Skepticism

Growing Up Poor

I read with interest this story today about the Canadian couple who have donated the bulk of their $10.9million lottery winnings to charity. They are quoted as saying  “We haven’t bought one thing. That’s because there is nothing that we need,” and I love that. I love and respect it, and although I’m curious about why they did the lottery in the first place, it’s wonderful that they can be so selfless. Of course, I’m horribly cynical and a big part of me suspects they have this attitude because they’re already financially comfortable. Who knows.

I have “enough” stuff, but would go buy new, bigger, shinier, stuff if presented with millions in free money. Sure, I’d also give a lot to charity and improve people’s lives, but I’d buy a massive house with a games room and live on a yacht for a year. A yacht with a helipad. And my own chef.

The reason I’d go buy stuff instead of giving all the money away is because I grew up poor, and even basic things were out of reach. We lived in a state-owned house (in the UK called a “council house”, with all the stigma attached), with no upstairs heating, no phone, no car, and sometimes no electricity. The power came from a meter which had to be fed with fifty-pence pieces, and when there was no money, we’d either sit in candlelight, or my dad would illegally break into the meter and recycle the fifty-pences. This was a common occurrence in state-supported households of the late 1970s and 1980s, but what we lacked in material resources we made up for in fun, community and family values. We didn’t have money for holidays or days out, but we did have a pack of playing cards, and the hours spent with my family around the table playing Canasta, Whist or even Snap are some of my best childhood memories. As a family, we’d venture into nearby woods and play at being Hobbits on summer afternoons. You can’t buy that.

But, when you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily have the wisdom and perspective of old age. So while I was and am grateful for the really important family stuff, it was still galling to not be able to go on the school trip to France, or having to eat the horrible free school lunches, or having my school uniform paid for by a state grant or elderly distant relative. Not particularly out of peer pressure, I wasn’t that sort of kid, but just out of a general sense that relying on charity was not ideal.

On the plus side, I did get a good work ethic out of it, and a determination to escape my poverty roots and never return. I’ve worked very hard to have a life far from those roots, and although I’d still rather play a card game with family or friends, or hang out in the woods on a hot afternoon, I like to think the life I’ve worked for now is an improvement on the one my parents had at my age. I’m not sure if that sounds patronising or selfish. If it does, so be it. I feel how I feel.

As a result of having gone from poverty-class to middle-class (sorry USA readers, that’s a specific term in the UK that might not translate too well. Wikipedia defines middle-class as “typically including a university education, ownership of a sizeable family house, luxuries such as family skiing holidays, or even holding of a senior role in a profession or owner/director of a corporation”), I will notice when I’m acting spoilt, that I’m to a degree forgetting my “roots” in poverty. Examples of really dumb middle-class things I do are:

  • buying and roasting a whole guinea fowl…for my cat
  • getting cross when my cleaner moves my motion-activated air-freshener
  • feeling disappointed when the farmer’s market has run out of my favourite imported cheese/artisan bread/luxury soap

I notice when I have these moments, and laugh at myself for what can be termed “middle class nightmares” or “first world problems” or “complete lack of perspective”, but it’s easy enough to fall into the trap of thinking that what should be a luxury is in fact a necessity.

I haven’t had a proper vacation for years (despite the Wikipedia definition), I don’t smoke, I barely drink alcohol, and my expenditure is very modest compared to many of my peers, so I don’t think I’m frivolous, and I work crazy hard so in theory I can do what I want. However, compared to many more worldwide, my expenditure is stupid and selfish, and the fact that I own all the consoles can’t be justified in light of global poverty. I do not know how to reconcile “things I like which help me relax and make my life feel nice” with “social conscience and awareness that a large chunk of the globe is just trying to get enough to eat”. I do a vast amount of pro bono or ‘at cost’ charity work, and I donate to global charities which have aims I support, but I don’t really make massive lifestyle sacrifices in order to help my fellow man. I’m OK with that; middle-class guilt is very common and I think I’m in credit with whatever serves skeptics for karma, but I still have a nagging feeling that what the lottery couple did was the right thing. In which case, why isn’t it what I’d do?

