs associated with travel, from just getting from place to place ("Is the car in shape to make it? Should I do the brake job before the trip, and have to really scrape by while on the trip, or save the cash to have available while I'm away, hope for the best and no icy roads, and do the brake job after next payday when I get back? What's the mileage - can I afford the gas? What's the price of gas - did it go up from last week?")and also dealing with the needs you'll have during travel ("Will I need to be on the road at mealtime? Have to feed kids on the road? What can I pack so we don't have to purchase anything at expensive roadside convenience stores or fast food places? Will I be getting my period while I'm away, because if so, I need to prepurchase the feminine-hygeine stuff, but if not, I can save that cash until I get home. Does anybody take meds? If so I might have to get a refill earlier than I normally do and it might fall on the wrong pay cycle") let alone what you're going to have to cover while you're visiting ("What if while we're they're they want to go to a movie? Or take us out to dinner? Are they expecting us to bring something? Are they expecting us to cook a meal or take them out for a meal?")

Even though things have lightened up for me, I still find this vexing. Two friends recently called to propose they come to visit, and in fact I look forward to seeing them. But I did tell them "We'll need to really keep spending down while you visit, because I every penny I can scrape together this month has to go for my tuition payment which is due." To which my friend repled "Oh, don't worry. We can avoid eating out and save money that way! No problem!" And I gritted my teeth, thinking: that solution is no problem for you, you mean. If you're expecting to eat every meal in my house over the weekend, I now have to lay in groceries for 4 people for 4-6 meals, which will double the food budget for those three days, which means I either cut back on what we eat the previous three days or overspend the week's food budget.

It's not that I can't work around that, or say "hey, would you & Bob take over one breakfast and dinner and do the shopping and cooking" or "would you guys bring the beer, wine, and any snacks you want to eat" - it's just that people tend to be unconscious of this kind of thing if they have enough slush fund available to cover it all. I really love hosting, actually, and when it's not a heavy bill month I don't feel nickel-and-dimey like that, thank goodness. But people overlook costs even when they are making you really nice gestures of friendship, and it can be so awkward to turn those things down when you want to. The shame factor of saying "I just don't have the money for that" is so great. And then when you do say it and they're like "Don't worry, here's [other solution that still costs money]!" you have to expose yourself yet again.
posted by Miko at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Our tomato garden was ravaged by caterpillars last summer. We had no idea what to do, so we googled around and bought some stuff, but it was too late. Good thing we didn't depend on that for food. We would have had way more tomatoes than we could eat had they not been buggy, but we don't know how to can. We could have figured it out, since we have the internet and we have money to buy canning supplies, but if you don't have those two things then you have a lot of rotting tomatoes. I can see how it would cease to be worth it.
posted by desjardins at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2012


The one item around the house that makes my wife feel financially secure is boxes of Kleenex. She considers it a luxury item and, if we ever get to the point that we can't afford them, she knows that the financials are bad.

Mine is seasonal flowers at the grocery store. At this time of the year it's tulips, primroses and jasmine. This year I was able to get two bunches of tulips ... even though it only cost $4, on sale, getting them made me feel rich and decadent.

And on the gardening? I've done some and this past fall I decided to do some winter gardening. Bought some bulls blood beets and various lettuces you can't get in the grocery store and if you could they'd cost an arm and a leg. I lost the whole crop despite being assured we on the wet coast can garden in the winter. And that's the other part of it, the biggest part imho, its another fear that taking a chance is going to result in a loss you can't recover from so you're always playing it safe. I took a chance thinking that I wouldn't have to buy lettuce throughout the winter and I lost.

I just hope those slugs are happy with their $25 meal.
posted by squeak at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, it sounds condescending. And I'm speaking as someone who was poor, and who does garden.

It sounds helpful, as someone who has been poor and raised to garden. It sounds flat out insane that you are advocating saying nothing to someone that may prove helpful to that.

I can see how it would cease to be worth it.

God forbid someone give you advice on how to fix it, eh?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2012


could you see yourself to perhaps taking it as read that, when you meet someone who doesn't garden, that they have already considered that option and rejected it as untenable for their particular circumstances?

No, like Brandon Blatcher said, it's something I'd ask about in the proper context. I'd assume that if I'm even saying something like "Have you tried...[whatever]" it's because they're looking for information, not because I inserted myself in their life randomly. Also, you have to remember I'm an activist with this issue, so of course I'm going to try to connect people with resources for this as one of the many helpful things I might be able to offer to hook people up with. It may not work for everyone but it can be somewhat transformative for some. So most often, I'm not in the position of buttonholing people and saying "why don't you garden, you wasteful profligate!?" and instead, I'm more in the position of hanging up posters saying "Free beginner garden workshop, show up HERE at TIME" or partnering with a shelter or Community Action program or Cooperative Extension, so the people who show up have already expressed some interest in learning and some potential ability to participate. I have found a lot of people who do respond with interest after learning about these resources, which leads me to think there may be more interested people who have simply not been offered the resources.

I get that it can be interpreted by some as condescending, but also agree that any other solutions well-meaning and non-paternalistic people may offer, from getting another job to spending less to turning the heat down to shopping at the thrift store to asking for hand-me-downs to walking instead of driving ,are typically not simple in themselves and can also sound condescending if you bring the interpretation of hostility or dismissal to them. They aren't always meant that day and can sometimes mean the difference between surviving with a reasonable quality of life and suffering with serious inadequacy, so they are worth discussing. I would say to you, especially in my case, assume some knowledge and goodwill when I'm talking about ideas for getting by.

we don't know how to can

You can freeze 'em too, you don't need to can. But anyway, enough about gardening. It's good but it's never going to work for everyone, any more than any other individually based, non-systemic strategy for relieving poverty is.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kleenex is one of those things I can't bring myself to buy. Fancy tissue, just to blow snot in? I just use TP, it's cheaper and how often do I need to blow my nose anyway. My boyfriend thinks this is crazy, and will sometimes bring home a box of Kleenex. When I put it to my sore and ravaged sniffly nose, I cannot believe the luxury of its softness and pleasant scent. But it just seems so...really? $3, just to blow my nose in?

Also, pillows. My friends make fun of me when they stay over because my pillows are all flat. We never, ever bought pillows growing up - maybe once or twice the whole time, so I would sleep on the same one for five years or more, which just seems normal to me. I understand other people replace their pillows when they flatten out and get kind of worn. I can hardly bring myself to do this, especially some of the prices. $20? $50 for a down pillow?

What makes me feel secure is having a lot of pantry stuff - canned beans, tomatoes, pasta, rice. I love seeing a full larder of non-perishables. And sheets - having more than one nice set of sheets in good condition, so I can put one in the wash and replace it with an equally good, matching set - makes me feel like a queen.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's part of a pattern of assuming poor people have never thought of those things, as if being poor was exclusively about bad choices. Sometimes being poor is just having been born in the penalty box.

Right, but at the same time, I don't see why it's so offensive to contemplate how being born in the penalty box often does reinforce bad choices. Just as it would be trite to assume that every middle-class person is a self-made Horatio Alger story, it would be equally trite to assume that every poor person is poor only because they completely lack any personal agency whatsoever. "Leaving them be" is just a less confrontational way of treating them like losers.

It doesn't mean that the solution is to paternalistically, condescendingly offer unwanted solutions in an insulting way, but it does mean that we as a society need to think about how to best educate people on a mass scale and how to promote good choices and safety nets for people. Look at case studies of areas where communities do get organized and improve their lot. This often entails tying together both community leaders and the government itself, such as happened recently in Red Hook. This helps people both act with autonomy and accept outside help, without losing face or agency.

To get back to the gardening example, it would probably be more sensitive to approach gardening as a community exercise, especially one tied in with the local churches and other de facto community centers. Have the authority figures in charge of the garden be not cops or (well-intentioned) interlocutors, but people from within the community itself. If we were all hyperlogical robots, it wouldn't matter if the person teaching you how to garden was someone like yourself or an outsider of better means, but we're not hyperlogical robots, so it does matter.

...

People also have a very strong urge to not feel stupid. It is a need that all people have. It's all too easy as an outsider to see how someone might do better to "accept" some unwanted advice, but when you're that person, it will feel differently. Change some of the details around and it can seem rude as shit to you as well - imagine someone going through your posts and MeMailing you to say, "oh hi, I was reading your stuff, it's cute, but I have some tips and and tricks as to how you could begin to write better and think more clearly." You probably would not appreciate that, nor would I expect you to.

That said, there is a reason why they say that pride is a sin. Not because pride is rare or evil, but because it's common and commonly hurtful. Pride can often block us from hearing or applying good advice, even when it is presented repetitively or condescendingly. The solution is not to flog people for having pride, but to best present your help in a way that respects others' agency. It's tricky, to say the least.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


like Brandon Blatcher said, it's something I'd ask about in the proper context.....

Actually, it wasn't clear that Brandon would only ask about in the proper context, and it also wasn't clear from what you'd said that that's what you'd do either. That was all I was asking for, was a clarification of that point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2012


If you really didn't know it by now, you can pretty much assume my attitude toward poverty is not generally one of condemning or hectoring those experiencing it. I feel to some degree this is pretty obvious by my participation here.
posted by Miko at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this thread, so far. And any time that I hear someone talk about BOOTSTRAPS!, I am going to point them to this thread.
posted by kellyblah at 11:19 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: asking people about gardening. Ah, a bunch of fine responses have been posted while I've been typing, but there are still two points that perhaps might be useful for me to make.

One of the things about being poor (in North America at least, where classism is still running strong) is that you have different interactions with other people than someone middle class or rich would: people are ruder to you, assume you are less intelligent or capable, etc. You come to expect it. Then people think you have a chip on your shoulder and wonder why you are so touchy.... For those of us who are no longer poor, or have never been, I think the ethical onus is on us to be very careful not to contribute to perpetuating that stigma.

My family mainly lived in small towns where we had yard space for gardening, my mother knew how to garden (though I don't remember her ever canning or freezing to preserve food), and I grew up with healthy and mostly homemade food because that was important to my parents and they had the knowledge and resources to obtain low-cost, healthy food. We never had the misfortune of living in a food desert, basically. When we lived in a tenement building in town when I was very little, we didn't have a garden, but I think my uncles would bring us fresh food occasionally from their gardens. Living in the same town/area as my mother's family helped a lot when my parents were struggling the most. On the other hand, being poor can mean moving around a lot and not necessarily having family or other community around to rely on. In addition to not having a general community safety net, you can't really have a garden unless you're sure you're going to be living in the same place all summer.

