The Reality of the Working Poor

The roots of the M3 Blog are set in a foundation of saving money. The information on the early pages of this blog are still visited daily by those seeking to put something, anything, in the kitty. For many of them, it is not the rainy day for which they are saving. They need the money now. For them, deeply cutting back is the only way to make ends meet. What happens when all the cutting is done and ends still do not meet? Laurie knows. Grab a cuppa.

Down to the Last...

Down to the Last…

Economic classes serve to annoy separate us as a society; we often do not notice the separation until it is close to home. Then, there is not always instant recognition of the true meaning of the working poor. Phrases such as it is only five dollars are actually an insult to a number of working poor. Why is it an insult? Five dollars can often make the difference in whether or not the lights stay on for another month.

The wealthiest end of the spectrum making over six figures a year does what it can through charitable donations, but there are those that cannot even imagine the reality. What is it like to be a member of the working poor, barely able to keep a roof overhead and food on the table? What is it like to know that at any moment you could become one of the homeless?

Imagine earning less than twenty thousand dollars a year, and supporting a family with it. Imagine that less than twenty thousand is actually closer to being less than ten thousand dollars a year. Yes, it is a realistic number; more people manage to do it each year than most would care to admit. The game is hand to mouth, juggling anything that will move.

“Broke” Means No Money

Running out of money before month is common, but what does it really mean? There are those that use the term broke to mean they do not have as much spending emergency cash on hand as they would like; the working poor often use it to mean they have not so much as a penny hiding in a couch cushion, and they are serious. It is a struggle to pay the bills, and the tiny bit that is left has to last until the next payday while providing for the basic needs of the household.

Most cannot fathom the concept of being this broke. The idea that something has to last from one payday to the next regardless of how small the payday or the item size is lost on some; five dollars to replace something that you already purchased is a lot of money when you barely have enough to put food in the house; these homes do not always qualify for assistance and a food bank can only do so much.

Little things others take for granted such as sending children to school with change for ice cream, or purchasing school pictures creates a hardship if they were not budgeted in advance. Incomes this low require that every detail be planned to the penny; there is no room for error. This much for attention to detail can have parents eyeing lists for school supplies months in advance and searching thrift shops to see if they can find school clothes that will be the right size for the following school year.

Doctors are for the Rich

Medicine Pills

Those with enough money to pay for insurance often take health care for granted; those without it are forced to pay out of pocket or do without. The number of free and reduced health care services is low; lower still the number of places patients can obtain no or low costs prescription medications. Doctor visits, medications, dietary restrictions and even the transportation to and fro all combine to make up the cost.

The maintaining of health would be important, especially to those without life insurance to handle expenses left behind. The problem is that the working poor, those at/below the poverty level can scarcely afford to keep themselves in good health. Walking everywhere they go would be a good start, but those in rural areas are dependent upon the vehicle they can barely afford to get them around. Illness is often worked through forcing down over the counter medication in a hope that the correct symptoms are treated before it gets worse. Home remedies are sought in an effort to avoid paying for something not already on hand.

Making It Work

The reality is that learning to do things yourself is a necessity for the working poor; it done often without the proper tools as a result of the expense involved. While the rest of the world simply replaces items, like worn out socks, the working poor keep wearing them until the entire sock turns to dust; some will learn to fix them like people did before stores appeared on every corner. Patches on clothing to make it last just a little bit longer; refusal to replace the ripped up blinds instead favoring blankets over the windows (they allow more privacy in most cases); anything to save a dime that is not had.

Gifts and Holidays

kiddletreeThe working poor will be on the broker side during the holiday season; the gifts given are typically limited to the children in the home. Why the children? Easy, the children are innocent, and when they come from truly poor families, they are likely to do without their little hearts desires through the year in favor of basic necessities. The holidays are the one time of the year these children are splurged on; there is a good chance it took all year to come up with the money for the few gifts that will be opened.

