In Discussions, Money, Wealth

“Have you tried being less poor?” and thoughts about judging others

I know no one has the audacity to say this out lout or even on the internet, but this is the feeling I get when I read blogs or IG comments/articles.

They’re basically saying:

“Have you tried being less poor?”

It’s both insulting but also true for some people, but it definitely isn’t an answer you can give to every one or situation.

I am not so left-y that I think poor people are poor for a reason and should be punished for being poor, and yet I am not so right-y that I think people aren’t simply lazy or not working hard enough/living up to their potential.

As with everything – IT DEPENDS on your situation and you as an individual.

I believe some people are wasteful, lazy AF and should definitely get a reality check on their finances because they’re wasting their money without having a plan for it, and other people are not quite so cut and dry.

I think this requires a bit of context, so I’ll talk a bit about my own family, extended, and then myself.

My family: Awkwardly middle-class

My mother grew up in dire poverty. I did not. I had an awkward middle-class upbringing because my parents won the lottery, and we lived a life that we truly couldn’t afford based on what my parents did which was not work (mother) or work part-time at minimum wage (father).

My father drove a used Mercedes-Benz, and paid a house in cash in Canada when we immigrated, and my mother went back to school to get a certified Canadian degree because hers from our country and her years of experience, was completely worthless in Canada without it.


For about 15 years, we lived like this. My mother after graduating with honours in her 40s (she is admittedly not a great student so this was a real accomplishment for her), spiralled into a depression when with her degree, she was unable to get a job in her field.

No one would hire her, and all the ones who did get hired for her specifically-trained position, were not people of colour. In fact, they were juniors, who had no certifications, degrees or the depth of experience she had, and she had to be their assistant pro bono to try and hope they would eventually throw her a bone and hire her.

I don’t want to believe it was racism but it was blatant racism, and her self-esteem took a hit.

She hid it from us kids when we were younger, and tried to put on a brave face, but she broke down when she finally got hired in the U.S. only to be turned away at the border because the people there had no idea they had to apply for a visa for her, etc.

It was a very low, and dark time for her, and my father, continued to work part-time and be ‘semi-retired’, pursuing his own hobbies, with zero regard for us, or what she was going through, only grumbling that she was “costing us money” with her degree and lack of income. He also took on no childcare or housework to speak of, or very little, and we raised ourselves which turned out to be great because we’re now smart, well-off and independent.

Eventually, my mother caught a break, moved to a bigger more diverse city, and was snapped up immediately because her degree was much more than what was required, and to this day, she earns over 6-figures and is happy as a clam spending it all (another story for another day).

Now, my mother is the happiest you’ve ever seen her. Even with all the crap that has been thrown at her over the years because of racism or otherwise, she still claims she has the best life and the best job in the world and REFUSES to retire even though some petty folks at the office keep asking her when she’s going to retire. She told them she couldn’t, she had a mortgage to pay (lies) and she couldn’t afford to stop (partly true, actually.)

My extended family background: Dirt Poor to Filthy Rich

My mother’s side is dirt poor – she sends back money all the time. I also paid for my aunt whom I’ve never met, but my mother asked, to relocate completely and shouldered all the expenses.

My mother was raised in poverty, and remembers everyone else who is still suffering so she gives her pay back to them every month, even when she didn’t have much, herself when she tried to cobble together work during that dark time. She would give the clothes off her back if you asked and while this is a great and generous nature, it isn’t always reciprocated or rewarded except in the karma she feels in her heart.

My father’s side is awkward; he is adopted as the male heir but grew up spoiled which made his sister resent him and his mother because she treated her daughter like crap.

Eventually his sister married a very cheap, but abusive man (it was acceptable back then to hit your wife but their sons no longer tolerate it now) who was business-savvy and built a fortune of millions. We are not going to get a penny of it, and it was made clear on numerous occasions that we were ‘on our own’.