I think that community gardens, if set up properly, can be one example of providing a social, or communal, safety net, however; with risks, work, and benefits shared among everyone involved, and a greater ability to moderate some of the obstacles to gardening while poor that folks have mentioned in this thread.
posted by eviemath at 11:25 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Miko -- that's precisely why I was so surprised to be reading what, to me, sounded like a sort of "bootstraps - use them!" argument from you. I realize now that that's not the spirit it was intended, but perhaps you weren't quite aware that it was sounding a tiny bit that way, albeit unintentionally.

Truce.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2012


I am glad that people are gardening activists.

But damn, I hate to garden, and I hate 90% of fresh vegetables. They are just not my thing. As mentioned in this article I like canned food, not so much food you have to wash that goes bad.

I dated someone who was generationally really super-wealthy and his family taught me to like some veggies, but man, the idea of working hard to grow a potential tomato that will then require lots of effort to get to its proper salted and cooked state seems like a pretty silly idea on its face.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:28 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


A simple "Ok, you're poor, have you tried gardening? No, maybe I can help you try that. Yes, you did and it didn't work? Can we talk about what you tried, see if we can fix that?" sounds beyond reasonable.

Oh Christ. I see what you're hoping to accomplish here, and I can admire that. But it's really hard to hear how these words sound in the ears of the listener. I have tried gardening at my current home. Even after I talked to the yard guy (Ya, I know. I live in a house where the landlord pays a yard guy. If he buys a mower, it gets stolen by the neighborhood kids.) he's mowed own my brand new baby plants that were in ancient raised beds left by a previous tenant. The other time, they died because I couldn't be home for a few days and nothing got watered. (The dogsitting gig that pays me is 40 miles from home, I sleep there when I'm needed.) I was (sort of) raised to garden by a wealthy grandmother who had a beautiful garden, and I took horticulture in high school, so I have a pretty good handle on planting times, diseases, etc. Also, I do have the internet to check up on how to fix things that go wrong. Though the battle with snails that we have in my town might have wiped out my foods anyway, I was excited to try...)

So this line of questioning feels like it's right up there with, "Have you applied for this equally part time job with a competitor of your employer that is 20 miles north of your current job, and two hours further north from your house than current job is?wait, four hours each way on the bus to work for 4 hours? You're kidding? No...you're not..." "Have you applied for food stamps?not unemployed enough" "How do you afford to go out to eat?$5 cheeseburger night, that's how."

Sometimes people offer me dumb advice I've already received a few dozen times, and then get upset that I'm "so negative, so quick to explain why a solution won't work, instead of just trying it." I'd be amused if I hadn't already tried it. I want to feel bad for the thirtieth jackwad who tells me I'd be so pretty if only I'd smile, but instead I'm all out of patience for gardening and smiling advice. The kind stranger offering the advice wonders why I've got such a stick up my ass. Well, being poor and/or depressed really sucks.
posted by bilabial at 11:34 AM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


"oh hi, I was reading your stuff, it's cute, but I have some tips and and tricks as to how you could begin to write better and think more clearly."

The condescending part of this is that it doesn't provide an opening for a dialog. It would not be condescending if it was more like, "You said X, and I think you meant Y, for which I find Z to be a better expression. Why did you write it that way?"
posted by LogicalDash at 11:37 AM on January 20, 2012


The condescending part of this is that it doesn't provide an opening for a dialog. It would not be condescending if it was more like, "You said X, and I think you meant Y, for which I find Z to be a better expression. Why did you write it that way?"

What's wrong with "You said X, but did you perhaps really mean either Y or Z?" Let them tell you whether they really DID mean Y or Z, rather than assuming -- because maybe the way they wrote it that way is because "actually, I really DID mean X."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I realize now that that's not the spirit it was intended, but perhaps you weren't quite aware that it was sounding a tiny bit that way, albeit unintentionally.

Honestly, it sounds like you are assuming the absolute worst of the other person.

Oh Christ. I see what you're hoping to accomplish here, and I can admire that. But it's really hard to hear how these words sound in the ears of the listener.

*shrug* They can either follow up asking for more advice or shrug it off. It's not a big deal and the ball is in their court. It's not as if I advocate swooping around town and randomly asking poor people about gardening. It's bizarre that, to me, that people completely resistant to the idea of merely mentioning or asking.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:46 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with "You said X, but did you perhaps really mean either Y or Z?" Let them tell you whether they really DID mean Y or Z, rather than assuming -- because maybe the way they wrote it that way is because "actually, I really DID mean X."

The condescending part of this is that it doesn't provide an opening for a dialog. It would not be condescending if it was more like, "You said X, and I think you meant Y, for which I find Z to be a better expression. Why did you write it that way?"

I think people would still find that to be generally weird, unless there was a concrete goal which both the writer and the critic were working towards. Even then, people can get defensive over far less, especially if the critic is an apparent interloper.

Either way, I would not recommend offering unsolicited writing advice to people, unless someone is possibly going to concretely fuck something up as a result of poor word choice, e.g. in potentially legal matters.

I note privately that, upthread, I accidentally used interlocutor for interloper.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2012


It's not as if I advocate swooping around town and randomly asking poor people about gardening. It's bizarre that, to me, that people completely resistant to the idea of merely mentioning or asking.

Who would you be "mentioning" or "asking" this to, is what we're wanting to know?

On the one hand, you say you're not "advocating randomly asking poor people about gardening," but if that's the case, why are you so insistent on the right to ask people those questions at will?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2012


What's wrong with "You said X, but did you perhaps really mean either Y or Z?" Let them tell you whether they really DID mean Y or Z, rather than assuming -- because maybe the way they wrote it that way is because "actually, I really DID mean X."

That would work. I prefer to make my own process fairly obvious so that it doesn't look like I'm e.g. offering them the easy way out as if they'd said something offensive. I probably should ask "Why did you say X?" though, since like you said, maybe they meant it.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:51 AM on January 20, 2012


And conversely, I'm not saying to not have those kinds of conversations with a close friend, family member, or etc. that you've already got a fairly intimate relationship with. However, you're giving the impression that you do indeed reserve the right to strike up that conversation with "random poor people," which is what is putting people on edge.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Empress, please, give it a rest. You have a tendency to draw out these minor miscommunications into endless squabbles. It's okay if someone is wrong on the internet.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:53 AM on January 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who would you be "mentioning" or "asking" this to, is what we're wanting to know?

Another human being, in the midst of conversation about being poor, stretching food, gardening or finding a way to cut costs. For those on social services, it might be a worthy goal for their case worker to ask.

On the one hand, you say you're not "advocating randomly asking poor people about gardening," but if that's the case, why are you so insistent on the right to ask people those questions at will?

Yeah, I never said the latter as you note in the sentence proceeding. I'm not sure why you're insisting on making shit up to fit your own viewpoint, but whatever.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:56 AM on January 20, 2012


Honestly, it sounds like you are assuming the absolute worst of the other person.

I don't know if assuming people are condescending is necessarily assuming the worst of someone. For many people, that might just be their default framing, especially with regard to poor people versus non-poor people, especially if they often are treated as subnormal, especially if the advice is unsolicited, and especially if this advice has already been heard and rejected for any number of reasons. It's perfectly possible that someone could miss out on good advice by having this framing, but hey, welcome to the human condition.

However, you're giving the impression that you do indeed reserve the right to strike up that conversation with "random poor people," which is what is putting people on edge.

That's a stretch of Brandon's words, especially the idea of striking up these conversations with "random" poor people. "Random" means random, as in having no connection or apparent cause. Do you really think that Brandon wants to do a "drunk man's walk" through a poor neighborhood, telling random people to do this or that?
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:57 AM on January 20, 2012


The original post is a list of ways that being poor affects people's thinking about money. Well, being poor can affect people's thinking about all sorts of stuff, including what people mean when they say some bit of unsolicited advice (even if couched as a question), what intentions are likely to be behind that, and what that implies about judgements that the advice-giver is making and whether or not they are being condescending. What we're really talking about here is oppression due to classism, and how that affects people's perceptions and interactions.
posted by eviemath at 11:58 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Fresh food is expensive and takes forever to prepare.

Wrong and wrong.

As someone who was raised poor, I can tell you that the single most stupid habit poor people have is endlessly making bad excuses for behaviour that exacerbates their problems

Damn.
posted by Decani at 12:28 PM on January 20, 2012


The single most annoying habit not-currently-poor people have is endlessly telling currently-poor people what they're doing wrong and that they are to blame for their own problems
posted by titus n. owl at 12:31 PM on January 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Shit Rich People Say
posted by The Whelk at 12:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


This article missed the one that's messed me up the most as a grown-up: being obsessive about the thermostat. Saving $50 on the electric bill isn't worth the discomfort and ridiculousness I go through for the entire month trying to stay warm. When I would come home from college for winter break and my mom still hadn't turned on the heat, I'd sleep under a down comforter topped with two heavy wool blankets and an unzipped sleeping bag. Now that I've just had a baby, I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to have to keep the house at a reasonable temperature for his comfort, and now I'm really flabbergasted that it doesn't make that much of a difference at all, when the bill comes in the mail.
posted by litnerd at 12:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Shit Rich People Say

OH, does that ever need to be made!
posted by Miko at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This has been a great thread to read.

Regarding health care and the inexistent fear in the UK, and also here in France as well as in Finland (I'm naming them since I have specific experience with them) – yes, a million times yes.

Last week I got the flu. After 15 years in Europe, I have finally, finally gotten past my upbringing: I go to the doctor as soon as I feel under the weather. Not when green is oozing from my nose or my throat or my ears and my head is pounding and every single muscle aching, but when my throat is tickly-sore and I have to go to sleep at 8pm rather than the usual 10pm. So, doc diagnosed me with the flu. I go to the pharmacy.

