In the United States, the poverty line is $11,770 per person. While this may seem like a lot of money in other countries, this is below the baseline of what most people need to live a comfortable existence as an American. At the moment, 46.7 million people are living at or below the poverty line. Moreover, unfortunately, many of them are never going to get themselves out of it unless they completely change their lifestyle.
These bullet points are not meant to make you feel bad about yourself but help you recognize when your financial habits are holding you back from making more money.
45. Poor People Deal With a Lose-Lose Cycle
While it’s a popular feel-good trend in the media to talk about people dragging themselves out of poverty by sheer force of will, this, unfortunately, isn’t the reality for millions of Americans. Decades-long historical trends of stagnant wages, increased housing costs, inflation, increased education costs, and more means that many hard-working people are trapped in a cycle. The cycle is one where they feel like they have to work full-time to barely survive, which leaves no time or income for self-improvement through education. If these people stop working to go to school, they and their families will have no income, but if they never go to school, they will be trapped in the cycle of stagnant and declining wages.
There is often no choice for the people faced with these impossible, conflicting options that can succeed. At the first sign of failing or losing security, they will be lambasted as lazy, making poor choices, etc. They are truly in no-win situations. In a society that views wealth accumulation due to merit and personal quality, people currently mired in poverty are the opposite: personally flawed and weak. The combination of structural poverty, along with internalization (and subsequent trauma of how society views the poor), causes many people to be trapped in an endless cycle of poverty that spans generations.
In the USA, wages for those with a high school education have dropped since the 1960s. That’s especially true when taking inflation into account. Their meager dollars simply don’t go as far. There indeed was a time when a person with a high school education could support a family and own a home through a well-paid factory or industrial job. However, those times are long gone. Why? Thanks to a combination of international outsourcing of jobs and the weakening of labor unions. As the earnings of low-education workers have dropped, so can purchasing a home, one of the only routes out of poverty for the lower classes.
While wages have stagnated or even dropped, housing prices have skyrocketed. Even taking inflation into account, the US’s median home value has increased by an astronomical 79%, putting homeownership out of reach for those whose wages haven’t grown accordingly. Even more educated workers have only seen a wage increase of 67% over the same time, meaning homeownership is more difficult for the vast majority to attain. Rent has similarly skyrocketed, with the US’s average rent being 46% higher when accounting for inflation. In some US cities like New York, the increase is far steeper.
Anyone who has ever been poor for any length of time can tell you that being poor is incredibly expensive. While it sounds counterintuitive, having no money often leads to fines and fees that wealthier people never have to encounter. For example, a simple toothache that a more affluent person with adequate insurance can have addressed in a day or two might have to be put off for months by a struggling person while they save up the cash. While the wealthy person simply took antibiotics and recovered quickly, the poor could now need expensive root canal procedures and new crowns.
While well-paying white-collar jobs offer vacation days and sick days, many retail, fast food, and factory jobs do not, meaning that even one day of sickness costs not only lost-wages but possibly the price of a doctor’s visit, often uninsured, to not be fired for missing that time. Broken down cars, which wealthier people could easily have serviced, can result in fines and court appearances for low-wage workers who depend on them to get to work. There are countless examples of hidden penalties and fees that only impact the poorest among us, simply for the crime of existing while poor.
If you thought the 79% increase in home values since 1960 was alarming, wait until you see the rise in education costs since 1960 adjusted for inflation: 114%. While older people wax poetic about how they could work a part-time summer job and pay for college, that’s not possible anymore. Despite stagnant wages, the cost of obtaining a college education has over doubled. It would take many students more than a full-time job to pay the tuition and living arrangements in 2021. While student loans may seem like an easy answer, they lead to a lifetime of debt and lowered spending ability.
Unfortunately, obtaining an education is one of the surest ways to escape poverty. However, it’s tragically out of reach for millions who lack the money to break into higher education. Wages are stagnant and dropping for people with a high school education or less. They are already trapped in a cycle of poverty that makes obtaining education even more difficult. While trade schools and community colleges are slowly becoming more accessible, there is still the issue of having the time to complete a degree while still having to work to afford housing, food, and medical care.
While wages have stayed stagnant for most earners and declined for those who have a high school diploma or less, one group has seen record-setting income growth: Chief Executive Officers (CEOs.) Since 1978, the average yearly income of a CEO has gone up by 940%. The ratio of CEO to average worker pay used to be a measly 20-1. In 2000, it peaked at 368-1. It means that workers gained the wages of the equivalent of 348 workers in only 22 years. Surely they didn’t start working or producing money for the company more than 348 workers at that time.
CEOs typically have to be highly educated, have experience in their industry, and work long hours, so the 20-1 ratio and high pay certainly make sense. However, the increasing gap between CEO and worker pay means that more and more of a company’s finite financial resources are going to one person. If a company has a budget of $10,000,000 and they increase the CEO’s pay from $100,000 to $1,000,000, that means there is $900,000 less available for wages split between all of the remaining employees. The growth at the top is directly stopping growth at the bottom.
Along with increased CEO pay, money, and property, in general, are rapidly being condensed among a smaller and smaller part of the population. You have undoubtedly heard discussions about the “top 1%” or even the “top 0.1%.” People are talking about the 1% of people in the United States who currently own about 38.5% of all of the country’s wealth regarding money, property, investments, and more. If you use a loose analogy and picture the country’s wealth as pie, a tiny group of people is consuming more and more each year, which leaves less to divvy up between everyone else.
When wealth is concentrated in such a small number, it leaves less capital, or money for investment and obtaining of property, available for others. It means home loans are harder to procure, student loan debt is given at a higher interest rate, and homes and land become more expensive as they grow scarcer. For people stuck in poverty today, there are quite literally fewer financial resources and less capital available for them to get themselves out of poverty. Combined with stagnant or declining wages, there is a disastrous poverty trap building in the United States that’s increasingly inescapable.
All of the disparities in wealth you’ve read about so far are even more severe if you are a person of color, especially Black or Indigenous. In 2009, white households had 20 times the average Black household’s wealth and 18 times the average non-white Hispanic household’s wealth. Black families are less likely to own a home. Furthermore, they are less likely to pass wealth on to their children, an important marker of generational financial success. Also, they rank lower on many other economic health measures while experiencing higher rates of homelessness, poverty, and more.
As much as 25% of this discrepancy is believed to be directly due to racial discrimination from employers, which manifests in stricter discipline at work, including terminations, lower pay, harassment, hostile work environments, and more. The financial industry also has a long history of discrimination towards people of color, including the historic practice of redlining that blocked many Black families from obtaining homes when they were more affordable. The gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods can exacerbate these trends. Finally, disparities in policing and health care can lead to extra costs that white Americans are less likely to incur, like unnecessary fines.
Wages for the average worker have stayed largely stagnant and, at times, even dropped over the last 50 years. Wages last peaked in 1973, when the average wage of $4.03 could purchase about as much as $23.68 today. Compare that to the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. While costs like housing, health care, and especially higher education have skyrocketed by as much as 70 to 100%, wages today have about the same buying power that they have for the past 50 years, meaning most people’s paychecks aren’t going nearly as far as they used to. Wages also haven’t even kept up with inflation.
The one exception to this stagnant wage growth is the top tier of wage earners. People in the top tenth of the distribution of wage earners have seen an average of 15% growth since 2000, while the bottom 10 percent has only seen 3% growth. As with CEO pay, the people making the most amount of money are also seeing the largest increases in their rate of pay, while those struggling are kept struggling through wage stagnation. This also contributes to the ongoing and troubling movement of wealth towards the top one or even 10 percent of the US population.
Owning a home was once considered a hallmark of the working class and one of the surest ways of avoiding poverty. Not only did it provide an investment opportunity and avoid the waste of paying rent, but it was also an inheritance to be passed on to children. In turn, the kids could use it for their personal use or as a large source of money for another home, investments, college funding for children, and more. The presence or lack of inherited wealth, including property like a single-family home, is one of the most significant markers of the likelihood of experiencing poverty. The disadvantage of a lack of inherited wealth puts people at is difficult to overcome.
There are currently many barriers to homeownership, and the lack of inherited wealth is a major factor. People simply cannot save up the necessary money for a 20% down payment on homes today, as they were in earlier years. Saving 20% of a $40,000 house is a very different task from saving that much for a $200,000 home. Poor credit through delinquent or defaulted student loans or credit card issues is another major barrier. Some would-be owners have enough student loans to block them from homeownership entirely. As the values of homes continue to rise, more people will be priced out of homeownership.
While it may sound strange at first, climate change and the corresponding increase in natural disasters are a significant cause of increased poverty both in the United States and globally. As the climate continues to change, traditional sources of natural resources are changing or even disappearing, leading to poverty for individuals involved in nature-dependent industries like fishing, logging, farming, and more. This impact is being seen in the United States and globally. Worldwide, migrant agricultural and day labor is still a principal occupation, and the changing of seasonal patterns is having a disastrous effect on laborers, their jobs, and their families.
The devastation caused by natural disasters is also likely to increase poverty as many people lose homes, vehicles, businesses, and more. While insurance may cover some of the losses, it rarely covers all, particularly in natural disasters that can be declared “acts of God” to avoid paying full liability. If people were already struggling, the loss of a home or even a vehicle could be the final blow that knocks them down in the cycle of poverty. It was witnessed during Hurricane Katrina, in which many Louisiana residents lost all of their possessions and were unable to escape the poverty that followed.
Disabilities, whether physical or neurological, have a profound impact on employment. Physical disabilities can require drastic accommodations that small employers may be unable or unwilling to make, making finding work very difficult. Neurological disabilities like ADHD and autism can cause unintentional workplace discrimination due to communication and attention issues, and both can cause problems with time management and punctuality. People suffering from mental health issues at a disability-causing level also experience severe hardships in managing full-time or even part-time work. While the United States does have a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program that subsidizes disabled workers, it has many drawbacks that can keep people in poverty.