While the rest of the world rushes around searching sales and determining the ideal gifts these families are hoping to get a single one to the innocent child that has no concept of money yet. There are those will buy for the children in these families, some of those buying do not realize they are buying for the working poor because the fact is hidden that well.


This is the refrain from working poor parents shopping with their children as they examine the list in hand for the millionth time. The marks they are making are not merely crossing items off the list, but putting the prices beside each one to give a running total. The amount for the trip is likely written on a corner of the paper so they ensure they are not over budget. The list is prioritized and often things are placed back on shelves after debating whether or not it can be done without.

These people are not attempting to be mean to the child often preferring to shop without them to prevent having to tell them no; they are attempting to meet the child’s needs without going into debt. The working poor are often limited to the cash they have on hand, doing without the safety net and debt that is the credit card.

Do you use things until they evaporate into dust? Do you fix things instead of paying someone else? Do you find yourself worrying that you won’t have enough to purchase the items that make up basic needs such as food? Have you noticed relief on a parent’s face when someone bought their child something unexpectedly?

After you answer her questions, go check out Laurie and her new book, Moments, Money & Memories.

© Red Dwyer 2013
Original Post © Laurie Childree
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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your blog.I am trying to read as much I can

  2. Mo Babin

     /  January 16, 2013

    No one really understands the constant struggle that most of the poor go thru unless they have been there themself. I liked this post. It shows that there is some understanding out there for the ppl that don’t fit into the 6 digit income. Sadly the number of poor is increasing by the day and the economy and poorly managed government are giving the numbers a violent shove daily. I also appreciate that with the discription of the ever growing poor it isn’t shunned or blamed on drug use or given the label of worthless ppl like most do. My family struggles every day and I know how “its just 5 dollars” can mean 1000 when you simply don’t have it….. when you breathe a little easier after you pay the light bill only to turn to the harsh reality that because of the hike in the utility bill the food budget suffers and so do all the little faces that look up to you with trusting eyes and growling stomachs. Its not the excitement you see when a kid gets a new game to play its the heartbreaking cheer from hungry kids that they can eat until they are full and sleep in a warm bed. Don’t judge ppl you never know what road they struggle on daily. Great post and may the future hold brighter times for everyone we deff. Need it.

    • Yes, we do. I did try to inform without judgement at all. I think that the need is going to rise before it gets better. I hope I’m wrong.
      Laurie recently posted..Sheduling ConsiderationsMy Profile

    • I think if fewer ppl judged and more ppl helped there would be a much better middle ground. Assumptions always show who the azzhats really are. They are the ones who “just”. xxx

  3. The middle class is evolving into the working poor. Where I volunteer weekly, we have a food bank. You wouldn’t believe the people who are signing up for assistance. In the past three years, more people have lost their jobs and cannot find new ones. Or, they’re trying to hang onto jobs which pay only minimum wages. How can a person with a family survive on that?
    Tess Kann recently posted..Flash in the Pan: ListlessMy Profile

    • They sacrifice more and more hoping to scrap by at barely enough I’m afraid. At this rate we’ll have rich and working poor with no in between.
      Laurie recently posted..Sheduling ConsiderationsMy Profile

    • All the food banks are saying the same thing. Many who were (and still are) on the volunteer list are applying for assistance. I truly do think there is no longer a middle class in the way there was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Families cannot survive on minimum wage and most cannot on two-earner minimum wage either. What I find disturbing is the poverty threshold continues to rise while wages stay static or fall. The ability to earn less is there while being considered poor under such circumstances is not available. Revolting.

  4. I think it is important, no matter how much money you have, to be as resourceful as you can. I buy and then use until it is no longer useful. This does two things: 1) it allos me to save up for something that I might want later, instead of impulse buying and 2) it feels less wasteful to use something until it doesn’t work.
    Derek Mansker recently posted..My School Bus Youth Ministry- Checking Your Blind SpotsMy Profile


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