The pharmacy. OMG. This still makes me cry, though in private now, when before I'd tear up while still in the pharmacy. It still makes me look like a complete weirdo to Europeans (but they've all been sympathetic about it). You go in, you show your prescription, you show your health insurance card, the pharmacist gives you your medication, and you walk out. Zero euros. (for god's sake, yes, we pay taxes, so do Americans, yes we have payroll taxes, sorry, they still work out to less than what Americans pay for health insurance – just health insurance, when our payroll taxes ALSO pay for public education, social programs, job training, etc., AND we don't pay for prescription drugs, so, okay? when I pay zero euros at the pharmacist's, I pay zero euros at the pharmacist's. Unlike Americans who will NOT pay zero dollars despite spending several hundreds per month on health "insurance". /rant)

My doctor also prescribed me days off to recover. These are paid days off, and there's not a small limit to them – in fact the limits are so long and complex and engineered to ensure that no one who's ill gets put on the street due to financial hardships from an illness, that the best way I can put it briefly is "two years, but if you get a chronic or other serious/debilitating illness, there are exceptions" – and debilitating mental illnesses such as severe depression count.

I feel like I'm living in the lap of luxury here, on a modest salary, because I never have to worry about a health scare. At all.

Thanks to that, I've finally been able to pull myself out of poverty recently. But I still use toilet paper as Kleenex too :D did just that while having the flu. Splurged on a Kleenex deal "two boxes for the price of one", but went through them in two days, did the typical "my 24 rolls of TP only cost me 6 euros, and a roll lasts more than a day, whereas the Kleenex cost me 3 euros on sale... not worth it" and dang, I am really looking forward to moving beyond that type of automatic calculation. A few years ago I would keep a running total of the groceries in my basket, to the penny, so I wouldn't go one cent into overdraft territory... nowadays I'm happy to be able to buy a 50-euro kitchen trash can (oh god don't get me started on my trash can search) that I know will never break. (It's metal. No hinges, no pedal, no buttons, no sensors, no electronic devices. It is a metal cylinder with a metal lid that has a metal handle. It ain't ever going to break, barring random sledgehammer attacks. But ouch, it cost me 50 euros, when my plastic one that broke after 3 years of use cost me 15.)
posted by fraula at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Fresh food is expensive and takes forever to prepare

Wrong and wrong.


Well, Decani. I agree ..... if you have reliable transportation, and if you have space to store, and if you have practiced skill at cooking and kitchen management, and if you have time because you're not working three jobs and depending on public transportation, and if your access to a real actual kitchen (and not a hotel mini fridge like my sister has access to because the injuries her boyfriend has suffered have pushed them into a hotel) is assured, and if you can get to the store more than once or twice a month, then sure. Preparing fresh food can be easy, cost effective, and speedy. But without all of those things in place, how is it done? Because I am spending forever to prepare expensive fresh foods for myself, and I'd like to save some time and cash. True, I get to offset some of that time into a crock pot. But it's not a hot delicious meal in 30 seconds like I could get out of the microwave, for very cheap if I pay attention to coupons and store specials. Luckily for my heart I find them inedible, but my wallet is pained. I buy my meats at a discount place, that also has cheap(er) vegetables. (example: Orange and red peppers for $1.99/# instead of the $3.99 that big chain supermarket gets). I buy bagged salad greens when they are BOGO, frozen veggies ditto, fresh things in season. The "farmers' market" nearest me is an hour by bus and is more expensive than the big grocery store. My attempts at home gardening have been expensive and fruitless this winter, though in the past I've had marginally more success.

Per calorie, healthy, fresh food is more expensive, in cash and immediate opportunity cost than a dollar cheeseburger. If you have $5 or $10 and/or 1/2 hour to feed your family, McDonald's is the sensible choice. Carrots, salads, whole grain breads, go bad! Fresh (safe!) seafood either has to be caught or bought regularly or frozen, bone in chicken may be lots cheaper, but if you rely on public transportation may be too heavy to comfortably get home in addition to your other groceries, or may spoil before you get it home if you have serious delays. Sure, ground beef can be argued for, and you can drain the grease off the fattiest sorts, but you've got to add something to it to have a meal, let alone a healthy balanced meal. If you're freezing foods, you have to have the time and advance planning skills to thaw in time. Beans are great, but they require skill, seasoning, time, and attention. I have these things, but there have been times when I did not have time or attention or seasoning for beans. Beans need a sauce or something to mix in, or something to eat with them to be enjoyable, even just "rice with beans" requires a little...something to be healthy. The skill in having rice and beans ready and hot at the same time is something I observe many of my peers to be lacking, for varying reasons. That McDs cheeseburger? Many people find that palatable all by itself. It's designed with that in mind.
posted by bilabial at 12:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


even just "rice with beans" requires a little...something to be healthy

Steamed broccoli on the side. It takes 4 minutes.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2012


Shit Rich People Say: Why don't you just ask your parents for the money?
posted by winna at 1:02 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some population level perspectives on what (on average) moves people out of poverty, which of course, don't invalidate any experiences of people in this thread.

(for my own, I had the luck to not have any *major setbacks*, like health crises, along the way *and* some opportunities, which I could use. My family is still mired in multi-generational poverty, and I have no idea of what the fix there is. Their networks are weak, their resource reserves are small. Frustrating to see.)
posted by gregglind at 1:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


This article missed the one that's messed me up the most as a grown-up: being obsessive about the thermostat.

Oh yeah. Just this year I got an email from my utility company with ways to save money. It said if I lowered the thermostat to less than 68 over the winter, I could save $13-21 per year. That's it? I thought I was saving $20/month by freezing my ass off. So, fuck that, I have $20 a year to spend on being comfortable. Yes, I know I'm personally responsible for ruining the environment.
posted by desjardins at 1:13 PM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Shit rich people say: steamed broccoli on the side. It takes 4 minutes.

And for a single serving tray of prepped broccoli at my grocery store, $2. Sure, about $3 for the whole head of broccoli. If you don't own a sharp knife, can you manage a head of broccoli?

Seriously, I can keep a bag of beans and a bag of rice indefinitely. I love them, and I'm able to make them very tasty in several ways. Finding the time to buy broccoli, getting it home, and having the energy to get it prepped and cooked (stems, chopping, etc) are obstacles even for me. If you're insisting that those other factors are not "time" or "preparation" we're having a difficult time communicating. I take the time to get and prepare vegetables for lots of reasons. I like them, I am aware of their value. But I cannot pretend that they are cheap or always easy to deal with. I own a pot large enough to steam a head of chopped up broccoli in. I own a little steamer basket thingy. Those things were not free, I've owned the cheap kinds that broke easily and had to do without for a while.

Then I have to clean up after. Which is easy enough for me, materially. I have dish soap, and a scrubber that doesn't stink, and hot water, and a rack to dry dishes on. And some days, I don't cry into my dinner and when I'm done eating I can take my dishes to the sink and just wash them. But other days, Christ, tossing a wrapper into the trash after eating is more...appealing.

If you can condense the getting and prepping and the cleaning into a minute and the steaming into three, I'll buy that "it takes 4 minutes." Until you can, maybe think before you get preachy about how easy and quick some task is?

For the record, stir fry my broccoli in butter, garlic (or garlic powder if I can't get fresh), and seasoning salt and whatever else looks good while I'm in front of the stove, which may or may not add to it's health value. I do it for...um...for the calories.
posted by bilabial at 1:18 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fascinating link, glennlind.
posted by Miko at 1:34 PM on January 20, 2012


Is that really all the savings from turning down the heat?

I have to say, especially when I had freaking oil heat for which you have to pay in irregular and large lump sums (the worst! worst on a low income!), that I keep my house pretty daggone frigid with the assumption that I'm saving money. $20 a year is the difference? Count me surprised. I had no way of making comparisons when I had oil heat, but I have metered gas now which should let me keep track better. I've always found it a bit of a guessing game, since (a) you can't crank the heat just to compare how much you use when it's cranked if you assume you can't afford to crank it, and (b) there are too many external variables, like how cold it is outside and how much heat loss you are getting from various windows and doors and room shutoffs.

So that does surprise me.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on January 20, 2012


I also don't see how that is the only savings. I keep the heat at sixty-five during the day, and usually turn it down to fifty-five at night. My power bills during the winter are usually around fifty dollars, and during spring and fall they drop to an average of forty dollars. There's a little bar on the front page of my power bill that shows what an 'average' bill is, and it is usually about one-twenty in the winter. So I'm saving seventy dollars a month by wearing socks and a sweater and a woolly hat inside.
posted by winna at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real issue with gardening as a suggestion is that the cost of food is not the reason for food insecurity; food is historically extremely cheap in the US. People are food insecure because other things (like rent, gas to drive to work, and heating oil costs) are up, and they are mandatory expenses, and incomes have at best stagnated, and at worst people are scraping by on the remnants of the public safety net. Food is just the one piece that is the most flexible. You buy the gas because you have to get to work, but you can skip grocery shopping for a day even when the cupboards are bare.

So gardening does make a marginal contribution to one's food budget, but the food budget itself isn't the problem. One trip to the ER, or one fairly minor mechanical issue with your car, will cost the same as the equivalent of years of gardening.
posted by Forktine at 1:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't think it's out of line or tone-deaf to suggest broccoli for dinner. I read that as a helpful suggestion.
posted by heyho at 1:46 PM on January 20, 2012


Well, it depends on how it's cooked.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2012


If you don't own a sharp knife, can you manage a head of broccoli?

Wha...? This doesn't affect your larger point, but you do not need a sharp knife for a head of broccoli, unless the broccoli you buy has some sort of thick, horny carapace. I snap off the florets with my hands and use a butter knife for the rest. If you're really desperate and you literally have no access to a knife or knife-like instrument, you could just break the larger stem with your hands as well.

(Further irrelevant note: I grew up eating broccoli raw. I prefer raw broccoli to cooked broccoli, and poorly cooked broccoli is inedible.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:54 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh. On the broccoli not needing a sharp knife. I'm happy to hear that.
posted by bilabial at 2:01 PM on January 20, 2012


Here's the savings calculator for heat. Naturally, it depends what you start at and where you are; if you're in a northern climate and you're currently keeping it at 60 during the evenings, cranking it up to 70 is going to do more damage than $20/year.
posted by desjardins at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


But still very glad to have a sharp knife. For hacking carrots into chunks before throwing them into the crockpot. Etc. I suppose I could just break them in half.

