I received a phone call from someone I know the other day, pleading for financial advice. Both parents are working full-time, they have children, one with special needs, their mortgage in under water, they’ve maxed their credit cards (don’t judge, they’ve been used for food, clothing and school supplies), have loans on their 401(k) plans and had to purchase two cars recently when both of their existing cars died and need them to get to work.
Aside from suggesting they contact Consumer Credit Counseling and altering their income tax withholding (they usually get big refunds, so rather than waiting until April, get some of it now when they need it), my financial expertise has been useless for this couple. I have been baffled ever since. How is this happening?
I have no idea how they’ve gotten to this point but I suspect they’re what the media calls “the working poor.” As I replaced the batteries in my Wii board today I thought to myself, “This is why people are struggling,” it is these things we have, and have so much of, that we think are normal and necessary for everyday life, that steal our wealth. Wi-fi, cell phone covers, toys, special dog bowls, a multitude of shoes…most of which I own myself, so I’m just as guilty as anyone. They may be small or large expenditures but they are expenditures nonetheless. This is going to change. Money spent on this stuff can be spent on more needful things, such as food – not only for the starving children in Africa but for my own neighbors. I realize the majority of the US economy is based on us buying stuff but at some point that has to change because we’re getting exhausted running on that treadmill. Depressed, too.
This past weekend was our church’s “Bread for Life” letter writing campaign to encourage our congressional representatives to act with both wisdom and compassion when enacting legislation for the poor and hungry. Our priest gave a sermon about the hungry in our own neighborhood. It turns out that food pantries do not have as much food as they used to and it has become more difficult to obtain certain welfare benefits, I suspect because some people have taken advantage of the system and then some politician takes up the cause against it and…well…talk about throwing out the bushel because of a few bad apples (pun intended).
I also cannot imagine what strength it must take for someone to go into a food pantry, especially in their own neighborhood where they may see someone they know there. I wonder if that prevents some people from getting the help they need and if there could be a drive-through that could afford people a little more privacy and dignity, despite having been beaten down financially.
I’ve been encouraged recently by the actions of a group within our church/school community that serves as “angels” delivering small (and sometimes not so small) amounts of cash to those in need-anonymously. It’s great because we all chip in $5 or whatever and it all adds up, like stone soup! Before we know it, we have a substantial amount of money to get someone through a rough patch, replace clothing that was stolen while a dad chased after his child, provide a special-ed teacher the funds to take her students to the zoo etc.
Can we stop asking our politicians to serve these people and just serve them ourselves simply out of love and compassion?