This, I see as being fair – my father is kind of a lazy wastrel who squandered his opportunity to do something with himself and sacrifice for the family, but didn’t, and instead, decided to ‘retire’ at 40 with no regard for his family. If I were his sister, I wouldn’t be generous either seeing as how he treated her growing up. You get what you deserve.

My father was raised a prince and thinks he is owed a life that was stolen, and blames everyone but himself for the situation.

Myself: Middle-Class to a 1%-er

And now we come to me. I was raised as you read above, middle-class, without having seen any work ethic from my father, and an overabundance of determination, grit and work ethic from my mother (I took after her, thankfully).

I had a strong female role model in the family who always told me: I’ll never give up until I make money of my own, then I’ll feel free and independent, and even when my brother asked her to quit and come nanny his children (he would pay her but obviously not 6-figures), she demurred politely and shoved my father into the role to which he was greatly suited for, to everyone’s surprise. I mean, the kids weren’t educated or enriched like you’d imagine, but they were well loved, cared for, etc.

I never knew we won the lottery until my late 20s and it all made sense how my father barely worked, my mother was at home, and we lived in a big house and drove a big car. It also makes me sad because to this day, they still on some level, think the lottery ticket is their way out of their “situation” when in fact, they have had so many great opportunities come their way, only to squander them.

I was promised $10,000 was put into my account for education when I was 7, only to get into school, come asking for my education fund to pay for it, and be told shamefacedly that my father never bothered to listen to my mother and set aside any money for us kids. My mother was also partly to blame – she didn’t know and still to some extent, has no clue what it costs to run a home, budget, and save money.

I didn’t expect any money – they promised it to me and kept repeating how if I got good grades and made it into the best schools, they’d be able to pay for it. So, I worked towards that goal, and then had it snatched out from under me. This is a pretty traumatizing thing, to be lied to even unintentionally.

I was pretty angry because now I had to scramble to try and get grants, scholarships and loans, and it made me resentful for many years until I sort of let it go because I turned out fine in the end, but I can see how that resentment could have grown and festered into something nasty.

It’d have been better had they not promised me anything, which is why I am not making the same mistake with Little Bun. He will save his own money, and then when he graduates, I will see how it goes with his money habits and if I have the means, I will gift him the money to clear his loans, if he has any. No promises made. I won’t say a word.

I eventually got out of $60K of debt in 18 months, near to the end, having quadrupled my income after 2 years out of school by going freelance and making $90K in 3 months. I figured out money and investing on my own, how to budget, and at age 35, achieved work-optional status where I don’t have to rely on my career any more to pay the bills, with almost $1M in personal net worth.

More than that, my side incomes are now building up nicely, and I made almost $35,000 in 2019 in side income which is more than enough to cover my expenses. My barebones budget is around $15K (I am living it now to see how it feels), and my luxurious budget is $40K a year.

Until my side incomes EASILY bring in $100K, I would not feel comfortable spending $40K. Deep down inside, I still want to save money from my income regardless of its provenance – even though it is a ‘side’ income.

So now, I’m in the 1%. I don’t feel like it, but I can see how I am.

So what does this all mean when I hear things like: “Have you tried being less poor?”

I understand it isn’t so cut and dry when people are poor, just as the path to being rich isn’t straightforward. Sometimes it’s luck, either good or bad.

Some people are lazy AF

My father. He just got damn lucky with that lottery win but he’s simply lazy, there’s no getting around it. He is lazy and doesn’t like to work, is cheap and thinks everyone owes him a living.

These people, if they end up being poor, are poor because of their lack of self-awareness, work ethic and grit. He’s just lucky he has my mother who is basically the Golden Goose, to pay for their living expenses, and cleared their mortgage, single-handedly.

I know firsthand, that some people deserve their situation, and for those people, they’re a good chunk of society that should have no excuses.

Some people like my parents, get opportunities of a life time, and waste them, over and over again. It had nothing to do with luck in their case that they wasted it or got to where they were, but that they did not see the chance for what it was, and to push to financially educate themselves and work as much as possible to build a foundation for the future.