And I do prefer to get the gross bits off the broccoli stalks before I cook them. I use the paring knife for that.
posted by bilabial at 2:03 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So gardening does make a marginal contribution to one's food budget, but the food budget itself isn't the problem.

I think it's an excellent point and meant to say so before. But what it can do is add some contribution to improving your diet even while these other realities are pressing in. After initial investment is regained (luck holding, of course) the food is functionally free and is still a need. Again, not so much the cashmoney benefit savings, but helps with the food quality and nutrition issue.
posted by Miko at 2:04 PM on January 20, 2012


But still very glad to have a sharp knife. For hacking carrots into chunks before throwing them into the crockpot. Etc. I suppose I could just break them in half.

Oh, sharp knives are great, no disagreement there. They make cooking much, much easier and more pleasurable.

And I do prefer to get the gross bits off the broccoli stalks before I cook them. I use the paring knife for that.

Yeah, I'm weird, I like pretty much every part of the broccoli plant. But, I know that I'm the outlier here.

...

Getting back to poverty and food, another important thing is that food is a very intimate experience, tightly bound with your family and your culture. People can react to remarks about their food choices in a way similar to how they'd react to your telling them that they're going to the bathroom all wrong. If you grew up with convenience food, then that's what you'll have a taste for - not just on the superficial level that you like it, just as you might prefer one sitcom to another, but also on the surprisingly deep level of that food being what you actually sort of need at the end of a long day. Changing your diet can be pretty damn hard; anyone who has had to suddenly change their diet can attest to this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would honestly love for someone to sit me down and say "Okay here is what you need to make for dinner and here is EXACTLY how to do it. Here is your shopping list. It's Friday, make THIS. "

bilabial (no offense) didn't know that you don't need a sharp knife for broccoli. I am about at that level, because I was raised to a) boil water b) make frozen pizza and c) operate a microwave. I would honestly need directions for steamed broccoli. I made chicken enchiladas last week and it was a Major Fucking Achievement. I did not know what "butter the baking dish" meant. Do I melt butter in the dish? Do I melt it in something else and then pour it in the dish? Do I take a cold stick of butter and smear it on the dish (that's what I ended up doing, from a vague memory of watching grandma)? How much was I supposed to use?

This really has nothing to do with poverty, as we can afford good food and equipment, but if I were poor, the lack of knowledge would cost me quite a bit. If I don't know where to turn for this kind of basic information, how is a poor person supposed to know?
posted by desjardins at 2:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


broccoli is a disgusting bulky pain in the ass vegetable and you will never be able to convince me otherwise. NEVARRRR!!!

(seriously though did you read the article? Fresh healthy food just isn't what a lot of people are used to, either making or eating, so when you're like "steamed broccoli DUH" well...bully for you.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:22 PM on January 20, 2012


Per calorie, healthy, fresh food is more expensive, in cash and immediate opportunity cost than a dollar cheeseburger.

Calories, yes. Nutrition, no. Calories are easy. Nutrition is hard. Poor (and rich) people are not suffering from a lack of calories. They are suffering from malnutrition.

You are correct, tho: broccoli is not cheap. (Compared to its nutritional value, I still think it's a good deal, but granted.)

But c'mon: "If you don't own a sharp knife, can you manage a head of broccoli?" Really? OK, yes, I could manage to cook broccoli with my bare hands (just pop off the crowns with jagged stalks - it still tastes fine). You do need a pot, steamer, and water, but then again you also probably need a fork and plate to eat it. :P

and "Finding the time to buy broccoli, getting it home, and having the energy to get it prepped and cooked (stems, chopping, etc) are obstacles even for me."

Of course those are obstacles, but if they are actually blockers, I think you have bigger problems. I don't have any solution for you, but there's something fundamentally wrong if your lifestyle doesn't afford you enough time and energy to purchase and cook fresh vegetables. (You actually have to want to do it, of course.)

I work 7am-4:30pm, essentially run to catch the train home, run home from the station, pickup the kids from daycare, get them home, make dinner, do bath, put one of the kids to sleep, clean the kitchen, make lunches for tomorrow, do laundry, put out the diapers, take out the trash, etc. etc., unsuccessfully romance my wife, and then try to get to bed by 10 so I can get 7 hours of sleep ... and I still have time to buy and cook broccoli. (And I really like to read.)

I don't think it's out of line or tone-deaf to suggest broccoli for dinner. I read that as a helpful suggestion.

It really was. Honestly, steaming broccoli (or steaming any vegetables, though i can't think of ANY that are easier to prepare) is about as easy as cooking gets for me. Outside of heavily processed meals (i.e. microwave dinners), there's not much easier. Even boxed macaroni and cheese requires waiting for X cups of water to boil then waiting 8-10 minutes for the pasta to cook.

And again, tho broccoli isn't cheap, it's nutritionally dense. For me, after spinach and cabbage (which are difficult for me to get my 3 y.o. to eat unless fried) it's the best nutritional bang for the buck, but maybe you can stomach brussell sprouts. :P

If you can't muster the time and energy to steam broccoli, you essentially cannot cook anything. And that has to be problematic. Again, I don't have a solution for you, but the price of broccoli and its ease/difficulty of preparation don't seem to be the real factors here, imo.

I prefer raw broccoli to cooked broccoli, and poorly cooked broccoli is inedible.

Ditto. My wife thinks it's crazy that I eat raw broccoli. I think it's crazy that salad bars usually cook it.

If I don't know where to turn for this kind of basic information, how is a poor person supposed to know?

THAT is really the crux of the problem. I honestly think it should be part of public school curriculum, but that conjures memories of gendered home-ec classes. Libraries are also good resources (especially now that they offer Internet access), but obviously both school and library budgets are getting destroyed.

(seriously though did you read the article?

Well, yeah. The whole point of the article is looking at your bad habits that arose from being poor, realizing why you have them, and taking ownership for them. I think part of it is learning how to eat for nutrition, not calories.

(Also, I agree with Winna about utility savings.)
posted by mrgrimm at 2:32 PM on January 20, 2012


I would honestly love for someone to sit me down and say "Okay here is what you need to make for dinner and here is EXACTLY how to do it. Here is your shopping list. It's Friday, make THIS. "

This article may be of interest to you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:35 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Desjardins, outside of a menu planner, you might seriously look into Cooking for Dummies. It was actually my first cookbook, as a present. After I got over being offended by the title (I'd thought I was already a decent cook, but I was wrong), I found out that it was a really useful book. It covers things like buttering the pan (take your stick of butter, still in the wrapper, open it likes candy bar. Hold the wrapper and wipe the pan down with the exposed end of the stick, until you've got a light film of butter coating the inside of the pan). The section on eggs is awesome, and it has a great section on vegetables and cooking times and methods.

The next step after that for me was the Joy of Cooking, which I still use regularly, fifteen years after I bought it. Other people like How To Cook Everything by Bittman. I've got that, and it's not bad, but I still prefer JoC.

Feel free to memail me if you ever have questions about cooking, seriously. It's one of the things that, when you've got the basics down, really frees you from all kinds of dependencies you weren't even aware of.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would honestly love for someone to sit me down and say "Okay here is what you need to make for dinner and here is EXACTLY how to do it. Here is your shopping list. It's Friday, make THIS. "

Cooperative extension actually does have handouts and meal plans like this, including odd little booklets that offer you a week's food down to the last detail. It's a personal reaction, but I don't like to use most of them - I always find they look depressing in their layout, are sometimes overly dumbed-down (the pictogram approach - I realize it's for ELL and low-literacy), and the food is sort of odd-sounding, especially if your ethnic or familial background doesn't include things like macaroni with ground beef and green peppers and stuff like that. They seem to be developing some slightly less Government Issue-looking resources, which is good. I'm not saying they're not helpful in a lot of contexts but it's kind of one size fits all.
posted by Miko at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Feel free to memail me if you ever have questions about cooking, seriously.

Same goes for me. I love cooking, love budget cooking and meal planning, and love to trade cooking hacks.
posted by Miko at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Brandon Blatcher's app link, that Whole Foods recipes app is great, not because you have to shop at WF because you don't, but because you can put in the ingredients you have in the fridge and then it will offer you several recipes that use up that thing. Super handy while you're building a repertoire or need ideas.
posted by Miko at 2:39 PM on January 20, 2012


I honestly think it should be part of public school curriculum, but that conjures memories of gendered home-ec classes.

FWIW, my public school had at least two mandatory co-ed home-ec classes which I can recall, and that was a good idea. Unfortunately, teenagers in general are often the people least receptive to getting that kind of education.

Libraries are also good resources (especially now that they offer Internet access), but obviously both school and library budgets are getting destroyed.

It's one thing to have the library exist, but it's another to develop the rather sizeable superego which would propel you to think, "I bet there are better ways to purchase and cook food, so I should go to the library in order to learn more about that."

We are drowning in information. The problem is how to figure out what information you need, and also how to actually stick to the plans you find in that information. This is barely even a poverty problem - it's a human nature problem, exacerbated by the limited physical resources of those in poverty.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(seriously though did you read the article? Fresh healthy food just isn't what a lot of people are used to, either making or eating, so when you're like "steamed broccoli DUH" well...bully for you.)

No one said that. The part you put in BIG LETTERS is... not something anyone but YOU said. That's not very nice.
posted by heyho at 2:44 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm: Of course those are obstacles, but if they are actually blockers, I think you have bigger problems. I don't have any solution for you, but there's something fundamentally wrong if your lifestyle doesn't afford you enough time and energy to purchase and cook fresh vegetables. (You actually have to want to do it, of course.)

Actually, we were just talking about this lifestyle! It's called poverty. You're in the right thread to learn more.
posted by gilrain at 2:51 PM on January 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


No one said that. The part you put in BIG LETTERS is... not something anyone but YOU said. That's not very nice.


You are right. Sorry for being a butt.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course those are obstacles, but if they are actually blockers, I think you have bigger problems. I don't have any solution for you, but there's something fundamentally wrong if your lifestyle doesn't afford you enough time and energy to purchase and cook fresh vegetables. (You actually have to want to do it, of course.)

Can I tell someone they're being wrong on the internet yet?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


No, please take it to MeMail.
posted by jessamyn at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the cooking links and I am sure I'll have more questions for you. Someone start cookingfilter.com.
posted by desjardins at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I saw this piece via a friend on FB. I have done or been or thought every single thing on both sides of the poor/not poor divide. The most recent is ridiculous Christmases for our kids, because we *can*. And every year I tell myself I'll cut back, and every year I don't. My husband grew up solidly middle-class, probably upper-middle-class, and some of my tics about money and spending and "enough" continue to mystify and sometimes frustrate him, even though we've known each other for 20 years. One thing I am determined about, though, is that my kids will have a healthy understanding about money and bills and how to manage things. I will never sit them down at the table and ask them to help figure out which bill we shouldn't pay this month. EVER.

My parents (and their parents before them) would garden. After years of child labor in those gardens, I refuse to do it. Won't even grow peas in a pot. My daughter is always asking me to help her make a little garden, and I just can't do it.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:12 PM on January 20, 2012


Someone start cookingfilter

That pony has been brutally denied on many occasions. Personally, I think EatMe would be an awesome subsite.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:16 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, we were just talking about this lifestyle! It's called poverty. You're in the right thread to learn more.

I would be interested to learn the details of a non-homeless, non-kitchen, non-correctional, non-disabled lifestyle that doesn't afford $5/week or 10 minutes/day a couple days a week to steam broccoli.

I mean if you are so poor that you don't have anywhere to cook or anything to cook with, then yes, cooking is harder and less efficient than eating out. I didn't think that was the case presented.

The argument proffered was that eating at McDonald's (for a standard, able-bodied poor person (whom I perhaps incorrectly assume had a stove)) was easier and more efficient for poor people than cooking fresh vegetables. I think that's poppycock for the vast majority of poor people.

there's something fundamentally wrong if your lifestyle doesn't afford

Can I tell someone they're being wrong on the internet yet?....

Of course you can and please do.

To clarify, I'm not saying there's something fundamentally wrong with bilabial or his or her lifestyle choices--I am saying that it seems to me like there must be some other serious complicating factors (overworking, a criminal sentence, local infrastructure failure (e.g. food deserts), medical problems, psychological problems, family problems, etc.) to result in a situation where you don't have the time or energy to ever cook vegetables. It's easier than making a sandwich (mostly)! And it's easier and cheaper than the same nutrition at any restaurant.

A poor use of "lifestyle" - I should have used "situation." And "wrong" is another loaded, bad word. Perhaps "skewed" or "misaligned" is better.

I also don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with picking McDonald's over fresh, steamed vegetables, but I don't think it's totally fair to say there is no choice.

I would love to see EatMe.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:19 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of people would like to see EatMe. No one wants build it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:24 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


there must be some other serious complicating factors

Well....exactly. Yes, of course there are, and they're endemic to poverty. Not everyone experiences all of them, but lots of poor people experience lots of them. Read the thread and the links in the thread.

It's hard to even argue that McDonald's is not "easier and more efficient" for everyone. not just the poor. It's patently easier and more efficient to have someone hand you a hot, fully cooked meal than to source and prepare the meal yourself. There are other values around food besides "easier and efficient" on which McDonald's meaningfully differs, but of course fast food is "easier and more efficient" than home cooking. That's its raison d'etre. It may not be cheaper all the time, healthier, more convenient, less convenient, good for the environment, good for society, tastier, more filling, whatever, but it's definitely easier and more efficient than home cooking.

I'm frustrated that we're having the same old food discussion again, when this thread had a ton of other great content about experiencing poverty in it. Food's part of that but not everything about it nor a solution to the systemic problems of poverty. Can we agree that like every single other thing people have to do to survive, sourcing and preparing healthy homemade food becomes significantly more difficult for many people when the obstacles connected to poverty complicate their lives? Even when and if some people within that set can still find some ways to do it and benefit by it? Even at the same time that we may want to encourage and support the doing of that by those that want to and can?
posted by Miko at 3:32 PM on January 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


mrgrimm: $5/week or 10 minutes/day a couple days a week to steam broccoli.

Those prices and that time investment is either an insane underestimate or else would do nothing to change a diet for the better and would be, thus, not worth the small effort involved.

The argument proffered was that eating at McDonald's (for a standard, able-bodied poor person (whom I perhaps incorrectly assume had a stove)) was easier and more efficient for poor people than cooking fresh vegetables. I think that's poppycock for the vast majority of poor people.

Using your own, tiny money and time examples: 2 McChickens for $2 and 5 minutes vs $5 and 10 minutes for a plate of steamed broccoli. And you didn't have to go through the often humiliating and depressing experience that grocery shopping is when poor. And you didn't have to own any cookware or do the dishes.

That's not poppycock. That's a very understandable short-term decision that tons of poor people make all the time. And that's exactly what this thread was about (and bemoaning!) before it became about how easy and cheap it is to enjoy wonderful, fresh food for pennies a day and basically no time or effort. That's poppycock.
posted by gilrain at 3:33 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I would be interested to learn the details of a non-homeless, non-kitchen, non-correctional, non-disabled lifestyle that doesn't afford $5/week or 10 minutes/day a couple days a week to steam broccoli.

Ok, here's mine:

I was working two jobs: a 40 hour day shift job, and a 6-10 pm night shift job. I had one weeknight, one weekend half-day (I worked 130 - 10 on a weekend day every weekend) and one full weekend day to get everything done I had to get done in my life. Shopping, cleaning, sleeping, you name it.

1) a vegetable steamer is a fairly specialized bit of equipment, and they're pricey. I've bought many pots secondhand/goodwill/lawnsale, including some nice ones. I've never seen a used steamer for sale. The metal basket kind that you put inside a pot run about ten dollars.

2) Broccoli is not calorie dense, so it's not a good investment when you have a limited food budget. I just checked the flyer: 8 oz fresh broccoli is currently $2.29 each at my supermarket. It has about 10 calories per ounce, or a total of 80 calories for my $2.29. (Frozen is totally cheaper (32 oz for 1.99) and I would buy frozen if I were currently poor, or I could buy just crowns for 1.79/lb. When I was actually poor I lived in an apartment where the freezer inside the fridge was only really big enough to make ice and hold maybe one package of peas, so frozen wasn't an option.) Even if I mix it with something (say, rice, which is cheap) it's not going to help much with making me feel less hungry if I'm only eating one meal a day (which I was - lunch at my day job was the only time I had to eat a regular meal; I would also try to eat something during the seven minutes I had in the car to drive between jobs.) For $2.29 I can buy 11 packages of ramen or 5 boxes of Mac and Cheez, or four or five cans of tuna (depending on the price), or a dozen bananas.

3) It doesn't keep very well. Carrots keep well. Bananas, you can at least turn into bread if you don't get them eaten before they go bad. Carrots and frozen peas are my poverty vegetables of choice. If it's fresh, it gets wilted or even moldy kind of quickly; If it's frozen it tends to get freezer burned once you've opened the package, even if you do your best to reseal it.

4) Broccoli is an acquired taste. A lot of people, if they're going to eat it, need to dress it up with something (cheese, oil, dressing, mayo, something) to make it palatable. If they didn't eat it growing up, it can seem a little hard to prepare (I grew up eating it and I'm still not quite sure if I'm supposed to eat the entire stalk or just the crown or what.)

Does that clarify things at all?
posted by anastasiav at 3:56 PM on January 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Mr Grimm, you are seriously underestimating the time-suck that being poor is. I understand that you think it is admirable for you to squeeze the time in your busy day to cook those vegetables, but for many people living in poverty they really, really don't have ten minutes.

Right now I am working full time in a job that takes me close to an hour to commute each way; it is physical labour and I am not young nor strong. I get my older kids ready for school and drop them off, then I'm gone from eight in the morning to six or nine o'clock at night. I do try to use my dinner break to run errands like grocery shop but sometimes I am so tired I confess I sit down instead. I also have a second job that eats up about 20-30 hours a week but it is entirely cerebral, requires attention to detail and strong critical thinking skills (it involves interpreting laws and legislation). Both jobs stretch over the whole week, so I don't get a weekend off to catch up on non-work. When I do get home I have to care for my three children; right now potty training is taking up a lot of time as any parent knows. I help the older children with their homework and email/call their teachers and psychologists. My husband has been completely disabled a few years now, he tries to help as much as he can but physically, he just can't do what a healthy person can. I have to squeeze his multiple monthly appointments in my life, taking time away from other things I could be doing and meaning I do not have time to attend to my own health. When the children are in bed I work on my dissertation (I have to remain in school full-time in order to keep my funding and avoid having to pay back money and my job requires this education). So that is my life, the life I have lived for years now, .

Ten minutes a day, that sounds like luxury to me, a luxury I literally cannot afford. And I consider myself soooo lucky, I have it very easy compared to many, many people.
posted by saucysault at 4:15 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Re: Gardening, I know I'm late to the party here but it's also worth mentioning that when one has grown up in an urban location with virtually no experience with the natural world gardening is not a joyful communion with Mother Nature ending in the production of food stuffs. Instead it is dirty, nasty business involving horrible bugs that will poison you, intentional application of grime (won't you get sick?), you get dirty so you look like you're even more poor than you already are, and oh my God is that a squirrel get that fucking thing away from me before it attacks us

If I sound like I'm exaggerating I'm not. I worked for a year in a community center helping to manage the community garden. In the end the community garden was really a failure, because it was something cooked up by the richer white people who ran the center without regards for whether the members of the community were actually interested in such an activity. When I brought the kids out to garden there were not a few who had to be convinced worms didn't bite and the chipmunk over there wasn't going to give them rabies. These beliefs didn't magically appear, they got this from their parents. The parents approached gardening the same way. It's way more than just financial issues that need to be overcome to begin gardening.

Miko, have you encountered this attitude in your community? Have you been able to address it? I really never found a way and ultimately that garden was more of a way for the center to get grants than an actual source of fresh food.


What makes me feel secure is having a lot of pantry stuff - canned beans, tomatoes, pasta, rice. I love seeing a full larder of non-perishables. And sheets - having more than one nice set of sheets in good condition, so I can put one in the wash and replace it with an equally good, matching set - makes me feel like a queen.

I feel you on the sheets. I got new sheets for Christmas, this is the first time I've owned two sheet sets without holes. I have also yet to use those new socks I got for Christmas. It's a good, safe feeling to know that they're there, so I would rather use up the old ones until they're not fixable any more rather than waste the new ones before I have to.
posted by schroedinger at 6:17 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


MrGrimm, I went an entire week once with just a box of popsicles to eat. It's all there was in the house.

