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How to Get Poor and Stay that Way

Updated on February 14, 2015

Culture Shock

My wife and I are middle class people so it was a real culture shock for her when she took a job that also hired a large number of poorer younger people. The shock was not that younger folks like different things than us or that poor people might not have nice things. The shock was that poor folks she worked with not only wasted enormous amounts of money but they often refused to consider changing even when given detailed information about how and why they should consider doing so.

Learning to Be Poor

For some people, being poor is a habit. It is learned behavior. I cannot make this statement about people mired in third world poverty. They may have disadvantages like a corrupt and dictatorial government that can’t be overcome just by being honest and working hard. Rather I am talking about people who live in one of the wealthiest countries this world has ever seen. Compared to other historical and even current nations the United States is a land of plenty and we almost literally have pennies raining from heaven just like the song says. Notice I did not say “dollars from heaven” nor did I say “streets paved with gold.” If those sorts of things are going on, I missed that parade.

An example of money falling unavoidably on people's head is when the Obama administration announced that illegal aliens who did not pay taxes can still file for and get tax refunds. The United States is the only government in the world that I am aware of that will reward foreign criminals handsomely for breaking US law. In any other country illegal aliens, once discovered would be lucky to live. The governments of other countries would not shower illegals with tax refunds.

Generational Poverty

Consider a girl who was not only born into poverty, moreover, both her mother and grandmother were teenage mothers who had children before even getting out of high school. Further suppose that both the girl’s mother and grandmother each immediately went on welfare when they had their first babies. For such an impoverished girl, the quickest and best way out of poverty, both for her and her eventual children, would be for the girl to avoid doing what her mother and grandmother did. Rather than becoming a teenage mother and living out her life on welfare it would be better for her and her eventual children if she finished school and held off on having children until she married.

Some of the gold star single mothers from middle class homes in middle class neighborhoods who have great jobs and great children will sometime mistake this advice as an insult. Since the advice is meant for women who if they become teenage mothers will have no support system, no hope, and no future, nothing is being said about middle class single mothers. But for girls whose mothers and grandmothers were both teenaged mothers who lived their whole lives on welfare in neighborhoods surrounded by gangs and drug dealers, something needs to change.

Get an Education

By the way, you don’t even have to finish school in the regular way if for some reason you couldn’t or just didn’t. Getting the equivalent of a high school diploma such as a GED can be good enough for many purposes.

Birth Control

Most of us do not have religious objections to condoms and birth control so as the commercial says, don’t leave home without it. For young women one of the best and easiest ways to avoid poverty is to wait on children. Not only is contraception available, in some cases it is free. If contraception is not for you then consider that not every form of intimacy results in pregnancy. Community standards force me to omit the particulars but there plenty of ways of being intimate that will never result in pregnancy. And for the deeply religious and deeply committed there is abstinence. Given that we are a secular society abstinence may not be for most folks but it should not be denied as a goal or lifestyle for those who choose it.

Poor Dreams

Once you start working you don’t have to give up those dreams for staying forever mired in poverty. If you want to stay poor then a good way is buy your lunch every day. You should also buy Starbucks coffee and a newspaper every day. Each time you purchase these items you are likely to say to yourself that it’s not really that much or you really don’t do it that often. Consider that for these three items, lunch, coffee and a newspaper, you may have wasted on the order of $10.00 per day or more. If you did that every day for a year that’s $3,650.00 or more. If someone handed you three grand do you think you could do something nicer than buy a cup of coffee and a sandwich?

Of course you are going to eat lunch, drink coffee and read the news. No one is saying you can’t. But if you brown bag it, make your coffee at home and put it in a thermos and read the news online or get that paper that gets thrown in the break room trash every day, you could easily save several dollars per day and in no way diminish your lifestyle.

This coffee cup economics can bring up a number of issues. There are workplaces all across American where they provide coffee and even some snacks for free. If you can get your coffee off the boss’s dime it is a good idea to do so.

If two jobs are of equal merit, to stay poor, take the one with the longer commute. A longer commute can also offer the benefit of a lower quality of life. So you pay more to get to work and you enjoy life less. Also emergencies or just forgetting something at home become a crisis rather than an inconvenience when you have a long commute.

Budget From Hell

One issue that coffee cup economics raises is: the dreaded budget. If you ever catch yourself saying: It’s not that much. Or: It’s only just this one time; chances are you either don’t have a budget or you are lying to yourself about having a budget.

One of the easiest ways to stay poor is to have no idea where your money is going. No budget = poverty. One of the easiest ways to start a budget is to write it down every time you open your wallet or purse or reach into your pocket. No exceptions. Every time. If you buy some candy or gum every day make note of it. Chances are that if you bought that candy or gum in bulk at the warehouse store you’d get your sugar fix much more cheaply than stopping at the corner store and buying. Convenience stores charge for convenience.