Tracy King

Tracy King

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39 Comments

  1. November 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm —

    yeah,i grew up in the upper poor class mostly,had some things but at the same time i had to do with out so much more than most kids in my schools.
    and now i’m still in much the same place,cause i dropped out of school,have trouble even keeping min wage jobs.so living at home at age 27.if i won the lotto i already know what i’d do and give the money to charity aint it.not that i play that is.i never win anything so no point wasting money on a fools folly.

  2. November 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm —

    Mmmm, cheesey artisan bread soap. Can’t beat it for that fresh-baked, squeeky clean feeling.

    But seriously, charity is wonderful, but should never be driven by guilt or some idiotic peer-pressure (or worse, a combination, i.e religious “giving”). So, good on ya, live it up if you hit it rich. But do drop a few fancy bits our way if you do.

    My plan, were I to get suddenly flush with cash, is to fund my nephews’ future educations, ’cause the way things are going, it may be next to impossible to afford by the time they’re old enough for university.

  3. November 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm —

    I was the first in my family to attend college.
    We were very blue class.
    I remember learning in sociology, after my Dad’s heart attack, that we actually fell below the poverty line , but that was just a technicality. We were lower middle class.
    I’ve worked , in some capacity, because we owned a pizza store, since the age of 7, thus I too have good work habits.
    Through hard work and a whole lot of good fortune I’m now a physician.
    I’m comfortable. My family is comfortable. We even have a few bells and whistles. But I still prefer a new baseball glove over a new car ( I’ve had more gloves than cars in my 53 years of life ), but my pricey passion is travel.
    So, I’d travel to more exotic places than I do now, more frequently than I do now, and stay at better places than I do now, and do fancier things if I desire.

    But without a doubt, I’d help my family and friends first, my community second, and selected charities third.

    I think we all would do essentially the same thing except one’s specific passions would be different.

    And though I’m comfortable, I have to admit, I would not be as altruistic as the Canadians.

    Not even close.

  4. November 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm —

    I didn’t grow up poor (lower middle class by American Standards, we had a house but vacations were car trips to Grandma’s) but both of my parents did. It made an impact.

    My mom nags me about how low paying my current job is (yes, mom, but it’s a part time job, The Husband and I agreed I’d work part time and do volunteer work since he makes plenty of money) and what would happen if your husband wasn’t around (I’d have to work full time? My current job doesn’t pay well but they always need people).

    If I won the lottery it would have to go into an investment account of some kind so I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of money for the rest of my life. Maybe that would shut up the worrying mothers (the one that lives in NC and the one that lives in my head).

    Of course making out the will would be fun cause I’d plan on leaving the money to charities.

  5. November 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm —

    Why wouldn’t I be as altruistic?

    There are shades of gray, as you know Tracy, in every aspect of life. I would not feel one bit ashamed at giving away 1 million dollars to charity. I’d feel more embaressed though if I gave more to charity than family and friends. But still … I would not be embaressed if I kept most of it. All of it? Yes!!!!! Most? No. I refuse to compare myself to others, and though I contradict that statement daily, I wouldn’t stress about giving millions to others while keeping millions for myself as well. .

  6. November 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm —

    Grew up working lower middle / upper poor class with no extra’s at all. My wife is the daughter of a MD/GP and grew up firmly UK middle class plus. We’d both keep the money and probably support some causes we feel strongly about, and help our kids buy a house or something like that. Giving it all away wouldn’t even come into the conversation except as a joke. And I wouldn’t tell anyone if I won a lottery anyway; you don’t have to allow your name to be released to the public and you can always tell people a rich uncle left you stock in a company that was bought out at a huge profit.

  7. November 5, 2010 at 2:07 pm —

    I often think of what I would do with millions of dollars. I’d pay off my house, my husbands car, and invest a fair amount. I’d pay off my parents house, my siblings houses, buy my parents-in-law a house, and probably replace both my husband and I’s cars with nicer compact cards. I’d buy some things I’ve wanted for a while.
    Then I’d donate a lot to Red Cross. I might open up a free worship center. I might do a lot of other charitable things.
    However, I’m still of the opinion that I have to take care of me before I can take care of anyone else, and that charity doesn’t mean anything if it’s given out of guilt.

  8. November 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm —

    When I first got started, a fellow bookdealer told me this joke.

    A bookdealer wins the lottery. He throws a huge party for all his friends and long-term customers. As the champagne is being being popped, someone yells out “So, whatcha gonna do with all that money!” And the bookdealer replies: “I’m going to keep the store open until it runs out!”

    Scads of extra cash is freedom. Sure, you can live with less. Most of us do. But extra means that you can take care of all the material nonsense, obtain the level of creature comfort that you’ve always wanted.

    This couple tried that for a while but the material comforts weren’t worth the discomfort of other people knowing they had a surplus. So they took care of their own and then very, very publicly used the rest to go back to that level of comfort that worked for them.

    Giving away all that money is a glorious thing, they deserve the respect they are getting. But they also deserve respect for being able to figure out that it was the best way. For them.

  9. November 5, 2010 at 2:23 pm —

    I saw the interview with the family and I think a couple of points are worth mentioning.
    -They did give some to family members.
    -They did create a rainy day acct for emergencies.
    -They did say they have always been financially secure. And I think that is another reason giving it away was easier.
    -They are senior citizens. The wife has just completely chemo for cancer. I would suspect being on the end of ones life puts things in perspective, and I would also say being seriously ill does too.
    -Everything they have is 100% paid for already.

    I think it is harder to give money away if you have ever really been without basic needs. The interview I saw showed they are not interested in the rat race. The TV they own is from the 90’s, and they were perfectly happy with it. THey said the pure joy they got from giving was what motivated them.

  10. November 5, 2010 at 2:42 pm —

    I think in this we also need to consider the age of the winners. Most people reading here on skepchick whether they grew up poor or not are young in comparison to this couple in their 70s. They are at the ends of their lives, even keeping only a small portion of their winnings (2% I believe it was) along with the money they already had via retirement they can live their last years together in comfort and feel good about all the people they helped.

    Now for those of us who likely have several decades still in front of us to live, it’s harder to give up that future security. We’d want to buy stuff, provide for our family (if I won I’d put money aside from my nephew’s education for example), save some in case of emergency, etc. because we have lots of time to enjoy those things. This couple doesn’t.

  11. November 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm —

    @Noadi: I totally agree. I’m not sure why they entered the lotto in the first place, but their position at the relative end of their life meant that they didn’t really need what they won. Perhaps they thought they might get lucky and win a few thousand bucks sometime – enough for a new fridge and a dinner out or something. It does say that they gave a lot of it away to family, so I suspect that their beneficiaries.. well.. benefitted.

    If I won a ridiculous sum of cash, I’d fix up my house, then sell it and build a green home in the location of my choice. Nothing huge, but comfortable and environmentally friendly. I’d give money to charity, I’d give money to family and put some away. Maybe I’d quit my job, but I probably wouldn’t give up working. I’d probably continue on contracts and maybe open a little bookstore or something on the side. I’d like to be comfortable, but not obscenely comfortable. I just entered the Millionnaire Home Lottery. There are 3 choices for the first prize. You can choose money ($2.3 mill), a modestly-sized but very nicely decorated heritage home in the city, or an obscenely large ocean-view home in the burbs. All I could think of when I looked at the ocean view home was how I’d have to quit my job just to be able to clean the whole thing. The heritage home is more my style, and it’s 2 blocks from where I used to live and I loved it there. So I could deal with that. But money and the freedom to choose my destiny might win out over everything…

  12. November 5, 2010 at 3:23 pm —

    I’m curious about why they did the lottery in the first place

    If someone actually needs the money, they probably shouldn’t be buying lottery tickets.

