Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Response to "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense"

Several of my friends have posted this article on Facebook about why poor people make bad decisions.

There is so much backwards thinking in that article, but most of it boils down to this: Her premise is wrong. It's not being "poor" that causes people to make bad decisions.

You know that lie that people buy into that if they could just earn more money to buy more things, that *THEN* they'd be happy? She's bought into the same lie. Except that she's also bought into the lie that she can't ever earn enough or save enough to buy more things. Lie A + Lie B = one depressed, hopeless, bad decision-making person. She thinks that money buys happiness, and that because she doesn't have money, she can't ever be happy. So why not go out and blow some of the money you do have on cigarettes?

Except money doesn't buy happiness. And lack of money doesn't mean you can't be happy. And yes, you can change your situation.

For a genealogy project, my son interviewed an elderly relative, in her 80's, about what life was like when she was a child. She was poor. No hot water and her teenage brother picked coal from the mountain in order to heat the house poor. What struck me about that interview was that she kept saying, "We had it good." She talked about homemade candy distributed to neighbors on Christmas eve, community bonfires, running out to see her brother every day when he came home from work. She had a happy childhood.

I know a lot of people in the homeschool community who are living on single incomes, probably incomes comparable to what the author of this article is talking about, so that one parent can stay home with the children full time.

And they're living full, joyful lives.

They cook from scratch, they do their own home repairs, they buy Christmas presents, clothing, and toys used.

And they are happy.

They might not be able to afford vacations, but they take long hikes with their kids, learning about wild edibles, hunt for fossils, and bring along guidebooks in case they run into a plant or insect they don't recognize. They pack lunches and go on bike rides. They lay out under the stars with their kids and talk way into the night. They make their own playdough and spend hours making playdough train tracks and snakes and tunnels out of cardboard boxes that they push their cars and trains through.

They might not be able to afford cable tv, but it hardly costs anything to pop their own popcorn (air popped, not microwave bags--they're too expensive and not very healthy, either) and watch movies together, read a book as a family, or play Monopoly.

Because giving their children an awesome life is a priority, they don't go to a bar when they get an extra ten bucks. Instead, they save for a zoo membership or a children's museum membership so they can take their kids somewhere cool as many times as they want.

Sure, they get tired. Because even if their family membership lets them go to the zoo for free, zoo food is expensive! So mom stays up late the night before baking homemade bread to make low-cost, healthy sandwiches. She fills bottles and canteens with water and catches up on laundry so they have enough clean laundry to pack extra clothes. Almost every time she sits down to watch a movie, she's peeling potatoes or apples while she watches. Dinner takes twice as long to make because she has little helpers, and she considers food prep time to be a valuable learning experience and bonding time for her and her children. She spends time preparing healthy snacks instead of buying processed junk food, not only because junk food is expensive, but because she knows it's not good for her children and knows that in the long run, in can mean more trips to the doctor's office, which are expensive and can be often avoided by a healthy lifestyle.

I feed 7 people in my home for $250 a month. I cook almost everything from scratch and shop at surplus stores. I know I'm not the only one. I also know there are some doing it for less than I am. Yet I have noticed when I go into the homes of some of those very low-income people, the food in the oven makes their homes smell like heaven. And their kids are laughing and playing and they've spent all day with their mom and they are *HAPPY*.

I have no idea what the side rant about the roaches in this article is all about. I am cooking and preparing food all the time. Dishes are constantly being washed, but very rarely are all dishes caught up, because as soon as one project stops another one starts. Yet we don't have bugs. Not even when dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight. Yes, you have to do your dishes. But if you're cooking as frugally as possible, you will have to do the dishes because you'll need them to be clean in order to start the next project. No, cooking does *NOT* attract roaches. If you really do have roaches, you need to find the source and get rid of it, then do some deep cleaning. No, it's not hopeless and yes, you can get rid of them. Sure, it will take a ton of hard work, but it can be done. Just like you can create an awesome life for yourself.

Yes, I know many of our poor are single mothers. I'm not saying it doesn't suck to be a low-income single mom trying to do it all yourself: Earn a living, make a home, be a mother. All by yourself. Even if you're not a single mom, what is up with parents saying, "Well, now you're 18, and you're on your own! We're not responsible for you anymore. Good luck! I struggled when my babies were little and now you will too! Ha ha!" (Please, when you find yourself a grandparent, think back to how hard it was to be a young parent. Every parent and their children can benefit from much attention and help from truly GRAND parents. Be grand.)