I can excuse them… but not really. There are so many other examples of immigrant parents who didn’t have even the same set of opportunities (NOT EVEN CLOSE), and are now far more secure and well-off than mine.

Some people stay poor out of bad luck/circumstances

My mother grew up in poverty. It is a damn miracle she made it out of it considering what she went through. Most of the others in her neighbourhood did not, with a lot of her own family members. Out of sheer determination and grit, she left for another country altogether with her other sister, and fought her way into a job that eventually ended up being a great move.

It could have also gone the other way. She could have been broken in spirit and mind, and stayed where she was, earning pennies to try and live.

Being poor, is not a reflection on you sometimes. Sometimes, you’re pushed down to be poor because of the systemic discrimination that runs through our society.

Examples from real life:

  • Not getting an interview because your name is too ethnic
  • Getting the interview and then being dismissed because you’re a woman and/or person of colour
  • Being assumed you’re a criminal just based on your skin colour alone
  • Growing up around people who are in gangs, living in poor neighbourhoods where people don’t support you trying to make something of yourself and to be someone better – sometimes the pressure and pain is so much, you just give in to not get beaten down
  • Not having any role models to speak of – how can you know there is a world out there where you DON’T have to live like this, paycheque to paycheque unless you come across someone who wants to show you this world (mentor, teacher, etc)
  • Being in a relationship and then your own option is to take your child(ren) and run from an abuser, which now puts you in a position where you have no assets, no money, no education, no way to just ‘pick up a job’ and support yourself and your family on an income that could afford that
  • Having to send money back home to support your family (like your children and husband or wife) because you’re alone in a country trying to make money to pay for them


That “anyone” can make it is BS

It certainly isn’t true here in North America. There are so-called ‘objective’ criteria that actually only refers to a certain subset of society, based on its ‘rules’.

Take for instance, who they would want to sort out as criteria for a face on a banknote, they don’t need to put “must be male and white“, but they could set up other filters that exclude women and people of colour to make it so that the subset they pick from is only… well, male and white. So they can just point to it and say: We absolutely DID NOT say “no women or people of colour!” It just happened to turn out that way!

Just thinking back to the past – we know more famous men than women just because men were the only ones taken seriously, allowed to publish works under their names, or in some cases, took the works of the women around them and slapped their names on it to become famous.

If you think about even just finishing high school and getting into a college, all of the factors that need to be in place for this to happen, aside from your own personal willpower and determination, there is so much we take for granted that contributes to that:

  • Growing up in a war-free country/zone that doesn’t disrupt daily life
  • Growing up in a country that allows women rights and freedoms, even though we are still unequal and of a lesser subclass
  • Growing up in a family that loved and cared for you – no abuse (mental or physical)
  • Growing up in a household that had shelter, heat, food, and clothing
  • Growing up with a support system of siblings and/or friends, aside from your family that helped you stay on track
  • Growing up in a school where teachers weren’t there just to collect a cheque & others were also willing to learn (we all just want to fit in so badly, and that can take many of us down the wrong path early on)
  • Not having to commute long hours by public transit to go to school because you live so far away

Then, let’s consider that some others, have had extra of support and help:

  • Private tutoring
  • Parents who worked 9-5 jobs and were able to spend time at home with you doing homework
  • Parents who were highly educated and could/would teach you extra things above and beyond what you learned in school
  • Lack of concern about money as in “do we have enough to pay for rent and electricity this month”, when concerns lay more along the lines of: “where should we go on vacation this year?” – kids pick up on all of this
  • Living in a richer neighbourhood, or being sent to a private school for extra education (although research says that isn’t necessarily a factor in whether your child will do well – post coming up on that later)
  • Having a car and being driven, and not having to spend hours just trying to run basic errands by bus

…there is so much more, truly than what I am listing here. I was quite lucky in a lot of the chances I got in life but at the same time, I was not as lucky with others.

…and on top of all that..

Yeah there’s more. Once you get out of all that, let’s say you go to apply for school.

If you need to pay for special exams to practice beforehand, that costs money.

If you need to go to special classes to study, that costs money.