My mom was out partying with the person who would become my stepfather and I was 13. In other words, I couldn't drive. She left me there alone for 8 days in a row. This was in 1985, before cell phones. She figured everything was fine because she'd just leave a message for me around 5:30 am every day saying she'd be home tomorrow... so I waited. and waited and waited. And I couldn't call her or figure out where she was, exactly; no caller ID then, y'know?

And the house I lived in was on a farm road so far out in the country we literally didn't have an address, or a mailbox. I drank well water and shared a phone (a party line, technically) with 4 other families - each of which lived more than a mile away. Through woods; woods that had animals in them, including coyotes, snakes and deer. We had a propane tank for heat and burned trash in a metal barrel. We were Fucking Poor.

It was summertime. My father was in a rehab facility in another state. He was sequestered at the time and divorcing my mom, so calling him was obviously not an option.

At the time, there wouldn't be a McDonald's within 70 miles of my hometown for another 5 years, and I'd been raised to understand a garden and understood lots about homegrown vegetables, actually - but a 13-year-old asthmatic's going to have a tough time doing that by herself in 110 degree Fahrenheit weather alone when nothing had been planted in the ground during the previous two years since Papaw died. You can't magically grow your own food in July, in a week, alone. You just can't.

My mom didn't work; she'd never had a job, ever. She'd only been a wife and mother and she was in her thirties and depressed. So she left me there.

Also, my sisters didn't come along until I was 19, so at this point, I was an only child. I had nobody. Nothing.

Anyway.

The day I ate the last popsicle I called a friend and asked if I could come over and spend the night, but would need her mom to pick me up if that was okay. She agreed.

I cried a lot after her mom picked me up and figured out what was going on, but it wasn't the last time I was poor, hungry, alone or unable to do jack shit about it.

Hope that helps people understand that even when you're living on what's technically farm land, you can't ALWAYS grow and harvest and then prepare your own vegetables - and I'm quite aware there's always somebody out there who's worse off, no matter how bad things ever got for me. Because I live in America.

But realize a lot of the poor people who don't eat healthy are minors. Or they're the people who don't get to choose the food that gets bought. Have you ever picked up a bag of groceries at a food pantry? If so, did you count the fresh fruit and veg in the bag? I think you know where this is going.

And that's if you have a church nearby that even runs a food pantry. Lots of people don't have access to charity - even if there weren't too proud to take it.

Ignorance of how to cook fresh veggies is also a problem.

Of course, the assumption is that EVERYONE has a smartphone and Internet access now. Not true. I don't own a smarthphone; family members who live where I did back then still can't get Internet access at some of their homes. Living in a remote rural area insulates you from the knowledge we take for granted here on Metafilter because not everybody's as informed as we are, you know? There are plenty of places that don't even have a library. And funding for stuff like that's obviously no longer a priority for most cities, let alone small towns and rural families.

You make it sound like EVERYONE knows basic nutrition; how to cook; what vegetables are even supposed to taste like... this video from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (TV show) touches on that issue. The first graders can't tell what's a potato or a tomato; if they were living at the poverty level, they might not be able to buy their own produce until well after they start working their mid-teens at the earliest. People who grow up like this aren't likely to have a nutrient-dense diet due to basic ignorance that they're not eating right or that there are cheap alternatives available.

Medical issue data point for non-USians: my coworker - who has excellent health insurance - just got a bill for $35,000 because she had emergency gall bladder surgery at the end of December. And a dear friend's medical bills after her emergency c-section - again, with insurance, deductible met - was $440,000 US. This is not a typo.

It's insane how quickly you can end up destitute due to unforeseen circumstances.

People in third world countries have it worse, obviously. But this is how Americans end up bankrupt and sometimes homeless, and I look forward to the day when universal healthcare is something I can take for granted, because it's a real problem here.

P.S. I fucking hate those popsicles now - they taste like dye and sadness to me. But I also can't stand the taste of McDonald's... probably because I'd never tasted it until I was 18; I'm very grateful for that.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:19 PM on January 20, 2012 [35 favorites]


Just a note about garden-access.

I grew up middle-class without a garden, but always lusted after one. When I got my first apartment, I put myself on a waiting list for a nearby community garden.

Two and a half years later, they called and said there was a vacancy.

I gardened there happily (though not always very successfully) for two years.

After two years, I broke up with my boyfriend and could no longer afford to live within a twenty-minute commute of that garden. It gradually got more and more neglected and at the end of the third summer, the gardening association kicked me out for failure to complete sufficient community service hours and too many citations for weeds in my plot.

I've looked into gardens that are closer to my new apartment, but while they have less onerous commitments and regulations, they are also not open during times of the day that I can fit around my current commute (about an hour to an hour and a half each way).

The one closest to me is "open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 3 p.m., one evening per week during the summer until 8 o clock p.m. and closed holidays."

That would mean that if were really organized, I could garden some mornings before work for maybe 15 or 20 minutes and on the weekends, and one extra evening a week in the summer.

Doable, but not ideal. Certainly not as nice as knowing that I might be able to stop by any evening between work and dusk, as at my old garden.

I should still apply to do, but I've been putting it off.

There's also this idea, which was so offensive to me at the time that I didn't even really consider it:
Modern-Day Share-Cropping (LATimes, 2009)

But I miss gardening enough that I might consider that now.

So there can be obstacles to actually gardening, even for people who want to do it.
posted by jann at 6:47 PM on January 20, 2012


Sometimes I wonder what it would look like if the personal lives of the rich were scrutinized, judged and second-guessed like this.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:05 PM on January 20, 2012 [27 favorites]


So, so much love for this thread.

My parents were immigrants, and the beginning few years saw a lot of eating hot dogs and drinking sodas because those were the absolute cheapest things they could buy. Then they had me - I was a sickly little baby, and my dad had to take off work a bunch of times to bike me over to the hospital in the snow. We never had money for me to have Barbies or Pokemon cards or video games or anything like that, and they've never stopped beating themselves up over that. But they bought me so many books -discounted at Zellers, 4/$1 - and that was the best damn thing they could've ever done for me.
posted by estlin at 7:32 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Only sort of related, but it makes me feel better that so many here have failed at the veggie garden thing too. Only I think the superhot global warming summer is what killed my tomatoes and made my beans lose their will to live. Setting up my tiny plot probably cost about 100.00 in organic compost (raised bed garden just like in Urban Farming) a few tools, plants and seeds, and fertilizer/tomato cages, etc. Got about 20 tomatoes and a handful of beans out of it.

It wasn't a crisis for my family because we're not currently desperately poor. I sure would have been pissed if that weren't the case.

Anyhoo, this thread has really made me wonder about my parents now; my dad was terrible with money, but then he didn't have any as a kid. My mom was good with it, but she was considered "well off" in her tiny town growing up. We had enough and to spare when I was a kid, but my dad's penchant for doing crazy shit with money meant there was always an underlying current of worry in our house.
posted by emjaybee at 7:35 PM on January 20, 2012


Miko, have you encountered this attitude in your community? Have you been able to address it?

I've encountered that attitude all my life. When I worked for seven summers at a Quaker-run summer camp in the piney swamps, we had about a third of our campers come from urban core neighborhoods in Philadelphia and stay overnight for one to two weeks or more. This was a total culture shock. The kind of reaction to nature in general which you describe was pretty common. The association of the outdoors with dirt and getting dirty, and getting dirty with being unkempt, poorly off and messed-up, is pretty strong. However, each summer we'd soon reach an equilibrium, because we were fully immersed and because the adults and older, more experienced kids modelled it Not without making fun of it as we went, but they showed that you could adapt and enjoy. Even the better-off kids were from the city and suburbs, not the swamps, and didn't encounter bugs, dirt, humidity, grit,mud, physical labor and sweat very often. Camp was, in part, a process of acclimatizing to this and observing ourselves doing that acclimatizing, with some wry and mocking reaction but a growing sense of confidence nonetheless.

When I was a teacher, it was pretty much the same thing, though without the 24/7 immersion the adaptation to an outdoors context takes longer. I've always been a little bit of a nature nugget, partly because of growing up by the water, and not really afraid of bugs and dirt. And I've always taken a lot of special pleasure in introducing kids to nature and helping to normalize the experience and make it enjoyable. I dont' mind modelling what it's like to be joyfully grubby, manically excited, or squeamishly brave. Dirt washes and someone has to demonstrate that and what it looks like to embrace and accept it, laugh it off and move on, recalibrate. Gross stuff is in nature and in humanity. Gross stuff is in bathrooms and showers and hospitals and schools and living rooms as well as in gardens. People recover. Looking out for the amazing miraculous in the weird and strange was part of what I did.

I was a teacher in a Philadelphia area school and then in an outdoor field-study program where we brought kids from urban and suburban Long Island, Worcester MA, rural NH, suburban Greater Boston, etc. A "ew, weird' reaction to nature isn't only or exclusively the province of poor kids. A lot of America's poor[PDF] are rural, though we don't always think about it that way, and to them this was not necessarily abnormal stuff. although being from a 'rural' empty husk of a northern NH mill town is not the same thing as growing up milking the cows on a robust farm. Still, growing your own food is not as foreign a concept outside major metro areas as it may seem. But for urban kids, whether poor, rich, or whatever, an introduction to and getting over the "ew, weird" aspects of nature has to be an intentional part of the curriculum, something you're willing to dwell on and acknowledge and spend time with, and it has to be put in the context of the bigger payoff.

Though I've always been interested in connecting people with their local environment, I became active specifically in food justice and local food source development only more recently, starting in 2005. In that time I've been working only in New England, particularly NH and north of Boston. In NH there is a tremendous amount of rural poverty, but gardening (extend to beekeeping, orchard trees, chickens) is pretty common. In the cities of this region, which tend to be smaller and not as densely urbanized, our audience for gardening programs has often been the elderly, the under- or unemployed, the SAH half of lower-income families, and often recent immigrants. Many of the corridor's recent immigrants from Africa, Laos, and Cambodia as well as Central America are more than at home with gardening, and as soon as they have a plot they're off and running, no problems other than learning the different growing season dates and plant varieties and maybe how to cook some weirdo produce they've never seen before. Others come from more urban environments and have appreciated the process of gradual training, beginning with easy and almost-always successful crops like green beans and kale and building out from there to trickier and more sensitive plants like tomatoes, lettuces, onions. The same things urbanized people from within the US need as a learning curve. In general, working with lower-income people in my communities has complexified my understanding of who is affected by poverty. Not all poverty is urban poverty. Poverty is ethnically, racially, educationally, and language-diverse. People's backgrounds can be really surprising (it's amazing how many people have farming and gardening in their own family backgrounds or parents' family backgrounds, even if through migrations they have ended up in places where you'd never guess that). Poverty is not a good predictor of people's talents, interests or capacities and people sometimes surprise you by rising to the occasion when you didn't predict it.

