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There is one brutal truth about poverty that most people who aren’t experiencing it refuse to believe.
And that truth is that it can happen to anyone. Any one of us could face a change in circumstances that turns everything we’ve worked for upside-down. You may have made the right decisions your entire life only to watch everything vanish. Our savings could be wiped out, our possessions destroyed, our health ruined, and our prospects dismal.
Poverty can happen to anyone whether you want to admit it or not. Especially now.
I’ve written a lot lately on my other website about the dire financial circumstances in which many of us are finding ourselves. In the United States and other countries, our economies have been all but destroyed by the government’s response to the virus. It’s gotten so bad in the US that people who never would have considered shoplifting anything before are now stealing food for their families.
Having lived through these circumstances myself – and on more than one occasion – I cannot think back to a single purchase, decision, or error that caused my own fall from economic grace. Sure, I occasionally took my small children out for a Happy Meal at McDonald’s or bought them some candy at the checkout line in the grocery store. But when you’re talking about financial problems on the scale of losing your home or vehicle, a purchase of a few dollars here and there is unlikely to have been the entire cause of the catastrophe.
Even the most obtuse person should be able to see this situation, look at the number of lost jobs and businesses that have gone under, and the increasing prices of food and rent, and say, wow, these people are facing true hard times because of governmental mandates.
Well, that’s what you’d think.
People who haven’t experienced poverty often lack compassion.
But, as expected, many of the comments on these articles are less than compassionate. There’s something about the suffering of others that makes people want to put distance between themselves and those who are struggling to survive.
To hear others tell the story from their lofty perches, anyone who has money problems blew all their money on tattoos they got during better times, on the cell phone contract they’re locked into that is the only way the school can reach them, or on the game system that Grandma bought for your children last Christmas. With their judgmental eagle eyes, they scour your photos on social media or your homes or your grocery cart and they look for reasons this is all your fault.
Because if they can somehow make hunger or poverty the other person’s fault, particularly through poor choices or character flaws, then they can assure themselves it could never happen to them. They can feel safe from the possibility of hunger, homelessness, or financial distress because they make better choices and they are better people. They can exclude the possibility of experiencing grave poverty because they’re not like that person they’re looking down on.
Difficult financial times don’t mean you’re a bad or stupid person.
I guess the reason I’m writing this article is that if you are suffering, I want you to know that there are people out there who understand. I want you to know that it isn’t your fault and that isn’t a character flaw. Poverty itself is not a personality defect.
Sure, there are some folks who are just lazy and don’t want to work. There are people who have various addictions that mean they have no money left for bills or food. There are reasons that some people will never be successful.
But I don’t think the majority of people who are struggling necessarily fall into those categories. And that’s especially untrue for people who had what seemed like a stable job and a hefty emergency fund until Covid-19 rolled around and wiped out their employment and forced them to live off their emergency funds.
Sometimes bad things happen to us.
And when it does, we have to shrug off the cruel words of those who don’t understand and carry on. We have to find a way to survive our new circumstances.
Here’s my advice.
If your circumstances have changed dramatically, you may be reeling in shock. You may have found yourself in a position you never even imagined. Here are the things you should do to begin figuring your way out of this situation. And please keep in mind that these are not overnight solutions. You may struggle for a period of time, particularly given our economic forecast. Focus on what you can do, not on the grim predictions of the media. The economy in general is something that you personally cannot control.
- See where you’re at. You need to identify exactly how bad your situation is. This article can help you audit your finances so you know exactly what’s coming in and what’s going out.
- Mentally adapt to your situation. It’s very important once you have those numbers down in black in white that you wrap your head around the situation. You need to adjust your thinking about the way you spend, what you can afford, and what is now out of reach. Here are some tips to help you mentally adapt.
- Prioritize where you spend your money. This means keeping a roof over your head, food in your kitchen, and in cases where you need it for work, a car in your driveway. This article can help you figure out what to do when you can’t pay your bills.
- Talk to your creditors. Next you need to contact your creditors. Otherwise you’re going to have the added stress of bill collectors calling you non-stop. Trust me, nobody needs that. Here’s a guide to talking to creditors.
- Make dramatic changes. You may be in a situation in which dramatic changes are required. This won’t be fun. It could mean giving up your home, giving up your car, moving in with a family member, taking your kids out of extracurriculars, and dialing everything back to pure survival. Here are some ways to reduce your fixed expenses.
- Talk to your kids. Explaining the new financial situation to your children is not an easy conversation. But it’s essential they know what’s going on so that you can all pull together to make things better. Here’s how to break it to your kids that you’re broke.
I’ve written about my own experiences with poverty in a PDF book called Lifestyles of the Flat Broke and Resilient. You can buy a copy here, or, if you’re in a situation in which you can’t afford it, simply drop us an email and let us know you’d like a copy. Write to us at email@example.com and put Lifestyles Book in the subject line and we’ll get it out to you within the next couple of days, no questions asked.
This may be one of the biggest challenges you ever face.
A change in financial circumstances can be devastating in many ways. it is a humbling experience like no other.
Not only are the material things changed – and perhaps gone – forever, but it takes a massive toll on your self-esteem. The way other people may treat you won’t help that a bit. When I went through my own hard times, I could never decide which was worse, pity or scorn. Both are humiliating.
But when you dig your way out of this – and you can and you will – you are going to possess a new kind of strength and compassion that can only be earned through trial by fire. You will be unstoppable.
So hang in there. Keep your head high. And keep going.
33 thoughts on “The Brutal Truth About Poverty That Most People Don’t Want to Believe”
Good on you daisy ! There is such a stigma with poverty . I was a solo mom , I worked in finance, had my own house , had my own small business and was doing well. All of this I did on my own .
Fast forward a few years I lost the lot, I was made redundant, lost my money , moved to the country to cut costs . I’d always had a job , took me 6 months to find a job but couldn’t keep it due to my children’s health issues. We ended up homeless and in temporary accommodation, we are now in housing and trying to save to get back on our feet. It only takes something simple to take you years to get back on your feet. Dealing with services and budgeting. I often get comments like your so intelligent how could you get yourself into this situation?? They have no idea. There is judgement over your choices, what you wear, what you drive. I had someone tell me, you could sell your ute and get an older model car. I got my ute to accommodate my children’s health aides with early access to my super because of them. If I sell it, I wouldn’t get that much for it, and then probably have an unreliable car with no room for their aides and when we were homeless we slept in vehicle until we got housing . The struggle is real. Am I lazy, hell no, I’m at the library researching things I’ve never done before, baking bread from scratch, gardening, sewing, I shop all the sales and op shop all my clothes. I’m up at 4am every morning baking and not in bed untill 11 pm. It’s a long tough road but we will get there. Judgement isn’t needed , it can happen to anyone!
God bless you. I have been there too.
Right? People have no idea how you got your vehicle or your jacket or your phone. Perhaps it was a gift. Perhaps you paid for it in cash when times were better. Maybe your nails are done because somebody said, “My dear friend deserves some pampering” and gave you a gift card for your birthday.
If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. But maybe stories like ours will help people learn more compassion. Keep fighting the good fight, Izzy!
Been there and done that. And I survived.I lived in a rooming house five years and could write a book about it. Loony birds as neighbors, mostly. And years later I took Prozac (I quit Prozac in 2020). I had homeless friends who taught me a lot about survival. I k ow now why I had such a hard time getting and keeping jobs until 1988. I could have gone on disability then but never thought about it until 2014. That which has not killed me yet has only made me stronger. I am helping friends with food as much as I can now to return favors done to me years ago.
Great article! We had to do some of those things when duh hub lost his job. Sold the house before we lost it, moved in with family, no activities for the kiddos. Even after we got back on our feet I was totally still frugal! Munchkins understood after a heart to heart talk.
You are a walking, talking success story! Living proof that no matter how bad things get, you can overcome them.
I’ve been there too. My husband & I joke now about our “bad luck”. I truly believe all those tough situations early in our marriage have made us stronger. We know we are truly blessed with the life we have. Taught a few Dave Ramsey classes for teens at our church. You just hope they gain one or two things out of it all. Thanks for all your articles. I usually don’t comment but always enjoy them. I’m following you on Parler. Just started on there a few weeks ago. Usually just waited for my husband to text me all his favorite memes lol
I look forward to seeing you over there! Thank you for your kind words. 🙂
Excellent article – I am flat out of patience with those who continually insist those in dire straits as being deadbeats and/or the his/her/their own worst enemy. And to say I am livid at those who continually point out a single example of abuse of a safety net program as reason to cease the safety net program would be an understatement. I can point back at the ‘welfare queen’ lie of 1980. Not only was the dollar amount of fraud a blatant lie, reagan and his minions failed to state the fraudster had been caught, prosecuted, and convicted.