If you need to pay for admissions applications, that costs money.

Is that money that you can easily get your hands on if you’re really poor?

We take $50 for granted. I can easily get my hands on $50, even if I had no money at all, I could ask my family or even friends – not everyone has this opportunity or privilege.

I remember hearing a story about a woman who worked really hard at night classes, taking a bus to and from after work, studying all her weekends while raising a child, only to end up having to pay for an emergency that only cost $50. She was unable to take the exam she needed for certification because she needed that $50 that was now gone.

For the want of $50, she was unable to change her life even though she did everything they said she should do – work hard, try her best, study, etc. She wasn’t able to get a better job and get out of her hellhole because of $50.

She isn’t the only story.

Remember: I am in the 1% and I am a woman of colour

I “made” it. I didn’t have rich parents, I had a middle-class life, and I ‘made’ it. I have every right to say to everyone: If I can do it, you can too!

But I feel awkward doing that, because I know it isn’t as easy as it seems sometimes.

The only thing I can say with definite certainty is that everyone who wants to, can learn financial literacy. Financial literacy which includes budgeting, managing money, and investing, IS NOT JUST FOR THE RICH. It is how you become rich, and all personal situations aside, everyone can learn to be financially literate.

When I hear these phrases….

Well if you can’t save $50 that’s something f*cking wrong with you

…. makes me sad because there are people out there who can’t. Their budgets are so tight, they have no room after rent, utilities, and basic food out of cans at the discounted dollar store.

They would like to make more money and get a better job, but it takes capital to pay for night classes, and any little emergency can derail you because you’re living on the edge.

How can you ask someone to work TWO full-time jobs, AND take night classes while raising a child? If you don’t have family, childcare is another added expense on top of that, and you’re worried about whether or not your child will be abused but you have NO CHOICE but to leave them there.

This is something that unless you’re a single parent, you cannot comment on because you know NOTHING ABOUT IT.

You should stop having that daily coffee

Sure, that works for people who squander their money because they have it, but if your budget is tight, there IS NO MONEY for a coffee.

This is glib advice that doesn’t apply to anyone because they don’t have extras for it to begin with. There is no give.

Aren’t poor people also allowed to live?

On top of that, hearing that also sort of makes me sad because it is like the poor have to be punished for being poor and can’t have any luxuries, even small ones like a coffee.

They are being criticized for “wasting their money”, but what else do they have to live for when their situation is so desperate?

I can totally see my mother in this. She had nothing growing up and for many years, lived on nothing. The only thing that brought her joy was food, so to be able to spend her money on a meal that she couldn’t afford to cook (no real kitchen where she was living when she was younger – it was just a room in a house, nothing more or less with no stove, and a shared bathroom amongst 5 other people), and to splurge on that cheap takeout meal once a week, was the only thing she looked forward to.

So on the one hand, I see the merit in saying that it all adds up over time (and it’s true), but on the other hand, are the ones who are well-off the only ones allowed to enjoy their money?

Should my mother have not taken that one meal she looked forward to as a taste of home because she was poor? Should she have punished herself and denied herself to save a few extra dollars?

It’s hard to build up from $0, no matter what anyone tells you.

You need the support of those around you growing up, and as you’re older. Starting from literal $0 with no help, is like moving a mountain alone.

Personal finance and “money management” seems to be an elite problem

People who are the most critical and adamant that “anyone can save money, they just need to stop drinking coffee and wasting it“, are usually privileged, white men. I live with one of them, and my son is going to be the epitome of White Privilege, so I’m always having fights with my partner on his views.

He simply doesn’t get it, or see it because he hasn’t had to experience deep discrimination based on skin colour. I have had to have deep discussions about how he doesn’t see that it isn’t always black and white for women, and people of colour, and for situations.

It isn’t so cut and dry to say: Well they were dumb, so they deserve it.

What’s the justice in being called ‘dumb’ when you were born into the wrong family, neighbourhood and life and not in another one that allowed you all the comforts?

What’s the justice in being called ‘dumb’ when your skin colour is what holds you back from opportunities?

