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When Poor People Have Nice Things

I've always wondered about people buying groceries with food stamps while carrying an iPhone. This point makes a lot of excellent points about what happens when poor people have nice things and gave me a new level of understanding of how welfare, food stamps and medicaid work in the USA. Give this a read before you see another designer handbag produce food stamps.

is this guy worthy?

There’s a graphic circulating on some of my friends’ Facebook profiles that really gets on my nerves. I told myself I wouldn’t write about it, but I saw it again last night and I just can’t help myself. The graphic says, “Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford an iPhone like the person in front of me at the grocery store. The one paying with FOOD STAMPS!”

Anytime that picture (or something similar) is posted, it gets about 50 “likes” and a long string of comments from indignant people who have personally witnessed a poor person owning something of value. The rage is evident – how dare someone on food stamps have a smartphone! Why should they even be allowed to have a phone at all? Our tax dollars blah blah blah blah…..

Here’s the thing: We can all think of at least one person who games the system. After working as a therapist for almost 7 years, I can think of quite a few. But no one knows the life situation of every single person on the planet, no matter how much they think they do.

A good friend of mine got fired from her job just days after her husband was laid off. Both of them had iPhones on his parents’ plan, which cost them $50 a month total. Now what makes the most sense – breaking that contract at hundreds of dollars, or scrounging up the $50 a month in hopes that one or both of them would find another job soon? They didn’t have to sign up for assistance – they were both lucky to get jobs before their emergency fund was drained – but if they had, they would have been in the grocery checkout line with iPhones in their pockets.

I Speak From Experience

The only assistance I’ve ever personally used was Medicaid for my son at two different times during his life. But I will tell you – during both of those times, I had cable TV. I had internet access at home. This last time, I had an iPhone (gasp!). I also owned several items that could have been pawned or sold for a decent amount of money.

Was I living it up? No. Not even close. But as someone with two college degrees and tons of ambition, I also never planned to continue collecting that assistance forever. Why should I empty my house of all the things I bought with my own money, only have to buy them again when the crisis was over? That really doesn’t make sense.

Now, I could understand it if I had a Lamborghini or two in my garage. But when you’re used to a fairly middle class existence and something happens to you (no matter what it is), you assume that your situation will improve at some point. It’s not like the poverty police come take all your stuff in the middle of the night. You still own all the things you did before. If you had nice clothes, you’ll still have nice clothes. If your cousin bought you an expensive handbag last Christmas,  you’ll still have that handbag. No one drops off a tattered, dirty wardrobe for you to put on before you leave your house.

I Know What You’re Thinking

I can just hear the comments now. “Well, I know someone who did X and Y,” or “I saw a lady buy Z at the mall.” I know. I’ve seen it too. That’s not the point.

The point is, some people are in situations that we know nothing about. Some people own nice things from a better time in their lives and choose to keep those things during a setback. And some people make choices after becoming poor that we wouldn’t personally make. Talking smack about those people on Facebook isn’t doing anything to eradicate poverty, or to change the fact that there is widespread abuse of our current system.

If you get upset when you see a poor person with nice things like smartphones, all I ask is that you consider this:

  • Maybe they just got laid off last month and they already owned the iPhone.
  • Maybe a family member pays the phone bill.
  • Maybe they’re picking up groceries for a disabled neighbor with the neighbor’s food stamp card.
  • Maybe the phone was a gift and it’s jailbroken on a prepaid plan.
  • Maybe you should worry less about what someone else has and more about yourself.

To many people, I could be considered “poor” right now (even though my bills are paid and I’m saving money). And guess what? I own several nice things. Some of you will judge me for that, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But I will continue to be disgusted when people criticize another person’s choices, especially when they can’t possibly know the full set of circumstances.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I'm totally with you! It drives me crazy when people judge others after only seeing a snapshot of their lives. Like, OK, I have an iPhone. (Who doesn't?) When I got it, I signed a three-year contract not just for the service, but for the data, which means that even if I wanted to sell the phone and get a cheaper dumbphone (and maybe net $50 on the sale), I'd still be stuck paying the $65 a month for my iPhone plan for the remainder of my contract, or spend the hundreds to buy it out, depending on how far into the contract I was. Now, I've never been in the position to need assistance, thankfully, but if I was, I wouldn't give up my iPhone because it just wouldn't make any financial sense to do it, not to mention the fact that I don't have a landline, so my cell phone becomes a necessity for communication and safety.