Most SSDI recipients receive between $800 and $1,800 a month, depending on their disability and residence location. The $800 payments would keep a single person well below the federal poverty line of $12,760. Even the $1,800 payments would only put a single person at less than 200% of the federal poverty line. Unfortunately, SSDI also actively discourages work by implementing a cap on “substantial gainful activity” or SGA at around $1,090 a month. A person receiving $800 in SSDI benefits cannot earn more than a meager $1,090 without losing their benefits, leaving them in a precarious position when trying to support themselves.
If you’ve ever received a loan or a gift from a parent or grandparent to pay for higher education, the down payment on a home, or a vehicle, you are fortunate. That passage of inherited wealth, meaning the ability to receive substantial sums of money from your family, is one of the benchmarks for how likely you are to avoid poverty. White families in the United States are far more likely to pass on or receive inherited wealth, and the amounts they have are far greater than many people of color who also have inherited wealth.
Think of the peace of mind and security in knowing if your business venture fails or school doesn’t work out, your family will be able to bail you out or subsidize your expenses. That is simply a luxury most people don’t have, which not only causes stress and anxiety but outright stops many people in poverty from attempting to start businesses or develop ideas for products. The lack of inherited wealth is incredibly impactful in purchasing a home, as it is increasingly difficult to save for a traditional 20% down payment without gifts or loans from family.
An incredibly overlooked aspect of poverty is violence, both within the home and within the community. Women are at an exceptionally high risk of poverty from both financial and physical violence. While the economic violence route of poverty is apparent, through theft and manipulation, physical violence can result in poverty through less direct means like losing a job due to unexplained sick days due to physical injuries, anxiety, and more. The stress from any form of domestic violence in the home takes a truly incalculable toll and makes the mountain of poverty that much more challenging to climb over successfully.
Violence in a community is another primary driver of the cycle of poverty. People living within a violent neighborhood will experience over-policing and lower levels of restorative and fair justice than those living in less violent areas. Poor access to restorative justice can give impunity to abusers and make it even more difficult for women and children to escape the cycles of domestic violence and poverty. This effect is seen on a global scale where countries with poor restorative justice have more women and children trapped in poverty due to being unable to seek economic opportunity.
Benefit cliffs are a major driver of poverty in the United States. Imagine that you are government benefits due to poverty and find yourself a better paying job. You would be so proud of yourself for making a positive change and improving your financial health. Imagine finding out that the small increase in earnings has made you cross a benefit cliff, and you lose your government benefits. However, that results in you taking home far less money each month overall, actually increasing your level of poverty. Sadly, this is not that rare and is encountered in multiple forms of government benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are subject to benefit cliffs that can leave people poorer for having done the right thing by finding a better paying job. The same goes for childcare or daycare expense assistance, housing or rent assistance, health care subsidies, and school lunch assistance. Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) face a similar issue wherein earning too much money through employment can lead to removing all SSDI benefits, even if the monthly income isn’t enough to live on. There are many instances of programs being designed to forward movement towards financial health being punished, keeping people trapped in poverty.
Americans are going broke from being sick. With a national medical debt crisis of over $45 billion and growing, many Americans are experiencing poverty, bankruptcy, and negative credit impacts of medical debt. Medical debt is currently the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US, being cited in over two-thirds of all bankruptcies. Before going bankrupt, medical debt can, and often is, reported to the federal credit agencies. It means that your credit score can be harmed by accruing medical debt. Even Americans with health insurance are winding up with bankruptcy level debt due to high deductibles and only partial co-insurance rates.
Not only does medical debt increase the rate of poverty and work to trap people in it, but poverty is also associated with worse, and therefore more expensive health outcomes. People in poverty are less likely to have insurance and, therefore, more likely to wait before seeking treatment, often leaving issues until they become a medical emergency. Cancer that may have been found early and treatable easily for a wealthier person could become advanced and require far more expensive surgeries and treatments for a more impoverished person. Poor access to health care is one of the many ways to be poor can end up being incredibly expensive.
Sometimes, the problem with poverty isn’t necessarily you as an individual, but rather the place you live. Some places have lower wages across the board because working opportunities are too few and far between. The process of relocating can be very expensive. You need to pay for a new down payment, moving vans, transportation costs, and much more. Many people don’t have the option to leave the area that they were born into, or it might be a struggle to get out. Families with children can be especially trapped by the need to rely on family for childcare during working hours.
Living in a low-income area also puts you in the mindset of poverty being normal. Trying to better yourself might even make you an outcast. When one person tries to go against the herd, they are often attacked by people who are jealous of their ambitions. That can cause some people to put their heads down and try to continue with the status quo. Just remember that you become the average of the people around you. So if you continue to stay in an area where everyone else is poor, the odds of you becoming rich will be smaller.