This is why we live in a multi-generational home. So that my daughter who is a single mother of two doesn't have to go to work and leave her kids with strangers and see them only an hour a day, just to barely afford to pay her bills and keep food on her roach-infested table. My daughter did one semester of college and even though she had straight A's, when she saw how high her student loans were going to be, she quit. She doesn't want to go to college and then be obligated to work in order to pay loans off. Because working means not spending all day with her kids, and that's not what she wants. It's not what I want for her. Or for my grand kids. She is instead working on developing her online thrift storeso she can stay home with them. Sure, she could go out and get a part time job. But she saves as much as she'd earn by staying home and breastfeeding, cloth diapering, shopping frugally, helping with food prep, and doing cool projects with her kids.

If you're going to college and working two jobs and only seeing your kids an hour a day, something needs to give. Consider whether that college debt is really worth it. Consider whether you could quit one of those jobs and save as much or more than you earn at that job. And for heaven's sake, you don't need to have taken Home Ec to know how to cook. You google what you need to know, you search pinterest, you go to the public library and you check out cookbooks, you go to sites like What I Didn't Buy Today. Because you're not helpless and your situation isn't hopeless.

The "helpless and hopeless" and "I'm poor so I can't buy crap so therefore I can't have a happy life" victim mentality is the problem. So is the "If someone doesn't take me by the hand and show me what to do, I won't figure it out for myself" mentality. Not how much money you have. Because you can take any situation and find joy in it. You can make the best of any situation.

Actually, she sums it up in the article herself. "You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food."

Except here's the flaw in that thinking: Worthwhile is not dependent on having money. You are worthwhile because you're alive. Go celebrate that fact by taking your child outside and going dandelion hunting. Did you know you can eat dandelions? They're highly nutritious. Coat them in pancake batter and fry them. Make dandelion chains. Put some in a small glass for a pretty centerpiece on the table. Make a salad from the greens. And if you must drink, make dandelion wine.

Life is good. With or without a lot of money.


  1. Are you for real? You really compare having one parent staying home full time so they can play with their kids, go hiking, cook from scratch, make play dough and go to the museum to having no time to do any of that because you are always working, studying or cleaning, surviving on three hours a night sleep? Would that family have the same lifestyle and level of happiness if they lacked the time for any of that?

    You seem to have completely missed the point. The working poor do not have the luxury of time that stay at home mothers do.

    And not everyone has the luxury of a multi-generational household either.

    1. I don't think I 've missed the point at all. I 'm saying that I DO know people living joyful lives and making good decisions on very small incomes. I myself am feeding 7 people on 250 a month and could do it on less if I had to.

      It's not the level of income that's the problem, it's the defeatist attitude that life is going to suck because of it. Because you can do a heck a lot with very little money.

      I've known people living out of their car who live joyful lives and ate raising happy kids.

      You can take what you do have and make the most of it or you can squander the little you have, like the biblical parable of the talents.

      If you say, "I will be happy when_____", you will never be happy. The decision to be happy must come first.

    2. It is a myth that having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury that only the rich can afford.

      And while a lot of us don't have parents who created the atmosphere for a multi-generational home, many if us have or will one day have adult children and *WE* can create that. We can make wise choices right now and set the example for our children and help the next generation so they don't have a defeatist attitude.

    3. I'm single and pay only for myself. $250/month is about half of my rent. How can you possibly support 7 people with that much money???

      I'm generally curious.

    4. I don't support 7 people for $250 a month, I feed 7 people for $250 a month. :)

      I basically do it by making things from scratch, but just making things from scratch isn't always the cheapest way to go. I make things from scratch with what I already have or what I can get cheaply. I blog about "What I didn't buy today" at In today's blog post, I shared that I made egg nog. But I didn't run out and buy ingredients for egg nog, I looked at the ingredients I already had (in this case, lots of milk that was close to its expiration date and lots of eggs and whipping cream I had bought for another project but hadn't gotten around to yet) and realized they were the perfect ingredients for egg not.

      Another example is when I had leftover sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving. All the leftovers were eaten but for some reason, those sweet potatoes weren't getting eaten. So I mixed them with some leftover squash I had and made a sweet potato casserole out of them. All I had to do was buy some marshmallows.

      I follow the advice that was popular during the Great Depression: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

  2. You're not making any sense. This article makes no sense, why did you bother to respond if you clearly have no real insight in to the author's circumstances?

    You must be joking writing all that crap.

  3. Very refreshing article; What a great shout out to us single parents who have homeschooled and live lives out in nature because we know happiness is about being with family, living for simple joys and watching our children grow. I love your discussion of keeping our older 18+ year old children close in multi-generational homes to prevent them from living lives that consist of work, work, work and no joy. My son loves living at home and pursuing his joys while working at what he loves to do. Also, great shout-out to eating healthy and unprocessed! I can never understand families who work and school their lives away and only spend that one hour a day with their loved ones... The one thing I will say is that struggles to meet basic needs can certainly increase stress and anxiety which can impact happiness. However, I agree that it isn't "stuff" that helps that, but the ability and assistance to meet basic needs. Thank you for the wonderful words of wisdom!

    1. Laurie--you are certainly an inspiration! I've always admired single parents who homeschool and stay very involved with their kids, support themselves, and live a healthy lifestyle!

  4. Why is everyone talking about single moms? The lady in the article isnt even a single mom atm. She has a husband. I'm pretty sure my mom juggled us three kids, school and a full time job there for a couple years- in a house falling apart and full of mice and roaches ... and her pot roast didn't suffer for it. It was immature decisions as a young person that got her into the hole, but it was maturing into an adult and throwing herself into productive work and frugality that got her out of it... not whining that she was in the hole in the first place.

  5. I followed the link you posted in the comments of the article you are referencing. The first thing that struck me is that you jump to wild conclusions not supported by her essay. The biggest is that she is not happy. I didn't see any evidence from the article that she is unhappy with her life. Nor does it sound like she's complaining or wishing she had more money. It was pretty clearly explaining to privileged people who can't possibly understand her life decisions why they make perfect sense for her.

    1. I can guarantee that Linda Tirado is happy. She just successfully scammed $62,000 on the internet with a fake story.

    2. Or maybe she just wrote a blog post about her situation and observations. Money doesn't buy happiness. Maybe you should go through life working your ass off and having depression and then see if you still think it's a "scam." Innocent till proven guilty, asshole.

    3. She didn't ask for the money. People who think problems are solved by throwing money at them, threw money at her. Who is to blame here?

      If no one sent her a penny, her story would have been just as important and just as meaningful, but because people sent her money (on their own accord) she is now a liar and scam artist?


    4. Actually the 7th paragraph starts "Nobody gives enough thought to depression." Then goes on to explain why her life sucks and she's so miserable.

  6. Wow, do you not get it.
    This was an extremely offensive piece. When one is hungry and worried all the time about losing what small security one does have, I doubt that being HAPPY is something that one is not concentrating on rather than just trying to survive.


  7. I'm sorry but you don't have a clue. Having time to cook, having time to make things from scratch is a luxury. You know what lets you feed you family on a small amount of money? Free time to cook. When you are trying to work towards a better job because a degree is near mandatory for that, while trying to pay the bills that won't wait and make sure that your kids aren't taken from you free time does not exist. There is not time for bike rides or trips to the zoo, there is not time to cook a meal from scratch. There is only time for what is absolutely necessary and stolen moments for what is not.

    1. Are you sure the 2nd job isn't paying for gas to/from and cigarettes? I hope it is really necessary to have the 2nd job! because it is taking time away from her family. Sometimes, it seems like a necessity when in fact it isn't . . . but when you're in her shoes, there just isn't time to figure all of that out.

  8. I am a full-time student who works part-time and has a husband that works two jobs and my children are happy and healthy and they only see their father on weekends and me for a few hours every night. I was a stay-at-home mom for the first five years of their lives, they are 14 and 11 now and it was the hardest five years of my life as I battled severe depression from being home and with my children all the time (we had one car and were too far away from public transport).

    Going back to work was the best thing I ever did for my family as they went to school during the day as I have neither the patience nor the desire to home school. For some moms its great to stay home and be Betty Crocker and Joan Cleaver, for me and for the sake of my children I'm better off in the work force. I love my children dearly and would die for them in a heartbeat, but not everyone is cut out to be a stay home mom. Our finances are better with me working, my children are able to do more things with their friends, we eat better because I can buy better quality food and my children have not suffered because I work.

    Am I in debt up to my eyeballs with student loans, yes, but they are worth it when my teenage daughter claims her Presidential Academic Award is because she works hard at school because she sees her mom work hard. Since we manage on my husbands income fine, barely breaking poverty line but managing, we can put 100% of my income after school to my loans. Education is a way out of poverty and keeping any woman from that opportunity is wrong.

    While I liked your response, and believe the other woman's story is a crock, not everyone wants to being tied up in apron strings and some mothers are better mothers when they have time away. I know I am. I have more patience, and can thoroughly enjoy my children because the time is all that more precious.

    1. I know what you mean about being stressed from being home alone with children all the time. I was like that when my children were younger. Your comments about being June Cleaver sparked something in me, because I am definitely *NOT* the June Cleaver type. So I wrote a new blog post explaining:

    2. My June Cleaver comment wasn't to your personally, just in general. So may people believe that stay at home moms are Desperate Housewives - if only. I enjoy being back at school and working because it means I get to be around other adults with conversations that don't revolve around children and home. My mental state thanks me. Some women are great being the stereotypical nuclear housewives, and some are better being Rosie the Riveters. I'm the first to admit that being home at least for the first few years was an incredible positive aspect on my children, even as I lost my mind - and they were definitely worth it.

