I've bumped into a few posts on this subject lately -- first from Hope at Blogging Away Debt, then another from a blogger I read regularly, Penniless Parenting.
Their approaches are a bit different from each other.
Hope takes the "I've been there" approach:
"It was a VERY humbling experience to apply and have an in person interview for these services to be awarded. I have to prove everything...my kids, my income, my bills, my job loss, my bank balances, etc. I am not sure I have ever felt so much shame and failure. But I had to do it, I have four children to take care of. And the only way I got through it was by telling myself -- I have paid into this system since I was 15 years old AND this is not a long term solution, just short term assistance. But frankly, I am so embarrassed to go buy groceries and have to use the SNAP card..."
She then goes on in later weeks to tell you about her job hunt (she's applied everywhere, she says, and can't understand why she's not being hired), her budget (wherein she's getting paid to adopt and support two of those kids, overspends on many areas, including rent -- WAY too much, Honey! -- and is emphasizing saving for a house, rather than paying off debt.) I've gotten tired of the many times she goes out to eat/picks up prepared food, because after all, she just got home and the family has to eat.
(She also gripes when the SNAP card is finally suspended.)
And the final hit --
After using the taxpayers' money for living, now she and the kids (as well as her mom, I believe) are getting ready to take a luxury cruise! Because darn it, after all, they've had a hard time. They deserve it.
And I'll bet you, dimes to dollars, she didn't buy those cruise tickets at a discount.
Shades of Linda Tirado, the little dear who wrote a series on what it felt like to be poor, including moaning about how hard she had to work (in the kitchen, she said, because her teeth were too bad to let her get an in-front-of-the-public job); why it wasn't her fault that she wasted money on junk, cigarettes and other bad decisions (she had to have some fun out of life, regardless whether she should save that money or not); and why people like her should get a big fat break. After all, she wanted to write a book, so she could help other poor people realize how poor they were!
Public donors generously sent her thousands and thousands of dollars -- more than enough for her to quit her job, write the book and get her teeth fixed. (She promised, by the way, to spread any leftover funds to others.) Meanwhile, writers looking into her past found out she'd grown up in a privileged family, gone to a private school...and even had her parents pay for her house. (Oh boo hoo. How mean of them to treat her this way.)
So did she do it?
She wrote the book. I read it -- basically a long, expanded whine on Why Everybody Is So Mean To Us Poor People. Poor people, that is, who are too broke and stupid to stand on their own two feet. (They'd waste any money you'd give them, anyways, because they're Like That.)
Dimes to dollars, Tirado probably got a nice fat advance to write that book, too.
Did she help out others? Probably not, since she's very coy about it -- I'm guessing she kept 100%.
Did Tirado, at least, get her teeth fixed, since that was her starting lament?
Uh, no. But she got an unusual haircut and some great tattoos!
Penniless Parenting has a large family and a very small budget. Nonetheless, her take on being poor is quite different:
"The worst situation we ever were in was about 9 years ago when I had only about $15 to last for a week's worth of groceries... but even then, despite being in a desperate situation, we didn't go hungry, and if anything happened now to us, we wouldn't go hungry, thanks to our stockpile...
So no, I don't consider ourselves poor. Would I like more money? Certainly. Am I working hard to try to improve our financial situation? Absolutely...But in my mind, poor means in such a bad situation that you go without basic necessities. And fortunately, though money has been tight for us many times, I've never had to go without...
And I feel grateful for that."
She (and her readers' comments too, by the way) point out that you can be making thousands of dollars in income -- and still have debts you can't pay. Now that's being truly poor.
UPDATE: Curious about what I think on this subject? Go here for my take.
In a few days, it will be better. Really.
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