Even though I earn a quite comfortable living, we live frugally because of the very reason Daisy states – no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We don’t begrudge those who need help and contribute to local organizations/help us others when our finances permit. We too have lived through down cycles of the economy.
Selena, in our community years ago, someone saw a lady pay for groceries with Food Stamps, put them in the trunk of her fancy automobile and drive off. They took down her license plate and called the cops. The reported her as a “Welfare Queen” Guess what? The queen part was right: The lady was the wife of one of the leading businessmen in our city. Yes, she had a fancy car. Yes, she paid with food stamps — she was volunteering for a charity and ran some errands and went grocery shopping for a poor, elderly person who had just come home from the hospital and was unable to shop for himself. And as to the judgmental people, I’m reminded about what someone said about George W. Bush and other sons of privilege: they made a home run after starting out on Third Base (due to their parents’ wealth), and just can’t understand why everyone else (in the lower income working classes) can’t make a home run, as well.
I think the most aggravating part about the current increase in poverty is that it has been mostly caused by government policies. Especially the unconstitutional overreaction to the current virus thing.
The lockdowns. The closing of “non-essential” businesses. (As if there is such a thing)
The small businesses are the backbone of our country’s economy.
People need to wake up and start fighting back before the economy totally crashes.
The economy has collapsed. We just don’t see yet the full extent but it is world wide. We need to learn to survive in a collapsed economy…like much of the rest of the world had had to do…or like even more of the world will have to learn to do as well.
Been there, done that! Lost my bank job, due to no fault of my own, but fortunately had just refinanced to a lower payment, still un-employment wouldn’t quite make the house payment. And we were young, fresh out of college and had almost no savings. Cut food expenses to a $1 per day, (yes we did! This was a few years ago, though.) Bought everything in bulk; 100#’s of pinto beans, rice, and whole corn, dried fruit, milk, flour, etc. This was in the spring so I had time to garden, (followed John Jeavons, shovel, hoe and rake, no gas). Ate the weeds in the back yard; lamb’s quarter, amaranth, dandelion, purslane, etc. delicious by the way. Come fall, had a deer tag and killed a deer and was doing “odd” jobs. When I was not actively looking for work, (resume’s, calls, etc.) or working odd jobs, I was in the garden or picking up aluminum cans. Tried to sell household goods; this is much harder than you think, they are not easily converted to cash. Always be doing something; don’t let yourself sit around and mope and never miss going to church, it will be your greatest strength. I was “shamed” too; “how can a man with a college degree not find work”, you must be lazy or deficient in some way. Wow! I will never say that sort of thing to anybody! Just words of encouragement.
Well done, David!
Oh my goodness, Thank you so much for this article Daisy. I have also been there done that. I understand what it is like to be looked at from people that are judging. Not a good feeling. People need to stand together and start telling these government bureaucrats no more closing of businesses. Lots of civil disobedience is needed right now before things get much worse. Let’s stand up and fight back and take back our freedoms.
God bless and keep the good information coming.😊
Since I do not own a home or car as it is aside from my laptop, smartphone and clothes on back thats it I have always lived a minimal lifestyle. You never know like Daisy said when in our volatile unstable economy all of a sudden you are laid-off. I lost count of the many times I was laid-off at least I could count on a friend but rock-bottom might mean buying a good tent, sleeping bag and taking up a spot at my local public park. Additionally once unemployment checks run out turn to public food banks. Yeah in these covid-19 times I feel vulnerable to economic shocks.
Having been “thrown out of high tech” because I was “too old” I went through a five year period where I worked one year. We scrimped as best we could but my pride slowed my realization of the truth. After that point I looked for and finally landed a sales job at a big box store.
If I could give any advise it would be:
– Plan for the worst. Start budgeting immediately
– Don’t pay much attention to your circle of friends and neighbors. We eliminated one car and I still drive a 1993 car since it still runs. It’s the oldest in the neighborhood by al least 15 years.
– Finally, for those of you who have fallen suddenly in 2020 give yourself a break. As Daisy said (more or less) – It isn’t your fault that the whole planet seems to be run by sociopaths who can barely tolerate the “little people”.
Thank you for writing this article and offering your book. I feel encouraged and strengthened for having read it. It is imperative that people pull together with compassion and create community in this terrible time. I greatly appreciate your time, talents and concern. God bless you.
Age 21 with 2 little boys, husband died in a car accident. No insurance and not enough earned quarters to get social security for children. Tough times.
Age 55 second husband died of untreatable bone disease. Again no insurance after 2 years of my not being able to leave him to work. Deeply in debt. No vehicle. No income. Stored food and gathered sticks to cook with each evening taking a rural 4 mile walk. No heat for 2 minus zero winters. Someone gave me a car. It took me 4 months to sell enough to get 4 used tires, a used battery, car liability insurance, register and license that car. In 3 weeks I had a job. Moved to the city to work. Took the job as manager for two 4 plexus to get reduced rent. Worked 6, 12 hour night shifts a week. Paid off debts.
63 years old. Remarried but both retired on Social Security. 68 years old A son injured. Couldn’t live alone for over a year. Dr appointments, 3-8 appointments per week 45 miles from mountain home. Lost our home to expenses for medical travel.
Moved back to old property with no repairable residence so camped here for 2 1/2 years attempting to make an old (1970) vandalized mobilehome livable. The union retirement my husband had given up on getting, came with back pay. I found an unrepaired repo mobile home just 3 years old. Offered the bank less than half of book value. Paid someone $40 to tear out the livingroom carpet and someone else $100 to repair broken windows. Paid $1800 for long move and set up. Cash nearly gone but a paid for home on my land. My older son helped catch up the property taxes. No power the last year. $9000 for pole and hook up. Just ordered the last main items for an off grid solar array. I’ll add more batteries later.
Paying cash as we go. Living frugally. Grow a garden and can and solar dry produce. Raising ducks, chickens, and rabbits. In spring i’ll grow a large mixed grain plot. This winter I’ll supplement grain with wheat grass for critters and growing microgreens for us. Craigslist free wood floor for livingroom. Willing to work and it’s working out. We’re 74 and 82 now. Sure beats being homeless again. Have some life insurance on both of us now.
You are an amazing person. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us.
Caught my eye because I’m on the edge now, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. In 2012, my employment ended. Terminated due to downsizing, the real reason was the company looked at my declining health and that was the real reason, although it would’ve been next to impossible to obtain the evidence of their decision. I ended up on Social Security Disability (completely ate through what savings I had). A whopping $1244/month. While it’s better than no income, it means I’m right on the poverty line. It also means no second or part time job, and my previous work was so specialized, there’s no “under the table” work available either.
If you’d have told me 10 years ago, I’d be in this position, I’d have laughed at you. When I was younger, extra hours or a 2nd job was always the course I took when times were tough. Now, I’ve learned and know differently.
Anyone can be thrown into poverty at any time. I sympathize, and you’ll hear no condemnation from me.
I’m so sorry for what you have gone through. I think the difference between us and those who think it could “never” happen, is we’ve had it happen and we know exactly how precarious financial stability is.
Sorry to hear about your troubles, but having SSD is huge, even if it isn’t a lot. There’s low income housing available in a lot of places as well as low or no cost health insurance. Don’t be too scared or too proud to ask for the services you helped pay for…it really helps.
Been there, when DH got laid off from two jobs in one year. By God’s grace we scraped by, and eventually recovered. We are blessed now to be able to contribute to a food pantry(every time we go to the grocery store I try to get some extra), remembering when things were so dicey for us.
Am in awe of the spirit of the writers here! I wish you all better times in the year ahead.
I’m not in jeopardy of losing my home. However, I take nothing for granted. My husband spent 8 weeks in the hospital this year. The only reason we didn’t suffer a financial crisis is that the owner of his company is a dialysis patient who understands how anyone can have a serious illness.
My sentiment is that we will share our blessings with the largest possible donation this month to a local charity that assists families.
I’m desperately trying to convince my young adult girl that money should not be wasted on $5 coffee! Like many, her income was dramatically reduced this year. Almost seems like people gotta go through adversity to understand adversity.
People dont consider the challenges of physical and mental illness in the list of causes of poverty, unemployment and homelessness. I’m a physically capable person but limited by my broken back. I also suffer PTSD or complex trauma from a life of seemingly random but traumatic events any single one enough to send a person to treatment or temporary financial setbacks. Struggling so hard to simply survive, while those around you live luxuriously simple lives eludes my motivation to continue given the pain and anxiety involved. Without income or insurance coverage my conditions are left up to dividing extremely limited resources just to remain living in my van coming on 6 years in May 2021.
Good quality hethcare atreatment and a stable affordable home are my two greatest deterrents for a better life. Those who have family supports and living parents or children should find help in those blood ties, but even strangers should be kind and at least offer a barter for labor or some such generousity if they can in their God given abundance.
Humanity is at a crossroads one is service to self, a rough road lined with greed, graft and violence against every other. Or the road that is straight and level, wide and full of life offered freely in service to others, where our needs are met and our burdens are light and everyone shares in prosperity. Not communist or socialist, but a Divinity of Humanity through selflessness and good intention. Light overcomes darkness, generousity overcomes greed, tenderness overcomes violence and love overcomes hate…only by these things are they brought to nothing, in unity we overcome division.
Have you ever considered medical tourism or geo-arbitrage? As I’ve written on here before, I live a rather nomadic lifestyle. I am currently riding out the second wave in Mexico. The medical care here at private hospitals is excellent and a fraction of the price of American healthcare – an overnight stay is around $100 USD including any treatment or medication. Many medications can be purchased over the counter, and those which can’t require a visit to a farmacia doctor, who for the sum of about $10-20 will write you the prescriptions you require. I’ve found that allergy meds like Claritin D are expensive here but I can buy name brand Ventilyn inhalers for $7. In the US it’s $74.
It isn’t a solution for everyone but it is a possibility to consider.
Oh, so thrift is a good idea THAT YOU INVENTED? yEAH RIGHT.
Fake banks lend fake money at interest. Lending credit at interest IS FRAUD NOT USURY.
Real money silver lent at interest is usury NOT FRAUD.
Real money silver can be used to practice HONEST charity.
Fake money printed by the pentagon baby killers cannot be used to practice honest charity
because it will not make you lucky.
Only the lucky can be brave because only the lucky can take chances.
WE NEED LITTLE 1/8 OZ SILVER COINS TO TIP THE WAITRESS AND FOR ACTS OF CHARITY.
Public servants paid with fake money OWE US NOTHING because we have not paid them honestly with silver coins. Honest government must be paid for with honest money.
I never claimed to invent thrift. You may have found yourself on the wrong website.
I’m not going to bore you with stories of my misfortune. We’ve all had them and survived. I will share my technique for avoiding them now. In my 30’s following a layoff after 11 years at a Fortune 500 company I started keeping a written budget. Fast forward 30 years and I still do, now in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It starts with $ earned minus expenses. Every dollar spent is accounted for. My wife thinks I’m being picky but, as my Grandma used to say “If you watch the pennies the dollar take care of themselves”. It gives you immediate feedback on where the money goes. I developed the habit of paying every bill out of the paycheck before it was due. I set aside a small savings account for unusual purchases (tires for the truck) and paid it back quickly from any surpluses. The only thing we finance are cars and houses, everything else is cash and carry. Buy quality where quality pays for itself. Style is not quality, my daily wear is rip-stop nylon that last forever. People chide me about it, I cry all the way to the bank. Being frugal isn’t being cheap it’s being thoughtful. I still eat the occasional steak but only because I raised the beef and took it to the processor myself (500 lbs of beef at an average $3 per pound). The key to staying out of poverty is adjusting your actions before you get there not after.
I think that a lot of the public attitude towards people who are experiencing a financial setback is caused by superstition.
Many US people were raised in the “Puritan/Old Testament work ethic” that still prevails in our country…that if you work hard God will bless you. Conversely, if you have problems, God must therefore be pissed at you for something. This way of thinking goes back to the beginning of humanity…look at the book of Job. His friends, instead of trying to help him out, basically said “$#!+ happened to you because you deserved it.”
Unfortunately, this narrow way of thinking is still around, even if it has been secularized.
The only way to combat it is to not give it any oxygen, even if it’s family. The only real way people will understand the reality of the situation is when it happens to them, and only if they are smart enough to connect the dots.
Growing up, I’d make a list of stuff I wanted for Christmas. I never wondered about what I could possibly give anyone. I had a huge room, a TV, on and on, and I thought it was all owed to me. I did not appreciate it. I thought that was just normal. I thought all poor people were drug addicts and lazy.
After living on the side of the road in a tent, and getting my food out of grocery store dumpsters, I realized I was not owed anything, and I realized all poor people must not be lazy.
Having that experience was a blessing. It changed me for the better.