I have been mortified by my finances for years. My husband and I are educated, talented people with useful skills and a strong work ethic, and yet in the last decade, we’ve struggled financially. This is not exactly the kind of conversation fodder that we feel comfortable sharing over dinner with friends or on the sidelines of soccer games.
So we’ve kept it to ourselves.
Until recently, when I publicly outed myself and admitted that my family is broke. I was mortified at first, but the response was overwhelming. People I know and love and people I’ve never met shared their stories of struggling with me.
It turns out there are so many of us in this same situation, silently struggling paycheck to paycheck, feeling isolated in our financial crises. So many more than a simple statistic on the current number of working-class poor in America can truly convey because people are not numbers. They have hearts and souls and individual hardships, and I was about to learn what a valuable lesson in humanity that would mean for me personally.
Through a public Facebook page, I shared my story of being a working poor family. I was as honest as I could get about how we juggle bills, how we determine the difference between a want and a need, and how hard it is on an emotional level to live like this.
We’re good, decent people with big hearts. Whatever the bullshit stereotypes of being poor are, we are not a shining example of that. Most people aren’t. Instead, we are the working poor, and we make every day’s work count toward a small but ambitious goal of getting our heads above water, of being able to achieve our new American Dream: to build a nest egg of savings that can act as a financial buffer for when we can’t pay the mortgage because of medical bills or other emergencies. But it’s just a dream because the reality seems forever out of our grasp.
That dream seems forever out of the grasp of many folks who felt my words. There were so many comments from complete strangers opening up about how they too struggle with money problems. About how they too feel unfairly judged and that the odds of getting out of debt are stacked against them. I saw mothers worried about how to make ends meet after their husbands were laid off from work. I read about parents with great jobs — like me — but who have huge medical bills piling up and no way around them, just like me. Still more were worried that after years of working their tails off to get a quality education that the student loans would be what destroys their financial house of cards. Just like me.
But the part about opening up and starting a public conversation about being poor that warmed my heart the absolute most was that these same women and men were reaching out to each other and helping with specific advice. In one example, a doctor gave advice to a broke mother on how to continue receiving care for her child even though she can’t pay her medical bills. Moms talked in detail about how to find affordable daycare options, and others shared shopping tips and bill-juggling stories that had me writing down notes to try out in the future.
We broke folks? We are a resourceful bunch, and it appears we are eager to help support others who understand this struggle. For me, there’s so much comfort to be found in that.
This embarrassing admission turned into a moment when a small community of voices online could share their frustrations and seek empathy and understanding from each other. The main takeaway? That finances, no matter how bleak, do not define a person. We talked about how the American Dream is just that, a lovely dream. Much like winning the lottery or becoming famous, it probably won’t happen, but at least in the meantime, we know that we can lean on each other with love, grace, and compassion.