When you aren’t making a lot of money, it is easy to get stuck in a debt trap. These are settlement scams, payday loans, and even pyramid schemes that require you to buy inventory up-front. Once you’re in one of these traps, the interest becomes so high you can rarely get out. Desperation forces people to make rash decisions. Some people feel too embarrassed to reach out to their friends and family when they are going through a hard time. There are also entire predatory industries built on profiting off of people experiencing temporary or emergency financial hardship.
If you have been in this situation before, or you might anticipate it happening to you in the future, try to prepare yourself for emergencies. Ask friends and family for help, sell your belongings on Craigslist, or try to set up a payment plan with your creditors. Do anything you possibly can before you resort to a payday loan. Payday loans are an incredibly exploitative industry that profits by charging exorbitant interest rates to those who have the least ability to pay back. It is an abusive form of money-lending that greatly exacerbates financial difficulties by turning them from a short-term problem into long-term debt.
Sometimes, our problems are so overwhelming that we feel like we can’t do anything about them. Some people deal with stress by ignoring their problems. That is why so many people are summoned to court over missing payment yet never show up for their court date. When this happens, their wages are garnished because they have lost the case by default. Once someone is in the situation, the decision cannot be reversed until the debt is repaid. In these cases, the situation that they got themselves into is far worse than it would have been if they had worked with their creditor.
Instead of ignoring your debt, call credit card companies as soon as you know you will be late on a payment. If it’s your first time, they will often give you a two week grace period without any penalties. Furthermore, if you are struggling with your student loans, ask if they can place you into an income-based repayment plan or debt consolidation. Some income-based federal student loan repayment plans can result in payments as low as $0 with deferred interest. You may also be able to consolidate at a lower rate, although you may lose income-based plan options when doing so.
When you’re very poor, it’s difficult to save money for an emergency. Moreover, even when you start to save up a couple of hundred dollars, you may be driving a secondhand car that suddenly needs repairs. Alternatively, an expense might come up that was completely unexpected. In the worst-case scenario, you could lose your job and have nothing to fall back on. If you want to be fully prepared for any emergency, you need to have at least three months of expenses saved. While this may sound impossible, small changes over time could help you to build an emergency nest egg that will provide valuable peace of mind.
That is a lot easier said than done. However, the first step in getting started is to make a budget. Write down precisely what you spend on bills, food, utilities, rent, and other absolute essentials. Once you have that number figured out, it becomes easier to have a goal in mind of what you need to save. A common and excellent piece of advice is also to pay yourself first. If you prioritize putting even $10 into savings each paycheck right away, it removes the temptation of spending it on something later. You deserve to prioritize your own financial health.
Most people realize they need to save for their emergency fund but just don’t prioritize. They would rather go out to dinner with friends, buy new clothes, or indulge in vices like smoking and drinking. After all, they work hard for your money, and you have the right to enjoy it. However, not being prepared with savings will only contribute to your anxiety. Everyone deserves security and enjoyment in life, but unfortunately, that is simply not always possible. It is better to scrimp a little now to ensure you can continue an enjoyable lifestyle in the future.
Remember that saving for the future is still helping yourself out. It’s just the future you. Furthermore, if you have a particular number in mind, you can hit your goal and go back to living your less frugal lifestyle. Remember always to pay yourself first to avoid the temptation to spend your savings target during the month. Whether it’s $10 or $100, prioritizing yourself each paycheck is a great way to ensure you’re working towards your goals. While saving and being frugal isn’t fun, an emergency fund provides peace of mind that dramatically exceeds any dollar value.
Unfortunately, making the minimum payment on a credit card will not do very much for paying off debt. In most cases, the minimum payment gets eaten up almost entirely by the interest. Depending on the card’s interest rate, you may be paying up to 25% on interest alone. If you continue to purchase things on those cards, you put yourself in a situation where that debt will never get paid off. Unfortunately, credit card companies structure payments to be impossible to get out of debt by paying the minimum.
When I was 18 years old, I got my first credit card. The credit limit was only $500, and I used that to pay for college textbooks. Every month, I would send them the minimum required payment and would have to make purchases occasionally. For the next four years as a college student, I would do my best to pay down the debt, but sure enough, I needed to use the card again. Fast forward ten years later, and I was still making payments on that same credit card. I sent them $25 per month over ten years, which is $3,000 on what was originally a $500 debt. Thankfully, I was able to pay off the card in full once I started to make more money. Nevertheless, in retrospect, it wasn’t worth it, and I should have made more effort to pay it off sooner.
No matter who you are, there could be times in your life where you feel like your finances are in order, but suddenly everything starts to go downhill. Setbacks do not have to last forever. Whenever there is a setback, try to cheer yourself up and remind yourself that the problem is only temporary. If you’re struggling, try to make a game plan on how you would fix it. Maybe you could get another side gig or sell an expensive item collecting dust in your closet that you don’t need. The gig economy also offers the ability to scrounge up extra cash quickly in case of emergencies.
