January 10, 2022
Picture the most expensive lifestyle you can imagine. What do you see?
Palm trees and beach views? Italian shoes and Swiss watches? Flying yourself into space just because you can?
How about having to live in government housing, or working a minimum wage job, or not even being able to find a job?
It’s counterintuitive, but poverty can be outrageously expensive.
There are two main reasons…
- Poverty makes essential spending relatively pricey
- Poverty has hidden—and costly—side effects
Let’s break these down…
Poverty makes essential spending relatively pricey. Consider an example. Let’s say you’re single and earn $10,000 per year, $2,000 beneath the federal poverty line.¹
Let’s also say that you and some buddies snag a mediocre apartment in the city. Great location, right? But at $500 each per month, it’s $6,000 each per year. That’s over half your income on housing alone.
Your car? Between insurance, gas, and repairs, you’re looking at costs that could be north of $5,000.
That leaves you in the hole for $1,000. Then add groceries, your cell phone, and emergencies. Normal living expenses have not only consumed 100% of your budget, but they’ve left you in the red for other essentials.
For the wealthy, those items aren’t even a consideration. The essentials take up just a fraction of their income. What’s relatively cheap for them becomes crushingly expensive for you.
But the cost of poverty can get steeper…
Poverty has hidden—and costly—side effects. Suppose that, to save money, you downgrade your housing. You find a true hovel in a bad part of town that charges $150 each per month, or $1,800 each annually.
And it doesn’t take long for reality to set in.
You might find yourself in a so-called food desert since there aren’t proper grocery stores around you that sell healthy, affordable food. The quality of your diet plummets, but still increases in cost.
There’s consistent crime in your neighborhood. Possessions get stolen. Cars get broken into. Friends get hurt. You’re under constant stress.
To deal with the stress, you pick up some foolish habits that further hurt your finances and health.
You turn to payday lenders to make ends meet. It’s a critical mistake—they charge you aggressive interest rates that become a black hole of debt.
Finally, the consequences of a low-quality diet, stress, and unhealthy coping mechanisms emerge. You face one expensive health crisis after another. You have to quit your job as your condition worsens.
This isn’t to excuse bad or foolish or unhealthy behavior. Rather, it shows how situations make people vulnerable to otherwise avoidable pitfalls.
Relative expenses and hidden expenses creating a vicious cycle help explain why it’s so hard to escape poverty. It also helps explain why poverty tends to be intergenerational. Poverty actually consumes the resources needed to build wealth.
¹ “Poverty Guidelines,” Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evalutation, Jan 13, 2021, https://aspe.hhs.gov/topics/poverty-economic-mobility/poverty-guidelines
² “Average monthly apartment rent in the United States from January 2017 to February 2021, by apartment size,” Statistia, Mar 25, 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1063502/average-monthly-apartment-rent-usa/
³ “Average Car Insurance Costs in 2021,” Kayda Norman, Nerdwallet, Aug 20, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/insurance/how-much-is-car-insurance