It's expensive to be poor.
January 15, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

 
More from the Washington Post.
posted by empath at 7:56 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


By federal law, any thread on this topic anywhere on the internet is required to include a link to the Sam Vimes "boots" theory of economic injustice. We are now in full compliance. Have a nice day, everyone.
posted by officer_fred at 8:01 AM on January 15, 2015 [97 favorites]


It used to be kale.
posted by fairmettle at 8:03 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also covered on Cracked. Good post.
posted by Melismata at 8:04 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What was it a while back where someone proposed expanding the Post Office into a basic banking service? So that everyone could have guaranteed access to a checking account without any of the bullshit? I feel like that would solve SO MANY problems.

Are there any (legitimate) reasons why that can't happen?
posted by phunniemee at 8:06 AM on January 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


Yeah paying to cash a paycheck is one of the most depressing things I've seen friends/family do.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:08 AM on January 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


What was it a while back where someone proposed expanding the Post Office into a basic banking service? So that everyone could have guaranteed access to a checking account without any of the bullshit? I feel like that would solve SO MANY problems.

Are there any (legitimate) reasons why that can't happen?


Besides the otherworldly shrieking sound that would emanate from the Fox News / GOP-controlled-senate axis when they realized the federal government was going to be moving into the retail banking space, not really no.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:09 AM on January 15, 2015 [55 favorites]


What was it a while back where someone proposed expanding the Post Office into a basic banking service? So that everyone could have guaranteed access to a checking account without any of the bullshit? I feel like that would solve SO MANY problems.

Are there any (legitimate) reasons why that can't happen?


It did happen! We had one until 1966. Here's the wikipedia article with all the countries who have one.

It doesn't necessarily solve all the problems that low-income people have with banks, or even any of them. It would have to be structured right when created by legislation, and in the current climate that would never, ever happen.
posted by selfnoise at 8:10 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


(I mean, the government is currently trying to kill the post office entirely! And social security! So we can see what a pipe dream that would be)
posted by selfnoise at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's so heartbreaking to read stories of parents that do whatever to insulate their kids from how poor they really are - like the story in the link of the dad who brought home Blockbuster and made bacon on the Foreman grill, or the mom who pretended she wasn't hungry and "only wanted a snack" so that her kids would eat more. Just absolutely heartbreaking.

I realize it's never going to happen in the U.S., but my god, we need a universal basic income so desperately. There is so much money out there, being distributed so unfairly, while actual people starve. Awful.
posted by jbickers at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2015 [59 favorites]


Once upon a time I lost my wallet. And then I immediately lost my birth certificate. My wallet had my DL and my SS card (I know, dumb).

Being the hapless 22 year old that I was I found out I could go to a check cashing place and cash my paycheck for a hefty fee. But, at the time paying the fee was way better than no money at all.

I am very much a victim of inertia and pretty soon it was a habit. The hurdle to get my ID stuff in order was annoying enough that for many many moons I used the check cashing service.

I wasn't abjectly poor, just very obtuse and very lazy. But I very much sympathize with anyone railroaded into having to make that kind of decision.
posted by ian1977 at 8:24 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


These stories are all very familiar. I grew up really poor, and have been for most of my life. Buying a $500 car off of craigslist and driving it until it falls apart is all I was ever able to manage, even with 2 jobs. I ate Taco Bell every day, not because I liked it, but because the dollar menu items were affordable and I didn't have regular kitchen access or time to make food.

Thankfully I been in a much better place financially for the last few years of my life, but these old habits die hard, and becoming poor again is one of my worst fears. I hated living like that. I've learned to not take anything I have for granted.
posted by polywomp at 8:25 AM on January 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


This comment seems helpful, and people sometimes look for help here, so:
To anyone out there reading this who are in dire straights financially I HIGHLY suggest you contact your local United Way (call 2-1-1 on your phone) and get information about the resources in your area.

In my area, they have a huge database of charities that will 1.) pay your bills 2.) pay your rent 3.) help you find work 4.) get you cheap or free health care 5.) a list of local food pantries as well as many other resources.

In addition anyone facing joblessness or homelessness should definitely check to see if they can get S.N.A.P. or unemployment benefits.

If you are under 25 years old check out Job Corps.

I would also check out Union jobs, in my area the local pipe fitters union is hiring apprentices at $26 an hour. All you need is a High School Diploma or GED.

There are also charities that will give your pet free food and health care.

If there's a need there is a resource for it.

There is no reason why anyone should go without food, healthcare, or shelter in the U.S. regardless of citizenship status.

Anyone reading this, I am happy to help you find resources IN YOUR AREA.

Edit: Oh the sweet sweet Karma!

Regarding contacting the United Way...

In the U.S. and Canada you simply dial 2-1-1 on your phone OR (and more effectively IMHO) google "211 (insert my state or city here). You SHOULD get a searchable database of all the resources in your area.
posted by amtho at 8:25 AM on January 15, 2015 [64 favorites]


Geographical region needed.

In urban random developing world, most likely the following:

potable water
mobile phone minutes for voice and data in increments as small as 50 cents (though some might buy 30$ over a month)
charcoal
a teaspoon worth of sugar
a thimbleful of tea leaves
half a cup of milk
a fist sized portion of cabbage
20 centilitres of kerosene
a candle
one cigarette
hooch


Its not so much what they purchase, as how - in affordable increments, rather than cheaper bulk.
posted by infini at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm in that thread, because someone mentioned buttered and salted tortillas, and I never realised that they weren't a treat, they were cheaper than actual sandwiches.

I still think of them as a treat, a comfort food, something I have when I'm in a bad mood or sick and just want something to eat that tastes good.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


What was it a while back where someone proposed expanding the Post Office into a basic banking service?

that would be the plain vanilla 'public option' on banking! (with the potential for bonus sprinkles/direct cash transfers/QE for the people/free money for everyone on top ;)
posted by kliuless at 8:33 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have some money for the first time in my life and I am seeing this. I make money just by having money (interest). I no longer lose money to credit cards (fees and interest). When I buy something I tend to look at it like, "Can this be the last one of these I ever buy?" I purchase quality now. When I am sick I immediately go to the doctor. I have regular eye/dental checkups and don't wait for problems. I have high end cooking appliances, so my food costs are fairly low. I pay cash for my car and have no debt to service.

These are sorts of brags (I guess), but it took me 42 years to get there.

Prior I had $413 a month in student loans that were garnished on my wages because I defaulted while working my full-time job for Borders making retail pay (not proud).

I had a $225 a month car payment.

I had $7k in revolving high interest debt (so maybe $100 a month in interest?). Most cards had an annual fee as well.

I bought all my cloths at thrift shops (ok, I still do this. It's awesome).

I rented for more than my mortgage because bad credit.

I routinely bounced checks because I miscalculated a balance or banked on a deposit racing the withdrawal and winning.

I often ate crap fast food because I had a barely kitchen. Now when I eat out it's much better quality and I do it less often. I'm sure my health has improved because of this.

Mostly I worked the Dave Ramsey plan. I modified it to suit my behaviors, but it worked.

I have been playing around with the idea of doing a "Frugal February" where every dollar is not only budgeted, but I don't spend any money that I don't have to. So bills and food costs only. I can't imagine even thinking about doing that when I was poor.

I still eat Ramen as a treat.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:34 AM on January 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


(My comment above is quoted directly from the Reddit thread; I couldn't find a way to link directly to the comment, so I just copied/pasted it here.)
posted by amtho at 8:35 AM on January 15, 2015


I love that person who posted about the United Way, but it drove me crazy because it seems like that's all stuff the government should do in a wealthy, civilized nation. The right wing didn't totally get rid of the social safety net, they just shredded it and privatized the shreds.
posted by lunasol at 8:35 AM on January 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Banks will be able to encourage customer to take a chance on saving under legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday.

The legislation, which Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, co-sponsored, would allow banks and thrifts to offer prize-linked savings accounts similar to ones available now at credit unions in a dozen states.

In a Michigan “Save to Win” program, credit union participants who deposit $25 into their savings account are entered into a monthly drawing where they can win up to $3,750.