By course-correcting, you can steer your life back on track. That can feel empowering, which gives you the confidence to know that you know how to pivot and survive any situation no matter what happens. If you end up in a bad situation, start watching some personal finance or motivational videos on YouTube to help you get back into the right mindset. Many communities also have free or cheap financial counseling for low-income individuals to help build financial health plans to get out of debt and build emergency savings. Take advantage of a resource like that if it’s available near you.
When you’re poor, it can make you feel powerless to change your situation. Once you have hit rock bottom, it feels impossible to climb your way back out. However, the great thing about rock bottom is that you can only go up from there. There was a time in my life when I had my bachelor’s degree, tons of debt, and absolutely no job. I was always the type of person that worked multiple part-time jobs since the time I was 14. That time in my life when I was unemployed, broke, and in debt living in my parents’ house was one of the most powerless feelings that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I hit absolute rock bottom, but at least I wasn’t homeless. If I gave in to those negative emotions, I would not be where I am today.
No one can give you true self-confidence. When you have low self-esteem, it doesn’t matter if people are complimenting you left and right. That power comes from inside of you. When you hit rock bottom, remind yourself of the times in your life when things were much better. You are still the same person who was happy once upon a time, and you can recover. Believe in yourself and get your power back. Also, remind yourself that you have value beyond how much money you have or earn, which will never change. You’re worth the investment and hard work in yourself to get back on your feet.
The world is changing, and more people have college degrees than ever. Jobs that used to require workers to have high school diplomas now require them to obtain a minimum of associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. Some of the jobs that were once considered blue-collar are now transitioning over to requiring certification training or a degree. If you haven’t gone to school, this is guaranteeing that you will always be poor if you live in America. Unfortunately, school is also costly, and many private student loan lenders are exploitative, charging incredibly high-interest rates on poor repayment and financing terms.
If you love your current job and it doesn’t require a degree, more power to you. That’s amazing, and you are lucky to be in that position. However, if you know that you could make more money by getting a degree or certification, look into how much it would cost. Some certificates only cost a few hundred dollars, and community college courses are not as expensive as you might imagine. Many of these schools have financial aid that might help you pay for the degree under the poverty line. Some schools also offer discounts to adult learners.
Sometimes, the only thing holding you back from getting out of poverty is making a game plan. If you were trying to build a house, would you do it without blueprints? You would need to have a list of all the building materials that you need to buy, contractors needed, and more. Building your financial future is very much the same way. Take stock of the assets you have, like your car or, if you’re lucky, a home you own. Carefully calculate all debts and monthly payments you’re responsible for, so you have an obvious picture of your responsibilities.
There will be many steps in the process for you to get out of poverty. The steps on your list might be going back to school, paying off credit cards, cutting back on your spending, or getting a second job. Once you know the steps necessary to get out of poverty, you will begin to feel a lot more helpful about your future. Make sure you write this down on a piece of paper. That makes the plan seem a lot more tangible. If you’re only thinking about it in your mind, thoughts can sometimes jumble, and you can potentially forget what your plans were. Consider buying a planner to help you make daily goals as well as long-term goals.
Sometimes, we stay in poverty because we are putting other people before ourselves. That happens a lot when people become parents. They want to take care of their children and give them the best life possible, even if that means going into debt and spending every spare penny they have on their kids. It is admirable, but if you don’t put yourself first, you may never get out of the poverty cycle. Just like paying yourself first is important, so is valuing your overall financial health first and foremost. The best thing you can do for others is to get on sure footing yourself, so you’re able to help in the future.
Before you willingly give away everything you have, try to sit down and make a budget. How much can you afford to give away? It’s still possible to give gifts to your family and friends, but do it within reason. Most people are going to act in their self-interest. So if you don’t do the same, you might end up falling behind. You can certainly budget a set amount each month for charitable donations, or you could schedule an equivalent of volunteer hours. Inexpensive gifts of experiences together or homemade items are also fantastic.
No matter how much money you make, you can still be in a situation where you are living paycheck to paycheck. If your living expenses are so high that you have nothing left after you get paid, this is a problem. You’re going to end up being cash-poor, even if you make a lot of money at your job. This problem is the most serious for those at the low end of the income scale, as housing, medical, and other costs can only get so low. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to make a paycheck go as far as it needs to, especially in expensive cities.
The only way to get out of this situation is to begin living below your means. That could mean downsizing to a smaller living space or giving up your expensive car. On the flip side, you might want to look into finding a job that pays more money. Just make sure that if you get a pay increase, you continue to live the lifestyle that you were already living at a lower income. If your paycheck simply isn’t covering living or medical expenses, look into community assistance programs that can help cover the gap and get you back on your feet.
Unfortunately, financial education is not required in every state. So, many children grow up never learning about the basics of opening a checking account or making a budget. Schools leave this up to the parents to teach their kids. However, if the parents were never taught themselves, it can become an endless cycle of debt and poverty. Without proper financial education, there is little chance you can improve your financial situation. If you’re an adult who never received financial education, look for community education programs or even a community college course. Many religious institutions also offer adult financial education programs.
