An excerpt from Linda Tirado's 2014 book Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America lays out some of the ways that being poor costs more than having a comfortable income — it's more than having to pay for high daily rents in a motel because you can't afford first-and-last.
As wealth disparity continues to mount, articles like this are an important reminder of how the winner-takes-all economy works — once you start to lose, you can't win.
One time I lost an apartment because my roommate got a horrible flu that we suspected was maybe something worse because it stayed forever–she missed work, and I couldn't cover her rent. Once it was because my car broke down and I missed work. Once it was because I got a week's unpaid leave when the company wanted to cut payroll for the rest of the month. Once my fridge broke and I couldn't get the landlord to fix it, so I just left. Same goes for the time that the gas bill wasn't paid in a utilities-included apartment for a week, resulting in frigid showers and no stove. That's why we move so much. Stuff like that happens.
Because our lives seem so unstable, poor people are often seen as being basically incompetent at managing their lives. That is, it's assumed that we're not unstable because we're poor, we're poor because we're unstable. So let's just talk about how impossible it is to keep your life from spiraling out of control when you have no financial cushion whatsoever. And let's also talk about the ways in which money advice is geared only toward people who actually have money in the first place.
I once read a book for people in poverty, written by someone in the middle class, containing real-life tips for saving pennies and such. It's all fantastic advice: buy in bulk, buy a lot when there's a sale on, hand-wash everything you can, make sure you keep up on vehicle and indoor filter maintenance.
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America [Linda Tirado]
Why Poor People Stay Poor [Linda Tirado/Slate]