Early data from the program shows that the incentive has been successful at encouraging first-time savers and low- to moderate-income savers, according to Cotton.

“I am pleased the American Savings Promotion Act is now law. This bill is not only a win for individuals and families who need to build savings, it’s proof that Washington can work toward common sense solutions,” Cotton said.

posted by infini at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


What do poor people buy that no one else does?

Yeah, this is gonna differ a lot based on the geographical area, but it looks like the OP is only talking about poor people in America? So as an American poor, I'm trying to think back, and I don't know that we bought anything that no one else does, other than the occasional dumb foray into rent-to-own furniture and getting literally everything else from charity or Goodwill. There was a lot of cash advancing and then defaulting on high-interest credit cards, trading food stamps for cash or non-food stampable goods -- cigarettes, beer, candy, soap -- with other people on food stamps, and figuring out which places would give you cash back as change for food stamps. Lots of looking for change on the ground because individually wrapped Little Debbie snacks (Star Crunch represent!) and those sugarbomb Hostess fruit pies were only a quarter or two.

But we did take a lot of stuff that no one else did. Free napkins and plastic cutlery from restaurants, natch. Ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper packets from cafeterias and fast food joints -- Wendy's always had the best salt offerings, those snap-top packets were so generous! Hot sauce from Taco Bell. Packets of saltine crackers, individually wrapped pats of butter, Smuckers peanut butter and jelly packets, and those little shelf-stable half-and-half cups from all-night diners. To this day, I will always pocket a handful of saltines and single-serving peanut butters if I see them on a table, because that shit can get you through the last week of the month -- salt, crunch, protein, yeah! Individual rolls of toilet paper from gas station restrooms. Bruised produce, expired food, and flat soda from the bins behind the Wal-Mart. I learned when the bakery in town put yesterday's bread into the dumpster so I could pop in and grab it right away. Sometimes you got a loaf, sometimes you got an entire garbage bag full of loaves.

Let's see, what else... When you're poor and hungry, you don't give a shit about asking your friend's parents for a second helping, or a third, or... Sometimes my friends' parents would send me home with food and juice. I wish I could thank them for doing that as an adult, it was so kind of them to just gently nudge it into my hands without a word just because they'd noticed me staring into their refrigerator or pantry a bit too longingly. Oh, and if someone takes you to an AYCE buffet, the proper response is to say thank you, bring a pocket full of rinsed-out Ziploc bags, stuff as much food into them as you can carry, and microwave it when you get home.

If you have the fiscal bandwidth, please let this FPP be the impetus that inspires you to bring a big bag of peanut butter, canned vegetables, soups, stews, and/or Minute rice to your local food pantry. If you're in the U.S., you can find a list here!
posted by divined by radio at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [53 favorites]


Fabulouso is definitely a Hispanic thing; Target only sells all its varieties in markets with a large Hispanic population.

Weird, it's all over Home Depot here. Not a hugely hispanic population roundabouts.

One I hadn't seen listed was looking for expired food from at the market on the shelf; they couldn't sell it to us but would go ahead and give it to us for free. Usually pastas and canned veg.

Don't think I can read the rest of that thread .... but probably down in there is this one though, freezing one of those dollar store boxes of pasta and sifting out the bugs before cooking up. Turns out you don't need to bother, though, most of them float and you can skim them off.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2015


It did happen! We had one until 1966.

So many conservatives want to go back to the way things were in the "good old days". They're generally not too specific about when exactly those "good old days" were, but for most of them, they are probably sometime between 1911 and 1966, when the US had a postal banking system. Curious.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I make money just by having money (interest). I no longer lose money to credit cards (fees and interest).

This is such a stupid way to organize an economy, and yet, there it is. I'm in the same position, and I think it's fucking absurd. I worked so much harder when I was broke and for so much less reward.
posted by empath at 8:45 AM on January 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


"financial inclusion" aka lets shove credit cards at the unbanked because its developing their economy.

/rotten stinking poopy hamburger
posted by infini at 8:50 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is it just general bad credit that stops you from getting a bank account, or is it "bounced a few checks" kind of bad credit?
posted by smackfu at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2015


This is such a stupid way to organize an economy, and yet, there it is.

louis ck on being broke...
posted by kliuless at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


And for the folks with low income that do have bank accounts, most banks charge monthly fees for checking accounts if you do not maintain a minimum balance. Ugh.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:57 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Is it just general bad credit that stops you from getting a bank account, or is it "bounced a few checks" kind of bad credit?

What would you do with one if bank fees and charges ate your meagre balance?
posted by infini at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Quoted from the blog balloon-juice.com

...as commenter Davis X. Machina phrased it:

“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.”

posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2015 [59 favorites]


And for the folks with low income that do have bank accounts, most banks charge monthly fees for checking accounts if you do not maintain a minimum balance.

And even the smallest banks charge a hefty amount. My middle-class bank account charges $20 per month. $20?! That's more than $200 a year, no chump change.
posted by Melismata at 9:00 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


They're generally not too specific about when exactly those "good old days" were

Prior to 1861 is a pretty good rule of thumb.
posted by Naberius at 9:05 AM on January 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've mentioned George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London before in threads discussing poverty, yes, he made a similar point -- being poor is surprisingly expensive and complicated -- back in 1933.
It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have
thought so much about poverty--it is the thing you have feared all your
life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it, is
all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite
simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be
terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar _lowness_ of
poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the
complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.

...You go to the greengrocer's to spend a franc on a kilogram of
potatoes. But one of the pieces that make up the franc is a Belgian piece,
and the shopman refuses it. You slink out of the shop, and can never go
there again.

You have strayed into a respectable quarter, and you see a prosperous
friend coming. To avoid him you dodge into the nearest café. Once in the
café you must buy something, so you spend your last fifty centimes on a
glass of black coffee with a dead fly in it. Once could multiply these
disasters by the hundred. They are part of the process of being hard up.
You can read it here.
posted by Gelatin at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


There are no-fee account out there! But you generally have to have ok credit and also computer access (Ally Bank is all-online and has no fees or minimums. Owned by GM. And being online, you can't make cash deposits very easily, or write checks, so it's really only good if all your money flows electronically)
posted by emjaybee at 9:12 AM on January 15, 2015


My middle-class bank account charges $20 per month. $20?!

Yes, that does seem like a total rip-off. Why stay with them?
posted by smackfu at 9:12 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a Paramedic, I am a witness to the many extra costs of being poor.

Just one example: a mother calls the ambulance because her child is sick. Her insurance maintains its own "urgent care centers" and probably won't pay for the ER visit, so she's going to get stuck with both an ER bill and an ambulance bill (the latter will be dismissed if she's unable to pay). She would have gone to the urgent care center, but she didn't have a car. The only car is with her husband. He would have left work to take his sick kid to the doctor, but he had one of those jobs where if you leave in the middle of the day, the boss tells you not to bother coming back.

It was like a hellish "for want of a nail" scenario in which any one single intervention that would be available to the rich (an extra vehicle, a better insurance plan, a job that treats its workers fairly) could have headed off the expensive ER bill.

And they at least had insurance.
posted by itstheclamsname at 9:13 AM on January 15, 2015 [52 favorites]


Weird, it's all over Home Depot here. Not a hugely hispanic population roundabouts.

Construction contractors, would be my guess.
posted by Gelatin at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2015


My middle-class bank account charges $20 per month. $20?!

Yes, that does seem like a total rip-off. Why stay with them?


Because the other bank nearby charges $25.

Sure, there are other options like online banking and such, but as emjaybee points out, they don't offer what I need.
posted by Melismata at 9:18 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Weird, it's all over Home Depot here. Not a hugely hispanic population roundabouts.

Construction contractors, would be my guess.