    And I think you're right that if you just fall on hard times, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to sell all your stuff at a loss to get you through, only to buy it all again at full price once you're on your feet again. Assistance is there to give someone a leg up when they need it, but I don't think you should have to be completely destitute before you collect it.

  2. bogofdebt says:

    I cannot agree with you more. Coming from a poor background I would sometimes get castoffs from people that were barely used/worn. They were nicer than anything we could afford but they were free. I remember that everytime I go to a store and see "a poor person with an iphone using food stamps". Because I don't know the story behind why they have the nifty stuff they shouldn't be able to afford. When I had no job, I scrounged up the money to keep my phone. Why? So I could get calls about a job interview. This was a wonderful post!

  3. I agree. We are just getting our finances back in order, and although we're lucky enough that we didn't need to go on assistance, it can happen to just about anyone and you don't know anyone's background story. Plus just because someone bought something nice, doesn't mean it was on a whim, perhaps they saved and bough it refurbished for a great deal.

  4. I wanted to go on and on but then realized Twitter only lets me have 140 characters (just like a stingy editor who won't let me populate my book with the entire contents of my mind!!) so I had to pop over here to tell you how much I love this post.

    As a newly-single mom about to receive (any day now, I hope!) foodstamps, I can't begin to tell you how much I love this post. I'm seriously considering shopping at 2am at Wally world for our groceries just to avoid the snide remarks.

    Yes, I have an iPhone. It's paid for by hubs' business plan. (he runs a family business). I would not be paying $70 a month for ANY phone ,but since it's free, I'll keep it.

    Yes, I have high-speed cable internet at home. Umm hi, freelance writer. I HAVE to have internet. I'm actually downgrading to a "lite' version that costs a bit less, and I'm compromising with the kids and getting rid of digital cable to save another $20 a month.

    Yes, we have pets. A lot of them. Four dogs, 4 cats, five guinea pigs, a rabbit, a bird and 3 turtles. We had all these long before my hubs decided to bail on me. If I could thin the herd I would, but who wants to volunteer to tell my 12 year old he has to give up the dog he rescued from the pound three years ago, or my 15 year old she can't keep the guinea pigs she cuddles with when she's sad about her dad leaving? And don't even try to take my dog, he's my warmth at night, my security blanket, and the only reason I get any sleep at all.
    Know anyone who wants a 7year old lab? (hub's dog, the one he left here with us?) Or a couple 12 year old cats who can't live indoors because they spray? I didn't think so.

    If it comes down to feeding our pets or feeding my kids… well I'll be making a trip to the shelter. In tears. And walking, because I will have sold my car, shut off our cable and any other non-essentials, stopped our phone service and hocked all my personal belongings before I will dump my responsibility to our pets on someone else.

    If people want to judge me for doing my best to hold together a household my ex decided was no longer worth his time and trouble, so be it. Meantime… I'm just gonna keep on moving forward and doing my best to give my kids a decent life.


  5. addvodka says:

    OMG.I love this post. SO TRUE!

    People need to just get over it. I especially love your last point -worry about yourself, because if anyone is THAT worried about what other people are doing, it's likely that they are just deflecting their shitty lives onto somebody else.

    To me, internet and a cell phone are necessities. especially if somebody has fallen on hard times and needs to find a job or look for prospects – how are you supposed to do that without an internet or phone? (also, I'm not saying somebody needs both a cell and a home phone, but having a phone with you if important).

    When I was little, my mom – a single mom, making VERY little money, getting no child support and trying to support a pre-divorce mortgage – bought a new car.

    It was worth it to her to be able to worry less about our safety, or about being stranded on the side of the road on her way to work because the car broke down (which would potentially cost her a job). We sacrificed in other areas but I'm sure it wasn't well received that we didn't have a ton of money but had a decent car.