The good news is that the more educated you are on personal finance, the more likely you will get yourself out of debt. The internet is full of free content that will help you learn about personal finance and get out of poverty. There are also plenty of YouTube channels out there where you can learn how to save and make more money efficiently. Talk to successful friends and family about what they’ve learned about financial health, and seek out community education resources on financial literacy. That is one topic where the cost of remaining in the dark can be incredibly high.
Far too many people don’t know the difference between a liability and an asset. For example, they might think that their car is an asset because they can sell it one day. However, a car will depreciate over time. The same goes for computers and cell phones. If you judge your personal wealth and the value of what you have based on these depreciating assets, there is no chance for that money to grow. Unfortunately, most assets within reach for people in poverty are depreciating assets since homes, market investments, and land are expensive and require good credit.
Rich people know how to buy an asset that will increase in value over time. They might be an expert in any number of assets that can earn a profit by holding on to it for a long time. These people took the time to educate themselves on how to buy assets that are a wise investment. You can do the same. Everyone was a beginner at some point in their life, and it’s never too late to start investing. However, be careful when investing to avoid get-rich-quick schemes. In our society, it often does take money to make money.
Depending on where you live, the cost of living might be so outrageously high that you can’t possibly get out of poverty. It is true in both the East and West coasts of the United States, some of the most expensive places to live in the world. For example, New Jersey has some of the country’s highest property taxes, and it is also the second most densely-populated state. Rent is so high that anyone living on or near the poverty line cannot afford housing. That is why there are a record number of people moving out of the state.
If you are struggling with the cost of housing, it’s time to step back and ask yourself the root of the issue. Is the location where you live holding you back? Or did you rent a house or apartment that was bigger than what you need? In most cases, people have the option to downsize or even possibly move back in with their parents until times get better. It is also important to remember the sunshine tax in places like California. However, the flip side is that jobs pay far less in more remote and less desirable areas like the Midwest.
Everyone has experienced seeing something in a store and thinking, “I need that!” In reality, we don’t need it. The only things we need as human beings are food, water, clothing, and shelter. Everything else is things we want but don’t necessarily need. Once you can truly distinguish between those two things, it becomes a lot easier to stop yourself from making impulse purchases. While everyone deserves the ability to make impulse purchases, setting a budget for yourself will ultimately get you to your financial health goals faster. Future, you can enjoy those impulse purchases from a place of security.
Someone living in poverty needs to distinguish between those things more than anyone else because they have far less excess money to spend. If you can identify certain things in your life that are “wants” and not a need, it becomes easier to save money and improve your financial situation. You can also gamify savings by setting aside $1 for a much wished-for item for every $10 you put in savings, for example. Be sure to occasionally reward yourself for your financial health work to feel like endless drudgery, which can become self-defeating and harmful.
Earlier today, I went to Target, and I overheard a young girl in her 20s tell her friend, “I never check my bank account. I just buy things with my debit card until a transaction is declined. That’s when I know I can’t spend anymore.” When I used to work as a customer service representative at a bank, this sort of thing happened all the time. People would spend hundreds of dollars in the negative with their overdraft before they realized what was going on. Even though banking apps exist, many people never care about saving for the future. Why? Because their mind is only living in the now.
In life, there needs to be a balance between living for the moment and planning for the future. If you live too much in the future, you might be filled with anxiety about making sure you have saved and planned to the tee. However, if you only think about today, you’ll be left with absolutely nothing. In the future, you might look back and wonder how you could have been so careless. Making a reasonable budget that is easy to stick to and feels rewarding for your financial health and day-to-day life is the ultimate goal for long-term financial health.
Do you have an idea of how you spend your money every given week? Not many people do. Before they know it, the money they had in their bank account balance is gone. Moreover, while they might be able to give you a list of the things they purchased, they have no idea what percentages are going towards spending or saving. As long as someone keeps living in ignorant bliss, they will never get out of poverty. Many banks and credit card companies now offer year-end summaries that show what percentage of your spending went to different categories like entertainment, bills, etc.
If you are having trouble tracking your spending, you should consider downloading the Mint app. That connects with your bank account and gives you a breakdown of what you are spending your money on. It can also help you make a budget, create savings goals, and check your credit score. If you want to take more time and analyze, you can hand-track spending and assign categories yourself. A financial bullet journal could be helpful to make it a more enjoyable process. It is well worth the time to get to know your spending habits each month or even each day to understand your lifestyle.
Earlier on this list, we talked about how living in a low-income neighborhood can drag you down. If you want to find better opportunities, you might have to commute a long distance to get to work. However, people who have “super commutes” typically have lower incomes. Spending more than an hour of driving or taking public transportation to work each way can take a toll on your mental and physical health. The gasoline and wear and tear damage to your car can also add up quickly, reducing the take-home pay you gain by commuting for higher pay or benefits.
Not only is commuting exhausting, but it disproportionately affects the poor far more than it does the middle and upper classes. According to Citi’s survey, the average American spends $2,600 per year commuting to work. Nevertheless, if you are trying to get into a major city like New York or Los Angeles, it can take much longer and cost well over $3,000. If possible, look for jobs with similar titles to yours that allow remote work full or even part-time. Two days a week without commuting will save money and stress for both you and your vehicle.
In today’s world, people are put under pressure to achieve ‘The American Dream.’ We want a big wedding, a house, kids, two cars, and a dog. Our society has more working mothers than ever before, even though the cost of childcare is extremely high. Unfortunately, for most people living near or below the poverty line, it’s simply not possible to have it all. Moreover, if you try to push yourself to do it, you will end up in debt.” Keeping up with the Jones” was never meant to be a positive thing, yet many people feel trapped in a cycle of trying to keep up with friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc.
Instead of trying to have it all, remind yourself of the things you feel grateful for. Furthermore, if there are specific goals that you want to achieve, like buying a house, make a game plan instead of jumping in before you’re ready. Often the “fear of missing out” pushes us to make irrational decisions with our money. Remind yourself that this is your life, and don’t allow “should” tyranny to tell you what you need to be happy. If you don’t want a huge house, don’t feel pressured by advertisements, loan officers, or anyone else. The only person you need to keep up with is yourself.
Many people don’t like to talk about their emotions and mental health, but it is an important factor when we are talking about poverty. Successful people have problems just like everyone else, but they know how to manage them. It might come from help given through talk therapy or medication. The poor, on the other hand, struggle to get help when they need it. That only makes the issue worse. Diseases like depression can make getting to work regularly and on time incredibly difficult, and the quality of work performed can drop significantly when experiencing depression symptoms.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, people who live below the poverty line have a significantly higher chance of suffering from addiction or mental illness. Struggling with finances can lead to depression and drinking. However, if you were born with mental health issues, it can also make it harder to hold down a job. Neurodivergence like ADHD can make holding regular employment difficult due to making mistakes, time management issues, and more. It is crucial to have your health conditions managed as well as possible. Unfortunately, access to health care is often tied to successful employment, making this even more challenging.
Overspending is one of the quickest ways to become poor. Even if you make money, you can be cash-poor by spending more than you make. There’s a famous Oprah episode called “The Mom Who Shopped Her Family Broke,” where a stay-at-home mother spent well over $600 per day on frivolous shopping sprees to Starbucks and the mall. Her husband earned $100,000 per year, but even a six-figure salary wasn’t enough to keep up with his wife’s shopping. While this is extreme, and for many people out of touch, the basic message behind it is true. If you spend more than you make, you will always be in debt, period.
Most people are not this extreme, but they do the same things on a smaller scale. They go out shopping to buy the things they want without actually stopping to ask themselves if they are over-spending. Charging everyday purchases to credit cards can get you into trouble quickly. Unfortunately, for many, the simple daily and monthly cost of living can lead to spending more than meager paychecks allow. However, if possible, avoid putting bills or other necessities on credit cards where they will end up costing you far more in the long-term due to interest and fees.
According to a survey from Lexington Law, only 36% of Americans check their bank account daily. Most people only check once a week or once a month. Common sense should tell you that you should check your balance daily if you are making purchases daily. We live in a time where it’s easier than ever to just click on your banking app and check your balance. You can also set a daily spending limit for yourself that you track separately, and some banks even let you put a hard spending limit on your account that will reject additional transactions.
People who don’t check their account balance often enough are more likely to accidentally overdraft their accounts. They might also forget about recurring payments that they failed to cancel or pending transactions yet to go through. By staying on top of your accounts, you’re far less likely to make a mistake that could be costly. Watch your accounts especially carefully around the dates you get paid, as any delay due to holidays or weekends could lead to charges going through before your next paycheck. Be sure to not make any big purchases near one of those limbo periods to avoid costly overdraft fees.
There’s a lot of talk about “self-care.” While it can be beneficial to some people prone to burnout, it can also become a dangerous mindset when they use this as an excuse to spend a lot of money. Suddenly, buying new shoes becomes “self-care.” Justifying every little purchase as a moment to treat yourself can quickly devolve into buying yourself broke. Try rethinking self-care and redefining it as including paying yourself first by depositing money into a savings or emergency bank account, as a vital, necessary act of self-care that will reduce stress and anxiety in the long-term.
In reality, you should be investing in yourself. You’re probably wondering, “what’s the difference?” Investing in yourself is spending money on becoming a better person. That might come in the form of buying more fruit and vegetables because it will help keep you healthy. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to pay for expensive healthcare bills later. Going back to school for degrees and certifications is also investing in yourself. Do new shoes make you a better person? Try to remember that while short-term purchases are a fun source of dopamine, long-term financial health will make your entire life easier.
