Skip to content

“Being Poor Is….” The Voices of America

This is a list of “life occurrences” people have actually been through which almost always applies only to those who are living in poverty. Where these originally came from, I do not know, but these came from another WordPress site called “Whatever” by John Scalzi.  After Whatever‘s list, there are hundreds of comments of people sharing their own experiences, so I have to wonder if this is not unlike a “chain-list.” A list that started with just a few items, then grew and is continually passed on just as I am doing now. Each and every passing alters and changes it somewhat by removing a few and adding in some from the comments. Every voice deserves to be heard. And please, if you have some to share, please do so in the comments.

There is absolutely no reason for this to exist in America. After all, is not the United States supposed to be one of the most wealthiest and advanced civilized countries in the world?

Children and mothers seem to contribute the majority of this list, and I have a few to add which I will start out with. Although I grew up very fortunate in life having very successful parents who were able to provide me with anything I needed (within reason, or course – no expensive sports cars or trips to Europe). This does not mean I have not experienced what being very poor is about later in life. I have made my mistakes, hit rock bottom, and gratefully I bounced back, and still bouncing back. Only takes a short time to crash, but can take a lifetime to rebuild. I was on the streets and homeless for a while. What hurts me even more than my own experiences are seeing and knowing that children grow up like this.


•  Being poor is dumpster-diving behind the upscale steak restaurant looking for that “doggie bag” someone meant to take home with them, but forgot and left it on the table. (And I did find an excellent filet once)

•  Being poor is raiding the overflow of clothing left at “donation check points” around the city.

•  Being poor is not wearing underwear because I just couldn’t bring myself to buy used underwear.

•  Being poor is “selling” my monthly allotment of food stamps for half value so I can have the cash to pay rent. I would make sure to buy a month’s worth of Ramen noodles first and a few other inexpensive items which can stretch for several days.

Now this one is a bit “gross and TMI,” but it is what I had to do:

•  Being poor is making home-made tampons out of toilet paper taken from a public bathroom.

Now, here are the rest of the voices, and there are many here I can identify with from my own personal experiences. Please listen, and I hope one day that they will start disappearing – for good reasons….

Food bank running out of food. Photographer unknown.

Being poor is….

•  Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is spending $800 on a “disposable car.” You drive it until it breaks down. Save up for another, then drive it until that one breaks down. And the cycle goes on.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Detroit. Photographer unknown.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Public housing. Photographer unknown.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Photographer unknown

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Being poor is scrambling under the car seats to make up enough change to get two happy meals to split between a family of 4 – and everyone is ecstatic when you do so.

Being poor is trying to decide which one of you gets to eat today – the one of you that is pregnant or the one of you that can work.

Being poor is stealing wood from Wal-Mart parking lot because it’s cold and you have no money to buy some.

Being poor is laying down because it hurts to breathe and you are pregnant, but you can’t afford to go to the hospital.

Being poor means saving the plastic containers and jars from yogurt or spaghetti sauce so you can take milk with you to school in your lunch after they lower the income limit for free lunches and your mom makes $3 more than the limit.

Being poor is knowing that commodity cheese tastes like heaven on an empty stomach.

Although the cars may be dating this photo, the surroundings don’t change. Photographer unknown.

Being poor means swallowing your pride and walking into the food stamp office because you don’t want your kids to go hungry, then sitting there smiling, while some social worker (gleefully) humiliates you as she goes over your application.

Being poor is carrying your fiancee to the hospital to miscarry, then using their phone to call around for someone to take you back home, since there aren’t beds for Medicare patients.

Being poor is wondering what sort of fool drops a penny on the ground and doesn’t pick it up.

Being poor means having your life gone over with a fine tooth comb to see if you’re bad enough to help.

Being poor is feeling ashamed when your ‘peers’ slam Wal-Mart, and talk about buying organic, and the horrors of driving gas-guzzling cars, all while wondering why you repeatedly find ways to not join them at $15/plate social dinners.

Being poor is using your stamps to buy pints of milk in glass bottles, then sitting outside of the supermarket, drinking the milk, rinsing out the bottle, and trading it in for a dollar cash so you can afford the co-pay on your prescriptions.

Photographer unknown

Being poor is rolling your eyes when people say “go better yourselves”, as though their abstract advice was really helpful.

Being poor is realizing that you will do just about anything necessary to feed your kids, including giving a blow job to a guy for $10.

Being poor is also realizing that yes, you will sell drugs if it keeps you one step ahead.

Being poor is bursting into tears because you’ve just learned you don’t check the right boxes to get free milk despite being poor and pregnant.

Being poor is loathing Christmas, because you know the next day everyone is going to ask what you get.

Being poor is checking out lots of movies and books from the library on Christmas eve so you can have something to do on Christmas because you know your family can’t afford presents this year.

