Friday, February 15, 2008

Poor people do not know how to spend money

Earlier I had written a post about my husband having a problem with his foot and not going to see a doctor about it. There are reasons people don't want to go to see a doctor. For some of them, fear is a major factor. They think something might be wrong, but they don't really know for sure, and they feel better not knowing. For other people there is just something about being at the doctor's office that they can't stand. The whole hurry up and wait thing is a bother. Going to the doctor should take about an hour but usually takes up half of the day. People don't want to waste all that time in a doctor's office, probably doing nothing. And for some people money is a major factor, and perhaps lack of insurance is the problem.

So part of my husband's problem is the money part, and perhaps the time part. For once in our lives, lack of insurance doesn't enter into it. But even with insurance, going to the doctor isn't actually free. There's either a twenty-five or fifty dollar co-payment at a regular doctor's office, more than that for a minor emergency place, and way more than that for the actual emergency room. If it turns out to be something that can be helped with a reasonable amount of money, you are then sent off to the drugstore and perhaps told to go on a particular diet for a while. If it isn't something simple like that, who knows how much it might end up costing you.

Now I've already said that I don't like wasting time and money going to see a doctor when I think that I already know what I am going to be told. I don't want to go if I'm just going to be told some common sense thing that I already know to do. If I'm going to be told to take some over-the-counter meds and get some rest and drink liquids, I don't need to hear that from a doctor.

But I think sometimes it is different with my husband. I think sometimes that he doesn't go to the doctor when he needs to because he doesn't have that fifty dollar co-payment.

And why doesn't he have that fifty dollar co-payment? Because he spends like a hundred dollars a week on lunch. And this, in part, has something to do with not growing up middle class.

I had noticed that his family wasted a lot of money. I thought this was an odd thing, since my family had more money to start with, and we didn't spend money like they did. But I had thought that they must be some sort of anomaly, that people who didn't have much money had better spending habits than his family.

When I was growing up and didn't get something that I wanted, I heard the dreadful stories of my parents having to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways. People only washed their hair once a week. And whatever thing that I didn't want to eat was something that they had to eat several times a week instead of once in a while. And maybe for a while they lived on a lake and didn't have indoor plumbing. I was being ungrateful. I didn't know what hard was. And of course, there were people starving in China.

Things that I wanted and couldn't have were clearly defined as luxuries. Soda was a luxury. Candy and other desserts were luxuries. Going to McDonald's was a luxury. Toys were luxuries. My parents bought necessities first, then put money in savings, then thought about buying some luxuries. We certainly had the luxuries, just not as much as I would have liked.

Even the luxury of going to eat at McDonald's was often ruined with the phrase "you'll have to share a drink." Sharing a drink was just awful. My little brother had germs.

I thought that a girl I went to school with was rich. She had more toys and other luxuries than I did. My parents tried to explain that they just decided to spend their money on other things, that her parents were older, and that she was the baby of the family and her older sisters had moved away. Maybe they should have just told me that the girl question was spoiled (which she was), and that probably would have made more sense to me.

So I grew up thinking that rich people bought whatever they wanted, and middle class people were like me and mostly spent their money the way that my parents did, and that poor people just didn't waste any money at all and possibly had some special knowledge of money and what things to buy to make it last longer. This must be especially true of people who had been poor for several generations, and that there was this special knowledge of how to live cheap and still have all the necessities. So I assumed that poor people never drank sodas, never went to the movies, had few toys that they only got for Christmas and birthdays, never went on vacations and trips to see grandma, etc...

Sometimes, this is true. There are people out there who buy really basic things in bulk and know how to make hundreds of things from fifty pound bags of rice and oatmeal. Fajitas were originally invented to use up an almost inedible piece of cheap meat. Some people grow their own vegetables. Some people live places where they can fish and collect other wild foods. Some people still mend socks and other clothes. Some people clip coupons and get several bags of groceries for less than a dollar a bag. Some people read the Tightwad Gazzette and find something useful to do with everything.

But I think that there's a lot less of that sort of thing now (except maybe for the coupon thing).

I had noticed that there were people (both poor and not so poor) who complained of not having enough money for something, but they always seemed to have cigarettes, beer, and/or soda. But it never seems to occur to anyone to give up those things. Soda, depending on where it is bought and how it is packaged, might be less expensive than milk. But milk is one of those necessities, while soda is not. Too much soda is bad for you. The cigarettes and beer are even more expensive and worse for your health. Sometimes people finally get it through there heads to give the stuff up for health reasons, but I've rarely heard of anyone trying to give them up to save money.

