From Middle Class To Poverty

How Poverty Can Affect Our Self-esteem:

A recession or a depression, the actual definition doesn’t matter much to someone that has lost everything. Going from a Middle Class mentality and lifestyle to one of poverty is occurring all over America, and other parts of the World as we deal with the economic crisis of the last few years. It is hard enough to try to survive job loss, medical emergencies, or inability to pay the normal bills, then add to that the Holidays.

Going from Middle Class to Poverty:

In September of 2006 I went on my yearly vacation for a month, this time back to Europe. If I would have known then that my whole life was going to be turned upside down, I wouldn’t have gone. But that’s the thing about hindsight, it’s a great teacher, but never when you need it.

middleclasssave2I had spent a considerable amount of money taking my mother on a vacation that she dreamed of. We didn’t worry about every penny, and we did some extravagant things. I wanted to make sure she had a nice time, and had experiences that she could remember. When we’re older and don’t go many places, our memories are about all we have. Anyway, the point is we spent a lot of money, the type of money I haven’t seen since that time. For over a year I didn’t even see, or earn, what it cost just for the flight over there. And to make matters worse, I had to close both my offices and my home went into foreclosure.

My whole life seemed to be unraveling, I had gone from a Middle Class lifestyle to one of poverty.

I am not a psychologist, although I used to be a Counselor, but I know very well how poverty affects self-esteem. Things many people take for granted are just dreams for the poor. One of the most overlooked group of people are the working poor. People that go to work every day, have a steady income, but cannot afford medical or dental insurance. They often have to choose between paying the bills, or getting some preventative work done. A roof over the family’s head trumps the dentist more often than not. Choices that the middle class don’t have to make.

Imagine if your child was in middle school where we all know kids can be quite mean to each other, and his (her) shoes were worn out, or didn’t fit properly. This is the time when kids want acceptance from their peers, and when they start branching out from the families to find their own identities. If the other kids make fun of your child, how do protect them? And how do you think it makes them feel?

Imagine trying to go get a job and you don’t have anything appropriate in your wardrobe for the interview? The Middle Class can go to the store and shop for something new, and if they don’t have the available cash they can charge it, usually at a decent interest rate. But the poor person might be already living hand to mouth and can’t afford to buy the outfit, and if they have a credit card it is more often than not a much higher interest rate. Many people have this dilemma so even getting a job sets a poor person in a different position than someone with money. Fair? Probably not, but it’s reality, and this affects self-esteem.

Divorce often causes someone to go from one lifestyle to another. If a couple divorces and they have kids, child-support is awarded to the custodial parent. More often than not the kids go to the mother, and she depends on this money to feed and clothe the kids. To buy birthday and holiday gifts for them, and to put a roof over their head. So, what happens when the child support isn’t paid, or is cut for no reason? What if this money was keeping the lights on, and the landlord at bay? Once again, if the custodial parent needs this money and it doesn’t come, it affects self-esteem. They now have to find alternative ways to pay the bills and feed the children. And let’s not forget the children. Imagine if your child was used to buying a lunch at school, or taking what they wanted from home, to now having free lunches from the government program. How do you think some of them feel?

I have been very blessed in my life to have a compassionate nature, as well as an optimistic one. I have also been blessed with the personality of never forgetting, and not ever thinking I was better than someone else. When I was making a good income the only thing that changed was along with the hours I volunteered helping others, I could now give more financially. It felt good when I was able to share, or help buy those new shoes for the child in middle school.

povertyPoverty, on the other hand is a different story. I went from donating to having to ask for help, which was very hard for me. I know I’m not alone in not wanting to admit I was in dire straights, but that was just a small consolation to my self-esteem in the short run, during the depressing days of not being able to see my way out. “Get a Job” might have worked in a different era, a different town, but it sure didn’t work here. I was just one of many of the new poor, and many of us couldn’t “find a job”, besides I had a job, I just wasn’t getting paid!

Having a Job that doesn’t pay:

I have a job, but just wasn’t getting paid. I am a Real Estate Broker, a broke one at that. Everyday I worked, but when the Real Estate Market crashed it affected everyone in one way or another. Most of my calls in the first year were from people that were losing their homes and wanted to sell them. The other office I had was affected totally differently. The homes and land there were Indian Leased Land, and the lease was running out. Banks won’t lend on these homes unless there is at least 15 years left on the lease. So that office was affected as well.

In my county, in my State, we were one of the fastest growing Counties in the United States. So when the Market crashed, we were one of the hardest hit as well. Foreclosures and short sales were, and still are the norm for the past few years. If 10 properties were bought, and put into Escrow only 3 of them would close successfully. Not very good odds for earning my commission as we only get paid if it closes. So, for over a year I worked and didn’t get paid. Should I give up? How many times this went through my head I can’t even tell you. And it didn’t help when others would say, “just get a job!”

I cleaned houses, did notaries, went on Food Stamps (cried that whole day), and was very, very fortunate that a few friends lent me the money to try to get my house out of foreclosure. I sold everything and anything of value I had, and well just did what I could. One hour at a time, one day at a time, all the while working on my Real Estate, and trying to overcome the situation. Do I give up? Not yet, I was sure it would get better, maybe tomorrow.

Well it has gotten better. Not enough to fix my credit, or to pay off some of the bills that went to Collection, but better. And I hear this from many people. So many people have been hurt by this recession that the stigma of having bad credit now isn’t the same as it was years before. People that didn’t understand poverty before have had to deal with today’s realities.

The people that don’t give up are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now. I know I see it!

Best Lesson Learned about Money Earned:

The best lesson I ever learned was from a client trying to buy a large tract of land. He was from Lebanon and told me a story that had a profound impact on how I spent the money I earned.

This client was working for someone, and had finally earned his commission. Being excited, he took the money and was verbalizing all the things he was going to do with it. His mentor stopped him, and said “wait a minute, what about all the people that helped you? Who gave you the lead….give them 20%. Who helped you learn….give them 10%, who helped you…….” and my client continued telling me about his mentor’s philosophy.

The bottom line of this story, this lesson, was to never forget the people that helped you get to where you are. Whether it’s a commission, a sale, kind words when we need them the most, or a helping hand for something else in our life. Never forget them, and even if you can’t pay them directly you can pay it forward!

This was the best lesson I ever learned on how to spend my dollar. Pay it forward, and repay the ones that helped us along the way!