Being poor means that you dream of finally making five figures a year, a whole $10,000, and aren’t sure what you’d do with all that money.

Being poor means having that one can of Spaghetti-O’s in your cabinet and nothing else, and going hungry instead of eating it because you can’t bear the thought of really and truly having no food.

Me, again. Closing this post.

Did you notice that these are all related to the basic needs of survival? Food… shelter… clothing….

Writing this post brought back a LOT of memories of my own — an experience that is very painful to think about, but even more important to never forget.

Photographer unknown.

UPDATE: Sept. 23, 2012 – approximately 18 hours after publishing this post…
About the blog “Whatever”….

After publishing this post, I went back to see what this blog was all about. There were hundreds, of not more than a thousand, comments on this post alone, so I knew he had to be popular. And face it… popular sites are because they’re great sites in whatever that genre may be.

I’m glad I went back….

The author/owner of the site is John Scalzi, who is a professional writer. Okay, there are many professional writers with WordPress sites – any type of site for that matter. And I’ve seen some excellent writers with weak blogs. But what I found about Scalzi’s “Whatever” is that this is one of the longest-running blogs on the World Wide Web. It started up in 1998 and has been running ever since. In 2011, WordPress stats showed he had 5.4 million visits (hits). Whether or not that includes the automated hits (spam) is irrelevant. Sure take away a million, which I’m sure is way too many for the spam hits, and still… 4.4 million hits in one year? I was ecstatic when Motley News passed the million mark in 17 months – and most of that came since October last year, so approximately a year.

Anyway, I’m not going to copy everything about Scalzi here as I would rather you go check out his site for yourself. You won’t regret it if you’re looking for thought-provoking, intelligently-written posts.

LOL… Just now, when copying the URL to his “About Scalzi page,” the slug is “station-identification-whatever.” Most definitely a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat sarcastic humor. Love it! He won my blogging heart.


Whatever: Being Poor
Addicting InfoBeing Poor (this is listed as it is through this article that led me to Scalzi’s site)


  1. Reading this made me cry. Then it made me more determined that the uncaring psychopath Romney doesn’t get anywhere near the White House. He already has more homes than he needs.

  2. Thank you, this message needs to reach much more people. I was raised very poor but did not realize it until I became older because I was sheltered from the truth. My Mom and Grandmother did without so we could be fed and have clothes for school.We over came the situation and worked hard for middle class, hard work was rewarded. Now the American Dream is being taken away by the RICH and we are allowing this to happen!! Being poor is not a sin but trying to keep you poor is!!! I do not envy those who have more but I resent those who try to keep those under educated and use them for personal gain. I have such a distain for the Corpoate greed, outsourcing the jobs and blaming the lazy workers and unions and the American workers buy this BS. We are our worst enemy. The “Art of War” divide and conquer, the GOP knows this game plan. Using tax dollars to eliminate public employees for private corporations is a criminal offense. This is happening in cities, counties, and states nationwide. Prisons, hospitals, corrections, education, senior centers, construction jobs over seas, private security firms in war zones, making twice as much as soldiers, and hospics homes, just to name a few all outsourced, government don’t create jobs, tell these tax sucking corporations that. Wake up AMERICA.

    • Wow! Thanks was incredible!!! I especially love, “Being poor is not a sin but trying to keep you poor is!!!” That is so true. The “trickle down” turned into a “trickle up.” All the money of all socioeconomic classes managed to find it’s way to the grotesquely wealthy.

  3. Thankfully I have never been homeless but was born into a very poor family and later after I first married became very poor again myself. A couple of my own.
    Being poor is adding up everything on your tiny shopping list as you shop to make sure you have enough money in your purse to pay.
    Being poor is the one above but adding it up wrong and having to ask the checkout worker to take an item off the bill so you can leave it behind.
    Being poor is having to borrow some decent clothes to wear so that you can go for that interview.
    Being poor is getting the job and having to borrow some money so you can buy 2 sets of the cheapest clothes and shoes so that you can go to work in something half decent.
    Being poor is always having to wear your older sisters hand me downs and never getting anything new for yourself..ever.
    I could give you loads more but that’s enough!

  4. All of the Above. The tampon thing…oh lord yes… I can say I have never been to poor to vote. Michelle, Thank You for Your Words. I could add to this list but, It has been said…

  5. Always short on cash; still am. Now for something ‘amusing’ in it’s own special way. My wife and I were taking a friend’s sister’s friend to where she lived. The little girl (maybe 14 or 15 years old) lived in a house styled in the Southern Plantation Style and it was on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. My car of chance was a 1956 Buick Wagon. As we pulled up in front, the little girl said “doesn’t this car use a lot of gas?”. The porch lights in the front of her parent’s house were burning at least 6,000-7,000 watts. I do hope that she got wiser as well as older.

Go ahead... I can hear your thoughts. Please share with the rest!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: