Rich, poor: Why the poor are screwed


This truth is self-evident: it sucks to be poor. I mean, it sucks so obviously that even the kids know it.

I’ve felt poor many times in my life. When I was little and I desperately wanted a Barbie. When I was graduating high-school and didn’t want to go to prom because dressing up would be too expensive. When I was in university and only came home once in 6 weeks because that’s how long I needed to save for the train. When my dad died and I had all this debt to pay back.

Now, many of you know the obvious reasons why being poor sucks. Being poor feels like you don’t have a choice. You don’t have a car so you have to take the bus. Even when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or when it’s raining and snowing and you are ill. You don’t have a choice, you don’t have other options. So you are stuck there at the buss stop coughing and wheezing and you curse the fact that you can’t afford a sick day because then you won’t get paid.

While you think about that, you see people in shiny, warm, spacious new cars drive by the buss stop. They are well-dressed – better than you – and they have expensive cell-phones.

As one of those cars swooshes by the bus-stop, you dig deeper into your life.

You live in a shitty little appartment with low-class neighbours who abuse their stereo. When they are not blasting the stereo, you hear them yelling at each other through the thin walls.

And you can’t afford a vacation because you have a stupid little job which pays you by the hour, so if you’re not there you don’t get paid. That’s also the reason why you can’t take a day off even when you’re sick.

Depressed enough already? (No? See 5 Things nobody tells you about being poor.)

Then get this: this is actually not the worst part about being poor. The worst things about being poor is…


I heard some expert on TV talk about something called “social elevator.” It’s a metaphore where society is an apartment building and everyone wants to move up a floor. The top floor is for the rich, and the first floor is for the poor. Middle class is in the middle floors.

Everyone wants to get to the top floor – or at least move up a floor – which is possible through the building’s must “social elevator.” The social elevator is something that basically allows you to go from your floor to the next, something that allows you to get ahead. For the middle class, that elevator could be good education. That could be your ticket out. Or it could be your career field.

But for the lowest class, the poor who live on the first or second floor, the button which calls the elevator to your floor is missing. The elevator doesn’t even go there. They don’t have a “social elevator.”

Different countries have different “social elevators,” and for the USA, it’s the army. If you are dilligent and hard-working, the army will give you a chance to make a career or even pay for your education. That way, even if you are dirt poor with no family to support you and no education, you can still make something of yourself. You can even become a millionaire! (True story!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear the expert name any more examples of “social elevators.” Not for the USA, not for any other country. (I wonder if Uganda has “social elevators.” Ha.)

And suppose you don’t want to join the army. Or can’t. What then?


A while ago I shared with you The Formula for Getting Rich. It says that you need money to make money. And that’s the worst part of being poor: you are soooooooo stuck there because you don’t make enough money to get ahead. What you can save is too little to make a difference… or you can’t save at all.

Without savings, you can’t invest, so you can’t earn more money, so you can get ahead, and you are stuck right where you are. You are screwed. It takes money to make money, and that’s really unfair to the poor, but it is what it is.

I know many poor people don’t even make an effort to save because they’ve lost all hope. “What’s the point?”, they say, “Even if I save a twenty here or there, how’s that gonna make a difference? What can I do with twenty bucks, or fifty bucks, – or even a hundred?”

They are right.

You won’t get rich by saving a twenty here or there. You can’t get rich with a hundred, either. But I’ll tell you what you can do (with several hundred): you can get ahead. You can stop sinking.

My husband is a big fan of “The Secret,” and he says that book changed his life. I myself am not a big fan of the book for two reasons. One, the whole damn thing can be summed up in two words: “Think positive.” Two, I think its core method is wrong. It says you should aim high – for example, why set your goal on earning an extra two hundred a month when you can ask for two hundred THOUSAND?

Now I think that’s wrong and I’ll tell you why: because it can easily discourage you. You feel overwhelmed. You get scared. And everything goes to hell before it could even start.

Yeah. You try telling a person who earns minimum wage to dream about making two hundred THOUSAND more a month. He’ll think you’re making fun of him! But tell them to think about earning just a little more than he is right now, and he might just get motivated.

I believe in baby steps. And the first baby step towards earning thousands is… saving a little.


So don’t be poor.

Do everything you can to save up some money, no matter how little. It’s still better than no savings at all. Take it from someone who never had any savings on her side until she had a wake-up call: saving makes a difference. Not immediately, but be patient with it, and I guarantee you that you will start getting ahead.

You know how with almost everything in life, the first steps are the easiest? When you’re learning a new language, the first lesson is usually a piece of cace. When you’re getting fit, losing that first pound is the easiest part (the hard part is losing the next ten).

But when it comes to moving up the floors from “poor” to “rich,” the first floor is the hardest. It’s way harder to move from “poor” to “lower middle-class” than it is to move from “rich” to “very rich.” It’s funny how the more money you have, the more money you make.

It’s really tough when you have zero resources on your side. If you don’t have a car, for example, you are dependent on public transit. You don’t get to say which route the bus goes or what time it arrives on the bus stop. And while that would be just an inconvenience on a weekend, but on a work day, it means you waste more time travelling to and from the office, so you actually have fewer hours to rest. Or study. Or work a second job.

If you don’t have any savings on your side, the next time you face an emergency (ooops, water heater broke!) it could be a disaster. (Oh shoot, now I can’t shower and I have this job interview tomorrow!) And you’d have to go in debt (I’ll call the bank and take a loan to fix the heater). It would probably be bad debt, too (Oh no, bank won’t give me a loan so I’ll have to call one of those payday-loan companies!).

Yes, it’s really hard to get ahead when you’re poor. So be smart and do everything you can to pull yourself out of it. Improve your chance of getting rich.

Remember: the first steps are the hardest. After that, it gets easier and easier.

Who knows, one day you might even be rich :)

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2 thoughts on “Rich, poor: Why the poor are screwed”

  1. i’m a little shocked that so little thought has actually gone into this problem. Over and over i see repeated that if people “worked” for their money, then they deserve it, and thus have no obligation to spread the wealth. No one seems to have questioned this assertion that it is possible to “deserve” wealth – all you have to do is just work hard enough. Isn’t anyone going to challenge that? Does everyone agree that if you have one rich person and one poor person who both started from the same place, with no lotteries or other windfalls involved, that the only way you could have this difference is if one worked really hard and the other didn’t?

  2. Mavis – it’s not just about hard work. There’s always luck involved. I don’t mean luck as in winning a lottery, but a little luck here and there – like noticing the right job ad, or being at the right place the right time, or knowing the right person who can help you get the job.

    About “deserving” your money – I don’t believe in that. You either have money or you don’t. I want to have money and I don’t care if I deserve it.

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