  6. There is simply no reason for people to be so judgemental on poor folks. I say that knowing that realistically, I have been guilty of being judgemental about people and their spending habits. For example, when I see people living in 1-bedroom apartments in low cost of living areas, yet driving $40,000 vehicles. That's hard for me to grasp.

    But, I think you're right in that we can't always judge. Cell phones are a good example, as you suggested. Plus, there could be other factors behind the purchase, include somebody else buying it for them. You never know, so it's good to be reminded that we should all be a bit less judgemental. After all, we can't always judge a book by its cover, right?

  7. Totally agree with you!
    People should learn to mind their own business and worry about their own lives.

    Reminds me of when my mom and I went shopping and someone made a comment about my mom parking in a handicap spot and how 'people like her should be arrested for breaking the law' because my mom looked 'normal'. I went off on the man about how my mom had COPD and it's a daily struggle to breathe 'normal' like he or I and that he should learn to not judge others based on what he 'sees'.
    Of course my mom was upset and the man?….I made him feel about 2 feet tall. I hope he learned not to judge based on what he thought was true.

    Social media has made us 'bullies' in a way that we don't have to say anything at the time, but can bully a person or a group later on and the gang can 'like' it.

  8. Andrea, that is a good perspective. I've caught myself being judgmental but the truth is …. I know NOTHING about that person's life. I try to remember that. Sure, there are people who abuse the system but they don't carry a stamp on their forehead!

  9. This post really makes me uncomfortable — and it also makes me not want to have nice things ever, you know? Or at least not obviously nice things. I just got designer jeans at Goodwill, now I bet people will be judging me (while at the same time staring at my butt). Ugh.

  10. or maybe they stole Bridget's iPhone 😉 joking.. kind of, I really do miss the thing =(

    I know what you mean. I don't know about "poor" people owning valuable things, but I do see a lot of people buying what I know they can't afford. I just assume they do it with credit.

    I'm kind of an asshole though. If someone doesn't have nice things, I assume they have no money, and if they do have nice things, I just assume they bought it with debt.

  11. laurenwhitehead says:

    Amen. The assumptions made in those judgmental statements are crazy.

  12. I love this post because I often have to check myself, mostly out of jealousy. I sometimes find myself thinking how can they afford that when we can't. Um-maybe because we have four kids and spend our money going to sporting events, duh! The book 'A Girls Guide to Homelessness" really opened my eyes and my awareness of just how judgmental I have been. Now I try to extent grace and just mind my own business.

  13. I agree with Bridget. I usually just assume people buy things on credit, and that they are in debt. But in reality, we really have no idea what other people are going through.

    It's kind of like when people are really rude to waitresses, sales reps, people in customer service, whatever. I used to think, what is that person's problem??? They are such a B***H! But now, I kinda just brush it off and tell myself that they are human, and they could be having a shitty day, or someone in their family may have died recently, or whatever. You really don't know what people go through… so we can't judge.

  14. The way I usually fall on these things is not what people have but how they act. If you're on food stamps and buy an iPhone, whatever, to each his own. Maybe you're gaming the system rightfully or wrongfully, but that doesn't get a reaction out of me.

    It's when people complain that they don't have (or make) enough money and smoke 2 packs a day or buy every new gadget out there that makes me go "HEY! Maybe if you stopped wasting $25 per day on cigarettes (yes, they're actually $14.75 across from my office) you wouldn't have so many money problems!"

    My two cents. Keep the change.

  15. Now that I can post a comment… I really do try not to judge but after some of the stories i heard from my girlfriend's two years of being a cashier in a grocery store I know there are some cases of abuse. I do not judge based on just one instance though. You have to admit, there are people taking advantage somewhere.

  16. Problem is snapshots in time verse the continuity of time.

  17. insomniaclabrat says:

    I had a really hard time with this sort of judgement when I was a teenager. I always felt like my parents didn't buy us everything we wanted because we didn't have enough money, so why should other people get nice things? I remember in school, we did a "Christmas basket" for a family in our city one year (I think it was through Salvation Army, but I could be wrong), and some of us got to go help deliver it.

