Last week in class, we were discussing poverty, and our professor asked for a definition. It was really difficult to put a definition on it, but we tried. One guy, however, said that poverty is "like, if you have to shop at Aldi." (If you're not from this area, Aldi is a really cheap grocery store, because you bring your own bags, so they don't have to spend as much on overhead)
But seriously. I think it's completely bogus to say that a person is in poverty because they choose to spend their money frugally and wisely. If yogurt costs four dollars at Walmart and two dollars at Aldi, why the hell would I buy it from Walmart just because I have an extra two dollars in my bank account? I'm fairly disillusioned with golden spoon children, but whatevs.
We have to write a journal each week about our thoughts from the textbook. They are supposed to reveal our thought processes and are not supposed to be written like an essay. Here is my paper. For your enjoyment. But no judging.
"Homelessness and poverty is not something I thought about frequently while growing up. However, lately it seems like I am confronted constantly be those two issues. While this issue is not the social issue I feel most passionately about, I have become really interested in it. The church my husband and I started attending after we moved to Wheaton hosts a homeless shelter several times a year in the church facility. We volunteered to help, and while this may sound small-minded, I was really surprised to see how many people did not fall into the simple parameters of homeless people that I believed existed. There were families with kids, a nurse in his scrubs, and a twenty-something attractive man. As I was washing dishes, one homeless man came up and thanked me for volunteering at the shelter. He thanked me. I felt kind of small after that, but I was so intrigued and interested to learn more about homelessness.
Which is why I’m now in this class. My natural tendency is to look around at the world, see the problems in it, look at people not caring about said problems, and then give up on humanity altogether. What drew me to this class was the title: “Social Problems and Solutions.” I actually joined entirely because of the solutions part. It’s so easy to identify problems and point out how much the world sucks, but it’s so much harder to gather your inner optimism and actually make an effort to do something about it. Will I change the world? I’m fairly confident the answer to that is no. Will my effort mean something? Maybe. And that maybe ought to be enough to encourage people to at least try.
Poverty. I grew up in a middle class family with eight siblings. My dad had a stable job, but we almost never bought clothes from anywhere except Salvation Army. Were we in poverty? No. My husband and I now live in a 300 square foot apartment. He goes to graduate school and I work at a coffee shop. Are we in poverty? According to the Illinois Legal Aid website, the yearly income poverty level for two people is $15,130 after taxes. That number is really close to the money I make, so technically we are living in poverty. However, we drive a jeep, have a large television, pay for monthly internet, have health insurance, support our cat (who eats a surprisingly large amount!), go to occasional movies, have a substantial savings account, and own a nice computer. Our parents are willing to help out if necessary, but so far we always find a way to make it work.
Although we fall into the poverty line, I would never classify myself as living in poverty. I think one big separator between being frugal and being in poverty is education. My husband and I both graduated from college, he’s in grad school, and I am auditing classes to try and continue learning. We were taught how to manage money. We were taught about emergency funds, 401k’s, checking accounts, and compound interest. Other people who may be at a similar income level as us, but lack the education we received may have a vastly different living situation. I believe one of the main differences is a lack of financial education.
Last year I worked at Wells Fargo bank in a small West Texas town, where the poverty rate hovered just under thirty percent. I saw people come in who had constant overdrafts on their accounts, yet they still used credit cards. I was called out by my supervisor because I was not offering new credit cards to customers, or asking them if they wanted to “opt in” to the debit card overdraft program, which basically screwed over the people who couldn’t handle money. It was very rare if I saw an account that had more than two hundred dollars in it. It broke my heart to see so many people who lacked the knowledge to balance their checking account. Although financial education clearly will not solve the multi-faceted problem of poverty, I truly believe it would be a good start to solving it. At some point in my life, I really hope that I can work in an organization where I can teach financial classes to people who may or may not be in poverty."