On why poor people make bad choices.
In her Guardian’s article, Linda Tirado gives her answer as to why poor people make bad choices. She is ages with me and poor but that’s about all we have in common. She lives in the US, has a husband and two children, works and studies. I live in Scotland, am engaged and cannot work due to my disability. The biggest difference, however, is our attitude to money.
Tirado’s reasoning is that no matter what she does, she will always be poor so there’s no point in trying too hard. I am actually clinically depressed – so Tirado’s “what’s the point” resonated deeply with me, especially after last Friday.
She sees no sense in anything, not even cooking as it “attracts cockroaches”. I don’t understand it – vegetable peelings are surely just as likely to attract pests as empty takeaway or ready-meal containers. She does not relate her food choices to her self-reported lack of beauty – better nutrition would make a change to her appearance and general health. She simply gave up on long term planning believing that poverty cuts off that part of the brain.
Long term planning is a necessity. It doesn’t matter that we will never have villas in Spain and chalets in Switzerland to relax in during our working lives only to retire in a tropical paradise devoting our time to gentle pursuits of golf and charity balls.
Financial planning is not just for stocks and shares and options and other stuff rich people do to make money “work”. For us, the poor, it’s about not losing the little money we have. It’s about being able to cover the winter energy bills or at least knowing when to turn off the heating. It’s about not accruing late-payment fees of any sort. It’s about having enough food in the cupboard to prevent us taking up a doorstep loan in a moment of weakness. It’s about realising that money is king especially if you have little of it. Above all, it’s about having a very firm control over yourself.
I live in a constant fear that our benefits will be slashed or suspended or that we will be sanctioned. I am tired of tweaking the budget and saying no to myself and my fiancé. I hate being limited as to what we can afford. I resent taking a bottle of tap water with us whenever we go out to save that 50p on a can of juice in case we get thirsty. I despise eating home-made sandwiches on our biennial trip to the big city’s Primark. I bemoan being number 41 in a queue in my local library to read a much-awaited book that costs about £8. I don’t want to be serious and strict all the time about every single financial decision and seeing no end in sight.
However, bad as it is, it could have been worse. We could have debts with a loan shark or a payday loan company. We could be overdrawn or have credit card debts. We could have been made to pawn our belongings. We could be in debt with the energy, broadband or water company. We could have no money saved up for new clothes or shoes. We could have no money set aside for our low-key “celebrations”. Long-term planning saved us from it all. It is a sad victory but a victory nevertheless.
What keeps us above board is prioritising. A takeaway today, means we will be a tenner short when it comes to buying a winter coat in the sales next year. A trip to the cinema to “cheer up”, means there will be no special food for Christmas. A quick pint as a “reward” after another ghastly and disappointing meeting in the Jobcentre is a fifth off our food budget. Feeling better for a while is not worth suffering in the long term. You just have to be adult about it because the happy-go-lucky devil-may-care option will have you in tears soon enough. Our planning will never make us rich or middle class but it does make a difference to our lives.
This is the point of planning ahead – we might be standing waist-deep in a quagmire but we will not sink ourselves any lower by making poor choices because we choose to have control over them.