I would have thought that this sort of thing that I had noticed was a recent trend. Not so, though it is probably getting worse. The whole thing about poor people and money came up a few times in school. In British History we read George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier. Everyone, no matter how poor bought some sort of tobacco, some sort of alcohol, either coffee or tea or both, and then the things that go with coffee and tea such as sugar and cream. There were several studies done, trying to show people how they could spend less money on food that was better for them and most of it even tasted better, but very few people changed their spending habits. And fewer still gave up the tobacco and alcohol. Often, if anyone did have a bit of money leftover, it was spent on lottery tickets.

The other bit about how people spend money came up in Adolescent Development. The teacher had most people divided into nine classes, and explained how the different classes spent their money. Rich people do not save money, because there just always seems to be more money. And poor people don't save money either, because they just never have any extra money for a long enough period of time to develop that habit. If you have good spending habits and learn to save your money and such, you were probably raised middle class. She had this chart, and it all made sense. It was brilliant. Except that a couple of things were starting to mess up her chart. Rich people who got rich playing basketball often were people who used to be poor. So the spending habits of rich basketball players didn't mesh with the other people on that line of the chart. And credit cards are messing up everyone's spending habits, even if you were raised middle class.

I think that when I lived with my parents my spending habits were pretty good. I saved money. I didn't have a credit card. I didn't eat out all of the time. I didn't buy a lot of things that were really stupid. But I didn't make much money either. I had a minimum wage job that did not have benefits, and I had to pay for my health insurance and the gas and maintenance for my car, and my clothes. I didn't have to pay for all of my food, but I did end up paying for a lot of it. I made enough to take care of myself, as long as I didn't have to pay rent, and I didn't have to worry about little things like toilet paper.

Before I got married, little stuff like toilet paper and toothpaste and stuff in the medicine cabinet just magically appeared. After I got married, it took me a few months to get used to remembering to budget for such things. Aspirin and soap and shampoo all cost money, and it adds up, and it really sucks when you forget to buy something before it runs out.

And, after I got married, I discovered that one could buy a lot of luxuries with a little money, but no matter how you tried to save money, some of the necessities were aways out of your price range. It didn't matter if you totally gave up sodas and chocolate and going to McDonald's, it wouldn't make enough difference to afford a safe place to live and health insurance and a reliable car. If I gave up every luxury that I could think of and totally made myself miserable, I might could have some of those necessities, but never all of them.

This made me panic a bit. This was business as usual for my husband, and he didn't take any notice of it except when one of the cars actually needed to be repaired. Possibly he never had health insurance. He grew up in a worse neighborhood than the one we moved to. And he was used to driving older cars that might not have working air-conditioners.

I started to spend money on things that I didn't need to make me feel better about not having enough money. We bought pizza on Wednesdays, when they were half price, and often they were cheese pizzas that I added my own toppings to. The pizzas were a good deal, but not something we really needed. Other than the pizza, we probably went out at least once a week, but it was usually either a fast food place or a place that had sent us coupons. And we could mostly afford to do that, after I dropped my health insurance.

In the past fifteen or twenty years, the money required to buy pizza has almost doubled. In the same amount of time, the money required to buy health insurance has more than tripled. You can reason out that you can buy a lot of food for the same amount of money that insurance cost. You can reason out that insurance will only help you if you happen to get sick, but food is something that you need everyday. You can reason that eating pizza makes you happy, but that getting that monthly insurance bill causes a lot of stress. If you drop the insurance, you can buy pizza and still have money left over. In theory, you can even save some of that money for a doctor visit, just in case you get sick.

I had a part time job that paid for most of our food, my health insurance, and the maintenance on my car. I have very little left over after those things were paid for. After a couple of years, the insurance cost more, and the maintenance on the car cost more, and I was contributing very little towards buying food or paying other bills. At some point it was suggested since we would not be able to pay for the next major car repair, and I didn't like my job anyway, that I should just leave the job, give up the car, and not renew the health insurance. It was a dumb thing to do, but at the time it seemed to make sense.

I have since picked up a number of other bad habits, mostly involving money. And during most of that time I didn't have a job. Only two of the jobs that I've had made enough money to pay most of the bills.

We do a lot of dumb things now. When we feel bad we go out to dinner, usually with a coupon. But dinner with a coupon still costs about twenty or even thirty dollars. If we forget to pay a bill for something that is three hundred dollars, and we only have two hundred and fifty, we usually don't do anything about the forgotten bill. We ignore it until the next month and pay late charges. The two hundred and fifty dollars will probably get spent on something else, probably something that we could have done without like pizza or movie tickets. We don't put the two hundred and fifty away, knowing that we will still owe money next month. Next month there will be more money, probably.

