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Assisting Low-Income Earners: The Tweet that started this post
I recently connected with a few FIRE folks on Twitter in an elongated discussion about how to best assist low-income earners. The example stated in the thread was a single mom of 3 making $10.68/hour working 60 hours 6 days per week making a gross income of around $33,000 by @Makerealcents.
Those engaged in the thread agreed that more needs to be done to assist low-income earners, as this is something, I am passionate about. When I started my FI journey I was making about $10.50 plus benefits, working 40 hours a week.
My Experience from Lower-Income to Middle-Income
Living with a disabled ex-spouse, my income was too much for her to receive any benefits, and eventually for financial, and other reasons, we divorced and separated. But I also live in a lower cost of living area. My rent is cheap, and I have a high-quality apartment. I do not have many conditions keeping me from working my ass off. No one depends on my salary. Jobs pertaining to my skillsets are plentiful. I have quite a few advantages. I have time and energy. Also, I have access to high-quality food. Even though I have student loans from a master’s degree, I have a paid-for undergrad degree.
Policy & Content to Assist Low-Income Earners
There was a discussion on speaking about policies and creating content geared towards lower-income individuals. @Makerealcents threw out questions such as “Are we putting on enough low-income and/or single parent targeted workshops? Discussing policy more?” The answers to these questions seem to lead to even more questions.
@anomalily is an incredible voice to assist low-income earners. She is out volunteering her time and resources. “Walking the walk” as they say. She (using a barrage of cat-related puns) runs pay it “forward” programs, donates books, and works with organizations helping homeless/transitional GLBTQ+ youth, formerly incarcerated mothers, and many other low-income earners. She believes that that personal finance media fails because of the desire for profit. Her answer is to balance working towards profit with PF media & volunteering to help lower-income earners. @bitchesgetriches mentions in their article that there is a balance between charging for your valued time and ways to assist low-income earners.
@anomolily and I were discussing the merits of getting back into education. Getting a GED/high school diploma/college degree. Aside from the single mom of 3 not having time to take care of herself, @anomalily brought up a point that flew over my head. Going back to school would be a loss of government-assisted benefits. Aside from needing childcare and more time management, the burden of food and cash assistance loss is now added. @anomalily also points out along with the education, the challenge is going back to school have the tools to support themselves and their children.
@femmefrugality did point out, however, with children, one can maintain many benefits and even have access to new ones.
These observations made me point out my bias in my living area, low-income earners often have completed high school and/or an associate’s degree/trade school/2-year college.
Just Increase Your Income
There are many quotes, repeated often, in the FIRE community about increasing income. “You can’t frugal your way to FI.” “Increase income, decrease expenses, invest the rest.” “Hustle and grind.” “Rich/Business/Abundance mindset.” “Side gigs.”
@TreadLightly_RE mentioned a base number before basic financial literacy is helpful. I believe she is right. Before I doubled my income, an emergency was one wrong move away. I call it a pain point. There’s little to no assistance for a certain income limit, based on state/federal guidelines. Once you’re past that threshold, losing those benefits could drain a lower income. Especially with a medical or transportation emergency. Most low-income earners rely on a vehicle to get to work. The most common question I hear from interviews for low-income jobs is “Do you have RELIABLE transportation?” I had paid time off, but if I had car trouble or medical emergencies, the clock was ticking on how soon I needed to be back to work. Plus, the cost of emergency fixes. With only $500 to cover whatever life would throw at me.
Others have chimed in as well with similar points with reoccurring themes. Those that are low-income earners need to increase their income, while (luckily perhaps?) avoiding burdens such as (more) debt, health issues, societal pressures, putting their children first, providing for their children, non-medical emergencies, pursuing higher-income jobs/careers, avoiding burnout and a whole laundry list of more burdens.
@leislooski brought up a point not often discussed in the FI community. “For a portion of low-income folks there’s a lot of trauma involved with money – it’s not just about teaching better money habits – it’s about understanding the story behind the struggle too.
My mother hates talking about money and estate planning. My parents, between part-time jobs, my father’s pension, and both their social security incomes, make nearly double my salary. But my mother still feels poor. She has fear of spending money and spends an exorbitant amount of money on groceries. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression. She passed on a scarcity mindset of both money and food. I am now considering the possibility that there is an underlying trauma behind my mother’s scarcity mindset that isn’t being addressed.
So How Can the FI Community Assist Low-Income Earners?
So how can the FIRE community assist low-income earners on their path to FI? Put their money where the mouth is, literally and figuratively. Get involved with a struggling low-income earner who is reaching for financial independence. Be a community advocate. @stephonee mentioned a quote from @bravelygo on Instagram:
Donate money, time, attention to the problem. Look for resources that need your help. Get in touch with some of these amazing FIRE advocates who want to help others. The FIRE community needs to give better financial advice than just cut the lattes. Advocate for better access to healthcare, work opportunities, and other opportunities in rural areas.
Check out this post from lifeat23k.com for 8 more ways to give financial help on a low income. Low income earners can even help each other out and build community up. Know that we aren’t alone in our FI journey.
Mostly don’t be a jerk to low-income earners. They aren’t spending too much on lattes and luxury cars. Low-income earners are probably spending much of their income on healthcare, food, housing, car/house repairs, making their children happy, and trying to survive the next paycheck. They may have underlying traumas attached with money that they don’t wish to discuss. These issues may be more than surface-level.
My answer? Low-income FI may be a community effort of neighbors and family members helping each other out. Volunteer when you can. Lead by example. If you have the means, give to those where a small amount makes a bigger impact. Help who are still in debt. There are plenty of lower-income earners wanting to reach FI. Encourage small money wins. Help someone in need. Give if you can without judgment of “deserving.” Consider someone might have a trauma tied to money. Dig deep in your hearts and pockets.