  13. November 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm —

    I grew up firmly upper-middle class, with a touch of fame (my dad was a “legendary” Canadian journalist/TV producer), and I was very familiar with much privilege.

    However, as soon as I left home in ’74 I descended into poverty, and with the brief exception of approximately 4 years on and off between 2000 and 2007, I have been everywhere from poor to homeless, and all stops in between.

    Even so, I always give extra money away to those who are in even more need than I.

    Perhaps they bought the lottery ticket with the hope of being able to give a large sum to charity. Some people think that way. Some people truly believe that we are all our brothers and sisters keepers.

    Speaking of Canadians winning the lottery, just a couple of days ago a sweet gay couple (he was 50-something and he was 60-something) won the giant 50 million dollar lotto. They’ve now retired and plan to buy a house and take a good vacation. Lovely story. Maybe they’ll give to good causes too.

  14. November 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm —

    I don’t think it was the “right thing to do” giving away most of that money nor do I think it was the wrong thing to do. It was a thing that these people chose to do, based on their current living situation and most likely as @Noadi: stated, their ages. Personally I’d keep the money, and wouldn’t have any qualms about it. Probably donate what I felt was reasonable, help out family members I knew required the help and pay off my debts. And get a Roomba. I guess I just don’t feel that “middle-class” guilt thing. I may not do as much as I probably could for those less fortunate, but I simply see no point in feeling guilty about that. Sorry.

  15. November 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm —

    What I would donate would depend on which lottery I won. We have two that run here in Colo. If I won the bigger one which is MANY millions, both my sister and I would retire early for sure. I would have a nicer house but nothing extravagant because with a gigantic house you either have tons of housework or you have to hire people to do it for you and I don’t like either option. I would have a nicer, more environmentally friendly car and I would have the finest astronomy hear you can get. I would still be very careful about charitable donations tho because once you donate, you are suddenly inundated with beg requests. If I donated anything, it would be to something I feel really strongly about and it would be anonymous.

    I grew up as one of 4 Air Force brats with a non-working Mom. We had nothing. In 1961, my parents bought the only real house they ever owned and it cost $13,000. Their payment was $113.00 a month and you would not believe how they struggled to make that payment each month. Those numbers seem ludicrous today but back then, there were really strict rules banks employed to determine if you could qualify for a mortage. My folks barely made it. We kids had nothing but a few toys each year at Xmas and the clothes we got at the beginning of each school year. We also had a very strict and somewhat abusive father. A WWII military type who was devoid of any emotion other than anger. However, our Mom made up for that because she was the world’s best and what we lacked from our dad was more than made up for by the loving care we all received from our Mom. Looking back on it, we had a good childhood. We had a warm house, plenty to eat, and clean clothes to wear. We were better off than about 95% of the rest of the world but as kids, you don’t realize that. I know it now and can appreciate what my parents went through to give us all a home.

  16. November 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm —

    If I won a big lottery like that I’d set up a foundation that paid people whose ancestors got to be very old and healthy to have lots of babies…

  17. November 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm —

    I grew poor- we lived in a trailer park in a small town in Colorado living off of food boxes from a local food ministry. Cars, electricity and phones were pretty sporadic. My mom worked two jobs to keep food in the house but I still remember her crying about another bill not being paid or another utitility being shut off. She’s an amazing woman though and we always got the love and attention we needed from her! But growing up actually poor has, I think, warped the way I view money. For along time I would just spend every bit that I got- it’s hard to get out of that mentality. I would always be afraid that if I didn’t spend it on whatever I wanted or needed, I would have to give it up to pay for super practical things like the electricity bill instead. From the time I was old enough to work, I did. I managed to do well in high school (mostly because my mom really wanted us to do better than she did) and graduated from college (the first in my family). Even now I struggle with money.
    I totally understand feeling guilty about the little luxuries I enjoy now. Everytime I buy new clothes, I feel like I am betraying my past (I don’t know why it’s clothes in particular… but it is). Or sometimes I get frustrated over really stupid things like how slow the internet is or something… And then I feel bad about forgetting that sometimes we didn’t even have a phone. I try to give what I can to charity but I almost always give my extra money to mom or sister anyway.
    I don’t think I could give away all that money like the couple mentioned above did. I think I would try to invest most of it and pay off all my debt and the debt of mom and sister and buy us all nice houses and cars. Selfish, yes. But I think we would deserve it, hypothetically, after all the lean years we had to live through…
    It’s too bad I don’t even play the lottery! :)

