So much, so little

Last year I was volunteering at the Troy food pantry, and I noticed on the wall the federal poverty guidelines – $24,600 for a family of four.

But wait a second … we average about $20,000 a year when we are in the US. So are we poor? should I stop volunteering and start packing my family a box of food?

That moment in the food pantry has made me think a lot about income and how we see ourselves.

My family is a funny mixture of class values: poverty income and owning class aspirations. My parents have always operated on a low income but dealt in real estate, leaving them with a fairly comfortable retirement.

Poor is relative – when I look around Troy, I know there are people living on much less than us. Tarps cocooning trailer homes in the winter to keep them warmer. Kids whose only meals are the free ones the school offers.

But those same kids are the ones who run barefoot and wild around town in the summer – whether through negligence or intelligence on the part of their caregivers, the poor kids have the richest lives: looking for worms for hours, scrounging up $5 to buy french fries, drinking cold, fresh water from the faucet at the park.

While I’m handing over the $5, I ask these kids what their plans are for the day and they say “sit under the bridge when it gets hot” or “go and ask Justin’s uncle if we can mow his lawn for money.”

I don’t want to glorify poverty – and I don’t know what those kids live’s are like at home. But there is something about the struggle, the hunting and gathering urge, the thrill of success when they meet their own basic needs, that is sorely lacking in the live’s of the wealthy.

Is this why the average American credit card debt is $17,000? after understanding that our pay surpasses meeting our basic needs, are we purposefully creating a struggle?

Last year, we had a few friends visit, all in their mid 20’s – all had recently graduated college and moved into high paying, high responsibility jobs.

They all had the same response to their new fortune: a whispered “I don’t know what to do with all this money. I can’t even tell you how much it is, because it is just SO MUCH.”

Why do we pay some so much, more than they want or need, and some so little?

I saw a blog post last week which explained it in a few short words: privilege is the assumption that because you have more, you should have more.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. I have such a confused relationship with money. I’ve never been anywhere close to poor. The Yaak was the most frugally I (or rather my family) ever lived. As an adult, on my own, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position where I could support myself—the only time I ever truly lived alone (i.e., single but sharing the cost of living in an apartment with a roommate), I had to work a second part-time job on top of my full-time job in order to make ends meet. Otherwise, I’ve lived with a boyfriend, my parents, and now my husband, who all made/make paying the bills a much easier joint effort. And yet, I’ve always had the money (somehow) to travel home or to go out or to do whatever I want, to some extent. And now, we live very comfortably and yet being a “one-income family” feels challenging. But still, I’ve never wanted for anything. I grew up knowing we were usually “in the red” when the checkbook was balanced and I never learned how (or chose) to save and I chose a career field that pays considerably lower than a lot of my peers’ fields, so I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry about money (wanting more so I could worry less about day to day expenses or wanting more so I could travel like I really want to). But then I know I’ve always been unbelievably privileged.

    I so admire families like yours or those I grew up with in Montana who have so much on so little. I compare myself and feel guilty. I feel like I need more money to make our life feel even easier—yet I have so much more than so many and most of the time I wish we lived on less. I know many families don’t have the choice, but my family does, and there’s certainly a beautiful simplicity to living a hard-working, minimal lifestyle where you have all you need and all you need is what you have.

    Ha. Obviously, I don’t have your gift for clarity and beautiful articulation—and I definitely have a confused opinion of money. But I’m grateful for your insights. So thought provoking.

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    1. Rachel Coon! Now I understand why you couldn’t read the blog until now – because you were never going to just skim a few posts and hit ‘like.’ I deeply appreciate you reading all of these, and not just reading, but, thinking about them and replying. You are amazing! xxx

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      1. Haha, Elka—that’s me, wordy and totally unreliable! 😛 I finally had some time though to sit down, quietly, and thoroughly enjoyed each post. You’re a thoughtful and eloquent writer.

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