Tag Archives: poverty

Finance 101 for the poor…

3 Jun

I work with the poor, I have for many years. While its emotionally rewarding work to make a difference in the lives of others, truth is I don’t make much money. Over the years many of my coworkers despite their degrees have not been much better off than the clients we serve. At one shelter I used to work at in Chicago, one of my coworkers often had to grab a bag of food from the shelves we fed folks from since he often ran short before payday.

Over the years, the only coworkers I have had who were not financially struggling were ones who were either partnered to partners who earned a good income or the do-gooders who came from well off families, otherwise folks were broke. Lets just say no one goes into social services for the money.

Regular readers know I am struggling with cash, in part I work in a low paying but rewarding field and despite the fact that I am management, I know for a fact that a management position at a burger flipping gig, would pay me more. But I love my work and thankfully when the economy picks up my side business should pick back up as well.

So with all this talk of money, I found myself sitting in a class last night on financial management. Now the class was for our clients, problem is none of our clients showed up instead those who showed up were fellow service providers. See we make no money and need help.

Problem was that the class assumed everyone was solidly middle class and merely bad at managing money and needed to rethink their relationship to money. However the supposed target audience is not middle class, these are folks who if they do work are working at minimum wage gigs, type of gigs that don’t offer any extra money.

Which leads to my vent….how come there are no financial management classes for folks with no money? Look, bulk shopping does indeed save money. I know because normally I tend to stock up and thanks to that stocking up for the last few months, I have been eating out of my deep freezer thus keeping my grocery costs down with money so tight.

Problem is now that I am running a grand short every month, stocking up is not something I can do…sort of like my clients. Yet the teacher of the class despite saying anyone can benefit from her class, had a lack of understanding about how the poor truly live.

Another example was that if you save $100 a year, in3-4 years that can turn into thousands of dollars. See eventually you can get yourself a sewing machine and sew your clothes, maybe even some crafts to sell. Buy a deep freezer, and stock up and so on.

Look, really poor people have a tendency to not only suffer from a lack of cash, in many cases they suffer from a lack of time….its easy to get a handle on your cash if the problem is you are eating too many meals out and just wasting money. Problem is for the truly poor and look while my cash is tight, even I will acknowledge I am not poor…I just feel like it. The truly poor suffer from a al around lack of resources and that includes time.

Yet as I sat in this class with my mind wandering, I found myself thinking we need former poor people (not I was a millionaire who went bankrupt and now I am wealthy folks) giving out the advice. So if you or someone you know was poor, I am talking minimum wage level of poverty and you pulled yourself up, I would love to hear your tips. I am thinking of designing a class myself for my clients and would love some input.

Off to work  I go…happy Hump Day.

Driven to steal

24 Mar

I hesitate to post this because while I am not breaking any issues of confidentiality, as the director of the center I work at, I should probably keep my trap shut. However we are living in difficult times and well I think as times get rough we will see folks doing some desperate shit despite whatever the fallout may be.

My center serves low income, at risk kids and their families. The primary program we offer is an after-school program along with some other programming, its really a safe haven in an area that lacks for quality kids programming for the low income crowd.

We have a family, that has been involved for a while, several of their kids attend our program, on the surface the family seemed like good folks. I had no reason to have an unfavorable opinion about that, I know they struggle financially but truthfully considering that the area we serve has poverty rates that start at 50% and up depending on the block you happen to be on, its safe to say that most of the families we serve are struggling to make ends meet.

Well we have had a fund-raising activity going on, I can’t describe it since it would give away too much information but lets just say its a big activity and respective families can sell a certain product and raise a lot of money. Money that goes towards a really great cause. Well this family I noticed had not been around for the past few weeks, which I thought was strange but knowing how transient low income folks can be, it really did not register as strange on my radar. That was until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention via the group we are partnered with, that this family seems to have raised a lot of money in the name of the cause but have yet to turn in the money, folks are mad because they have not gotten the product and coupled with the fact that the kids have been MIA from the program, you can see where I am going with this.

So I called the family and basically was given a convoluted story that sounded crazy, but the bottom line is they don’t have the money and there are a lot of folks who spent money to get a product who won’t be getting. From my professional perspective, I have no idea how we will handle this. On the other hand from a personal perspective, I see a family that most likely started out with good intentions, the money started coming in and temptation arrived at their door.

I was reminded of a time many years ago when I was married to the now former spousal unit when we made some less than correct choices in order to stave off the collectors, buy Pampers, etc. Times when I stretched the truth and did what I had to do to survive. Its one of the reasons that when I heard this situation, I just wanted to talk to the family because I have been poor and I know lack of resources will make you do some really questionable shit including stealing from a kids group. Thankfully I never did anything on that magnitude but the line between this family and where I once was 15-16 years ago was not that great.