Soda Zombies from Hell

If you are buying soda every day then not only are you wasting money but you are injuring your health. There is no minimum daily requirement for refined sugar. Corn fructose is not an essential nutrient. The soda machine is a rip-off. Even buying bottled water from a soda machine is a rip-off. You should never drink soda period. If you insist on doing so then you need to work at a place where the boss provides drinks for free. I would suggest that you switch to the free coffee and the free tea—you’ll live longer. If the boss doesn’t provide and if you still insist then buy your poison sugar water in bulk at the warehouse store and pack the soda in that brown bag lunch you are bringing to work every day. Be sure to poison the little kiddies with your deplorable soda habit as well.

A famous black comedian once opined that poor black folks should look at what rich white folks were doing to their children at their high toned schools. He claimed that the rich white folks were not feeding their kids with fat and sugar and that maybe black parents should ask why that is….

Your Vices are Killing You

By the way, smoking, drugs and alcohol cost money and ruin your health. If you want to get poor and stay that way you must be completely out of control with each of these vices and more if possible. While some claim that moderate amounts of wine are good for the health no one in his right mind claims that there is a minimum daily requirement for heroin, cocaine, or nicotine. Stay off drugs and nicotine if you don’t want to be poor. Get on a program to get off these vices if you have the habit. It is not difficult to flush hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of your life down the toilet on these vices.

Ignorance is not Bliss

Ignorance is one of the best tickets to poverty devised by the mind of man. There is a disturbing correlation between illiteracy and rates of incarceration. Put another way, if the only thing you know how to do is steal, you tend to become familiar with prison. As some would point out, correlation is not causation. There are educated fools in prison and there are some people who though they did not finish college still managed to be millionaires. However, common sense tells us that there is a reason why there are so many illiterates in prison.

If you want to get poor and stay and stay that way spend every free hour watching reality TV.

Time for all you Kardashian haters to belly up to the bar. There was a study done a while back comparing the habits of the rich to those of the poor. The wealthy tended to spend more of their free time reading self improvement books articles whilst the poor tended to spend more time watching television. Again, correlation is not causation but what does your common sense tell you?

It Does Take A Village

If you lack money, resources and time, a possible strategy to get poor and stay that way is to become an island.

It used to be that we lived in large extended families. If not in the same house then at least near each other. This helped because if the mother was forced to do something outside of the home like work, there were plenty of grandmothers, aunts, nieces, etc to watch the kids for cheap or free.

A lot of us now live far from our families still others of us are estranged from our families because either we don’t approve of their lifestyles or they don’t approve of ours or both.

If a single mother is working two or more jobs then who is raising her children? Especially if she cannot afford daycare. The answer is that the street is raising her children. Often, this does not end well.

For the sake of the children as well as the well being of the single parent a greater effort is going to have to be made by the individuals involved to reestablish the extended family. Since this cannot always be done, single parents are going to have to start reaching out to one another and watching each other’s children for instance. There is some chance of find people close by with shared cultural values who can help raise the children.

Some would say government should step in and help raise the children. There are at least two dangers in this. One is I can just guarantee that government will not share your cultural values. And the second is a consequence of the first, you will eventually return home to a stranger. If you let government help you raise your child then government may well estrange you from your child.

I don't have time

Ignorance is almost certainly a key to poverty and sloth is a good way to stay poor. Another way to think of this is: If you know everything, why are you still poor? There must be something you don’t know.

It generally takes time, energy and resources to learn something new. This is yet another reason to reestablish the extended family and to reach out to neighbors in a similar situation and offer to help and to be helped.

For some of us there is lemonade to be made out of these lemons. If you have a long commute to work on which you don’t drive, this can be an excuse to learn a new thing. For some it can be learning about aspects of your job you don’t otherwise have time to. For others the time can be spent learning a new skill. Many of us find time to download a time wasting app on our smart phones, why not download an app that will teach you a skill that may get you a new and better job. There is supposedly and app that will help you to learn Chinese for instance so there is almost certainly an application that can help you learn statistics.

Want to stay poor, always accept the status quo. Know in your mind and heart that you can never do better or be better. If is your lot in life to be cat waxer or that guy who paints asphalt white.

Better Moustrap

One thing clever people do is get “angry” or frustrated all the time with the way the world works or doesn’t work. If you are unhappy about the way something works, then you can bet someone else is to. Now figure out what would be better. Design the improvement, create it and sell it. If you don’t have the ability to design and sell your “better mousetrap”--now you know what the new skills you need to work on are.

