How Can the Financial Independence Community Assist Low-Income Earners

Piggy Bank

This post may contain affiliate links. See disclosure page for details.

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.

@Makerealcents Tweet that started the discussion

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.

Continuing the Conversation

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:

“I’m not interested in getting to the top of the mountain alone. I want to get to the top, turn around and say ‘hey, you need a hand?” Kara Perez of Bravely Go

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.

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.

Picture of a Piggy bank
Counting Every Penny

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. Also, if you have the means, give to those where a small amount makes a bigger impact. Help those along the FI journey 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.

4 thoughts on “How Can the Financial Independence Community Assist Low-Income Earners”

  1. Especially right now, I’m not comfortable volunteering. But before the pandemic I was trying to think of places I could volunteer. Unfortunately, the main food bank for the area only has weekday time slots during my work hours and weekend slots have plenty of people (which is good). So I’m trying the “money where your mouth is” bit. I probably still should give more than I do but… it’s something. I think as Tanja Hester says poor people are generally plenty good with money. We just need to get them more of it. THEN we can worry about getting them to save for retirement and save an emergency fund and such. It when you have nothing left at the end of the month, all the financial literacy in the world won’t help.

    And the idea of a side hustle isn’t as simple as it might seem. Low income people are likely to have older, less attractive cars so might not be able to drive for Uber. And even if they can, they might not be able to afford the fact that their cars will then need repairs sooner. And I dunno what Uber/DoorDash/etc payment systems are like, but if it’s delayed at all, they may not be able to afford the gas upfront to drive around. And they might not be able to afford to buy things to flip — or have the Internet access to sell things. So “hustle” may not even be an option.

    My mom was extremely low income when I was a baby, so she sometimes gives me insight into things that don’t occur to me. Like what constitutes a budget-upending emergency. It doesn’t need to be big. Your kid has a miserable cold and you have $5 left til payday. Do you buy the meds they need or the milk you both need? My mom sent someone a big Costco bottle of allergy meds because the woman is taking care of her granddaughter and can’t afford even generic meds for her very severe allergies.

    Anyway I’m ranting now so I’ll stop. But I guess the point is that most people who grew up remotely middle-class have so little idea of how fragile low income folks’ budgets are or how many obstacles are in the way of them just getting more work.

  2. I sometimes have little idea of how fragile low-income budgets can be. I grew up lower-middle class, but my dad was always proud to own our mobile home outright. We always had food on the table. I was never aware of any financial emergencies even though my parents were never afraid to say no. Sometimes we had name brand things, sometimes we didn’t. But I remember never worrying about going hungry or not having meds.

  3. Good to bring this topic up Chad. I think one of the best things bloggers can do is keep on writing their story, no matter how unique or unusual it is. At the same time, I think it’s good to highlight failures and mistakes along the way. Keep it balanced and true because nobody can get a ride all the time.

    Some of us are luckier than others. Some of us have different motors. I definitely think Luck is predominant factor in how wealthy we get. It can be as simple as fighting your spouse early in life rather than later in life and being a great fit.

    If you can be the voice in the fire community for low income folks, and that is awesome. Stay consistent in the writing and your community will grow, as well your reach.

    There’s a great Chinese saying, “if the direction is correct, sooner or later you’ll get there.“

    Sam

  4. Pingback: The Latte Factor: Getting Rich by Cutting Out Coffee (Not!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *