Normally, I do a Things On My Mind post with a bunch of smaller thoughts – but I’m thinking this is a good category to put all my random posts in. You know, when I just have something to say but it’s not really a writer type of thing.
Anyway, I want to talk about poverty today. Because I live in poverty. I’ve pretty much always been under the poverty line, although there have been times when I’ve hovered near the top of it and been close to “getting out” of poverty. I don’t think I’ve ever been there though.
I haven’t always considered myself poor though. When I had good jobs, we lived well. We didn’t have a brand new car or brand new furniture or a pile of credit that we could buy new things. But we could buy whatever food we wanted pretty much and we were able to go to a movie here and there and give the kids things they wanted and buy them clothes. We paid the bills and had some money left over for fun stuff as long as we were smart about our spending.
I grew up in poverty. But again, I didn’t really know that. We mostly had second hand clothes but we got new clothes a couple times a year. We had new shoes. We went to the lake most weekends in the summer and had a camper that my dad fixed up. We even went on a couple family vacations (not many, but a couple). We never lacked for food but there were times when we had to eat really cheaply.
Growing up, I knew that university was not in my future (or I thought I did – no one thought to tell me that if I worked hard in school I could get bursaries and grants or that student loans were an option for me). But university is not the be all and end of getting out of poverty.
Here’s the thing about life in poverty – it’s damn hard to get out of it. Even the “good” jobs don’t necessarily pay a lot of money once all the taxes come off your check. And renting is expensive. But if you don’t have credit, buying isn’t an option. And if you’ve lived in poverty, you’ve likely made a lot of bad credit choices and once you start that path, it’s not easy to get off of it.
I read once that poverty is a cycle because the habits you learn tend to repeat themselves. Get a pay cheque – shoot, better spend it now on the things I’ve been needing/wanting before it’s gone. And then poof! It’s gone and you’re waiting another 10 days for the next one. There are always things you need and even more things you want. And when you live with almost nothing you want to treat yourself to something you really want once in a while.
Get a big tax refund? Sure, the smart thing would be to take that money and save it or invest it so that later you could use it to buy a house or a car or for when the car you DO have breaks down or even to pay your rent over the course of the next year. Or whatever you REALLY need. But damn – you’ve been going without for so long. And everyone else has decent furniture or a nice TV. And it’s something the whole family can enjoy RIGHT NOW!
And these habits are learned. You learn them from your parents and the people who surround you if you grow up in poverty. The same way that people who grow up in middle class learn their habits. And the same way that people who grew up with money learn their habits. And their habits so they are hard to break.
Just once, I’d like to see someone with money try to live like the don’t have money for a year. See how easy it is to break the habits you’ve created. Spend like a person who is really poor spends. Sure, you’ll spend less because you have less, but it will confuse the hell out of you. When you’re told that you will buy the $4 bottle of X product that is half the size of the $6 bottle of X product (because it is cheaper) you just won’t understand why. But a poor person gets it – that $4 bottle isn’t going to last as long but it’s $2 cheaper and you can use that $2 for something else. Makes total sense to me – but it likely won’t make sense to people who have the money to buy the bigger bottle and won’t have to think about what they are giving up to get it.
Being poor is a mindset and it is damned hard to break out of it. I still haven’t figured it out (even though I KNOW it’s dumb). I know how to budget. Hell – I have gone to university and taken courses on money. I know this shit. But that doesn’t mean my poverty brain is going to do what I should do. It reacts out of fear that if I spend just $1 too much today, I’m not going to be able to eat tomorrow.
Poverty can’t be “fixed” overnight – even if you suddenly find yourself with more money.