Impulse Power

Impulse buying will make you poor so do lots of that. Also, when you want something but the first thing that looks remotely like what you want—that will almost certainly keep your poor and unhappy.

Your best defense against impulse buying is the budget. Make you budget at start of the month and stick to it. If is not on the budget don’t buy it. If you need help with budget and knowing what to do about emergencies and other matters then I recommend radio talk show host Dave Ramsey. Some of what he recommends can seem a little extreme—at first. But the closer you get to living the way he recommends the better off you will be.

Now as far as buying the first thing you see, I hope most people know this just can’t be the way to go. You do actually have to compare prices and features of at least three different examples of anything you want to spend our hard earned money on before you buy. Do they have any warranties or guarantees in writing? What is their return policy? For most of what you buy if they don’t make an effort to replace or repair defective merchandise, then you probably shouldn’t shop there.

Credit Worthy

Want to be poor? Get as many credit cards and possible. Max out all the cards and then get more credit cards. Pay the minimum on each credit every month.

If you don’t want to be poor have a few credit cards as possible. A budget purist might recommend none but for me that’s not practical. Never pay interest on a credit card purchase. When you pay interest on a credit card you are giving someone your money for nothing. Always pay off your credit cards in full at the end of the month. If you can’t do this then you should not buy the item with a credit card. You should save up and buy it with savings. There may be emergencies where you might have to act different but the term “emergency” can be dangerous. Don’t use “emergency” the way our corrupt politicians who are buying your vote with your money do. Unless you are a doctor or an EMT, emergencies for normal folks happen about once per year. Not once per day

In my view you should only pay interests on houses and cars. These are large purchases that take years to buy for most of us so paying someone for the use of their money is not so bad.

Stupidity Tax

If you want to remain poor you should pay someone else to do your taxes. Surely I have angered some of you by saying that! If you have itemized nightmare and some complicated business conundrum maybe you need to throw accountants and tax preparers at it. What I am calling out is people who are at or near the minimum wage with kids and bills of all sorts paying someone to do their taxes. The AARP is at your local library is willing to help you do your taxes for free. There are any number of online websites that will help you do your taxes for free. If you are paying someone to do your taxes you’d better have a good darned reason or you are wasting your money.

Another way to remain needlessly poor is to go for the biggest tax refund possible. If you are getting a big tax refund, you let the government use your money for one whole year, interest free. How many complete strangers would let you use their money for one full year interest free?

Better Call

If you have a landline phone in your home you are probably wasting money. If you have a landline phone and a cell phone then I for one am overwhelmed by your corporate philanthropy. Your sacrifice so that poor and needy corporations can buy extra yachts is greatly welcomed. You are such a humanitarian!

Cut the Cable

If you have cable TV you are probably wasting money. How many times can you watch that old movie that is already out on regular TV anyway? Surely you notice often they repeat programming that was particularly palatable in the first place. Cut the cable and use internet websites hulu or companies like Netflicks to watch those movies and cable TV programs. It’s cheaper and you can watch what you want when you want. You won’t need DVR anymore either. Which means you won’t pay for DVR.

Poverty Insurance

If you haven’t shopped for home and car insurance in a couple of years then you are probably wasting money. I don’t care how many free calendars or mouse pads your current company is giving you, as long as you go with a mainline alternative that has been in business for years and has a decent Better Business Bureau rating, cheaper may well be better.

Poverty Tax

It has been said that the lottery is a tax on the poor and an IQ test to see if we test positive for stupidity. I would not go quite that far. I would say if you spend over about a dollar a week on all forms of gambling—and yes, the lottery is gambling—you may a problem that is taking bread out of your children’s mouths and you may need to seek professional help. It has been said that moderation in all things is a virtue. I have my doubts about taking this saying to extremes since many of us think that there may be no moderate way to seek liberty, freedom and justice and surely the religious think that seeking righteousness should not be a moderate process, nevertheless with most things most of the time, moderation is the way to go. Some commonsense is required. You do not starve your kids to death even if the budget seems to demand it. Rather come clean and admit you have done something dishonest with budget. Feeding the kids is more important than saving for that whole in the water that you pour money into (a boat).



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    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Glad you dropped by Besarien. I certainly learned some of these financial lessons the hard way.

      Be blessed!

    • Besarien profile image


      3 years ago

      All very good, um, anti-advice. I enjoyed your Swiftian approach to frugality and common sense.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks for dropping by Peggy. I will take your advice to heart. Have a blessed day!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Well written and so very true! This is a common sense hub if I have ever read one! When I was a volunteer counselor at an assistance ministry I often saw things which helped keep those seeking help with bills in poverty. Manicured and painted nails are another example of what is not a necessity unless one is a hand model.