    Anyway, leading up to the drop-off, our teacher told us about a million times to remember that even though we were helping this family out with presents for the kids and food for a few meals, they might have nice stuff. But even though they were struggling right now, they could have bought the stuff when they had more income, or it could have been a gift, etc. I don't know if I just trusted my teacher, or if my "don't judge others" upbringing finally came through at that point, but I finally got it.

    Sadly, some people from that class are the same people that share those judgmental pictures on Facebook. Obviously I'm human and I judge people all the time, but I don't share it on Facebook, and I don't presume to know everything about a stranger's financial situation. Unfortunately logic doesn't always go over very well with people once they get riled up about a topic…

  18. I remember several years ago we were really struggling, I had just had a 3rd child and the church was helping us as I had a difficult pregnancy. I have always been a very hard worker, but I just was too sick to work. My parents stepped in and bought us a really nice jogging stroller (I would rather have had the money.) Someone left a snide remark on our door about us taking help and then going out to buy an expensive stroller. I was crushed. But I also get irritated when I am at Wal-mart on the 1st and I have my 3 bananas, 2 oranges, 1/2 gallon of milk, 1 loaf of whole wheat bread and I am trying to stay in budget and I see carts full of crap convenience food, soda and chips all paid for by food stamps. I really feel we should give commodities and not a blanket card to get anything and everything. I like the WIC program because it forces people to get nutritious food.

    • I'll agree with you on that one to a point. After working with tons and tons of families who received food stamps, one of the things I learned is that (many times, but not always) the people have no idea how to buy or cook nutritious food because they've never personally done it. And a lot of times, their parents didn't either. I think it's ridiculous to hand someone hundreds of dollars each month to buy food without teaching them what to buy and what to do with it.

      I don't know that forbidden convenience foods is the answer – poor kids want Pop Tarts and Lunchables just like any other kid – but I think food stamp recipients should attend mandatory nutrition and/or cooking classes. Then the first few shopping trips should be taken with someone who is trained to help them make good purchase decisions AND will help them cook the first few times. I do think it's a good idea to set a limit on junk, like 75% of the money must be used for actual food, for example, but in a lot of cases I think simple education would go a long way. Of course I also think that way about parenting and cleaning, but that's a whole other post.

      • I agree with the mandatory cooking classes. I worked at a grocery store for a summer once, and was shocked and horrified at what people spent their food stamps on. I always assumed that you could only buy healthy foods with them, but I was clearly mistaken. Everyone is allowed a little indulgence every now and then, but people should have the opportunity to learn about healthy foods and cooking too.

      • stephanie wright says:

        I shop with a food stamp card for my friend who has COPD & dementia, she can’t walk around the store anymore. She has no teeth so there’s a lot of stuff she can’t eat. She has no family.
        She can’t cope with any cooking, frankly it would be highly dangerous given her cognitive issues.
        She can’t even manage portioning, so everything has to be single serving, which is of course more expensive per serving. She can’t lift a large juice bottle (I buy the big bottle and decant it into smaller saved plastic bottles).
        She eats a lot of ice cream and juice and mac-an-cheese, like what a 2-year-old would choose – her doctor says it’s OK, what she eats at this point isn’t going to make much difference – but people in line behind me at the store occasionally comment on the purchases.

  19. By all of the comments I would say you have more to write about.

  20. Amen. I also think people who judge that quickly think that because you're on food stamps or what not, it means you must stop time and treat things as if it's the end of the world. So you got laid off? Omg, quick, sell every scrap, every item, every piece of your house for money, get rid of your collections and start slaving at the fast food chains! It isnt the end of the world. Some people pull through hard times and rebuild their lives. Some people don't and use the system because it's easier. But regardless, unless you know all the facts, judge all you want, but do it in silence. Stereotypes can lead to prejudice if you act upon it, which people do by snide comments, regards or backstabbing lines of chats they would otherwise not dare say in person.

  21. bluecollarworkman says:

    I just made 2 unicorns born by reading some of those other posts of yours 🙂

    I'm guilty of the judgements you mention. Partly becuase my wife and I have to forego some ltitle luxuries to get by and so when I see likewise poor people have these luxuries I get pissed. But instead of your list of questions/thoughts that we shoudl ask ourselves when we see someone poor with something nice, I think we shoudl only think about the last one in yoru list, "Maybe you should worry less about what someone else has and more about yourself." We just need to take care of ourselves. Let what other people are doing be their thing. What you're doing is your thing. It shoudl make life less stressful too, not having to think about what others are doing so much.

  22. I've decided I love you. I couldn't agree with this more. About the junk food on food stamps; it's not always a personal choice challenge, sometimes it's a budget challenge. If you have $200/month or more if you have a ton of kids (depending on which states economy you're receiving benefits from,) junk food goes a longer way to feed all those mouths than healthy food. You may want to buy everything to keep everyone healthy, but keeping them fed may be more important. This isn't for every case, but for some. The other thing is that maybe they've gotten their WIC benefits, so they have all their healthy stuff from another trip, and now they're doing the stuff to feed to their kids between soccer games and ballet practice. Should it be healthier? It could always be healthier. But it has to be realistic, too.

  23. Teinegurl says:

    *I also agree with another commenter that you may have gotten a few articles out of this one!*
    As a person that grew up with a single mom and now i'm a single mom. I have to say that to not have things that people consider luxuries makes for a very bleak life sometimes. I remember when the 1st colored ipods came out and EVERYONE had one but not me (well it sure felt that way) I saved up my money over time to be able to afford it for my birthday present to myself. I babysat and got a job to earn money of course by that time something else had come out to take over but knowing i had it was so rewarding to me. To other people it was "old" and i got teased but i didn't really care about it. Just like this past xmas my phone got me HTC smartphone has a xmas gift and pays my bill . Before that i had a really OLD flip phone but it didn't matter to me has longed as it worked.

  24. Teinegurl says:

    When I got divoreced i HAD to go on foodstamps for the first time in my life because i was working minimum wage and didn't make enough to put food on the table. I had to volunteer at the state office & work just to get the assistance but i'm happy to do those things. I don't know about other states but in HI you have to go to nuturtion classes if you have WIC. They tell you what you can buy and it's not junk. They give you recipes and work with you. Of course i see people who abuse the system and have things that i want but i'm PROUD to do things the right way and let me tell you i work hard to earn a living. I don't think people should have to justify themselves to anyone.

  25. Jessica says:

    This is a really thought-provoking post. I used to be one of the judgemental types, since whenever I went to the grocery store when I was younger my parents would point it out. As I became friends with people from a much poorer background and started going to church in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, I realized that I can't judge the person at the check out line. I have no idea what their story is, and what they own is none of my business.

  26. Hear Hear! I hate those facebook things, and I hate the idea that if someone gets laid off, people seems to expect them to immediately wear nothing but rags and look sad all the time. When I was unemployed, I got up, got dressed and faced the day because it helped me stay sane!

    You never know how much someone paid for something or where they got it–so quit judging, people!

  27. @paigers91 says:

    Yes thank you! I was going to go on a long tirade but at the end, just thank you. This really burns me up when people criticize other people having assistance. Just worry about yourself.

  28. Agreed here. Those over-arching generalisms on facebook are worse than bumper stickers! And I know people in both camps, who cheat the system and who need the system. I think people should not get mad at these people, because you're right, you don't know them, their story, or what they've been through. Maybe if you took 2 seconds to get to know them, you would change your mind.

    Now, I'm not saying I haven't thought this stuff before, but having gone to a few church small groups and meeting hurting people, I know that you can't just categorize a person based off a 1 second glance at them. There are real people, and if they are scamming, why not try to help them make better decisions, or talk to them about why they are doing what they are doing?

    I love writing my blog because I feel like I am able to help others make better decisions without being judged. They can read something that might inspire them to change their ways, and then have no shame in talking about how they used to make poor decisions and now make great ones.

