mom and children on the couch

Originally written by Will Odom, an expert with The Humbled Homemaker


I’ll never forget the Christmas that Will and I discovered we were among the working poor. Frustrated by our financial situation at the time, Will had walked out of a financial planning class we were taking at church.

Our teachers, an older, retired couple, volunteered to come to our home the next Sunday afternoon and pore over our finances to help us come up with a plan. While our two toddler girls played beside our already-decorated tree that early December day, we spread all of our financial statements across our kitchen table.

After musing over our finances for several minutes, our teacher, Randy, took off his glasses, rubbed his forehead, and placed our bank statement back on the table.

“Well, one thing is clear,” he smiled. “You don’t have a spending problem.”

“We don’t?” I was shocked. I was sure we must be doing something wrong to be experiencing so much stress. Wasn’t there some area of our budget we could cut to allow for a little breathing room? But here was Randy, a financial expert, telling us we were doing everything right.  “What you have,” Randy continued, “is an income problem. You simply don’t have enough money to live.”

We were the working poor.

I’d never heard of the term “working poor” until then, but millions of Americans exist like this. They are working, but they aren’t making enough money to pull themselves out of poverty. This results in their debts going unpaid, and in the worst cases, their children going hungry.

Whether you are working poor yourself or have never heard this description of this often-hidden subset of society until now, know that the working poor are everywhere.

It might be the receptionist at your doctor’s office, the cashier at your favorite grocery store, your children’s classmates, and yes, even your children’s teachers. Suburbia is filled with people who are barely making ends meet, and this is what they want you to know:


1. They don’t want to ask for charity.

The working need your charity, but the last thing they want to do is ask for it. Most likely, the working poor are people with whom you rub shoulders on a daily basis–at your church, at our child’s school, in the doctor’s office, at the store.

It might be the mom you sat next to at your child’s basketball game or served with in the church nursery last Sunday. The last thing the working poor want to do is ask those whom they see on a weekly basis for help. They prefer that you give anonymously–or in a non-fanfare way. Don’t make a big deal out of your giving but do so nonchalantly or secretly.


2. Sometimes they can’t afford to donate.

One struggle for the working poor is that most people don’t know they are struggling financially. Since they are, in a way, “hidden” in society, they often feel the expectation from others to give generously during the holidays. 

The problem is–sometimes they don’t have much (if anything) to give. 

The working poor have, literally, no wiggle room. 

If you feel frustrated that it seems like you are the “only family” that gives to every cause your church, child’s school, or community requests of you each holiday season–while your fellow church member gives nothing to very little–remember this: 

The working poor might not have anything else left to give. 

Instead of resenting that others around you “aren’t giving” like you think they should be, trust that you don’t know the full picture. Are those other church members being selfish or lazy? Perhaps. But if you’re giving out of a pure heart and not out of obligation, then it shouldn’t matter what others do. 


3. They’re not snubbing your party invite.

When we were the working poor, party invitations were exciting but stressful. Why?

When faced with what to take to a party, I had to really think about it. I couldn’t just pick up an extra pack of cookies at the supermarket–and bringing a pricey side dish or meat to a party was simply impossible at times.

Sometimes, the working poor might turn down a party invitation because they simply can’t afford to bring anything. This is especially true for direct sales parties when they feel rude to attend when they know they can’t afford to purchase anything. But it’s also true for some holiday parties where they know they don’t have enough money to contribute any food or presents for even small gift exchanges.


4. They might not look poor.

The working poor (or those who are debt poor or house poor) can so easily blend in with society because sometimes they have things or do things that require money.

As well, the working poor might have friends and relatives that have gifted them things–like cell phones or manicures or video games. When we were the working poor, some wealthy friends of our sent us on a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. We could have never dreamed of paying for that trip on our own.

It’s easy to say: “Well, if they can afford that, then they should be able to afford food.”

But it’s not always the case.

We never know how people acquire things or what their bank accounts look like. And it’s not our place to assume or judge. If people don’t look poor, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling financially. 


5. The consumerism is just too much.

Gifts here. Gifts there. Gifts are simply everywhere. And the more expensive and flashier the better, right? That is what our culture would have us believe.

But the working poor long for simplicity.

They can’t afford the expensive and flashy for their families, but everywhere they go (because they are, again, everywhere you are–your churches, schools, stores, etc.), they are bombarded with it. The consumerism is just too much for them. And really? It’s gotten to be just too much for everyone.


Originally posted by The Humbled Homemaker with Erin Odom:

About Feed the Children

At Feed the Children, we feed hungry kids. We envision a world where no child goes to bed hungry. In the U.S. and internationally, we are dedicated to helping families and communities achieve stable lives and to reducing the need for help tomorrow, while providing food and resources to help them today. We distribute product donations from corporate donors to local community partners, we provide support for teachers and students, and we mobilize resources quickly to aid recovery efforts when natural disasters strike. Internationally, we manage child-focused community development programs in
countries. We welcome partnerships because we know our work would not be possible without collaborative relationships.

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