I think that as the economy spirals out of control, good people may find themselves tempted to do all sorts of shit they ought not to do and I am not talking taking a few paperclips from your job. However these same hard times while they can bring out the bad in us can also serve as a way to find the good in ourselves and we need to seek that good at a time when we can no longer count on the mall trips and other things to make us feel good about ourselves.

As for the family, well…I don’t know what will happen. If their kids come back they will be welcomed since its not my policy to turn away kids but I wish the parents would come clean.

Romanticizing poverty.. no, it really sucks

9 Oct

Thanks for the well wishes, its really boosted my spirits to know that folks actually read this blog. Its my space to blow steam and let loose, its funny because my day gig involves writing but I really enjoy blog writing since I can just write in a stream of consciousness, and not get bogged down with grammar and shit.

Today as I called the local health clinic again (aka, the place ya go when you got no health insurance) I was reminded of the many folks I know in real life and online who sometimes like to romanticize poverty or being broke. Well as I called yet again trying to get through to my provider, being put on hold again and basically being treated like my time is not valuable because well I don’t have health insurance, clearly I must have an hour to sit on hold. (yesterday I lost 4-5 billable client hours waiting to get a callback from these jokers since a client asked me to attend a meeting on their behalf but I was trying to see the doctor yesterday instead I am still waiting  for a callback)  I was reminded of why being broke sucks donkey balls as my teenager would say.

Now I know even when you have health insurance, you can still can get treated shabbily, overall though as an adult once I got health insurance, my experience has been if I call and say I am ill, the front office folks work to get me seen right away. Well this little clinic in my area that works on a sliding scale (see, its not free.. I do pay something) clearly believes if clients are having a medical emergency they can just avail themselves of the emergency room. Now I don’t know about you but for me the ER is the place you go when you think you are in imminent danger and need help right away. Maybe its because the spousal unit spent years as a medical writer coupled with my social service background, but frankly too often folks of limited means use the ER and its not the best place to go. Yes, I am not well but I know the ER is not where I need to go.

So as my head has been too hazy to work and I have spent most of this week on hold, I was reminded of folks I have met who think being broke is cool, that living off less is fine. Well the events of the past several days reminded me that while frugality is cool, not having enough to meet your needs really sucks. Growing up I rarely saw a dentist, why you ask? My folks had no cash to pay and no dental insurance, at 17 I had to get a tooth that could have been repaired pulled because it was more affordable for my parents. I spent my 20’s spending thousands of dollars fixing my teeth and getting then in shape. Now I know my folks did the best they could, but as parents it was their responsibility to take care of basic needs. To me dental care is a need not a want since bad dental hygiene can have repercussions health wise.

No, when you are broke in America it means not having enough and not having enough especially when it relates to health-care can have disastrous effects. Its one thing to earn just enough money to get by and needing to be frugal, we can all benefit from a bit more frugality in our lives. Yet knowing folks who rely on food pantries every month to feed their kids and who are ok with that, well that’s plain old fucked the fuck up.

As for me, I am going to try and be patient and also thankful that while this time is humbling, the reality is I will have health insurance again next month so getting my medical needs addressed in a timely fashion will happen soon enough, I just need to get through this month. So here’s hoping a sista doesn’t keel over anytime too soon.

Being poor and a lifetime legacy

29 Sep

The past few days I have been hanging at a fellow blogger’s site where the issue of Black woman and money came up. Its one of those times where a blog reading really hit a place in me and made me sit back and think, rather than trying to continue that dialogue at the other bloggers spot, I figured I would let that conversation serve as a launching pad here at my house, casa Black Girl.

In many of my postings I have made clear reference to the fact that I grew up as I like to say poor on a bad day, working class on a good day. My little brother can attest to the fact that ours was a house that getting real Oreos and real Frosted Flakes was cause for celebration, in hard times we once had to resort to using newspaper because we had no toilet paper and mustard in tuna because that’s all we had to eat and to this day I hate English muffins because they remind me of food we got once from a food pantry. Yet in the midst of hard times my folks worked to keep me and later my brother motivated to make decisions in our life that would chart a different course for us and considering that they turned out 2 decent adults, they did an ok job. However there were some life skills they didn’t have and therefore didn’t pass on to either of us and both of us still are paying the price for their lack of financial skills.