Yeah, in my experience Home Depot is where immigrant workers tend to gather for contractors who will swing by looking for day laborers.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:21 AM on January 15, 2015


Not something I bought when I was poor, but something I sold, mentioned in the comments: blood plasma.
I did this regularly for a while, long enough that I still have needle scars on the insides of my elbows. It wasn't horrible--I had a lot more time than money then, so being paid at about $20 an hour was good for me. The checks were cashable (I had no bank account because no money to put in one) at the Arby's next door, as long as you bought something, so it was donate, eat, and leave with the leftover money.
I survived.
posted by librosegretti at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


How come credit unions aren't more widely used? I had a credit union account when I was 18 with only$20 to my name, that was the only thing I had to keep in there to keep it open. No fees for anything, ever. At 18 I had no credit, and it wasn't hard to get the checking and savings accounts. Also this was A totally open credit union, anybody could join (you didn't have to be a teacher or anything like that).

Are credit unions still not widely used in most of the U.S.?
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2015


In my limited experience credit unions are becoming more and more like banks in terms of fees they charge and such.
posted by TedW at 9:35 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are credit unions still not widely used in most of the U.S.?

I guess this might vary regionally but the only people I know who use credit unions are teachers and government workers/military. I have been looking for a credit union for the past 10 years and have yet to find one that 1) will accept me and 2) has a branch less than 15 miles away.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:35 AM on January 15, 2015


Credit unions are still out there, Doelful Creature. They're easier to get into than ever (if your credit doesn't suck, ie you don't have bounced checks and fees on your Chex systems records).

They compare closer to banks now than they used to; you can get Visa or Mastercard branded debit cards.

But they have fewer branches so when you need cash it's harder to get to. I closed my account a few years back because they started charging everyone a $2 fee per month, no matter what. Which is silly but I just didn't want to pay the $2 a month.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 9:36 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


How come credit unions aren't more widely used?

I've been with a local CU for nearly 30 years. A couple of years ago, they reorganized under a new name (still a CU) Along with the re-org came a brand new raft of fees, including the ubiquitous minimum balance requirement. I think it's $25. It's become just another bank, really. Dunno if that's happening with other CUs.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are no-fee account out there!

This is true. Bank of America introduced a no-fee checking account a few years back where all transactions had to be done either online or through the ATM. I found this a bit dehumanizing, so I left. I did find a local bank with no fees, provided I had my paychecks direct deposited, but it took some shopping around.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:40 AM on January 15, 2015


I had a credit union account when I was 18 with only$20 to my name, that was the only thing I had to keep in there to keep it open.

When I was poor, there's no way I could have kept any kind of banking or credit union account with any minimum balance requirement or monthly fees whatsoever. I overdrafted my first checking account constantly and almost never had more than a buck or two in the bank (and often less than a dollar) for the last handful of days before my next paycheck could be deposited.

Plus, $20 was absolutely a make-or-break amount of money for me at the time and I couldn't have dreamed putting myself in a position where I technically owned the money but could never withdraw it without getting hit with fees out the wazoo or having my account closed. I would have rather kept my money in a shoebox under the bed, like my parents did. See also unbanked and underbanked.
posted by divined by radio at 9:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh right I did find a credit union nearby that would accept me, but they are not set up to be billed for online payments, which makes them next to useless for me since I would still need to maintain my regular bank account, with its fees and bullshit, to pay my rent and other bills.

And they do have a minimum balance requirement.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:41 AM on January 15, 2015


Threads like this always make me want to go out and Do! Something! Bake a casserole and drop it off at somebody's house! Show me where the hungry people are and I will feed them! Does this come from the same naive place as the thought that if you lived during slavery, you wouldn't own slaves and if you did, you'd be really, really nice to them? I really do want to give some hungry people food, though. I will keep bringing in cans for the food drive at church.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:48 AM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's also the lesser known 'debanked' - those who withdrew from formal banking because of the reasons already mentioned in this thread.
posted by infini at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Surprised nobody linked to this already. Mefi's own JScalzi's being poor essay.
posted by COD at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


Besides the otherworldly shrieking sound that would emanate from the Fox News / GOP-controlled-senate axis when they realized the federal government was going to be moving into the retail banking space, not really no.

It's not just the conservatives that would rail against this. The entirely Democratic party run city of Chicago pushed awful privatized fee laden debit card banking with one of the worst banks in America as part of its transit card update. Neo-liberal policies are sometimes only distinguished from conservative ones by the replacement of the self-righteous 'you earned that spanking' justification with 'market forces'.
posted by srboisvert at 10:12 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Along with the re-org came a brand new raft of fees, including the ubiquitous minimum balance requirement. I think it's $25. It's become just another bank, really. Dunno if that's happening with other CUs.

That's really a shame. The CU I belong to just underwent a merger with another CU, and for the most part fees went down. Minimum balance is now $1 down from $5. Courtesy pay is offered, but they limit the fees to two per day (which if you have to use courtesy pay is very helpful). It's sad to see other CUs acting more like banks-charging a minimum balance fee on a savings account is bullshit. They should instead not pay interest under a certain amount or start enforcing Reg D transaction limits.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:18 AM on January 15, 2015


When you're poor and hungry, you don't give a shit about asking your friend's parents for a second helping, or a third, or...

Oh god yes. To the point where it's almost embarrassing to go to someone else's place for dinner, now. And when my sister decided she wanted to take me out for dinner just before Christmas, I chose AYCE sushi for that very reason.

If you have the fiscal bandwidth, please let this FPP be the impetus that inspires you to bring a big bag of peanut butter, canned vegetables, soups, stews, and/or Minute rice to your local food pantry

And, this doesn't get thought of much, maxipads. They're expensive, a distinct necessity for most women, and nobody ever thinks of 'hygiene' in the same space as 'food bank.' (Maxipads are more likely to be used than tampons.) Ditto diapers.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's sad to see other CUs acting more like banks-charging a minimum balance fee on a savings account is bullshit.

In addition, after the re-org, my CU also automatically enrolled members in some sort of identity fraud protection service, for which they dinged your account $20 every month. The announcement of it was hidden in the newsletter they send out (that no one reads). We didn't discover it until a few months after it started, and couldn't figure out what this $20 recurring charge was. You could opt-out, so long as you either a) started getting your statements via email, or b) had a loan with them. I took the e-statement option.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "bank fees" are definitely something the poor pay more of. They're basically one of the most regressive things. When I was younger I remember having various annual fees / etc, now I have an account at a standard brick-and-mortar national bank but don't pay anything, however that requires keeping a substantial amount of money with them.

From a strictly business point of view I'm sure this makes sense, but given the huge problems that come without access to banking I wish we would fix this (either by having a national bank / post bank / etc or by regulation creating some sort of mandatory "simple no fee" account or something... I don't know what the right answer is).
posted by thefoxgod at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2015


Also, electricity costs. Rich and poor use the same amount of electricity, but for them it's a drop in the budget bucket. For me it's an "oh, fuck, they're going to cut me off because a couple hundred bucks every three months is impossible."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


"It was like a hellish "for want of a nail" scenario in which any one single intervention that would be available to the rich (an extra vehicle, a better insurance plan, a job that treats its workers fairly)..."

It's particularly telling to the experiences of poverty when "an extra vehicle, a better insurance plan, a job that treats its workers fairly" is considered to be in the domain of the rich. I recognize it in that comment mainly because the frequency I accidentally cast my partner's blue-color but middle class background as "rich" for mainly those kinds of reasons; in addition, they own a home they didn't lose in the housing bust, they live well off the retirement of his blue-collar worker father, they can buy lots and lots of holiday gifts for everyone around them. (I went to the dollar store and splurged $6 getting my eldest a gift. I knew I wouldn't see my youngest for a few more months, so I can wait until then to worry about getting her a gift.) When you live in poverty, everyone who can make ends meet is "rich".
posted by _paegan_ at 10:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


From a strictly business point of view I'm sure this makes sense...

And yet, banks did perfectly well for ages and ages without charging these fees. Finance, in general, took a bad turn in the 80's.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:41 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


My family has needed to use the lab at the local hospital for various tests and blood work over the last few years. Of course, this is medical care in America, so we never have any idea what the tests will cost. Sometime a month or so later we get a bill ranging from $70 to $700 and there's no discernible justification for the amounts.

