16 Reasons Why Being Poor Can Be Very Expensive 

Gabrielle Reeder

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Is there anything that is really “free” these days? Between constant headlines of inflation and rent increases and paying for what seems like everything, where can we get a break? The chance to breathe without swiping a credit card or forking over the remnants of our hard-earned cash? Though the title “poor” or low-income suggests a profit margin lower than the rich or higher-income, people in that low-income bracket often have to spend more money just trying to survive. Here are 15 reasons why that happens. 

1. Transportation

car rental
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Cars are expensive. Without a car, one needs to find a mode of transportation to journey to and from work to earn their living wages. Unfortunately, the USA, except for a few big cities,  doesn’t offer effective modes of transportation like other countries. For example, someone in London can choose between the tube, walking, or biking, while most cities in the USA favor a spread-out system that requires a car ride or lengthy bus ride. Each time this person grabs a ride on a public transportation system, they pay what they can and arrange their schedule to catch the bus or the train. The time wasted catching the public transport steals from their work and home life. When someone does have a car, they’re responsible for insurance, car payments, gas, and repair, which quickly drain the bank.

2. Food Costs

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According to USA Today, a typical grocery bill for a family is around $500 a month. Dietary restrictions and diets inflate or deflate that price, but the moral of the story is eating is expensive. Sure, purchasing fresh, local ingredients costs less than eating out at a different restaurant each night, but is the discrepancy worthwhile? When dealing with groceries, one needs to take the time to prepare, cook, and package the food when the meal is over. Many people resort to fast food or cheaper, unhealthier alternatives to save time and resources.

3. Housing

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Most young adults live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to move out independently. Aside from monthly rent, apartments or houses require the first month's rent, the last month's rent, and a security deposit to guarantee a spot in a new housing arrangement. Say the rent is 1,500 a month. That’s around 3,500 to 4,500, depending on the location, upfront. Many people I know live paycheck to paycheck and can’t imagine moving out of their home. Other bills –  like groceries, childcare, or healthcare – take priority when living paycheck to paycheck.

4. Childcare

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Credit Karma suggests raising one kid costs between $16,000 and $18,000 annually. For some people, that is most, if not all, of their yearly income. Add a few extra kids to the mix, and you’re looking at $60,000 a year for a family of five. The parental units must maintain their jobs to earn that money to support the youth, and they need childcare to watch over their children while they earn their wages. Select families use grandparents or other familial relations as childcare, while other families don’t have that option. So they enroll the kids in childcare. When I worked at a preschool, they charged $200 per week per child. That amount isn’t expendable for lower-income families. 

5. Overdraft Fees

Take Away Coffee
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One time in high school, I miscalculated the cost of my Chipotle bowl, so I ordered guacamole, thinking my funds would cover the Tex-Mex food. I was wrong, and the guacamole took the remaining funds and charged my card a $35 overdraft fee. Different banks charge different amounts for overdraft fees, and some require account holders to keep a certain amount of money in their accounts to avoid extraneous fees. How can you follow those rules when you don’t make adequate funds?

6. Coin Laundry

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Existing in this world with clean laundry requires an endless cycle that does not benefit those of lower incomes. For instance, one wears a few outfits and then needs to wash his/her clothes at a laundromat. Many apartments don’t have washers and dryers, and paying an astronomical amount for the machines doesn’t seem feasible, with other bills staring into your soul.

You wait until you have an adequate amount of clothes for the laundromat, then you spend $1 or $2 per cycle, per machine, hoping the machines clean the clothes. Humans keep wearing clothes, meaning they keep visiting the laundromat. In hotter places, they burn through clothes more quickly; in colder areas, they wear more clothes, which cost extra to wash in the long run. Then, we move on to the actual arrival at the laundromat. Is there one in the apartment complex? Is there one down the street? How much will a ride to the facility cost? 

7. Medical Bills

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I went to the hospital last year for a frozen neck. The entire visit took about 20 minutes. The doctor diagnosed me with Torticollis, prescribed me a pain reliever, and sent me on the way. The hospital billed me $120 upfront and sent the rest to insurance. Six months later, I received a bill asking for $1600 in medical expenses based on that quick visit. Medical bills pile up, especially when one doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have a good insurance plan. 