So this is one of those months were there is more money, but not as much as we hoped for, and we are a little short because we bought pizza and such. There are a couple of credit cards that didn't get paid, I hang up on about four people a day who think that I've found some money under the bed since the last time they called, and I'm not sure that we'll have enough money for me to have my annual exam when it is normally scheduled. And I skipped seeing the dentist this year.

All this is going on when on paper we are making more money than ever. Last year my husband made twice as much as the year before that. Partially, the money is going towards paying for cars. We both had ten year old cars that needed to be replaced, so he bought one last year, and I got a new one this year. And then he was in a wreck, and had to get another car, and he still had to pay for the wrecked one because no one would sell him gap insurance. So that is part of the problem. But a lot of it is credit card debt from the previous five years, and a lot of it is going out to lunch. Going out to lunch is about the only time that my husband acts like a normal person. I realize that the going out to lunch is a luxury that we cannot afford, but I usually don't even suggest not going. At lunch, away from the house, he is normal, and we have to eat something for lunch anyway.

So we are still poor, even though we are not, and my husband still has not seen a doctor about his foot.


The Absurdist said...


This is one of the best posts I have read in a very, very long time. Even though it was long, you made many really good points.

I grew up spoiled, and never really wanted for anything in the tangible realm. I grew up not understanding the value of money, and I continue, to this day, to be a spontaneous shopper.

You, on the other hand, didn't have it great growing up,but you were taught the discipline of saving, spending money the right way, and it sounds like you learned that money doesn't buy you happiness.

That's the one thing I haven't learned yet; that I can live on relatively little and still be happy. Those of us who grew up spoiled have the same horrific fear; that one day we will live out of our cars. And frankly, we put ourselves in that position.

You won't, however, because of the foundation that was taught to you. You may think you are making poor choices now, but you are already doing things that few people do; like use coupons and such.

This blog entry has made me stop and think about how happy I can be on relatively little, and how I worry way too much about money, and how it makes me happy (or at least, I think it does).

Thank you for writing this. If it didn't help anyone else, it helped me a lot. Thank you.

laughingattheslut said...

Oh, but I did have it great growing up. There were just things that I didn't like because I was a kid. And there were rules. Toys were only for special times like Christmas and birthdays, and maybe those rare times when you got a toy after being sick for a whole week. We were allowed to buy one candy bar on Saturday, and if we went for a Sunday drive the parents might buy us another one. We usually had to clean our plates before we left the table. We always had milk with dinner, never sodas, unless it was fish. (Mom heard some rumor about having milk with fish making people sick.) When we went to Sonic, we usually brought our own soda from home. Stuff like that.

One of the "different things" that my parents chose to spend money on was a very small tornado shelter. They saved for a very long time to get it. It was wonderful, and it had a phone and a TV. The spoiled girl I thought was rich never had anything like that. Unfortunately, we didn't have it long enough to use it very often as a shelter, since we moved here that next summer.

It's my spending habits now that are just awful. And I know not to do it. I was raised better than this. I've been very upset these past two years, and doing the right thing with the money is just one more thing that I have trouble dealing with.

Thanks for the compliment. The whole thing about the Orwell book was much longer and I just didn't have time to get into it all. But it is very interesting.

Dame Honoria Glossop said...

As a child I had a roof over my head, good food, warm clothes & lots of love.

Chocolate was definitely an occasional treat and we just didn't ever eat fast food. Toys were for Christmas or birthdays. We used to make our own bows and arrows and stuff like that, and run wild in the fields & woods like little savages. We had a rope swing across the river & used to laugh like crazy if anyone fell in the water. We built rafts from old pallets and silage drums. We had bicycles and ponies. We kept numerous pets.

We didn't have the latest trainers or games consoles & stuff like that, the crumblies just didn't believe in indulging their children. We had freedom, which was more important and more fun than loads of plasticky trendy toys.

aHziE said...

I'm the one and only daughter of my parents. I have no siblings and grew up having all the things i wish in this world. But when my father resigned on his job and my mom got sick, there no left from us . Just my savings account.

before my mom used to eat fried pork, oh she loves pork and foods that is high in cholesterol. Then she became sick and we can't do nothing. She do not eat vegetables. And don't mind eating more pork and beefs.
Now i learned how to spend my money wisely. Even if we do not eat vegetable everyday we see to it my mom dink her milk with chia seed. This food is rich in Omega 3 which is good for the heart.

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Anonymous said...

Ever tried Dave Ramsey's plan?

Forex Fund Management said...

If a person doesn't know who to spend the money then it doesn't matter how much he can earn. Because whatever he can earn he will only waste it all.

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