    And let's be honest, sharing a stupid picture like that on facebook isn't changing anything, but is only helping embitter more and more ignorant people. How about a little compassion and consideration first.

  29. SavvyFinancialLatina says:

    I have definitely caught myself judging people based on their financial habits. I come from very little money, and sometimes I just gasp at how much people can pay. But your post reminded me that I do not like being judged. Like when I bought my car for 13K in cash. I am pretty sure everyone was surprised including my parents and in laws. I think my in laws thought we were rich. But I had been saving up to buy a car for five years! I am not rich, I just saved to buy a nice car.

    • SavvyFinancialLatina says:

      It doesn't help that I now live in an area where nice fully loaded SUVs are common…

  30. philliprush says:

    I really enjoyed this post. i am 21 years old and i have a cousin that is 27 who is african american just graduated university college with a football schlorship i havent seen him in years for the fact he was gone off to school but after he graduated and came to a few of our family events he is now living a lavish rich lifestlyle he has a 2007 bentley paid off supposely , he wears expensive clothes and accesories such a gucci louie vuitton and has a condo but he dont work and his girlfriend has a carreer but she dont get paid enough .i know.. to afford 70 inch plasmas …expensive furniture set about 125,000 dollars and shops only at coscto or other wholesale store that dont accept foodstamps , he always have a load of cash with him expensive professional cameras but is umemployed!!

  31. I so agree! I work for barely over min wage and a girl at my work has the nicest of everything yet has the same number of children I do and is only part time 32-40 hrs while im full time 40+. Ive found out since that she basically pays for very little of her bills her car and rent are paid by her grandparents as well as cell phone and insurance. My kids dad pays daycare and her cable. She really only pays electric and water. Plus whatever she wants or needs and things for her kids which her ex also gives her money for that. So its no wonder she drives a brand new car has had three different new phones this year and always has her nails done and new clothes. I would too if I wasnt paying everything on my own. But I dont judge its great some people get help from their families. Sometimes I wish I had someone that helped!

  32. My friend is married, wears nice clothes, lives in a middle-class neighborhood and has 5 kids (2 biological, 3 adopted). The youngest 3 of the kids are on Medicaid. What people don't know is that those 3 are an adopted set of siblings and the oldest of the 3 has severe emotional and psychological problems. My friend and her husband adopted them when they were ages 2, 1, and newborn. At the time, the oldest's difficulties weren't apparent although it was known that the kids had been abused and neglected by their drug-addicted biological parents. Here in Texas, if you adopt a child from a "hard-to-adopt" category (sibling groups, or an older or disabled child), you are given several government benefits including Medicaid. She and her husband are considering quitting Medicaid and putting the kids on his work insurance just because of the dirty looks and snide remarks.

  33. Just a moment ago someone I thought I knew pisted exactly that . She had just been in the market and the couple in front of her didnt “seem ” to need W.I.C. ( a gov aide program that helps new moms buy formula for babies. Formula is expensive.
    Anyhow . I commented with this on her post.

    My sister lost her house during the crash . She was a part of budget cut at IBM as a high paid executive she had everything cars , a pool a beautiful home a bmw . She started dating someone who ended up steeling everything right out from under her by the time she could figure out it was all gone he was about to sell her House . And she didn’t even know it. Yep that’s right she had no idea. He was slick and a thief. Anyhow if she applied she would qualify. Her wardrobe is exquisite, . And YES she has clothing. When you lose your home chancess are you still have clothing . Anyhow . Whatever. I see what your saying.
    I am BROKEN . I can not do some things that some people can. So those things keep me from moving forward . I qualify for a bunch of stuff. I was in a domestic violence relationship and ut BROKE ME . After a traumatic experience one is never the same . I lost my identity , my joy , my smile , my career . You nam.e it. Its taken me fifteen years to climb out if that . I love in a beautiful space that us my home and studio.
    I do not have tatoos. But I own a car . My dearest sweetest father pays my rent . My story is longer but its mine.
    So if you see someone who seems they have more than that WIC voucher. Aren’t you glad that they havent hit the bottom so bad that they’ve lost their kids. Or worse. Yes there are, people taking advantage if the system . But they all look different. They’re stories are different . No two are the same .
    Im not writing this, to put you in your place , I love in a neighborhood where people have babies at 18 just to get aide from the government. I hate that shit. But if I collect a dime . I have earned some assistance I have wirked in this country my whole life . I need help getting back on my feet. Thanks for your help.
    Besides if I stated using assistance right now , I would still take a shower, do my hair, paint my toes, wash my car and go to the market like I did yesterday and I would cry a little bit inside when I was at, the checkout when I quietly took out my voucher hoping and praying that no one saw because there are so many people judging .
    And I didn’t deserve to be judged. And neither do you.

    She read this and commented back that she couldn’t write what she had seen about the couple on face book.

    WTH . So she posted something to make herself look ignorant. I don’t see the purpose of that.

  34. Here’s another angle: to fit into a world that mostly looks and feels middle class, you have to put on the middle class costume. No one will take me seriously if I show up in rags. So I do what I can: I pilfer through dumpsters and “free” boxes on the curb, find the nicer castoffs, take them home and clean and mend them. I keep my hair trimmed neatly (I usually do that myself because I can’t spring for the $15 for a haircut). I keep my shoes clean and tidy. When I go out into the world from my mean little home, the railroad workers’ little box on its cinder-block foundation that will fall down in the next earthquake, I look for the cheapest way to get places (usually riding a bicycle; or sometimes [illegally] fabricating upgraded time on a discarded bus ticket if the weather sucks). I may even help myself to what’s left of the challah at my synagogue when no one’s looking, bringing a ziploc bag for the purpose, so I have bread to eat at home. And every now and then, I steal — a small bit here or there from a store that caters to the well-off — and flip it on craigslist if there’s a bill due that I haven’t earned enough to pay.
    Because I AM that poor, and too proud to ask for assistance that my more middle-class friends might find out about. I seldom accept invitations to eat out, preferring instead to host my closest friends at home — the few who won’t look askance at my falling-down house and who don’t worry about the day-old bread I got at the back door of the bakery because they’re doing the same damned things themselves.
    What sucks is that I need the middle class costume to have any hope of landing a job. One can’t look too desperate or one’s prospects end up in the circular file.
    When the world wakes up and accepts that more of us are simply wearing the costume and aren’t really doing so well, when more of us who are poor are willing to sacrifice what little social capital we have left by dispensing with the costume, then perhaps things might change. Might.
    I’m not holding out a lot of hope on that score, so I’ll continue my freegan ways and not worry too much about it.
    In a world set to favor the well-off and attractive, have the ethics I can afford to have.

  35. I own an iPhone. And I’m also homeless. The phone was a gift and is sometimes my own way to reach people or comment on awesome articles. Thank you for writing this! P.s. If you see a person with a giant red back pack and a crazy top hat hitching on the highway, consider offering me a ride. Much love!

  36. Adelheidae says:

    I would never say the poor shouldn’t have nice things, but I have to disagree with the authors attitude.
    That is the very reason people think the way they do… The root of her complaint!
    Why DIDN’T you sell any of your nice things when you were in need?? Why do you feel it is the governments job… AKA MY JOB… To pay for your needs when times get tough, when you know you have items you could sell to get your own money! You even said that when times get better, you could buy them again! Yes!!!! That’s the way it works!
    Provide for yourself.
    Now before you all think I’m heartless and start spewing hate at me, stop! I realize there are those who have nothing and no means of providing some basic needs…. I’m not talkin about that. I’m talking about the author and her attitude that when things get tough in her life, she shouldn’t have to sacrifice even cable TV, while our taxes keep being raised to support those who abuse these benefits. It’s wrong!

  37. My only issue with this article is that you mention widespread abuse of the welfare system. That’s not true. Studies have shown that the welfare fraud is less then 2%. Other then that, great article.

  38. True, Mike. Very little fraud. (And most states do offer nutrition classes but some can’t cook because they don’t have the equipment to cook, etc.)
    Now, if she wants to talk about CORPORATE welfare…

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