For a long time I just paid the bills online (because we make okay money now and have an FSA, so life is easy-ish, as these things go.) But once last year I knew I owed them for something and had misplaced the bill, so I stopped by in person to settle up at the billing department. It was $900 for a sleep study I had done (conclusion: severe apnea!). I pulled out my FSA card and handed it over.

"Are you going to pay this in full today?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Okay, then with our 30% discount, that's $600."

"Huh?"

It turns out they have a huge discount for paying in full. It never appears on any documents and it sure wasn't mentioned on the bill. There was no "pay it all for 30% off" option all the times I paid online.

Now I pay all my hospital bills in person, in full, and always get 30% off. For our family of five, this has resulted in saving thousands of dollars--but it's a savings you can never access unless you have enough money that you didn't need the discount in the first place. (Plus you have to figure out this discount exists.) Being not-poor cut my medical lab bills by almost a third.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2015 [38 favorites]


From a strictly business point of view I'm sure this makes sense

Yes, "taking free money from your customers" does have a certain ring to it.

In a sane world, minimum balance fees would be illegal. I'm sure there something else would be cooked up to replace them, but it should be free to have a positive balance in an account with zero activity. Since the bank has the use of that money to profit elsewhere, that profit pays for the account.
posted by rhizome at 10:53 AM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


From a strictly business point of view I'm sure this makes sense...

And yet, banks did perfectly well for ages and ages without charging these fees. Finance, in general, took a bad turn in the 80's.


Banks are in a sort of weird squeeze right now where on the one hand, interest rates are insanely low so it's hard for them to make enough money the "old" bank way, and on the other hand their more well-heeled consumers have so many alternative options that it's hard to justify lots of weird fees. So they go looking for someone to screw, which in this case is the poor, young, old, and uninformed.
posted by selfnoise at 10:54 AM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


And even the smallest banks charge a hefty amount. My middle-class bank account charges $20 per month. $20?! That's more than $200 a year, no chump change.

We have a checking account at BoA that has no monthly or minimum balance fee. However, if you overdraw your account, you're charged $35. A $35 fee then gets appended to every transaction on the account until your balance goes back into the black. We wound up in a situation a few months back where thanks to a screwup by Honda, our balance dipped below zero. We didn't know it had happened until the funds were added back into the account by Honda 24 hours later. But between debit card purchases, checks clearing and bill payments (almost all of which were cleared by the bank even though we had a negative balance,) we had 13 transactions pass through the account in one day, and had to pay hundreds of dollars in fees. Which again wiped out our balance. We also bounced two checks and had to pay fees to the companies we'd sent them to. All because a company tried to take our car payment twice in one month, because of a clerical error.

When something like that happens, the fees will kill you. They make it really hard to stay afloat when you're struggling. It's a loss you can't plan for in advance, and that you can ill-afford to lose.

The bank isn't stupid either. They clear your transactions even though you're in the negative. You're thankful they do. But they're screwing you even as you think they're helping.
posted by zarq at 10:59 AM on January 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


we had 13 transactions pass through the account in one day, and had to pay hundreds of dollars in fees

This is one place my credit union really distinguished itself from a bank. When something similar happened to me, they refunded all overdraft fees because it wasn't my fault I'd been double-charged on a recurring bill at the wrong time.
posted by asperity at 11:07 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


zarq, we had a similar situation with Dreamhost when we had autopay set up for some webhosting. Took us months to clear it all up, and since then, the only autopay I have is the tithe to my church once a month, and that's because I know the church accountant personally and could call her if something went wrong.

Every time I pay bills online they ask "Want to set up autopayments?" and all I can think is "when hell freezes over."
posted by emjaybee at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Things we ate as kids in a low income household that we wouldn't necessarily eat now: Liver. Coley. Dhal and rice as a meal. Sliced apples with home made yoghurt and a tiny bit of brown sugar on top. Soup made out of unidentified green leafy things grown in the garden. A whole lot of boiled potatoes. Cauliflower cheese as a meal. Fried slices of belly pork. Tinned fruit.
posted by emilyw at 11:14 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now I pay all my hospital bills in person, in full, and always get 30% off.

YMMV. I try to do this (I visit the billing people before I visit the doctor, and explain that I want to pay in full, right now, and not get a surprise bill a month later.) Of course, the billing people don't expect this and don't know how to handle it, and IME you get a surprise bill about half the time anyway. ("Oh, that's an independent contractor...you would have had to pay them anyway, but we aren't able to access their billing, so we couldn't tell you how much they would charge, or even whether they would charge you.")

So the best strategy I've found is: don't get sick, and if you do, don't go to the hospital. And don't trust anyone associated with the healthcare system, from front-desk receptionist to hospital CEO. No one will tell you the truth, although for some of them, it's because they don't know. For others, they know and specifically intend to mislead you, but good luck doing anything about it.
posted by spacewrench at 11:17 AM on January 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


also btw on the negative (nominal!) interest rate front -- paying people to keep your money -- the swiss national bank cut deposit rates half a percentage point to -0.75% today (for accounts over 10m swiss francs) after abandoning its exchange rate ceiling/floor to the euro that kept the sfr from appreciating. anyway, that happened, which is just to point out this is the world we even rich people live in now... oh, and a possible prelude to the death of banks :P

why? ostensibly because a dearth of 'safe assets' which are savings vehicles people actually trust. while there's lot to unpack in that statement, to bring this back to the FPP, that's because gov'ts and the private sector writ large have chronically underinvested in public goods and institutions that would raise the living standards of everyone, not just a few.
posted by kliuless at 11:33 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


...we had 13 transactions pass through the account in one day, and had to pay hundreds of dollars in fees

You want to know the real hell of that? Instead of applying the transactions in chronological order, many banks apply the day's debits to the account before any deposit, even if the deposit was the first transaction of the day.

Ever notice that little warning "Deposits may not be available immediately"? Gotcha.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:55 AM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


There are no-fee account out there!

And when you do get one of those accounts, it transpires 6 months or a year down the road, that they are now introducing fees. Often announced in one of the small print spam-like advertising mail the bank regularly sends you and most people discard without reading. Then, 3-5-6 or whatever months later, you realize what happened and have to find another bank. Meanwhile, it may seem extremely petty, but that 6 month period of dinging you for $20 each time amounts to $120 - multiply that by tens or hundreds of thousands, and we're talking millions. I fully believe it is a deliberate tactic, it is after all not insubstantial sums we are talking about.

Oh, and don't believe any assurances by banking people. Years ago, we got talked into opening a joint savings account in Bank of America. We went in for a different reason, but the accounts person was so nice and made it sound so simple and pointed out the benefits when you might want a mortgage down the road it looks good to have a savings account with the bank etc. so we relented on the spot. She made a big point of saying that there was no monthly account fees, and no gotchas or anything. We put in $2K and promptly forgot about it. Sure enough, a year later, they started charging monthly fees - I caught it, because I'm one of those rare perverts who actually reads all the banking/credit card and financial correspondence including the small print - a kind of self-defence habit, if you will. I called the bank and tried to talk to the accounts person who talked us into this, but she no longer worked there. We closed down the account.

Opened a no-fee account ("for life!") with Washington Mutual, got taken over by Chase, no longer no-fee. That's another constant thing - you can never develop any long-lasting institutional ties, because of constant mergers, takeovers and general churn. My perfectly good Security Pacific Bank where I had a long-standing banking relationship with the local manager, got eaten up by Bank of America and everything went to absolute shit. At one time, I did my banking through my brokerage account, because the service was better and the cost free, but then mergers and takeovers and that too went to hell.

Since I refuse to pay stupid maintenance fees, it was a constant struggle to keep changing accounts as they went to pot. Eventually, I got tired of it, and now I'm with one of those deals with BofA where if you keep $10K in your combined accounts, they stop dinging you. Just not having to spend that mental energy is worth it. But it astonishes me that it cost me a $10K fee to simply be treated decently like I was back in the 80's with Security Pacific. How has it gotten so bad? And make no mistake - that $10K is really a fee, since I can't use it, because the moment I dip below $10K, the dinging and piranha bites start. So because I have to pay ongoing bills, I need to keep a cushion so that I don't ever fall below the $10K - so I usually keep around $15K total tied up in that stupid place. That, folks, is the price you have to pay for banking these days, or prepare to be skinned alive.
posted by VikingSword at 12:12 PM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


I don't really know how to say this right, but it's kind of tone-deaf to walk into a thread talking about poverty and complain you have to keep $15K in your bank account to avoid twenty bucks a month in fees.

$15K is slightly more than my annual income right now, to put that into perspective.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:28 PM on January 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


Sorry, didn't mean to offend anyone, I should have been more clear. I wanted to say that it's a huge chore for anyone of limited means to actually avoid all these fees even if you are extremely diligent about getting the no-fee accounts recommended above. Because those accounts are not forever, and the constant need to keep shifting accounts can be impractical for someone without the means, thus, even the purported ways out are not really there in practice; the rest of it, about the $15K was more of a rant about how extremely expensive it is to merely try to do banking these days, when people were able to do so for free years ago. Edit: and btw. I am by no means rich - just wanted to make that clear.
posted by VikingSword at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


My local CU in Arizona has gradually become more evil than any of the major banks and I literally opened an account at BofA today to get away from it.

Long story short, being poor is especially tough if you've had money recently; I'll talk about my IRS woes some other time (I never stopped paying taxes...they just want more than my 30% contribution from my employer). I had accounts meant for $10k+ balance types but haven't made any of that type of money in about 2 years.

The CU I bank at, if you come close to overdrafting your account, actually RETROACTIVELY CHANGES transaction histories to make sure you do in fact pay $35 overdrafts. About 3 months ago they shifted around about $200 in charges to pop me 15 times for overdrafts, totaling $525 in charges. When I went apeshit on them about this, I got one of them reversed.
posted by GreyboxHero at 12:37 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


and btw. I am by no means rich

Having the luxury to keep $15K in the bank untouched is perhaps not rich exactly, but it is so far beyond the reality of the subject of the post I don't know what to say.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:43 PM on January 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


This $15k thing reminds me a lot of a friend I have who exhibited one of the most annoying traits I've ever encountered from age 15-25 of so.

He was the only child to a hundred-plus millionaire car dealership mogul, and was openly known to be assuming control of them and an impossible amount of money at age 18. For whatever reason he developed the ant-authority streak and thus wanted to be "poor" to related to most of us who didn't like The Man in high school.

Despite us all knowing he had an endless supply of money, he would pretend like the $5 burrito was way too much vs. the $3 option in every similar context ever. Once realizing that we just liked him because he was our friend, and not because he could relate to money woes, he eventually cut it out.

But yeah - dude/dudette - you have to realize that $15k, in a thread where people talk about being poor, is a fortune that most may not have ever even dreamed of having.
posted by GreyboxHero at 12:48 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


The $15,000 description was a legitimate derail about how banks are soaking everyone, rich and poor. Which I started, sorry.
posted by Melismata at 12:50 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Having the luxury to keep $15K in the bank untouched is perhaps not rich exactly, but it is so far beyond the reality of the subject of the post I don't know what to say.

I'm aware that the gap between zero dollars and fifteen thousand dollars is effectively infinity dollars from some vantage points, but this is exactly the kind of crabs-in-a-bucket bickering that keeps us fighting among ourselves while the bosses are laughing away.

As a counterpoint, my dad was a rural minister when I was a kid, mom wasn't working, and while we may have had a grand in the bank from time to time, that's because they were hardcore focused on the long-term goal of paying for our education, and we lived poor. Skim milk powder, thrift store clothes, discount bread, used shoes, all entertainment from the library, 13" black-and-white TV into the late '80s.

There's an admitted line between "extraordinarily thrifty" and "no-options poor", where I think we enjoyed the capacity to have a small amount of emergency money if something truly dire happened, but my experience as a child, with parents that may have had the equivalent of $15K in 2015 dollars stashed away, was far, far closer to that of a child with zero dollars than a child with a million dollars.

Far easier than being in a family where there was a continual sense of ambient panic because there was no margin if something went wrong, yes. But I don't think $15K in 2015 money disqualifies somebody from understanding those struggles.
posted by Shepherd at 1:04 PM on January 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


Since the conversation did wander a bit into general griping about banking fees, I didn't think the $15k tale was all that offensive or tone-deaf*.

*$15k is nearly double my annual income, btw.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of the answers fall under the expensive cheapness (rent-to-own, $10 boots, etc) or poverty penalty (bank overdraft, etc) categories. But others are just forced resourcefulness (Goodwill, go-without, make-it-last, dumpster dive, jerry-rig, off-brand, etc)

Given the modern world's indulgence in wastefulness, some of these latter poor people purchasing practices should be re-framed as a source of inspiration instead of stigma.

Not to romanticize pauperism, but a lot (most?) of what we buy with our abundance is shit. We think we need it. We don't need it.
posted by dgaicun at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm intrigued about how the Hobo soup would taste with just a dash of turmeric added to the mix. I'm totally stealing the idea to mix yogurt and jam up for easy fruit yogurt. Poor folks are some of the sliest foxes out there.
posted by Renoroc at 1:15 PM on January 15, 2015


Up until recently, the only vehicle I had was a motor scooter, which I only purchased (at a sharp discount from a friend) because at about $4/week for gas and $75/year for insurance, it worked out significantly cheaper than public transportation (around $64/month). About the most offended I've ever been was the time some business owner (of some kind of scammy, pseudoscientific-nonsense-for-rich-people business) applauded my thrift, resourcefulness, and lower environmental impact. To which I replied that I would gladly give it up to have something to sit in when it rains.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:23 PM on January 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I just don't know what more to say. I apologized for any - again, I assure quite unintentional - annoyance I may have caused. I was responding to a more general point about the banking environment being increasingly difficult for more and more people not just those who cannot even afford a bank account (which I agree is terrible). I understand that $15K is a lot "in a thread where people talk about being poor", but I didn't try to present myself as as at an extreme disadvantage in a false effort to seem "one of the gang" (as implied by one poster). I sincerely apologized for any offence. It seems apologies are not enough, but perhaps if I pledge to not post in this thread anymore, at least the thread can get back on the rails. Sorry again.
posted by VikingSword at 1:25 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Looking for work as a poor woman means not getting the job as soon as they see you because while you might be up to the job, your shoes/bag/hair style are not. It means going without food to buy a thrift store purse that's not made out of plastic, attempting to cut your own hair, and crying when the heels of your knock-off boots wear down, because to get them fixed would cost almost as much as the boots cost you in the first place. It means, at times, helping yourself to generous amounts of free napkins because you can't buy toilet paper, and sometimes having to wad those napkins up because you can't buy sanitary pads. It's constant humiliation and reminding you every day about the things you don't have. It's walking 8km round trip (which I did yesterday) because your preferred brand of ramen is 20 cents cheaper at the discount store downtown than at your local grocery store. It's getting on public transport and hoping you won't get busted for not buying a ticket (275 dollar fine), so you can go to apply for a job you won't get (like I did on Tuesday). It's deciding which one of your prescriptions to fill and which one you can do without, despite needing them both for a life-threatening condition. It's sitting in a classroom and being embarrassed by the loud grumbling of your stomach while all around you, well-off kids half your age nonchalantly consume 'snacks' equivalent to your daily caloric intake. And it's getting screwed over every month by your bank for fees that you wouldn't have if you could ever clear that overdraft. It's miserable and it's unrelenting, and the primary resource that it drains you of is time.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:26 PM on January 15, 2015 [33 favorites]


Since I refuse to pay stupid maintenance fees, it was a constant struggle to keep changing accounts as they went to pot.

I have to confess to being really puzzled by this whole conversation, because we currently have three no fee, no minimum balance checking-type accounts at three different banks (actually two different CUs and one locally owned bank) (one of which paid me $250 to open an account with direct deposit). We certainly don't have a $15,000 balance anywhere (or even a $1,500 balance, although we do have a car loan with one CU and a mortgage with another).

