It’s Expensive, Being Poor

I was mulling over the irony of how being poor ends up costing me more money this morning, specifically thinking about how deferred maintenance leads to more expensive car repairs, when a deer leaped out of the bushes and darted across the road in front of me. I slammed on the brakes which seized up and the car skidded wildly to the side – thankfully in the opposite direction from the deer – and came to a halt with one wheel in the ditch. Granted, regular oil changes are not going to protect me from suicidal deer attacks but if I had hit the deer I would have been adding repair expenses to my long list of things that I cannot afford.

Naturally that list includes a lot of things we would like to do such as attend my daughter’s basketball games – the entrance price of $7/adult, $5 per child will limit us to the rare game; purchase new glasses to replace my outdated, scratched 6-year old pair; buy books at the Scholastic book fair, etc.,. Unfortunately it also includes a lot of things that are more needs than wants. But with my income currently limited to sales at my Etsy shop, gifts from friends and the now infrequent plasma donations, I never have enough money to pay bills. True, some of our bills have diminished since moving in with a relative – he pays the mortgage and utilities – but other bills have increased (notably car insurance which tripled) and combined they all far exceed our income. Although we have pared down our spending to the bare minimum there are things we can’t do without and some expenses that are inflicted upon us (like kids’ textbook rental fee which even with the break we are given is $154).

So I prioritize – feed the kids and animals, put gas in the car (we drive more miles than we used to) and pay the car insurance -these top the list. But I’m always behind on everything else which results in late payment fees. Even paying the car insurance in installments tacks on an extra $6 per payment in ‘handling’ charges. I can’t maintain a bank account because I don’t have the minimum to avoid the myriad charges (ATM fee, per check fee, overdraft fee, etc.,) which means cashing the occasional check at Walmart or other check cashing places (for a fee).

And there are some bills I just cannot pay, not even late. My minor surgery this spring – which I had hoped would be covered by Medi-Cal (and should have been except that due to numerous paperwork snafus our coverage did not get established before we left California) – that bill hangs over my head, arriving monthly in an envelope filled with ever more threatening language. When/if I find a job and we are able to move into our own place I’ve no doubt there will be additional deposits and fees associated with hooking up utilities and the such – all part of the price one pays for having recession ruined credit. It’s a downward spiral that seems impossible to break free from.  Given the figures on unemployment and poverty I’ve no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands (low estimate) of other Americans in the same boat. I wonder if there is a life-line for those of us stuck in the sinkhole of our post-recession world.

This entry was posted in economy, frugal living, poverty, recession, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to It’s Expensive, Being Poor

  1. M. says:

    Open a credit union account, and you’ll be able to deposit your checks without a fee. I just checked Indiana for you and found Indiana Members Credit Union – free checking, $25 opening balance, but no minimum balance afterwards, and no monthly service fees. You’ll be able to use the ATM card without charge at other credit union ATMs (credit unions have their own cooperative network, separate from the banks). See

    There’s an even better offer in my area (northern California): the Pacific Service credit union will deposit $25 when you open an account for a child/young adult so you’d get $100 total – see

  2. Consuelo says:

    I must say that I agree with Grace–I just do not understand why you haven’t secured TANF benefits as you clearly need them. In my view there is no shame in collecting–when you were in the workforce your taxes supported this program. Now you are not working and need the assistance. One day you will work again and provide support to those who need it. It is a very reasonable option for you and the children at this point and I, too, wish you’d take advantage of it. As soon as you get a job you won’t need it and things will turn around. But, in the meantime it is a perfectly dignified way to survive….

  3. Brandon says:

    “if I had hit the deer I would have been adding repair expenses to my long list of things that I cannot afford.”

    Just an interesting tidbit of information, if you hit the deer, it is considered a comprehensive claim. If you swerve to miss the deer and wreck your car, it is a collision claim.

    Also, you might be able to feed yourself for a couple weeks if you hit the deer. 😉

  4. V's Herbie says:

    Expensive and isolating. I’m going to miss christmas with my family this year because making the trip would leave zero dollars in the bank. My situation is nowhere near as bad as yours, but trying to explain to family that the money simply isn’t there is humiliating.

  5. stef says:

    Dear BoxCarKids,
    I’ve been reading your blog for months and finally wanted to try to contribute something to the conversation.

