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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.