      Did you know that soda poured over an anthill kills them? It is true! We don't buy soda but occasionally get a free 2 liter bottle in a "meal deal" at one of our grocery stores where if you buy one thing you get another for free. We use it that way! Up votes and sharing.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hello Audrey. They say that Ralph Waldo Emerson spent some time living out in the woods just to prove to himself it could be done. Most of us do not need to go that far but for many, the more things they have the more stress they have. Someone could take all those things!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      3 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      It took me years to learn to live the simple but stress-free life. I wouldn't trade my life-style for anything. I only wish I would have learned the valuable lessons you've shared years ago.

      Free and frugal! Great hub!

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hello Laurel. Thanks for dropping by. I think your points are irrefutable and the principles inherent in what you say work every time they are tried. As a society we are currently in a race for the bottom to see who can get the most stuff for the least work. Eventually, everyone will lose when someone finally wins that race.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 

      3 years ago from Washington KS

      Your points are interesting and thought provoking. I grew up learning from grandparents who never had a lot of money but worked hard, fed their children nourishing food, and encouraged education in every way possible. My mother joined in that process after Dad abandoned his family leaving her with four little kids to feed, clothe and raise on her own. We thrived, well fed and well educated, without welfare assistance. As you said, it can be done if adults set priorities, work hard, and follow a sensible budget.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Good to hear from you Elsie. As for your question, in order to charge the father with paternity you'd have to find him first. It sounds like the welfare system in New Zealand is based on responsibility. The US welfare system is based on victimhood. If you can claim to be victim of deadbeat dad, poverty and especially if you are still a minor then it is more likely that you will get on welfare. If you cannot find the father then that increases the victim status and you are more likely to get welfare. Some pointed out that the way the system was designed at one time gave the father incentive to leave the home and make sure he couldn't be found in order to increase the chance that the girl would get welfare.

      I would say that the American welfare system is dedicated to create a permanent dependent class that will support liberal and progressive politicians. Some call it a welfare plantation. The denizens of the welfare plantation get angriest when they think their benefits might be cut.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      I agree with what you are saying. There is no need for living on welfare everyone can better their life, it's up tp them.

      You said "rather than becoming a teenage mother and living out her life on welfare".

      I will ask this question as I don't know how it works in USA.

      Isn't the father acknowledge when the mother registers the birth?

      Because in New Zealand you don't get paid the full welfare benefit until the father is named, he has to make a monthly payment, a percentage of his wages into welfare until that child is eighteen.

      Plus lots of other things, like the mother getting a part time job when the child goes to school.

      Thanks for an interesting subject, I'm like you, never used welfare and there is not need to, as I worked my life to make sure my children knew the values of life and money isn't given to us on a silver platter, we have to earn it.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      MsDora what you say about instant gratification is instructive. Almost all successful people are familiar with delayed gratification. Our prisons are full of folks who insisted on instant gratification.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      You do give us much to think about concerning our attitude toward self-improvement. It helps to decide early what does and does not work; also whether to choose instant gratification over long-term benefits. The generational habits and consequences deserve much attention.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      FlourishAnyway I definitely agree that knowledge that is often offered quite inexpensively here can take you places and give you a good life. I have made a good living from subjects I learned for free from the internet. Education is the key.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      Education is the great equalizer, something that can never be taken away from you. My father was born dirt poor, the next to last son of eight children, the son of a farmer. Through education, hard work, and a frugal lifestyle he became a self-made man and sent three children to top universities. Some of his siblings didn't get an education and not only are they trapped in poverty but their children and grandchildren are, too. It's a generational effect. We do stand on the shoulders of those who came before.

    • poetryman6969 profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Rachel, I certain agree with your observations. In a free country a person can choose to live well or to be a professional welfare recipient. If the welfare queen was only one affected, I would actually have a lot fewer problems with it. The problem comes when she acts as an example to her children. I am a bit of a schizo in this area in that I actually admire creative slackers who impact no one but themselves but I consider it to be almost child abuse to teach a child that there is something wrong with education and hard work.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      You obviously did a lot of research on this topic. I read 80% of it. Of what I read, I totally agree with. I know a lot of people in all situations. One family I know of in particular came to my mind when I read the part titled "Generation Poverty". About the daughters who follow in their mothers footsteps going nowhere. It's all about attitude. In this family the father and mother raised all 5 of their children in the welfare system. Out all five only one child followed suit. The other children stayed in school got a higher education and got good jobs and are raising their families to do the same. The one child didn't have that attitude of mind and took the lazy way out of life. A good education in how to not waste what money you do have is also important which you cover so well in this whole hub. I hope a lot of people get to read this. I voted thumbs up and useful.


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