Being poor makes you poorer. This is not a joke. Someone I follow on Twitter recently shared links to a few articles on the subject — articles explaining why it’s actually pretty damn expensive to be poor in ways that no amount of budgeting can fix and that advice on saving money forgets about. Taking advantage of deals and buying in bulk will save you money — if you can afford to let go of a big chunk of it in one go. Investing in quality is costly, and will get you gross looks from people who think you should buy four cheap things for the price of a good one. Loans and payment plans come at high-interest rates you just can’t afford to take on. Things go bust and pile on and on because you can’t replace them. It goes on and on.
This isn’t even taking into account the hypocrisy behind anti-welfare politics, the social pressure to spend money on socializing itself, the stigma behind admitting you can’t afford something, the assumptions that you’re lazy and don’t want to work if you’re unemployed, the assumptions that you cannot possibly be poor if you are employed, the amount of time and energy it takes out of you to fill out paperwork, the anxiety of insecurity, the prejudice and the shushing and the pretenses.
Frankly, it’s exhausting. If you’re poor and you’re also a minority in some way — neuroatypical in my case; disabled, not white, a woman, trans, genderqueer — it’s even worse. You get told to be thankful for what you have, and you find yourself thinking you’re lucky to have a home, because so many don’t — and then you get told you don’t deserve your lifestyle because you’re not doing enough, and someone who works a job shouldn’t live less comfortably than someone who doesn’t.
You know, because “there are always jobs somewhere.”
My family has been living on less than 500€ a month for over six years. Unemployment benefits are something like 430€ a month, and sometimes family helps us out, but sometimes even family thinks you’re not doing enough to look for a job and provide for yourself and your family. Should you really have a cat? Should you really feed him cat food? Should you really get a laptop? What are you really doing all day online when you could be out there looking for a retail job that no one is advertising? Why aren’t you applying to a job that you’re in no way qualified to do?
All this means, among other things, that when I say I want a steady income, my ideals are lower than you might think. What someone else is used to budgeting for food for themselves for a week is what my mom has to budget for food for four people and a cat for a month. It’s not naiveté that makes me think I can live on less, but experience: I don’t know how to live on more.
Here are five of the reasons:
1. High-interest credits and loans are not even an option if you don’t have an income. Unemployment doesn’t count. Two months of revenue from an online shop don’t count. Financing options from tech giants aren’t available to you. The bank will basically say “no,” and then say “no” another five times for giggles. And you’re not asking for a mortgage; you’re asking for the equivalent of a month’s salary for a menial job.
I mean, maybe I could invest in myself and move out and then make the money back, but I won’t know until I spend money that I don’t have and cannot get anyone to lend me. So I’m stuck.
2. Seriously, buying in bulk saves money. Sometimes shops will have three for the price of two offers on my shampoo, but I only have enough cash for one bottle, so I’m screwed. As someone who sells photography prints and products, I continually have to let go of the idea of bulk printing cards, phone cases or anything larger than 5×7 because getting a discount on 8x10s requires buying ten or more of them and I just can’t spend 20€ on the spot when I need to pay for postage. I’m not even going to get into food deals because you might as well cut me up and throw me to the wolves.
3. Looking for a job costs money you don’t have. Some heavily targeted job-seeking websites (and flat-seeking websites!) charge a fee for membership, so you can’t access the job listings unless you pay. You need decent clothes to go a job interview. You need money to print out your resume. And that’s if you even have a computer, and an Internet connection. That all costs money, too.
4. Stuff piles up and you can’t catch up with it. My sister needs new glasses and she’s still wearing the ones from two prescriptions ago. Now the optician says she should get contacts, which are 75€ per eye for six months at minimum. I, too, was wearing glasses from two prescriptions ago until I found low-cost online sites. Not sure how good these are for my eyes, but at least I can read street signs and the weight of my parcels at the post office.
For a long time, we were behind on bills because we couldn’t just pay two at once and stay ahead of them. Not to mention the bills were due before unemployment came in on the 10th of the month.
The oven stopped working a decade ago. We have since used a) a stovetop oven my mom borrowed from the elderly lady she cares for, b) the microwave, a supermarket deal which has had to be replaced twice, c) an electric oven that my great aunt gifted us and which also stopped working a good two years ago, d) the stove. At least the stove keeps working. On gas butane, which keeps going up and isn’t any less expensive than paying for whatever other thing people use for hot water, and let’s not even talk about the electricity bills, which are fucking ridiculous and hey, you can’t contest unfair bills! Legal fees, what legal fees? And hey, so here’s this 300€ monthly bill I can’t afford to pay, and I could contest it but I have to pay it first because otherwise I’ll have the electricity cut off. I’m not going down this road because it’s an anxiety trigger, and these days we’re “lucky” to pay an average of 112€ a month. From 430€ of unemployment benefits. And then there’s the phone bill, which is roughly 50€ a month, and they try to withdraw the money without telling you when.
5. If there’s no money in your account when a company tries to pay your bill, you get charged extra. My phone company has a 15€ fee for it. I had to pay that fee a few months ago even though for the majority of that month, I’d made sure to keep the bank account stocked with the necessary amount of money for that very bill.
This is just a sampling of the many ways people living under the poverty line are pushed and pushed to stay there, and basically screwed for their foreseeable future, which, as you can imagine, is brilliant for morale and gives me all the energy and motivation in the world to get up in the morning and fight against my situation.
Except that, wait. No, it does not. But at least I have a roof over my head, right? And I bought a laptop I needed to contact my support system and work, so I can’t possibly be that bad off.
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