About a month ago, I was in our local department store grabbing a few things, when I happened upon a sale sign. They were going out of business in a month, and the entire store stock was on sale. But this particular sign that caught my eye was on the endcap of the toy aisle. Curious, I wandered down the aisle and couldn’t believe my eyes at the markdowns. For the regular price of one small toy, I could have like seven. My mind went immediately to Christmas, and all the nieces and nephews I have. I normally can’t afford to buy something for all of the extended family’s children beyond Dollar Tree crapola, but maybe this year, I could do better!
I called and checked the bank balance on my debit card and did some quick math in my head. Disappointed, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, even this way. There’d be no point in buying two when I needed twelve, because since the store was closing, everything was disappearing too fast to leave it for even a day. And we were too far away from payday with too little in the bank to cover groceries and gas to work until the next paycheck.
I walked up and down the aisle, stewing over ideas and juggling numbers, until I decided to call my mother-in-law to see if she’d loan me the money for a few days. She agreed, and I quickly gathered up all the toys I thought everyone would like.
We are what most people consider a “low income” family. But we do not live in poverty, even though we live barely above paycheck-to-paycheck. My budgeting skills are like magic and I can squeeze a dollar from a nickel. But on this particular day, I was broke. That doesn’t mean there was no money in the bank, but that the money was earmarked for necessities, and thus not available.
Many of the problems I’ve seen coming from the attitude of people who scoff and mock the poor comes from their very limited understanding of the difference between being broke and actually being poor or living in poverty. It can be hard to comprehend, I know, if you’ve never lived through it, but it shouldn’t be so hard to comprehend that it leaves room to be hateful about a thing you can’t wrap your mind around.
As an example, recently, ScaryMommy published an article about how Christmas is hard for low-income families, by an author who is a single mom. In the comments, several hundred other moms expressed sympathy and solidarity and began telling their own stories of hardships. Those stories included situations like families suffering job losses, unexpected illnesses and medical expenses, cancer, loss of their homes, deaths in the immediate family, etc.
These types of situations happen literally every day and can mean the difference for some families between barely scraping by or it breaking them — but even more so at Christmas time.
“We’re low-income too, but I have a Christmas Club savings account that I put $10 into out of each week’s paycheck!”
“We’re also low-income, but I shop sales and bargains year round so that I’m not hit with all that expense at one time at the end of the year!”
That’s great advice, Karen and Cheryl, but do you think poor people never thought of these things? I shop all year myself, hitting sales and squirreling away gifts, so that I’m not overwhelmed at the end of the year. But there were many years when I was unable to do even that much. Do you understand that some people literally don’t have $10 a week extra to buy gifts because they’re more than usually $30 short of having enough to pay the rent or the power bill?
Again, being broke is not the same thing as living in poverty.
And then there’s this bitch.
Because it’s super easy to work two jobs, seven days a week, as a single parent or while going through chemo, right? Sure, Jan.
Have you ever tried to budget a $229 paycheck to pay $347 worth of bills? There’s no Dave Ramseying that shit. You cannot get blood from a turnip, as my mother used to say. If the money isn’t there, it fucking isn’t there.
I will strangle you with these fucking bootstraps. Fake sympathy, my ass. No one wants your pity or your fake concern either. How about some compassion? Some understanding? Some goddamn Christmas spirit?
And if that’s too much to ask, how about voting for people who understand that ALL jobs need to pay living wages? We shouldn’t have anyone out here working two and three jobs just to fucking live.
And we for damn sure shouldn’t be out here on Al Gore’s internet at Christmas being assholes to the people who have to do it to survive.
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