    If I remember, you only have access to a computer at the library right now? If you have any time to do some reading, please find the mobile home woman’s blog. She tells an incredible story of survival and struggle of how she and her daughters bought an $800.00 mobile home, moved it to a mobile home park and turned it into a temporary little mini-homestead. I couldn’t begin to catalogue all the ways she scrounged materials and supplies to paint and decorate the interior or how she and the girls built raised beds and gardened.
    Recently they moved to a dilapidated little house on a couple acres and have been turning it into a home with animals and garden plots. Again, she uses Craig’s List a lot and finds all kinds of ways to make use of what others call cast-offs.
    I don’t want to go on and on, but I encourage you to look her up. She’s been through divorce, bankrupcy and being a single Mom. She shares her good days as well as her tough ones and maybe something will be an encourgement to you. I hope so. (:
    I can’t post the link, but just go to you tube or a search engine and type in ‘ the mobile home woman ‘. Her name is Sherri Shekal.

  6. Grace says:

    There is a temporary answer, but one that you have always been reluctant to accept–TANF. Yes, welfare. The program is meant precisely for families like yours–that are in a financial crisis that is not likely to last forever but might last a couple more years. It provides a small amount of cash, the possibility of subsidized housing (though this is always overstated by rightwingers–in my state, only 12% of those receiving TANF can actually get into subsidized or Section 8 housing), food stamps and health coverage for the adults and children in the families. I wish you’d consider it, for your children’s sakes if not for your own.

    The long term solution as you well understand is employment. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you on that score.

  7. Erin says:

    Have you heard of Community Action? Every county in the US has one. Some cover multiple counties. I work for one in PA. they usually have help with utilities, transportation, food, rent, and holidays among other things. Reading your story is heartbreaking. I wish you lived in PA so my agency could help your family. Please feel free to email me and I will try to help.

  8. Lynn says:

    That textbook rental fee seems like it should be illegal. Every child is supposed to be entitled to an education. What do they do? Not give a child the textbook? Here, they are always asking for money for field trips, equipment and so on, but it always comes with a note at the bottom that it is a “voluntary donation and no child will be refused participation if parent does not pay”. Sounds like a”write your congressperson” sort of issue.

    • boxcarkids says:

      I’m afraid its just a different way of doing things. They don’t use property taxes to pay for schools. Our bill was cut in half due to our circumstances but it is still more than I have available.

      • Barb says:

        Regarding the textbook rental, what if a family can’t pay it? Do they deny the kid the book? That is denying a free public education that is required under federal law. I am a teacher and have never heard of such a thing. If a student can’t afford a pencil or paper, the school must provide it. Did you ever get your daughter free glasses through the school nurse? Have you even tried finding a retail job, now with Christmas coming?

      • boxcarkids says:

        It took nearly 2 weeks for the nurse to respond to my message – by that time we had purchased a pair of glasses at walmart. I’ve applied for numerous retail jobs – most recently at Kohls and (to my son’s delight) ToysRUs.

  9. Snick says:

    Did you ever hear about the school job? Fingers crossed!

    • boxcarkids says:

      They promoted another candidate from inside, and filled that person’s open job the same way! They do have a few part time positions (para-professional) available at the moment but that’s pretty much it.

      • Snick says:

        I’m so sorry. It wasn’t in the cards. Something WILL turn up!!! In the meantime, apply for some help. There is NO shame. I wished my parents did the same for us when I was small. I can still drum up some bitter feelings about that time (it was short-lived). Your children will thank you, and may even be wondering why you haven’t applied already, especially the older kids.
        With respect,

  10. Valerie says:

    My hubby and I were just discussing this very thing. He was off work with an injury, and it took forever to get workers comp, when he finally did get it, he was ready to go back to work. Working for a major retailer, it took weeks for him to get back up to regular hours again, and now of course due to the hiring of seasonal employees, his hours have dropped again. Due to having to survive on 1 paycheck for so long, I ended up with a wage garnishment. The darn thing took 8 months. Now we have moved into a relatives house (they live out of state, and bought an investment house), and everyone says where’s all your money, you don’t pay rent. Well let me tell you all the fees associated with the little bills we did have that went unpaid during my garnishment add up. Throw copays, insurance, minimal cell phone service and groceries for 2 teenagers in the mix, and the money gets spent quickly. I always say it’s expensive being poor!

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