See, my folks rarely had 2 nickels to rub together, pretty much in 33 years together they lived paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes affording tony areas like Chicago’s Lincoln Park, though when we lived there, we had no furniture and slept on the floor. However living in a good area does make doors open since as a young child I had access to great parks, the zoo and museums and more importantly good schools. Unlike by the time my folks moved to the south-side of Chicago in the late 80’s when gang warfare made the area park a place that you avoided at all costs. An area that lacked a full service grocery store and the library was inadequate, a place with nothing for kids to do since going out and playing wasn’t all that safe.

Anyway living paycheck to paycheck mostly off my Dad’s earnings since my Mama was a stay at home Mom for many years meant, there was just enough money, never extra and sometimes not even enough. We never took a family vacation, closest we ever came was the family reunion on years that my folks could scare up the gas money and staying at a hotel… well I never stayed at a hotel until I was an adult staying on my own dime.  The way my folks lived meant they didn’t use banks, they either cashed checks on the bank the checks were drawn or they used the check cashing joints which in Chicago are known as currency exchanges. I don’t ever recall seeing my parents sit down and write out checks, I only recall one time they had a checking account and it was a short lived affair. No, they got money orders to pay bills at the currency exchange, I recall the times when they didn’t have enough to make ends meet and seeing Mama on the phone with the utility company trying to keep a utility from being shut off.

Watching the way they lived meant in my early adult years I modeled the behavior that was shown to me, for years I didn’t have a bank account. I lived in a cash economy, when the spousal unit and I started dating I remember he was stunned that I didn’t have a checking account. At the time, I was making good money as a sales rep, living in a nice area of Chicago yet I still handled my finances the same way I had seen my parents. It had never even dawned on me to open up a bank account, though it was not long after we started dating that I decided to change course and use a bank rather than a mattress for saving money. On a slightly different note though, if the economy keeps going the way it is, more of us may be going back to that mattress.

In my early adulthood I often chose to buy at places that advertised low monthly payments rather than paying attention to the long term, again it was because it was the behavior modeled to me and it wasn’t until I was exposed to anything else that I realized there were other options.

I share this because over the years especially in my lines of work  when I did direct service human services work, I would encounter folks who didn’t get why po folks made the choices they did, why go to rent a center and be overcharged when  in a few months you could save and own a TV outright? Well as someone who has been in various places economically, I understand all too well the focus on short term fulfillment over waiting. Being poor sucks plain and simple. Life is hard when you are poor and sometimes the need for some sort of frivolity is what keeps you sane even when its not in your best interest. I suspect this is one of the reasons for addiction issues being high in areas of scarcity, folks wanting an escape and often cheap booze, drugs or cigarettes provides that momentary relief. Or some choose to have tv’s and gaming systems to keep them sane.

Yet what about folks who are no longer poor yet still engage in poor folk behavior? Honestly and I say this as a parent, I think the way we are raised impactsus more than most of us would like to say. For me having kids over the years has brought back a lot of the memories of scarcity. One of the worst memories I have is of being 10 and taking ballet lessons which by some miracle we got for free, yet at recital time my folks didn’t have the money for the outfit so Moms rigged something up courtesy of the thrift shop, as you can guess I was laughed at. Its those memories that for many years drove me to overspend in regards to my son’s needs and making sure he would never be the laughingstock. Its those memories that for years drove my desire for designer purses. It was my way of saying I am just as good as so and so.

Thankfully I have dealt with those demons for the most part but they still rear their ugly heads from time to time though just last month, they resurfaced when mini me was interviewed for a swanky Montessori preschool. So I know they still exist its just that I am in a place where I have learned to identify them and work on them.

Frankly I think financial education should be taught in high school, seriously how many folks don’t know how to properly balance a checkbook? I have friends who grew up with abundance who regularly bounce checks because they don’t keep track of things. The difference between them and a poor person is that my friends have access to resources and can transfer money from a savings account, wait till payday or get a loan from the parents. Options that folks on the edge don’t have.  In the ideal world, parents would teach their kids these things and I know I do, along with other fundamentals like cooking and taking care of oneself. I didn’t learn domestic skills at home since my folks wanted me to aspire to higher places yet when I found myself at 18 and married, it was a hard lesson to learn. I also suspect that if more folks actually knew how to cook from scratch at an elementary level we would all be better off health-wise. 

Poverty does not stop just because one stops residing there physically, the lessons that are often modeled for a child growing up poor still live within you even when you become a college educated professional. By the same token my observations of folks who grew up with privilege regardless of race, even if they hit hard times the lessons that were modeled to them still reside in them. Our upbringing impacts us more than we realize which is why for those of us raising kids, we must be mindful of the lessons we model for our kids.