Is this maybe a regional thing? A consequence of specific state regulation? Because I honestly cannot imagine a bank around here doing very much business with a checking account with fees - why on earth would you, when there are four or five other choices just up the road?
posted by anastasiav at 1:38 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


the mom who pretended she wasn't hungry and "only wanted a snack" so that her kids would eat more.

Just in case anyone thinks this is far away, I have done this, back in my single-parent days, so often that I can't even recall any one unique example of it. And I learned it from my parents - you feed the kids and wait until they are full and then eat whatever is left, even if it's not enough.
posted by corb at 1:48 PM on January 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


And even the smallest banks charge a hefty amount. My middle-class bank account charges $20 per month

If anyone who is struggling with this is a military veteran, try going into your local bank and see if they have a "military account" plan. I have Chase and use that, and it means no fees even though it's a big bank.
posted by corb at 1:50 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, liquor stores and grocery stores both cashed paychecks. I wonder why that stopped? People were generally more casual about checks in yon olden days. Banks would cash each others checks, or cash random checks signed over to Joe Customer.
posted by thelonius at 1:51 PM on January 15, 2015


I think VikingSword's posts contribute quite a good point to this thread, because it makes clear that to the people writing these banking policies, maintaining that $10k balance to avoid fees seems to them like No Big Deal. It's only ten grand! Anyone can save that much and never touch it, right?

I work for a company whose payroll processor forced us to transition to 100% direct deposit a few years ago, and our HR department had to work really hard to help people with low-paying second and third shift warehouse jobs get signed up for checking accounts. Those who didn't qualify for whatever reason - and we had more than a handful - now receive their paychecks via debit cards with substantial fees for each transaction. My blood feels fizzy when I think about this situation, and how it so obviously punishes the employees who are least able to handle those fees as part of their budget, and how people running the payroll company and the debit card company I guess just... don't give a shit? My company's management actually did have reservations about the whole thing but we didn't have much choice at the time, and the practice has become so widespread now that it's hard to avoid. It sucks, sucks, sucks.
posted by something something at 1:52 PM on January 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


liquor stores still cash checks, but they charge you through the nose for it.
posted by empath at 2:31 PM on January 15, 2015


I just wrote a long ramble about how I got laid off for three years and finally got a good job but we lost our house anyway and my wife got sick in the middle of all of that and she's still sick and yes I am the guy with three special needs kids (thanks for remembering.) Then I deleted it and started to cry.

At least my life is (mostly) moving in a positive direction. I don't know what I'd do if I was poor with no hope of getting out of the well.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:34 PM on January 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


Banks would cash each others checks

I haven't got any experience with that one, but my first job paychecks all got cashed at the bank that issued them, even though I didn't have an account there. I think that option's mostly been wiped out by the increased centralization of paycheck services, but maybe not, and I'd like to see it publicized more for people whose checks are issued by a bank with nearby locations.
posted by asperity at 2:41 PM on January 15, 2015


Banks almost universally charge fees for cashing "on us" checks presented BT non customers. As recently as the early 2000s even Bank of America did not if it was a personal check, but if it was drawn on a commercial account.

Presently I maintain an account with a bank whose nearest branch is 1500 miles away because I have thus far been unable to find one locally that won't charge fees out the wazoo. Sadly, I consider one of their best features that they only charge a $17 overdraft fee, and makes it pretty hard to pay them. My only reservation with them is that they are owned by one of the Waltons. Still, it beats the hell out of the bank my SO is using that charged an overdraft fee for a check that cleared the same day her direct deposit credited, despite their policy explicitly stating that deposits process before paid items.

If it weren't for my social anxiety, I'd go flip my shit on them (it's a joint account, so I could do that), but instead we'll just eat the fucking fee and move on. At least it gives me more incentive to get off my ass and find a bank that doesn't suck.
posted by wierdo at 2:51 PM on January 15, 2015


Wow, they used to cash checks written on their own paper for free in the mid-90s (at least the banks my employers back then used). This is not a good change.
posted by asperity at 3:40 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are Canadian banks this bad? My only real experience is with CIBC and they've been pretty good to me, even when there was less than $50 in the account and most of the month was spent in the negative (they would only charge overdraft fees if I ended the month in the negative, and they called to warn me after I did it once).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:14 PM on January 15, 2015


In addition to what was mentioned about withdrawals taking priority over deposits, there's also the order of withdrawals. Large withdrawals are processed much more quickly.

Suppose you have $50 in the bank. Let's say you make 5 small purchases in the morning, totaling $15. Midday there's an emergency, and in a panic you put a $100 purchase on your card. The bank will immediately process the $100 withdrawal, and then put the small purchases in at the end of the day, resulting in 6 overdraft fees instead of one.
posted by halifix at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ally Bank is all-online and has no fees or minimums. Owned by GM.

It used to be the wholly-owned GMAC unit, but post-bailout, and with newly minted honest-to-gosh bank papers, it was 3/4 owned by the US Treasury via TARP. They IPO'ed in 2014 and GM only owns a small stake, with the largest, apparently, being Loeb's Third Point and second--largest being Cerberus Capital.

In a way, it's too bad we didn't seize an opportunity and merge it with the Post Office. (We did make about $25B in profit selling the TARP share, so there's that.)
posted by dhartung at 6:25 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Suppose you have $50 in the bank. Let's say you make 5 small purchases in the morning, totaling $15. Midday there's an emergency, and in a panic you put a $100 purchase on your card. The bank will immediately process the $100 withdrawal, and then put the small purchases in at the end of the day, resulting in 6 overdraft fees instead of one.

Wells-Fargo and several others paid hefty settlements on exactly this practice. In theory it should be less common nowdays. Also, banks are required to ask customers to affirmatively opt-in to overdraft protection after Dodd-Frank. It may be difficult to do, but every bank must allow customers opt out of overdraft protection, at least for debit cards. Checks are different, as banks are allowed to charge fees simply for check processing.

If you're getting charged overdraft fees and don't remember opting-in, file a complaint with the CFPB.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:41 PM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


From JScalzi's essay:

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Yes. I've done this. I almost got married in my teens to the wrong person because at least he had a place to stay away from my abusive family, and god knows my disabilities made me unemployable. I have had relationships of convenience.

I'll add that being poor is staying in a shelter for a second month because otherwise you won't have enough for first and last month's rent.

Being poor is not being able to return to university because you can't pay the $100 cash for your library fine, which is required before you register for classes.

Being poor is walking three miles in bad weather to the Housing Help Centre to ask if they can spare a bus ticket. (The answer is no.)

Being poor is missing out on the food bank's Christmas gift basket because it's halfway across the city and you don't have money for a bus ticket.

Being poor is never getting a handout from friends because they're also poor.

Being poor is resenting other poor people for any perceived difference, such as their lack of polish or lack of education, because scarcity is about fighting tooth and nail with your own people. You might be poor, but you don't want to be THEM. And then you hate yourself.

Being poor is having your $900 car break down, back when you had a car, and scrapping it because the cost of the repair is more than the value of the car.

Being poor is trying desperately to avoid looking like one of "those people" because you know you will be patronized and dismissed, even if you are more educated than the bureaucrat or city worker servicing you.

Being poor is being treated like an irritating child by your welfare case manager, who clearly sees you as an uneducated and irresponsible lowlife. (They aren't all like this, but my case worker is.)

Being poor is having your credit rating ruined by a two year-old bill you still can't afford to pay. It's only $350.

Being poor is hearing your middle class family complain about a pesky $4500 furnace repair bill and being utterly amazed.

Being poor is not being able to pay for the medication you need because your benefits plan doesn't cover it.

Being poor is constantly having to defend every decision you make, as if enough conscientiousness will pull you out of poverty.

Being poor is buying $7 pairs of jeans from the Salvation Army and mending them when the buttons fall off.

Being poor is the constant grind of an animal-like awareness of your situation. The hunger. The feast-or-famine of living on a disability cheque. The dread of the future and the yearning for anything to take your mind off of this lifestyle.