I can't say I've encountered any place where the gulf between those who created the program and those who participated in the program was so wide as what you describe in the failed program, schroedinger. Of course, as with any program, there's good design and bad design. Having buy-in and participation from members of the community in question, not just an outside-in interventionist approach, is important too. There are a lot of factors, but being fully present and willing to adapt and try Z when Y didn't work is one of the biggest. I don't think you can abstract-design a good food program - you have to design with and for a specific population, specific set of resources, and specific goals and these things have to be in alignment, not glommed onto a context where no one has thought about why you're doing this, and for whom, and what they might want out of it.

But I think the initial "ew weird" response is pretty common, even for affluent white kids who can't recognize a beet or Brussels sprout in the wild either. I see Unicorn on the Cob just posted something to that effect with the Jamie Oliver video - it's not exclusive to the poor that we have become so alienated from the sources of our food that when kids (or adults) confront food in its natural state it seems kind of icky and bizarre. It's a hump everybody who doesn't grow up with it kind of needs help to get over. It's a true shift in perspective. As you say, it's "way more than financial," it's about familiarity, trust, community, connection, and background as well as about exposure, access, feasibility and opportunity. You can have fun with it and be jokey about it, but you've also got to demonstrate and express, in yourself, what's awesome about it and why you believe in it and why you yourself live it, not just preach it. That kind of enthusiasm, honest and respectful mutual relationship with people, and staying with them through the negative reactions, has almost always been paid off in my experience as an educator.

I am a huge lefty and passionate defender of the right to basic needs and access to opportunity across the board and am definitely not blind to the systemic issues of poverty. However, as you can see I am a roll-up-the-sleeves type that will tackle projects that might offer incremental improvements where and when they are available - I vote too of course, but also try to make local differences. Because there are always more people and more groups that want to take advantage of the food programs we put on than we can even fit into the spaces available, I am really more aware of the lots of people that want this involvement and enjoy it than I am of the detractors to and obstacles for such programs. Sure there are many that are ill-conceived and don't work, and many people they won't work for, and I don't advocate shrugging and abandoning them. But there are also just hundreds of people probably right in our own local communities already involved in this sort of thing or who would like a chance to be involved. So because this is where I can make a concrete difference, this is where my focus lands.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


If I were unemployed again, gardening might make sense, especially to keep myself occupied. Just starting out, I wouldn't want to rely on it though.

Working 12 hours at a mall that you have to drive 20 miles to get to? And then I need to weed, or hoe, or something when I get home? I'm not sure that's going to work, and I never had kids I needed to feed or anything.

If anyone is confused about this, and wants a good illustration of what being food insecure is like, I encourage them to watch Winter's Bone. I never lived in Missouri hill country, but it still feels kind of familiar.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:01 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So much here. I love you all. I have a lot of things rattling around in my head about this, but only one is articulateable right now: if it helps at all, I am one of those mentioned above who has seeds and seed starts to spare. If you are in the Seattle area, I will hook you up with seeds and starts and a jar of organic fertilizer and lots of advice on gardening (no guarantees it's *good* advice, but I do what I can). Just let me know.
posted by librarina at 8:05 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lovely offer! I have some seeds too and happy to pop in the mail within the US. We had a little seed swap gang on MeFi a couple years ago which didn't really take off, partly because it duplicates a lot of other services that are broader than MeFi. But you can check out this thread for other people who might still be into offering seeds, and I still have many of these which I'm happy to share.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


you have to design with and for a specific population, specific set of resources, and specific goals and these things have to be in alignment, not glommed onto a context where no one has thought about why you're doing this, and for whom, and what they might want out of it.

This was the main issue with the program I worked for. It was through AmeriCorps VISTA. The center had been a long-standing presence in the community and had recently undergone major organizational changes. The director who had founded the program over thirty years ago, lived in the community center, and deeply integrated themselves had to step down for health reasons. The organization was taken over by a larger charitable group, who installed a new director who had no experience in the immediate community and lived far outside the city. The director meant well, but decided the center was going to be changed to something, well, more marketable and exciting to grant committees rather than the fixture it had been. One of these things included a community garden. The idea was nice in theory--teach the community and youth about growing food, use the food in the local kitchen--but there was no willingness to actually spend money on the garden, integration with the youth program was poor, my time was delegated to other tasks rather than the garden, etc etc etc. Basically it was decided "This is what we're going to do" without input to see if anyone wanted to participate, it was sort of assumed that everyone in the community would just do stuff.
posted by schroedinger at 10:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Finding North, premiering tomorrow at Sundance.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:45 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have read pretty much all the comments even though a few contributions read like poorly written fictional poverty porn (too well written, rehearsed almost).

Anyway, I grew up poor in the north of England and have memories of my mother going to the local wholesale food market late morning to pick through the throwaways for usable food before the refuse collectors arrived. Some kindly stall holders even put some good stuff there for her to find. I used to be dragged along (at about age 6 or 7) when school was out and the overwhelming shame and humiliation of watching your mother having to scavenge for rubbish to eat still pains me to this day.

My mother did what it took to keep us going, this was how we ate fresh fruit and veg.

I escaped from the gutter (but still can't believe it is a permanent state of affairs), she eventually succumbed to the weight of it all and became mentally ill.
posted by epo at 7:25 AM on January 21, 2012


Oh, and it case it wasn't obvious, single parent. The man who got her pregnant was a waste of space and pushed off when I was very young.
posted by epo at 7:29 AM on January 21, 2012


Unicorn on the Cob makes an excellent point about rural poverty. Rural areas have a higher rate of poverty than metro areas do - 18.1% vs. 14.9% (2010 census). AFAIK, this includes Indian reservations.
posted by desjardins at 7:44 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sonascope, you probably were eating veggies grown by my dad. For many years he taught at UDC and did research on the uptake of heavy metals in urban gardens. When I was a kid, he would sometimes bring home big batches of lima beans and swiss chard he had grown out in Beltsville.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 9:19 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


*I failed to grow anything at all. I killed the tomatoes, the spinach, even the grow-anywhere potatoes. *

I tried a similar experiment in university. A plague of aphids descended on my lettuce, nothing got enough light even on a balcony and everything dried out -instantly- and died in the summer. This is not a workable solution for poor urban people. I think I got something like two bean pods, four cherry sized tomatoes and three lettuce leaves for $30 worth of supplies.
posted by Phalene at 9:52 AM on January 21, 2012


It takes training.
posted by Miko at 10:05 AM on January 21, 2012


desjardins: So, fuck that, I have $20 a year to spend on being comfortable.

Minor aside - it's not the direct effect that counts in this case, it's the attitude. The "I can spend $20 on this" is psychologically contagious and makes it easier for you to say "I can spend [small amount] for [reasonable thing]" all day long until all that adds up to a lot of money.

As an analogous anecdote, for submarines, being quiet is a pretty important value to have. You'll even see signs near the toilet seats exhorting you to Remember Sound Silencing - Leave the Seat Down! Can the enemy really hear you if the toilet seat falls down? Super doubtful - ambient noise inside doesn't carry through the hull to the water very well. But just being reminded of that value in small (and possibly irrelevant) ways that frequently DOES cause people to be more vigilant in ALL aspects, like not slamming watertight doors, seeing and correcting sound shorts to the hull when they're there, not placing a handful of tools where they're going to fall directly into the bilge (which is the hull).

So yeah. Arguably, a few degrees on the thermostat isn't that much difference. But that thrifty attitude reinforced by saving even those pennies combines to make a big difference overall.
posted by ctmf at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It can also be penny-wise pound-foolish though. It is a hard line to walk for anyone, and being raised with messed up ideas about money doesn't help. I know someone that was raised to believe in the ""save every penny, always have the heat set to minimum" mindset (parents from a warmer climate) so every Canadian winter they would become incredibly ill, miss work for weeks because they had a specific disorder that gave them a lower tolerance for cold and compromised their immunity. BUT, they saved that $20! And they saved money by only eating one meal a day too, making their illness worse and bringing on Depression. We are talking about both sides of an extreme, neither being healthy.
posted by saucysault at 3:48 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


But that thrifty attitude reinforced by saving even those pennies combines to make a big difference overall.

Or it can drive you crazy. It depends if you have that $20 or not. Thankfully, we do... if it was $20/month, like I originally thought, I would be more mindful of the thermostat. But I was sitting at my desk this morning, kind of chilled even in a sweater, and I thought, this is stupid, and turned it up to 72.

What do they do with heavy snorers on the submarine?.
posted by desjardins at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2012


It's a bit more than $20 for us, according to desjardins' calculator, closer to $120, actually, but still not a lot of money over the course of a year. However, last winter, we tried keeping the thermostat low, using a space heater in the livingroom, where we spend most of our (awake) time. The overall cost went up--the heater used a lot of expensive electricity, while the furnace uses relatively cheap gas.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:59 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


epo: Have read pretty much all the comments even though a few contributions read like poorly written fictional poverty porn (too well written, rehearsed almost).

I doubt you'll see this, since I think this thread is over, but: are you implying that people in this thread have made things up? Because that's what your comment reads like to me. If so, that's pretty disgusting.
posted by tzikeh at 7:42 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to know how poorly written material can be too well written.

Or for that matter how a piece of writing can sound rehearsed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:56 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to know how poorly written material can be too well written.

It's the only reason my manuscripts get rejected, I assure you.

Or for that matter how a piece of writing can sound rehearsed.

The typing sounds too even.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:24 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a horrible thing to say. As if no-one who grew up poor, or is still poor, could ever aspire to writing well or have had the opportunity to learn. For many, it's the skill that gets them a scholarship or some other ticket out of poverty.

My mum grew up immigrant-poor and my dad grew up multi-generational poor. She's doing ok now, although she's still prone to binge spending and eating badly. He will never shake it off. He displays all of the Cracked list habits, and many more. My siblings and I have all dealt with it differently - one has gone the non-materialist hippie route, the other has gone for the Cracked list stuff, and I've gone for the strive-to-learn-how-to-make-and-keep-money path. We're all doing well, in our own ways. What we have in common is that we are all packrats tending towards hoarding, and none of us will tolerate a friendship with people who've never had to 'go without' at some point in their lives, even if it was temporary. It's just too hard and too painful to talk about meaningful things with someone who has no concept of scarcity or anxiety about money.
posted by harriet vane at 10:23 PM on January 21, 2012


I live on Student Loans, Disability and a small part time job. Here is my budget this month.


I should get 200 or so from my small part time job on thursday.

50 Credit Card (already two weeks late)
90 Application Fee (applying to PhD programs, and they will not waive the fees)
___
130--70 to last me until Monday

Monday, 935 from Disability.
135 for phone, and a small loan from a friend.
450 for rent
120 for bus pass (that is a discounted student pass)
40 for laundry, meds, misc. medical stuff, etc.
40 loan from another friend.


will get paid on the 12th and the 22nd. but that leaves me with like 35 bucks from the 30th to the 12th.

still dont know when student loans will come in, there was a paperwork snafu, and it still has not been sorted. i don't have traditional classes this term, so i am not paying for text books, but it's a long haul.

You can tell me to garden, or you can tell me to work (though with the disability--if i earn slightly more than i am earning now, they will crawl it all back.)

i have cut expenses to the bottom, and my friends are kind and generous, and i am not asking for money, but i think one of the things that we don't do in (North) American culture is to be explicit about capital, to tell exactly when and how one makes cash or where one spends it. depression for me is a big part of the not cooking, but living in a room in someone elses house, or living with room mates, or even the capital to buy one pan, one pot, etc is huge.

it's exhauting and stressful, and it doesn't do well for the mental illness.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:47 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


tzikeh, Tell me No Lies: Where did I use the word "sound"? Yes, some contributions seemed overwritten and somehow non-genuine to me. On re-reading, they still do. Perhaps the problem is mine.
posted by epo at 2:47 AM on January 22, 2012


tzikeh, Tell me No Lies: Where did I use the word "sound"? Yes, some contributions seemed overwritten and somehow non-genuine to me. On re-reading, they still do. Perhaps the problem is mine.
You think? Also, this is primarally about the U.S, not socialist Brittan. I'm sure poor people in India have it worse then us, and I wouldn't claim that a story about what it's like there "sounds fake"
posted by delmoi at 4:16 AM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, some contributions seemed overwritten and somehow non-genuine to me

I had the same reaction as others to your comment. You are definitely implying that people are making shit up, and your rationale is that it's because they write well.

Would you care to point to a comment or two that struck you this way? Because if one of them was mine, I would be happy to substantiate with dates, jobs, places, income levels, etc., so that you could independently verify them.

I think that's an incredibly obnoxious and naive thing to ask, but if you are obnoxious and niave enough to imply that people are making things up, that's not so surprising.

What a horrible thing to say. As if no-one who grew up poor, or is still poor, could ever aspire to writing well or have had the opportunity to learn. For many, it's the skill that gets them a scholarship or some other ticket out of poverty.

Word.

One of the things I am most thankful for in life is my family's gift of verbal ability. Though I was the first college graduate in my family and the first to go to graduate school, I am standing on the shoulders of people who valued education and made the most of every educational opportunity they did have. My Irish immigrant ancestors valued speaking well and gave us the 'gift of gab,' my Southern and Midwestern ancestors gave us storytelling skill and valued good confab and banter. My grandparents were all avid readers and my grandmother worked for the Army, was a reporter early on, and did communications for them, so she had great professional language skills. My parents had excellent K-12 educations, read constantly and read to us constantly. Thank God library cards are free, because when you grow up without a big budget for afterschool and weekend recreation, you spend a ton of time at the library - doing summer reading program, going to films and storytime, joining 'mystery book clubs' and the like, hanging in the stacks from 3 to 5, bringing home an abundance of books to peruse through the evening and into the night. Our whole family loved the library and reading, and in fact when we had $10 to spare one of the favorite activities was going to the "smoke shop," which was a cigar and magazine store of the kind you rarely see any more today, with literally hundreds of magazine titles from around the world. We'd spend an hour or two on an evening browsing all the magazines (it was one of the places that didn't yell at you for reading the magazines before buying them - remember that!?) and then each go home with one of our choice. That was awesome. During my childhood, my mom spent 10 years working her way toward an AA at night school, as she could pull the tuition (which was a great low community level back then) and became a reporter and eventually newspaper editor. My dad developed a career in electronics engineering based on his Army training, and worked his way from building circuits to managerial level, but not until I was in high school. All that slow progress on their parts helped bring about the relatively good times we had during most of my high school years, when they were in their late 30s.

When I was in grade school my verbal ability was remarked upon, with the IQ testers telling my parents "we'd expect to see this in a community of doctors or lawyers, not a working class community." Obnoxious and unfair to every other kid in that school whose parents didn't know how or have the time to work the system like mine did. I did the Johns Hopkins early SAT thing, qualified for AP English and a special writing track my high school offered (lucky me, won the decent-school lottery), worked part-time jobs as a library page, went to a free summer creative writing program at my school, started my college career at community college and finally, on receipt of a scholarship which I am very lucky even existed let alone that I was able to get, transferred to a 4-year college and got a degree in English.

So I'm not saying I didn't have great opportunites and great upbringing and a smart, educated, hardworking family. I did, and these are among the reasons I know that protective factors like those are instrumental in making the difference between a hardscrabble life and a middle-class one. We are all standing on a lot of shoulders and have milked the hell out of any opportunity that came along, aggressively, knowing that they are few and far between. We use any advantages we have. But there are not enough opportunies and not enough advantages for everyone to access them, and we keep on tilting the playing field to a further and further extreme, eliminating more opportunities and creating more disadvantages.

These are the reasons I want to see more and more and more programs like the no-tuition ones I got, better and better schools like the ones we were fortunate to go to. I work today with people who went to elite private boarding schools and private liberal arts colleges who have multiple Masters' degrees and go on ski vacations and European trips and resort breaks many times a year. They have absolutely no sense of how different my life experience has been from theirs - but the funniest part is, they can't tell. I'd have to lay it out for them.

My whole life has included time spent with people from very poor, working-class, lower- and lower-middle incomes as well as richer people. Because of what I have observed, one of the strongest elements in my credo is that innate gifts of talent and intellect are distributed roughly equally across the income spectrum. I have been in fucking awe of the skills - verbal, artistic, interpersonal, mechanical, mathematical you name it - demonstrated by my family, friends, neighbors, kids in my inner-city schools and at summer camp. It is not because they don't have smarts and abilities and talents that they can't get opportunities to get ahead. It's because of the systemic fucking lack of enough opportunities.

So if you would like to go on suggesting that writing well and giving people an interesting, well crafted and readable glimpse into your life is something poor people are unable to do, and thus their ability to do so must mean they're making shit up, please, go on. I'M ALL EARS.
posted by Miko at 8:36 AM on January 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


This thread, plus running into a fellow Mefite at the grocery store, inspired me to buy broccoli, prepare it, and be grateful for it.

I am seriously counting my blessings, both for the privilege of having escaped deep poverty even if I'm unemployed for now, and for my amazing family who managed to raise me without the mental shackles of poverty, starting not least with my grandmother who survived the Holocaust in a concentration camp, and later in her life would throw out leftover food.

Thank you to everyone who shared. I'm glad that this thread exists. And I really hope that it won't be too long before it's an archaic remnant of an earlier time.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:11 PM on January 22, 2012


Came back to say I'm sorry for calling names, which was unwarranted. I still want to make my point but could have done it more politely, and I apologize for the direct rudeness.
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on January 22, 2012


I've never been a cook - I have no idea how to perform the most basic tasks, like chopping vegetables. When I see stuff like "10 minutes to chop and steam broccoli" I laugh my ass off. The other day I prepared a stir fry that included broccoli, green onions, fresh ginger and garlic, strips of chicken and a simple sauce. The prep time was listed as 20 minutes. It took me over an hour, because I didn't know what I was doing. I'm lucky that I'm now in a position that I can lose an hour and a half or more after work to fuck around in the kitchen - it's only eating into free time instead of money making time.

The response to this is "you'll get better with practice", and that is true. I finally dug myself out of the hole two years ago and have the time to learn. But for someone who is strapped for time, before they can get to that 10 minute steamed broccoli they have to deal with the 20+ minute fumbling around with broccoli phase, and that is probably what keeps them from even trying.
posted by charred husk at 6:45 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not uncommon and it's exactly why it has to be the focus of programming which includes skills training. Same as gardening. It's not enough just to jump into it - it won't be efficient unless there's instruction and support.
posted by Miko at 6:52 AM on January 23, 2012


Yeah, exactly. I'm reluctant to cook because it takes me so damned long and I'm easily overwhelmed when there's more than one or two things going on. OMG I've got to stir this but that's is going to burn and where'd I put the cheese and did I preheat the oven.

I made chicken enchiladas last week, but midway through the recipe I realized it was going to be WAY too much for two people, so I cut back on the rest of the ingredients, not thinking about the fact that I'd already put twice as much cumin in there as I needed. It was... not good.
posted by desjardins at 7:23 AM on January 23, 2012


Yeah, it takes time to learn. One nice thing about enchiladas (which it IS hard to make in small quantities!) is that they freeze great, so if you try making the big batch again, put them in two separate baking dishes and just freeze one, with foil wrapped over the top. Enchiladas happen to be my favoritest food ever, and I love them the night I make them, but I love them even more like 2 or 3 weeks later when I come home feeling bushed and not wanting to think about dinner and I have a beautiful pan of lovely enchiladas in the freezer that just needs to sit in the oven for half an hour. Awesomeness. Cooking bulk and freezing is a great strategy for using the time it takes more efficiently and making work nights a lot easier.
posted by Miko at 11:10 AM on January 23, 2012


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