He cannot know what it’s like to be a woman if he isn’t one, or unless you take time to read literature that explains to you what we go through to really understand what it is like to be someone who is stigmatized, talked down to, and looked down upon.

I also think that worrying about debt and investing, is to some extent, a worry saved for the privileged.

For instance, I heard advice from a PWM (privileged white male), basically berating someone who said she found it hard to save money and live because she was on paycheque-to-paycheque subsistence living.

He tells her: Have you tried living in a cheaper apartment? Cutting out your coffee? Not driving? Selling your stuff? Moving to a lower cost of living area?

With every question he asked her, he attacked her, and was coming from a position of privilege because these are things middle-class people can do and ‘waste’ their money on.

He basically blamed her for everything and while that may be true (yeah, maybe she’s totally wasting $300 a month on manicures, shopping and so on), but maybe…. she isn’t. Why come out immediately with the stance that she is?

Without knowing her situation, he sure assumed a lot about her and decided he was the authority that knew how to fix it.

To break it down, even just telling someone to move to a cheaper apartment may not work for this one reason: She is a woman.

As a woman, I am constantly in fear of my safety and life. It is not as prevalent as if I am in a truly poor neighbourhood or country, but I definitely feel vulnerable and have an undercurrent of: “Am I safe if I go here?“, running through my head everywhere I walk.

To dismiss someone and tell them that they should think about living in a cheaper apartment as the solution to their problem, ignores that she may not be able to because the neighbourhood that she could “afford” to save money, is not safe. Simply put, she risks her life each time she comes home or goes out, maybe could/would get raped or beaten, and/or have to live in fear of the neighbours around her.

That mental stress, is something men don’t really think about. They assume a lot, not having been in the position of being a vulnerable woman.

Or asking someone to live in a lower-cost-of-living area – it costs money to move, find a new job, uproot yourself, you need CAPITAL as I discovered when I moved my aunt from one city to another. It was in the thousands to do it the middle-class way when I moved her.

Or how about “Not driving and give up your car“?

How did he even know she had a car?

And maybe she lives somewhere where she NEEDS a car because it is a low-cost of living area, and not a busy metropolis with public transportation everywhere to help get here to where she needs to go (which, is a higher-cost of living area)?

Maybe she needs that car too, because she is a woman. There are so many stories of women getting sexually harassed and abused on public transit, that if you work a night job, or go at odd hours, you are at risk of being alone in a car with a danger around you. Or walking out of a metro station alone with no one around.

Or even during rush hour where there are TOO many people, you get groped, harassed and abused just because they know you can’t tell who is doing what and call them out, or even MOVE because you’re packed in like a sardine.

I have personal experience with this, and the fear that someone is stalking me in the metro even with everyone around me, or having had my bum groped by a man at the age of 12 while crossing a busy street, is all things I HAVE PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED.

And I did nothing to warrant any of this, except be a woman. The sad thing is all of my girlfriends have a similar story of harassment. How can this be that 100% of the time, it is true? We just don’t talk about it openly enough.

It isn’t just a story to me or to many women.

This is a common problem in London, Tokyo and busy cities. The humiliation of being violated without your permission is painful – and maybe in this case, asking someone and sneering at them to take public transit and give up their car, is not the right answer.

Maybe he’d even tell this woman: “Get over it, it just happened once – you should stop whining and save money by biking and walking” …. even though both of those are dangerous activities to do alone after a night shift at a minimum wage job, for a woman. Not for a man.

So to say these things in a condescending manner and not consider that you may not know WTF you’re talking about, is truly a Privileged (White) Male point of view.

(They can’t even fathom that you could be scared of being stopped in your car just because you’re black, and perhaps being shot for being ‘threatening & aggressive’ when if you were white, you’d just be ‘angry’, and your colour alone is what caused that.)

These are just a few of these examples I see, and I am torn on this subject. Truly.

I believe strongly in having made my own luck, created my own destiny and worked my way up, but I also didn’t have basic living obstacles in my way that I had to go through.

All I want is for people to ease off

Have some compassion and empathy, and understand that you can’t know what they’re going through, you don’t know their story and background, and you can’t assume you know something you don’t, especially if you’re a PWM telling a woman of colour that she just has to do “simple things” to get rich.

I’d love for everyone to for one day, be in the shoes of someone not as privileged as you are.

I’d love for people to live on these budgets that some people are living on, and then to turn around and say: Well pick up a second or third job, you lazy SOB … when they have children to care for as a single parent, and no outside help.

And honestly, this is a mental exercise I go through when I feel like things are unfair. I think about what it was like for my mother, and take a deep breath.

It doesn’t make it any fairer, but it makes it more bearable so I can move on and try to change it for the better for myself and for others by voicing these opinions which can be very polarizing for many in a money community.

Thoughts?

(Can’t believe you made it to the end.)

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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8 Comments

  1. NicW

    Great post Sherry. I spent some time early this year assessing my relationship to alcohol and was fascinated to read that the white male view has structured the area of addiction recovery too. Once privilege is pointed out, you can’t unsee it ! As an example, the basics of Alcoholics Anonymous instructs the giving up of ego – yet it is a construct of privilege and accessibility – where being humble is not necessary and has to be taught.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I didn’t know it applied in addiction recovery as well, and now that you’ve pointed out “giving up of ego”, you’re absolutely on point. You should definitely read Invisible Women if you haven’t already:

      Reply
  2. Catherine

    All good points, and a reminder that you never know what someone is going through unless you are in their shoes, and living their life. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and compassion. Most people want to be in a better position, and it’s not like people are trying to live their worst life, as opposed to their best life.

    Similar to your perspective, I often see privileged people expel hate and judgement if someone – who they deem as “poor” – has ANY luxury item/experience. If they see someone with an iPad, they make a judgement statement that instead of spending money on that iPad, the person/family could have done X,Y,Z. There is so much wrong with that mentality from a position of privilege – and none of it helps the “poor”, in fact, I think the only thing it serves, is to make the person of privilege feel better about THEMSELVES. It’s not THEIR fault that there are individuals who have less than them, in fact it’s the POOR PEOPLE’S FAULT, because they bought that iPad/luxury item.

    It takes the conversation away from solving the problem, which is not at an individual level. There are deep-rooted systemic biases/discrimination that have created an unfair society. I think it’s become even clearer in light of the adverse impacts from COVID19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement, we do not start at the same starting point, we are not judged by the same yardstick and we are not treated equally. Not by a long shot.

    And going back to your initial point of the judgement on poor people – at most – this judgements serves to justify the privileged person’s conscious and only furthers the division between wealth classes in our society.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      And if someone can’t even realize that they could have started from a position of privilege just from being born in the “right family, or with the right last name, or the right colour of skin…” there’s not much else you can say.

      Reply
  3. B

    Powerful post Sherry. A good reminder to be compassionate where appropriate.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Nothing is in black and white. I really believe that, and I wish people would have more empathy in general.

      Reply
  4. Gail

    Both my parents were extremely poor–no shoes poor, potatoes only poor–as children. They did not finish school because they HAD to earn money to help the family. Proudly I say that they worked like crazy as adults, lived through the Depression of the 1930s and raised their 3 middle-class kids to all go beyond college. The work ethic was strong as was the valuing of education to these wonderful and intelligent parents. They at times struggled, but they did admirably. My husband and I both have challenging growing-up stories, but our children also have continued into graduate school and have learned the value of hard work and of being frugal yet charitable towards those with less success in overcoming unfortunate circumstances.
    Your blog post shows insight and respect. I will read your writing for as long as it continues and I am able to, and I thank you.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Thank you for sharing your story. I just think it isn’t so black and white when it comes to dealing with people who don’t have money. You have those who work really hard but circumstances are against them, or you have those who work really hard and do well (like myself). Then you have those who don’t work at all.. and those are the ones everyone seems to target, but that isn’t everyone!

      Reply

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