Being poor is seeing no way out.
posted by quiet earth at 6:45 PM on January 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


One thing poor people overwhelmingly do in higher proportion than rich people is give. They share living spaces, meals, rides, so much as well as directly giving cash. They provide a social network in material and psychological space to other people. (Forbes with recent numbers).

I do fundraising and while the bulk of our funds come from high net worth donors, the majority of our donors are from people who are just getting by. There are some notable exceptions, but in general rich people give far less proportionally although they would feel the cost of giving much less. People who have suffered or are suffering economically are way more generous.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:04 PM on January 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


One thing I bought when I was poor that I don't (often) buy now is scratch-off lottery tickets. They cost a dollar but the top prize was $500 which, back in the day, was a huge sum that would have solved a number of problems, albeit temporarily. I never won, but I still remember having that few moments of hope that fortune would smile on me and maybe I could get my head above water for a few days before the next crisis came raining down. Turned out not to be the most lucrative plan but it's not like I had a ton of better options. The few dollars I "wasted" wouldn't have helped that much on their own.

I once bought a wringer washer at an auction for $5 because being able to do my laundry at home was an incredible luxury, at least in contrast to packing it all up and dragging it to my now-ex-husband's alcoholic grandfather's house to use his washer and dryer, and for the low low price of dealing with him being a drunken asshole the entire time we were there. We couldn't afford the laundromat. The wringer washer was a pain in the ass, but we were lucky enough to have a clothesline out back and I always did love to hang clothes outside. Having lines strung all over the inside of the house in winter was less fun though.

We bought a lot of 39 cent rolls of ground turkey from Aldi back in the day, which I frequently cooked into a tasty stew with cans of cheap green beans, mushroom soup and sliced potatoes. My husband-at-the-time affectionately called it "garbage" and would eat big bowls of it, dipping in slices of white bread we got for 33 cents a loaf at the bakery thrift store. The other thing we ate a lot of was tuna casserole... made with knock-off brand macaroni & cheese, canned mushroom soup, tuna and canned peas. Super cheap, tasty and filling. That plus Little Debbie's at 99 cents a box gave me a good running start on the diabetes I am dealing with now. Funny thing is, we were under the impression that the ground turkey was healthy... I have since found out that the stuff you get in the frozen roll is mostly fatty skin and scraps of dark meat (probably some lips, eyeballs and toenails as well).

One thing that poors used to do that you can't do any more is play "float the check". If you had two checking accounts at different banks, you could write a check for groceries on one bank, then deposit a check from the other bank into the first bank to cover it. The trick being, there is no money in either bank... you just keep depositing bad checks from one bank to the other until you get paid and finally the checks clear.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:07 PM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


YMMV. I try to do this (I visit the billing people before I visit the doctor, and explain that I want to pay in full, right now, and not get a surprise bill a month later.) Of course, the billing people don't expect this and don't know how to handle it, and IME you get a surprise bill about half the time anyway. ("Oh, that's an independent contractor...you would have had to pay them anyway, but we aren't able to access their billing, so we couldn't tell you how much they would charge, or even whether they would charge you.")

I wanted to expand on the original comment, because I was surprised to discover the same discount at the Children's Hospital in my town. When I got medical bills in the mail, I used to just mail in my payments in check form. But I prefer to interact with a human, so I started calling the "for billing assistance" number on the bill so I could pay with a credit card. When I got back some of my son's medical bills from Children's Hospital and called to pay them, the woman automatically took 20% off as a "pay in full" discount.

Like above, this discount wasn't mentioned anywhere on the bill, and I had sent in several payments for previous bills where I included a check for the full amount listed on the bill, and certainly never got back a refund or anything like that. It seems they only discount your payment when you pay over the phone (or presumably in person).

You're right, I've rarely been allowed to pay the balance on the day of service, and for anything major there's always the three separate bills for the facility, the doctor, and the anesthesiologist. But at least at this hospital, the discount is offered at any point, not just if you're paying on the day of service. In fact, I generally have to let these bills languish a month or two before I have the funds to pay them, and rather than be hit with a penalty for late payment, they apply the discount when I finally call to pay.
posted by TheCowGod at 8:25 PM on January 15, 2015


Its a systems design failure.

from the human perspective, not the institutional one of course
posted by infini at 8:30 PM on January 15, 2015


I was really excited when I first discovered the yogurt+jam=fruit yogurt trick. Although I have no idea why we would have bought plain yogurt to begin with.

In a similar vein, I really like the honey-ginger or honey-yuzu "tea" from Korean grocery stores. But as far as I can tell it is just marmalade you put in hot water. Making "tea" out of normal marmalade (or jam) is nowhere near as tasty however, and I haven't tried putting the Korean stuff on toast.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:55 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


These experiences make it so much more poignant than some article full of stats fluffed by a couple sound bites from people in poverty.

Although I'm far from it now, it also reminds me of being flat-ass broke. (I always knew "broke" was different than "poor.").

When I was in my twenties I wasn't sure--cautiously confident--that the kind of endemic poverty discussed in the Reddit thread wasn't my destiny. But I had too many plusses in the plus category, including dumb good fortune, a modest but comfortable upbringing in a town where the property values paid for decent public schooling, and no one in my family who had the symptoms of chronic destitution. Because of this, I cautiously hoped that no matter how low I personally sank (at times, pretty low), as long as my family didn't completely turn their back on me, I would probably see the other side.

But the comments paint the vivid reality that the cycle of poverty is grinding, debilitating and endless. With or without disability, or mental health concerns, or close family, it's a black hole with no bottom: the dinners at Burger King over $2.22 two-fer specials where mothers assure their children that they're not hungry and then eat whatever is left (sometimes nothing); medical care via feed stores, where you can buy horse amoxicillin and then make your own doses, hoping you get it right. Check-cashing usury, which is the lowest form of bottom-feeding, preying (as usual) on the most vulnerable with the most to lose. Motel-to-shelter-to-motel residency; buying on layaway at bargain closeout centers; buying cheap crap that lasts for a week instead of good things that could help for months, or years.

Then the public discourses about health care crises among the poor could be managed by getting proper nutrition and insurance--but where are people in poverty going to get their non-corn-biproduct-filled food to abate their diabetes when they can't afford anything but the weird leftovers in dollar stores on a catch-as-catch-can basis or the expired food about to get thrown out in the supermarkets? I always make sure--which might be patronizing, but what the hell--when I buy groceries for food drives that there isn't a box of orange mac in sight, but whole foods, beans, grains, canned fruit and tuna fish. I don't know if anyone wants these things, but dammit, at least someone might get proper protein on one day of their shitty week.

None of this new to me, but the Reddit thread reminded me as I was sitting with my comfortable son in his comfortable house with our comfortable trappings, that it's a reality he can't comprehend. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and yet I'm concerned about his ability to empathize. When my husband (also experienced in "being flat-ass broke") and I were talking about it, our son couldn't grasp the tragicness, or ceaselessness, of the circumstances.

A part of it is youth: the internal myopia that makes us think that everything is the same everywhere because that is the everything we know.

But part of it is never knowing even modest hunger which wouldn't be sated in the near future. Never having utilities cut off, or not being able to fix an appliance that was broken, and then never getting another one because that kind of expense couldn't be absorbed, ever.

As a kid I remember watching our refrigerator get filled once a month, and then slowly diminish into the last heel of bread, a slightly moldy (by no means inedible) rind of cheese, and the one apple which was now resting in a pool of rotten fruit effluvia. Later, as an adult, I did the Revolving-Credit tango, late bills, late rent, no food, general state of "Between the Door and the Screen" living. But our kid--a sweet, very generous, morally judicious person--just doesn't understand it because he's never seen it.

And of course I don't want my son to know it personally, but I want him to understand it.
posted by readymade at 9:30 PM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


I always post on similar threads -- I've been poor for my entire life (although I've had points of being better off financially). I have to admit what scares me is that at some point within the next five years, "being poor" may no longer be a reality for me.