  9. I 100% agree with this post. My husband works, and I stay at home with our four children. We are below the poverty line, yet we *somehow* manage to live debt free, eat healthy, and save for retirement/emergencies. We are able to do this for two reasons. One, we are not sheep. This culture will tell you that you need to spend your money on a lot of things-but you don't. And two, we know math. I mean seriously, for what someone spends on cigarettes a year you could easily be fluffing up a nice retirement fund. The problem with people who think that their life is hopeless so they might as well spend their $7 bucks on cigarettes now is that they are not realizing HOW MUCH those seven dollars can turn in to if saved, but also, HOW MUCH it costs to be sick. Idk....the original story just seems fake too. People living in true poverty don't go to college, or have a car. If anyone reading thinks that my family of six (plus a cat a dog that we feed and care for) can't possibly live a happy life on one low income peruse first these sites, learn some math, and change your priorities :)

  10. So, your blog is to basically attack what Mrs. Tirado has written instead of building on it? You do know that she made it clear those were her (subjective) observations. People like you don't try to do good, you attempt to ostracise. Why don't you try to write something original and inspiring?

    1. I assure you my blog's purpose is not to attack anything. I also assure you that I do attempt to do good in my life, on my levels, including in my writing. In this particular post, my goal was to do good by encouraging anyone who might be thinking like Mrs. Tirado explained that you don't have to have that type of attitude about your life just because you don't have money. Life can be very, very good regardless of how much money you have.

  11. Thank you for this. I can actually speak from experience that being poor doesn't mean you have to give up because you will never have anything. I was a poor single mom who worked hard, went to college and did move up to the middle class. Its not only possible its well within the reach of anyone with the drive to do it. Many of my friends have gone the same path, too. We didn't get the defeatist attitude that Mrs. Tiado expresses, we didn't just lay down and say "oh well my life sucks" and decide to spend every cent we had on whatever made us happy at the moment.

    Is it society's fault women never learned to cook or clean? No its their parent's. I was actually never shown how to cook and was always a slob but when I had to take care of my own home I sucked it up and figured it out. It actually isn't that hard. I have been so poor that the only bread we could afford was what I baked- and I couldn't even afford a bread pan so the loaves were just formed and put on a cookie sheet. You are right dirty dishes don't = roaches, filthy people do. Right now my kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, and has been since last night yet I don't see bug 1 in my house. (My son does the dishes and he's behind). I rode the bus for years to and from work, to a job that was 14 miles away which I went after because it paid more than minimum wage and provided benefits. I cared enough about my kids to want the best for them.

    I will say I bet I know why she (or whomever she is channeling) is in school: pell grants. When I did finally go to college- part time I was surprised to find out the government paid ME because I was a single mom. I made $20k a year back then, 2 children and was attending class 1/2 time. My school fees were $700 to include the book and my pell grant was @ $2,000. Bonus! When I later took 9 credits: 3/4 time my pell jumped to $3,000 while my fees were around $1,000. I could only imagine what it would of been had I not been working and making more than min. wage. I also worked hard and took classes to get skills for a career, within 4 months I had a new job in a new industry that I am still in to this day.

    I am so sick of poor people making excuses for being poor. Guess what- Medicaid pays for birth control and you don't have to go to Planned Parenthood, just your local Dr. Your money will go farther if you stop smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. For years I did none of that all that money I would of used was able to go to foods, clothes, and even a pizza night at the $5 a head All You Can Eat place up the street from our house. I lived in a small 2 bedroom 1 bath house the size of my current living room. We didn't have cable, just a coat hanger and a VCR which I kept stocked with the used tapes sold at the Blockbuster. Come tax refund time I would buy a big ticket item I needed- be it a car, clothes, the occasional game system, oh and of course a year's worth of car insurance. I always paid my bills because I lived frugally.

    I picked myself up from nothing, now I work from home because I am disabled but I still work. My husband was downsized and took a job making 1/2 what he was before, but he's still working. Our lives changed. We don't go out to eat every week, we did have to cut back on our premium cable package with 3 DVRs, no we don't have new smart phones and we BBQ chicken more than anything these days. But we still have what we bought before- vehicles we own the title to, recreational equipment and personal items. We made it before we will make it again, we aren't going to lay down and cry the blues like a joint and say F it.

  12. My guess is you didn't grow up poor, huh? Because no one who had ever been truly poor would make the assumptions you do, or the suggestions. I agree that money doesn't equal happiness. But imagine how happy you'd be if you lost most of yours and what it has bought for you. This post is oblivious to the reality of being poor.