Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Poor Looking- Assumptions

I was recently speaking with a person in my community, looking for some leeway in something because of our rough financial situation. This person did not budge from her position, no matter my entreaties, as she did not and would not understand our desperate financial predicament. We can't possibly be in a rough financial spot because my husband has a job, after all.

How could she understand? We don't look poor.

Not so long ago, I was speaking to a lady in my community about her husband's side job. He worked  for a charity that provided money and chickens for needy families. Said I, "Oh, I could benefit from something like that." Said the wife, "No, this is for people who really don't have money." Said I, "You mean, like us." Said she, "No, you don't get it. This is for people who really don't have any money."

See, I don't get people. Why do people assume to know other people's monetary status? When you grovel and tell people how you can't afford to pay something, embarrassing yourself... and it ends up being all for naught because they turn their nose up at you and don't even believe you, it really hurts. People make fallacious judgments about others' financial situation, and these assumptions can sting more than the initial embarrassment.

I was thinking about why people assume we have more money than we actually do. Here are the reasons that came to mind:
We don't dress poorly.
We don't ask for handouts.
We have jobs.
Our home is well furnished (and if anything, its overfurnished).
We have good attitudes and cheerful dispositions.
I cook a varied diet.
Our home stays relatively clean.

-We can afford to dress nicely because we dress in hand me downs and thrift shop clothing. Thrift shops are a great source for decent clothing. In my opinion, with the availability of thrift shops, there is no reason to wear tattered and dirty clothing... unless you want to look scruffy and poor to get others to pity you. Which brings me to the next point-

-We're not beggars. I don't believe in going to collect money from others, asking for alms, when there are still ways in which to cut back. My husband once turned down a beggar who asked for charity with which to buy diapers and  formula for his baby. My husband asked him why they didn't breastfeed and cloth diaper the baby if they had no money. The beggar's answer? They didn't like nursing or cloth diapering. My husband gave it to him and told him straight out that we also are in rough financial situation ourselves and that we will not support a family who would rather beg than step out of their comfort zone and help themselves.
I will not be facetious and pretend that we never have received charity. We have. In tough times, when despite everything else we tried, we did not have money for bare basics (and I'm talking real bare basics here, like not having enough to pay for an inner-city bus fare), we have accepted charity from friends and family. But not on a regular basis, and we never asked anyone for it. People understood our predicament and gave; we did not stand on street corners, jingling tin cans, asking for "alms for the poor". No one would give us anyhow, as we aren't dressing badly. You want others to pity you and give you charity, you need to look the part and wear torn, disgustingly filthy clothes. I won't do that, because I'm not looking for pity.
I am not above government aid. If I lived in the US, I would accept WIC and Medicaid and whatever other financial benefits to which we would be eligible, but alas, I am non eligible for any sort of aid where I live, so I currently get no benefits of that sort from the government.
I do not see being "poor" as an ideal. I just feel that before I ask others to help me, I should first help myself and my family save as best as I can.

-Yes, we have jobs. Minimum wage job for my husband, and a grossly underpaid job for myself. Our rent has tripled in three years and as it is, we live in one of the cheapest areas we could find yet still be able to manage with no car (we have good public transportation where I live, fortunately.) My salary has decreased to 1/5th of what it was last year, and my husband gets paid hourly, with no paid vacation or sick days. So yes, we do have an income. That doesn't make us rich or anywhere near it.
-Our home is well furnished because it is furnished by dumpster diving, moving sales, and second hand stores.
-We try to have good attitude. Being mopey and depressed doesn't improve your financial situation. Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has. If you appreciate whatever good you do have instead of what you're lacking, you'll be able to enjoy life more than if you focus on what you do not have. Its not worth it to be mopey about rough financial situation, as having a negative attitude only makes your life more miserable, as even what you have, you aren't appreciating.
-I should hope by now that you can see from my blog that varied, tasty diets doesn't have to mean an expensive diet. I think that my varied diet is cheaper than most people's "chicken every night for supper" boring diets. In fact, by cooking a large variety of foods, my family doesn't get bored of our meals, and hence, we have little desire to splurge on expensive dinners or restaurant meals. Tasty, varied food makes life more interesting and enjoyable, and it doesn't have to break the bank either.

-As for the last point, why do people assume that poverty and filth go hand in hand? Sure, if someone is poor enough that they cannot afford even soap and water, they may look a bit (understatement) dirty, but I have yet to meet someone in civilized countries who does not have access to running water, and soap is not that expensive. The worst of messes can be cleaned with enough water, soap, and elbow grease. Being poor is not an excuse to be filthy; a clean home does not mean you have money. You just need to clean it yourself and can't afford to pay anyone else to clean your home.

In my opinion, if someone looks poor, thats a choice they are making. No one needs to look poor. With a little effort, changing your standards, and stepping out of your comfort zone, no one needs to be the wiser about the state of your finances. Living in a hovel in tattered clothes is not the indication of poorness, its the indication of an unwillingness to help oneself. At least in civilized countries, and if the person in question does not have some sort of mental illness.

People really should not assume to know the status of someone else's bank account. You really can never know, and looks can really be misleading. (I've heard rumor that some beggars make more in one day by begging than my husband and I combined do in one week.) By assuming to know, you not only make a big fool of yourself, you also can be very hurtful by not being empathetic to people, like myself, who really do not have money, and should be given a little leeway because of that. (Meaning, don't expect me to donate money to your "worthy" cause, just because you mistakenly assume I'm loaded.)

Do you ever assume to know someone's financial situation? On what do you base this assumption?

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