That is, I am in my 30s and once I get enough experience, I will have a decent paying job. I won't be rich, but I will be able to eat three meals a day, join a gym, get clothes and shoes as and when needed, and not skip meals if I stay out of my house all day.

This both fascinates and terrifies me.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:44 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reading this post brought back memories of when $20 was really a lot of money and I had to account for every penny spent.

I'm glad I don't have to live like that anymore, but I also am afraid that middle class living has made me soft. If something happened and I was poor again, would I be able to manage? I certainly hope so, but I also hope I don't have to find out.

When you're poor, you wonder how you'll get through the week or the month. When you're middle class, you worry about losing what precious security you have.
posted by eternalstranger at 7:11 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing I bought when I was poor that I don't (often) buy now is scratch-off lottery tickets.

I've been fairly broke for decent stretches of time, but I've never been what I would call 'poor', but there was a time when most of my friends were perpetually broke, and they used to pool their money to buy scratch off tickets on friday night. If they managed to come out ahead, they got a case of beer, if not, they just didn't drink that night. I kept trying to explain that they'd be able to buy more beer if they just saved their money until they had enough money for a case every time, but they would always say: "But we want beer tonight."
posted by empath at 7:29 AM on January 16, 2015


I'm not sure if I can explain this properly, but after an extended period of grinding look-for-spare-change-in-the-sofa-cushions poverty, it can actually become *harder* once a bit more money comes in.

When you're flat-ass broke, you don't have to budget or make many financial decisions. It's more a game of frantic whack-a-mole: Which utility is about to be shut off? What's the least amount I can give the landlord to float me a couple more weeks? Who's about to take me to court? Such instances move to the front of the payments line, and the rest of the expenses just have to wait.

But when the situation changes, you're suddenly faced with putting back a certain amount every week to plan for the coming utility bill—instead of exhausting every last penny as soon as it comes in (before someone else can stake a claim to it).

You have an opportunity to negotiate payment plans and balance priorities in a more thoughtful way, which is terrifying, foreign, and really, really hard to do after living hand-to-mouth.
posted by k_nemesis at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


When my good insurance ended but my allergy shots continued, I was paying out of pocket and got 20-30% off as well. This was several years ago so the details are fuzzy but I think someone in the doctors office brought it to my attention. When I dealt with the hospital billing people, it was presented as both a charitable break for being uninsured (and not having access to insurance-negotiated prices) and a discount because the hospital didn't have to deal with insurance claims. I definitely let a few months worth of bills rack up before going in and paying them in one fell card swipe.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2015


You have an opportunity to negotiate payment plans and balance priorities in a more thoughtful way, which is terrifying, foreign, and really, really hard to do after living hand-to-mouth.

I'm jussssst breaking out of this habit right now. Spreadsheets are a godsend.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:43 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure if I can explain this properly, but after an extended period of grinding look-for-spare-change-in-the-sofa-cushions poverty, it can actually become *harder* once a bit more money comes in.

When you're flat-ass broke, you don't have to budget or make many financial decisions.


I now work in an Economics department which is pretty fascinating stuff for someone who was a Literary Studies major two decades back. Anyway, I work with a lot of intelligent people who can't resist giving impromptu lectures and lessons to anyone who will listen.

This is one of those concepts I recently learned: Opportunity Costs.

I often get stuff real cheap because I don't have to buy it now. Or, because I can pull the trigger on stuff at a moment's notice I can take advantage of introductory pricing and whatnot.

I can also accept a level of risk. If I can put up $500 on a project that will allow me to get the product when it is released for half price I can do so. The risk? It might not get made and I'll be out the money. Not fun, but not that big of a deal either.

I'm still playing that same game, but now it's a "how do I maximize returns," and not "how do I minimize posses and penalties."

I kept trying to explain that they'd be able to buy more beer if they just saved their money until they had enough money for a case every time, but they would always say: "But we want beer tonight."

One of the stories I was told:
Woman: You know, if you hadn't been a smoker spending $4 a pack for the last twenty years, and a drinker with a $1,200 a year booze bill, and instead put that money in an interest bearing account for the last twenty years, you could afford a new Tesla.

Man: Are you a smoker and a drinker?

Woman: No.

Man: Then where's your fucking Tesla?
posted by cjorgensen at 12:46 PM on January 16, 2015 [26 favorites]


we had 13 transactions pass through the account in one day, and had to pay hundreds of dollars in fees.

About 3 months ago they shifted around about $200 in charges to pop me 15 times for overdrafts, totaling $525 in charges.

Like T.D. Strange said above. Dodd-Frank was supposed to outlaw these practices.

First, the default for the account is supposed to be no overdraft protection. For a non-recurring debit-card purchase (not a check and not an automatic payment with the debit card), if the bank allows the transaction to go through, they are not allowed to charge, unless the account holder has opted-in for overdraft protection.

Also, the banks are not allowed to rearrange transactions anymore. They must process them in the order they come in.

Seriously, if your bank did this to you, you need to file a complaint.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:26 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I briefly worked as a day labourer when I had no better source of income.

You could rent steel-toed boots, $5 a day. Fortunately, I had my own.
posted by RobotHero at 2:52 PM on January 16, 2015


So many conservatives want to go back to the way things were in the "good old days". They're generally not too specific about when exactly those "good old days" were, but for most of them, they are probably sometime between 1911 and 1966, when the US had a postal banking system. Curious.

The US also had national wage and price controls. The "good old days" may have been good in some ways, but it wasn't a libertarian free-market paradise in any way.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:04 AM on January 17, 2015


Being poor is constantly having to defend every decision you make, as if enough conscientiousness will pull you out of poverty.

The flip side of this is the tendency of many people to look at someone poor and seek a facile justification for how this person's mistakes and flaws have landed them where they are, and kept them in poverty. This narrative is common in conservative messages about the poor. For many people, it's a desperate means of fending off the realization that for a single catastrophic illness could dislodge you from your fragile economic perch.
posted by itstheclamsname at 12:36 PM on January 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Having been poor has effects too. I find myself having to make myself pay bills, even when I have the money, because I'm so reluctant to let my money go back out. It's stupid and pointless but I have to struggle to do it every time.
posted by emjaybee at 2:07 PM on January 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


but this is exactly the kind of crabs-in-a-bucket bickering that keeps us fighting among ourselves while the bosses are laughing away.

I talked to a real estate agent about the large number of luxury condos that are being bought and remain empty most of the time (in a prime tourist location). I said oh they must be turning them into AirBnB rentals. She looked at me like I was crazy, and said that for the majority of the owners, it is not worth the hassle to rent the condo to get ~ $4000 a month. And this is not managing it yourself, but farming it out to a management company that will do everything for a 20% cut. The real rich are living on dividends from the crab shack franchise.
posted by benzenedream at 9:15 PM on January 19, 2015


Want to end poverty in America? It's pretty simple: "a lack of capital is the underlying problem here, and thus the solution should be to flood these communities with, well, capital..."
The first thing the poor need is a place to park their capital when they get it. But if the private sector is unable to provide banking and credit in a manner that isn’t destructive, then the rather obvious answer is to have the public sector provide them. David Dayen has already done yeoman’s reporting laying out how basic banking services could be layered atop the current infrastructure of the United States Postal Service...

Next, the poor would need something to put in their savings accounts. A universal basic income — a regular check from the government with no strings attached — could provide a modest bit of non-market income as a cushion against day-to-day expenses, while extra allotments could be added for families with children. And current tax credits could be expanded (or replaced with wage subsidies) to bulk up the income people get from their jobs. The Democrats have already proposed such an expansion, including a bonus if people sock a certain portion of the money from the credits into savings.

...policy-makers could go ever further: Norm Ornstein has suggested simply providing every American with a modestly stocked savings or investment account at birth, which could then be drawn upon for critical pivot points like buying a home or a car or paying for an education. That, too, could be folded into a public banking system.

Finally, the most straightforward way to ensure impoverished areas have a job market would be a jobs guarantee: using federal finance, in coordination with local communities and nonprofit organizations, to provide jobs.
posted by kliuless at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2015


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