Poor people tend to rent their apartments rather than buying a house. They might also lease their cars or even rent their furniture. Most people believe they can’t afford to own something up-front. Alternatively, they don’t have a good enough credit score to help them qualify for a mortgage or car loan. Unfortunately, in many areas of the United States, owning a home is out of reach for most average workers, especially in areas like New York or San Francisco. Owning a home is also difficult for those with poor credit or criminal history, as banks don’t define them as discrimination factors.
However, most rental arrangements mean that you pay far more to the owner to borrow these goods than what the items are worth. Moreover, in the end, you don’t own anything at all. Renting is giving your money away. If at all possible, always try to possess your products. This way, you can sell them if you have to. While not common in cities, some landlords will offer rent-to-own or contract for deed type arrangements that allow more impoverished renters to bypass banks in more remote and rural areas. It’s not ideal, but homeownership can be difficult to acquire for many people.
Unfortunately, most car dealerships are predatory when it comes to peddling vehicles to their customers. Salespeople are more concerned with earning a commission than making sure their customer gets a good deal. Many people fall into the trap of buying or leasing a car they can’t afford, and it ends up getting repossessed. According to Motor 1, the average American spends close to $800 a month on their car for payment, insurance, and repairs. For many people, that’s nearly the cost of renting an apartment, and cars are a severely depreciating asset that will never retain value.
In America, even poor people have to have a car because it’s necessary for them to get to work. However, many of those people can’t seem to save or get ahead because they spend too much money on their cars. Suppose this sounds like you; compare the monthly cost of owning a vehicle to a monthly bus or train pass. If you have more than one car in your household, consider reducing it to one. Some communities have rideshare programs or commuter groups that may be able to pick you up at a point you get to via walking, biking, or busing.
Many middle-class families save money by buying household items in bulk from Costco and Sam’s Club. Alternatively, they might get a subscription to a newspaper and clip coupons. Then they pay attention when a product goes on sale. Once they find a good sale, they’re able to stock up on that product to help prevent themselves from spending more money later. On the other hand, poor people usually have very little cash up-front and buy whatever they can afford. These items tend to run out faster, be less efficient, and ultimately cost more in the long run.
If you’re able to buy in bulk or use coupons, it can truly help you in the long run. Even if it’s difficult at first, it enormously helps with paying for essentials. Keep in mind that not all bulk products are necessarily cheaper. Don’t assume that you are getting a better deal because you are buying the “value” size. Always do the math with the ounces on a food product to make sure you are getting a cheaper deal. In some cases, like frozen fruit at Walmart, it would be cheaper to buy multiple small bags than to buy a larger one.
There are far too many scams out there that target the poor with “get-rich-quick” schemes. That might come in the form of a multi-level-marketing company or pyramid scheme that encourages you to buy and sell products on behalf of a company. Alternatively, someone might claim that you can make an investment that will double your money. Sadly, many people and industries whose wealth comes directly from exploiting the poor through these schemes. Don’t let yourself become another victim. Carefully research all investments and opportunities, and if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
As a rule of thumb, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No one would run a business purely to make other people rich. There is always some kind of ulterior motive behind these offers. Far too many people have lost everything they own because of scams like these. True success comes from hard work and dedication over a long period. If someone promises you overnight success, they are likely trying to take everything you have. So please be careful. Always do your homework and don’t engage in any investment or “opportunity” that will leave you in a difficult financial position if it falls through.
Most people who started poor and became successful later on in life were able to break out of poverty because they were willing to sacrifice something. It might be sacrificing the time you spend watching your favorite TV show, going out with friends, dating, new clothes, and more. Working hard will be the only thing that gets you out of a bad situation. Furthermore, in many cases, giving up your free time to start a side-hustle might be the only thing you can do. Through businesses like Doordash and Uber, the current gig economy offers the ability to earn extra money on a flexible schedule.
Sacrifices could also come in the form of giving up something in your life that is too expensive. For example, if you have a costly car payment, you may need to sell the car and swap it out for an older model. Ask yourself if a life on the poverty line is something you want forever. Could you give up more of your time or possessions in exchange for something better? Make a list of the things you spend money and time on, and evaluate which ones you do because you genuinely enjoy them and which are simply habits. Keep those items that truly matter to you and try sacrificing a few that are just habits.
Last but not least, far too many Americans spend too much money on their cell phone bills. According to Fox Business, the average person spends $80 per month on their phone plan. Some people spend over $100. For someone on the poverty line only earning $1,000 a month, that’s 10% of their income. However, almost everyone owns a cellphone, no matter how poor they may be. Unfortunately, for many, cellphones are a necessity despite the high expense as they are the sole source of the internet in an age where most job applications are online only. In rural areas, cell phones are vital for safety.
It is possible to save a ton of money if you buy an older cellphone model, and you can own your phone outright. For example, you can find a fully unlocked iPhone XR on Amazon Renewed for $469. Then, get a sim card for a company like Tracfone, and only pay $10 per month to use your calls, texts, and data for bare essentials. That will save hundreds of dollars in the first year alone, and if you hold on to that phone for a few years after, you’ll save a couple of thousand dollars. No-contract plans are an ideal option.