How The Poor Get By In America

You knew being poor wasn't easy, but you never would've imagined it would be like this.

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Whether it’s paying to get their own money in their hands or choosing between fixing the car or having food for the week, the poor in America face endless struggles when it comes to making ends meet. Have you ever wondered how they truly make it through each day?

To put it simply, it’s not easy to be poor in America. As of 2015, it’s estimated that approximately 43.1 million Americans live in poverty, and living their lives day to day only continues to get harder as time goes on.

Not only do the poor pay more for things that we all use on a daily basis, but they often don’t have the money to take the deals that’ll cost them less in the long run. In fact, it makes it incredibly easy to feel like the world is working against them, only setting them up to become poorer and poorer.

If you have enough money to buy not only what you need but also what you want, consider yourself lucky. A group of Reddit users shared the tips and tricks they had to use to make it while poor, and these will give you a glimpse of what it’s really like to be poor in America.

On Everyday Life

Have you ever wondered how the poor get by when it comes to their day-to-day lives? It often comes down to making sacrifices and spending more than you can afford when it’s absolutely necessary.

“I know a really poor family that buys loads of candles to light their home at night so that they don’t have to pay for electricity. It makes me sad.”—whysodoubtful

“A buddy of mine went through a tough time a few years back, and I didn’t know about it until he told me about a year ago. One thing that stuck with me was that he made just enough money to survive. By survive, he meant literally enough money to pay rent, utilities and the cheapest, worst food he could buy. He couldn’t afford transportation. Not even the bus.”—FFalldayerryday

“Extended stay housing or motels/hotels. When you can’t qualify to get an apartment because you don’t have proof of income, you end up wasting more money to stay for a week at extended day housing or a cheap motel.”—notmaurypovich

On Shopping

People who don’t have a lot of money are just like anyone else in the sense that they have to go shopping, whether it’s for food, clothing, or other necessities. The difference is that for them, it takes far more planning and a lot of hard decision making.

“When you are broke, you can’t plan ahead or shop sales or buy in bulk. Poor people wait to buy something until they absolutely need it, so they have to pay whatever the going price is at that moment. If ten-packs of paper towels are on sale for half price, that’s great, but you can only afford one roll anyway. In this way, poor people actually pay more than others for common staple goods.”—Meepshesaid

“My mom used to take me to the shopping mall to look for new school clothes. I’d point out 5 outfits I like (one for each school day), and then we’d leave to go to the fabric store where she’d buy remnants in similar colors/styles and then sew outfits that looked just like the things I pointed out in the store.”—aCause4Concern

“I’m making $150-$200 a week and I need new shoes. So I can buy $60 shoes that will last or $15 Walmart shoes. So I buy the Walmart shoes and some groceries instead of just the $60 shoes and no groceries. Three months later I’ll need new shoes again. But I’ll also have to pay rent and my light bill is due. So I’ll pay the light bill and buy some ‘shoe glue’ for $4 to fix my shoes for another few weeks until I can buy the $15 ones again.”—DrStephenFalken

On Food

It’s an absolute necessity to keep food on the table, and it’s something we often hear about the poor struggling with the most. They commonly have to choose between food quality and food quantity, and it’s the latter that usually wins.

“When I was child, Burger King ran a special kids meal where it was two mini Burgers that were attached to each other like a weird conjoined burger experiment. Sometimes we would go. My dinner was 1.5 of the mini burgers, my mom’s dinner was the half I didn’t eat and she would fill up on the free refills of soda.”—Honzo427

“I was so poor once that I would go to Long John Silvers and order a water and crunchies (which used to be free) then sit there and watch the people that would dine in. It was amazing how little they ate. And then they would leave without dumping their tray off in the trash. Fries, hushpuppies, chicken, fish… all untouched. No I didn’t eat a piece that was bitten off of. I once saw a woman order a 2 piece fish and more for her kid, that ate 1 hushpuppy and a few fries, and then left the rest of it there. It was the best I had eaten in weeks.”—ToddTheOdd

“After selling plasma i would walk to wendys and eat the crackers and ketchup for dinner.”—onehunglow58

On Transportation

We all have to get around somehow, and when our primary mode of transportation fails, most of us can quickly figure out a way around it. But for someone without any money to spare, loss of transportation could mean intense stress and reducing their already low budget to get where they need to be.

“Growing up my family had its moments of struggle. Our public transport system at the time had tickets which were simply hole-punched with the date and month, not the year. So we’d save them and store them neatly in envelopes marked by month and concession or full fare. After a few years of saving tickets we pretty much had free train and bus travel for the next 10 years…until they changed the ticketing system to electronically stamped tickets with bar codes.”—SardonicNihilist

“You can get new car parts from the junk yard for virtually nothing, with added discounts if you remove them from the junkers yourself. I had a 12-yr-old car in college and when it blew a tire, I went to the junk yard and found a decent set of tires. Bought all 4 for $70, which reduced my food budget to $16 for the next two weeks.”—IAlbatross

On Personal Care

The average person can stop by the store to pick up something when they need it—tampons, toilet paper, a bar of soap. Even though they’re necessities, the poor have to take shortcuts wherever they can, and that includes personal care items.

“My office only has a unisex bathroom so it has the facilities for men and women. Naturally there’s a tampon machine, and tampons are only 5 cents. Once a month I’ll work late, get a roll of nickels and fill up a grocery sack with tampons for my wife.”—permitbyrule

“Not buying but…stealing rolls of toilet paper from public restrooms. And stocking up on paper towels from the same place. This was all in undergrad. My roommate and I would also shower at the gym (university gym, so free memberships) to keep our water bill down.”—TourmalineTart

On Health Care

Health care is obviously a heavily debated topic these days, and the poor bear the brunt of almost every single decision that is made regarding our health care system. When they’re unable to pay for the care they need, they often end up taking matters into their own hands.

“I knew a guy that would go to a livestock feed store and buy antibiotics and some other meds there that were meant for farm animals when he got sick. There was another med he’d get at pet stores too. He’d just cut the pills into smaller pieces to try to guess what the proper [milligram] amount was. It’s apparently crazy cheap for certain meds and doesn’t require a prescription or govt. oversight like it would at a normal pharmacy.”—[deleted]

“At home surgery. Used a pair of needle nose pliers, a razor blade and some anti septic super glue to remove a cyst on my forehead. The secret is to cut it in a ‘cat’s eye’ shape, quickly push the skin back after you pull the cyst out (don’t let it pop) and get the glue on fast.”—[deleted]

“Going without meds, living in constant pain because you can’t afford a prescription. I remember laying in my bed at night, and my mom would be sobbing in her bed from pain, because she couldn’t afford the meds that would treat her rheumatoid arthritis or anything but generic tylenol for her pain.”—squeakygreenmom