8. Insurance

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I have switched insurance since my costly visit to the emergency room. However, my current insurance asks for a $120 premium a month. I am one person, but for a family of four, the amount increases, and so does the number of medical trips. You can’t plan emergencies; so many people forfeit medical insurance, praying nothing terrible happens. When emergencies do pop up, low-income families face daunting medical bills they can’t pay within reason. Yet, the alternative asks for an expensive monthly payment that operates on a chance basis. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

9. Therapy

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Therapists may take insurance, depending on the specialty and the patient. Many specialists, those who work with specific disorders, do not due to fine print criteria and interferences with treatment. Let’s say an individual receives an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder diagnosis. The disorder affects the individual’s quality of life and interferes with the person’s work ethic. They seek therapy only to realize the $225 fee per one-hour session. What choice do they make? Rent or therapy? 

10. Interest Rates 

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We love credit card interest. Just joking. Obviously. Typically, a person signs up for a credit card, excited to build credit to prove financial responsibility to a future landlord. Or someone gets a credit card to buffer herself against sticky financial situations. These sticky financial situations snowball into mountains of debt; one plagued with heavy interest rates a regular member of society can’t keep up with. The credit card owner faces excess debt and a lower monthly credit score. 

11. Cheaper Doesn’t Last Longer

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Are you ever meandering through the store, searching for a specific item? Maybe you’re looking for a patio chair to lounge in during the summertime. A few options present themselves to you. A $10 folding chair made of cheap material, a $20 sturdy lounger, and a $50 reclining, comfortable patio chair. Which do you choose? If you buy the $10 chair, chances are it will do its job for a fraction of the time the other chairs last, yet it saves immediate money. If you opt for the pricier option, you dish out extra cash immediately, but you enjoy the furniture for a prolonged time. See the issue? Those in lower income brackets tend to stick with the cheaper option, which costs more in the long run. 

12. No Emergency Fund

Emergency fund
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Society drills the idea of setting up an emergency fund—a reserve fund used for a flat tire, a medical emergency, or anything unexpected. Set aside $10 a week for a year, and you’ll have $520. In theory, this idea works as an excellent method of saving money and looking out for your future self. However, when living paycheck to paycheck, saving money becomes a privilege. In an emergency, you worry about scraping together the finances to deal with the situation. 

13. Education 

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Yes, public schools are virtually free, but they require investments in school supplies, field trips, and the public funding needed for curriculum and teachers’ salaries. With less money flowing into the school, a lower-quality education comes out of it. Location is significant when it comes to public education. 

Moving into higher education begs students to pay tuition, find childcare, and combat the absence of time at work to get their degrees. 

14. Location 

West Memphis, Arkansas, USA - August 29, 2020: View of commercial area on East Broadway Ave.
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Think of a bustling city. Apartment complexes pop up around every corner, businesses welcome familiar faces into their eateries, and countless people work at the establishments in the city. Three of every department store in existence line the roads. Now, think of a rural area with one diner, gas station, and store. People live here because they can afford the cheaper land, even though the items coming in are priced higher based on lower quantity and travel. The people living in this area need to seek outside transportation to reach better jobs and branch out into the city. Sadly, this begets another cycle of people stagnating where they are because living elsewhere is too expensive. 

15. Financial Assistance

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Financial hardships cause struggling individuals to reach out for help. Of course, like most things today, this kind of help comes with conditions. So, an upfront loan might sound appealing when you can’t pay the rent, but it may take over a year to pay off due to interest rates. These financial offerings stack up and hurt the borrowers instead of helping them. 

16. Buying in Bulk

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Bulk works for people who can afford to buy more to save more. Again, when you don’t have the resources to afford an ample supply, you scramble for the cheaper option that, in turn, costs a higher amount over time. Purchasing lower quality items every time one runs out of said item dries out the bank, but some people have no other option. 

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