  18. November 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm —

    What this shows about the lottery is pretty much true. Your habits are set. If you spend more than you earn you are likely to spend all your lottery winnings and then some. If you are a saver you will probably save it. These people are clearly savers and didn’t need to make their pile much deeper (although by my math they made it $700,000 deeper) and just decided to dispense with the excess.

    My parents earned a modest income, but managed to save a great deal. In essence I suppose they are “wealthy”, but you’d never know it from the way they spend and most of it will likely be left when they die. Being very much their son I’m on a similar trajectory. Just last month my mom had a minor windfall and shared it with us (for reasons that defy my understanding). She asked me what I was going to do with it. I said “find someone to give it to.” That afternoon I saw Wikipedia’s annual begging letter and the decision was made.

  19. November 5, 2010 at 5:45 pm —

    My parents grew up in what I suppose would be described as working class families, my dad on a small farm where school was optional during potato picking season, and my mother in a council house where money became a serious issue when my grandfather died young. My mother’s eldest brother started accountancy school but didn’t finish it, and my father’s family’s crowning achievement was to produce a bank manager (my uncle, who has a serious superiority complex that I find hugely entertaining) .

    These circumstances seem to have had opposite effects on my parents – my father never wanted to part with money, and was a big fan of ‘making do’, while my mother wanted to buy all the things she never had. She sees expensive clothes and haircuts as her right for the hard work she has done in her life and can be very defensive of her spending (I know this because I happened to express my disagreement with her recently spending €3,000 on a dining table. I don’t object to the amount as much as the fact that it will be only be used very rarely. I’m a big fan of cost-per-use).

    I grew up in better circumstances than my parents as they both had public sector jobs which were secure and relatively well paid in the recession of the 80s and early 90s. Looking back at it now, I realise that we didn’t have a lot of money – I rarely had new clothes and no pocket money – but I didn’t notice it at the time. We were somewhere in the gap between really struggling to make ends meet and being comfortable.

    In a lot of ways, I’m lucky and I certainly am not poor, but it’s not quite as straight forward as that. I own my own car, but I live with my mother (I’m 25). I shop in a farmer’s market but complain excessively about overpriced food (packaged sandwiches are my pet hate. €5? Really?!). I spent four difficult years in college only to emerge the other end with about one half to one third of the earning power that would have been expected when I started, and the jobs market in my field is a disaster. So sometimes I feel like I ‘deserve’ more, but then I remind myself that I’m extremely lucky in relative terms.

    I’m sorry, what was intended to be a short comment ended up a detailed account of my financial circumstances! If I won the lottery, I reckon I’d give maybe 10-20% to charity and the rest would go towards a nice house for myself. The Irish lotto’s never really more than €3million so I wouldn’t be buying my own island or anything like that. I might buy my brother a car, but only so I don’t have to keep driving him everywhere :)

  20. November 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm —

    Eh, maybe they just bought the lottery ticket on a whim. I do that sometimes, even though I know down in the depths of my miserly statistical heart that I will never win. (For an excellent exercise in how you will never win, check out this MEga Millions Lottery Simulator. http://www.cockeyed.com/citizen/poker/lottery_simulator100.php The current mega millions jackpot is around 104 million, and guess what, you will never win it.)

  21. November 5, 2010 at 7:14 pm —

    @davew:

    Your habits are set. If you spend more than you earn you are likely to spend all your lottery winnings and then some. If you are a saver you will probably save it.

    I think that is a bit too broad or general or something like that. It might be set habits, but it’s just as likely to be minimum needs and abilities.

    For most, not all, but most of my working life I’ve never earned enough to even be able to try and not spend more than I earned, it simply was not possible, never mind actual savings building up a nest-egg safety fund.

    To be able to actually save, or for that matter even simply not spend more than you earn, you absolutely must have enough “free” available cash that does not have to go to the new glasses prescription, the new dental crown, the news shoes, new cothes, bottle of aspirin, toilet paper, etc. ad infinitum (never mind trying to catch up on past debts) — in other words, cash that could, if you so chose, be simply thrown away. I don’t think people who have not lived for an extended period of time at real poverty levels actually grasp this point.

  22. November 5, 2010 at 8:28 pm —

    @John Greg: I think that is a bit too broad or general or something like that. It might be set habits, but it’s just as likely to be minimum needs and abilities.

    You have a good point, and I am far from convinced I am right, but try this thought experiment. Suppose you earned $100 less a month, would you survive? Suppose you earned $100 more a month would you save all of it? Would you save any of it? In my experience and in my life saving seems to be more a matter of attitude than circumstance.

    I’ve noticed some common elements in stories recently about reduced circumstances. When asked how people have cut back after a job loss they say things like: we gave up a car, we turned off the cable TV, we stopped buying meat, we don’t go out to movies, we didn’t travel for vacation, we stopped using the clothes drier and so on. I wonder how many of these items would have counted as “needs” if you’d asked these people about them before the recession?

  23. November 5, 2010 at 8:42 pm —

    Lotteries in Canada raise money for charities and community programs. Maybe they bought a ticket to support the local rec centre or something.

    Giving it away is amazing. I would be tempted to give lots away too: car dearship, fishing boat, computer store, travel agency…

  24. November 5, 2010 at 9:18 pm —

    In the late eighties, when lotteries were just coming back, I saw a documentary about how the winners lives had changed. Most of them weren’t pretty. Several of them were even in a support group for lottery winners.

    One gentleman lamented how hard it was to keep friends when your co-workers and aquantences were always dropping hints about what a hard time they were having. Explaining that he didn’t have $3 million, he had an extra $20 to 30 grand a year just never sank in.

    Another gentleman had given up having a permanent address. He’d move about every six months when all the letters and people asking for money had tracked him down again.

  25. November 5, 2010 at 9:38 pm —

    I grew up lower-middle class. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother found a job teaching on the Navajo Res (we were originally from San Diego). My father did pay child support, though it was never enough, and we kept the family house and rented it out. (Every summer we’d go back to San Diego and repair the damages the renters had done).

    So yeah, we did without. I might still give some away, depending on how much I won. First I’d pay off my own dept, then I’d buy a new car, then a house if I had enough. (I have an upcoming crises in that my parents both still co-own the house, my father’s retired in it, and sooner-or-later my mother will want to retire into it. Having both living under the same roof is too horrible a thought to bear, especially since I’ve had to move back in myself). Then I’d invest for the future.

    However, I have very few relatives that I would help out. Most of them are just bums. The ones I would help out have already taken good care of themselves. I’d buy my father new dentures, but any cash I gave him would go straight back to the lottery. So I’d probably give it to the Red Cross.

  26. November 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm —

    @davew:

    Suppose you earned $100 less a month, would you survive? Suppose you earned $100 more a month would you save all of it? Would you save any of it?

    I think that’s a bit too limiting, nonetheless, it’s worth looking at. Due to complicated circumstances it doesn’t apply at the moment, so, if it’s all right with you we’ll overlook the present and take a glance at the last 7 years up to last March.

    For all of the last 7 years except for 2007, and 8 months in 2009, if I had earned $100 (perhaps closer to $150) less per month I would have survived, but I would have been, as I was from November 2005 to November 2006, homeless.

    Over those same time periods, had I earned $100 more, then I might have been able to do things like buying a desperately needed pair of shoes (many years overdue), or perhaps updating my diet to include fresh fruit and veg, or perhaps I would have spent it on a monthly bus pass so I could have stopped stealing my bus fare from where I worked. Yes, things were that tight for most of the past 7 years.

    When asked how people have cut back after a job loss they say things like: we gave up a car, we turned off the cable TV, we stopped buying meat, we don’t go out to movies, we didn’t travel for vacation, we stopped using the clothes drier and so on.

    I just had to laugh at that sentence, and that’s not with any disrepect towards you Dave. Not at all. I own almost nothing, and have owned almost nothing in years, beyond the clothes on my back, a couple of pieces of cheap furniture, the occasional computer — which usually has to be teased along for many years passed its due date. I haven’t owned a car since 1980. I turned cable off over 15 years ago, mainly so I could maintain my internet connection, which I often must use for work (and certainly for communication) — though I’ve spent many, many months without an ISP too. The first 18 months that I lived where I live now I couldn’t afford a phone (or ISP), so I used the pay phone across the street when I really, really had to call someone. Travel for vacation? Never mind travel, what the fuck is a vacation in the first place? Time off work? Oh sure, I call it unemployment. LOL.

    What I’m getting at Dave is that of all those things you’ve listed none of them have ever been things I would call anything other than minor luxuries for me really. I’ll list for you just a few of the needs I’ve had to give up at one time or another over the last seven years: roof over my head; new “everyday” glasses (for 10 months) when I accidentally smashed the ones I was wearing; new desperately needed “reading” glasses for 4 years; three dental crowns for, respectively, 5, 3, 2 years; haircuts for many, many months at a time; fresh vegetables and fruit, and that sort of thing.

    I’m not whining or complaining, but I really think that no one who has not lived in serious poverty really understands what “needs” really are. When you have to go pan-handling to get money for toilet paper, which I have done, then you get a sense of what being poor really is.

    And that’s when “needs” really become clearly defined.

  27. November 6, 2010 at 11:09 am —

    Good for them for giving it away. I sometimes dream about what I’d do if I won the lottery, and it mostly involves giving it away. Though the first thing I’d do is pay off my debt to the US Department of Education. Having that extra $500+ a month would make my life easy. I’m extremely fortunate. By no means are we wealthy, but the house and car are paid off (my partner had an inheritance that made it possible). That makes a huge difference. Growing up I worried a lot about money, more than I had a need to, I think. I grew up in a middle class family–blue collar father (dropped out of high school to work on the railroad–all the live-long day), pink-then-white collar mother (nurse who went back to school to get her Bachelor’s degree, then got into administration). I think because I’ve had/have a great life, I feel the need to give back however I can. Call it middle class guilt if you want, but I don’t feel guilty. I feel grateful. That may not be rational, since it’s not like I had anything to do with being born into my particular family. It gave me a great start in life (well, aside from the alcoholism and child molesting that existed in my extended family; you know–the usual family dysfunctions). But I do take credit for the hard work that got me where I currently am. Of course, medication and therapy helped a lot, too!

    I would love to buy a building for the cat trap-neuter-return group for which I volunteer. Every month when we have our mass spay/neuter-a-thon we have to set it all up in a warehouse which we rent for the occasion. It’s a royal pain in the ass, and it’s hard labor. Schlepping tables, setting up the surgical area, covering everything with plastic… It’s hard to get volunteers to do the setup because it’s not fun work and doesn’t involve cats. So, if we had our own building, where we could leave tables and the surgical suite set up…. It’d make my life so much easier.

    But I don’t play the lottery, so it’s just a dream. And I don’t even know any wealthy people who could donate a million dollars to this dream. *sigh* So, I just pop a handful of ibuprofen and hope my middle-aged knees will carry me through another night of carrying autoclaves and other equipment up and down the rickety-ass stairs. And I’m one of the younger volunteers…

  28. November 6, 2010 at 12:38 pm —

    Not only do I sit in continual wonder at why people play the lottery, but also why people piss their money up the wall at farmers’ markets. Here is a funny song.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxQ_Z1JVZY4

  29. November 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm —

    @John Ellis: Not only do I sit in continual wonder at why people play the lottery, but also why people piss their money up the wall at farmers’ markets.

    Jolly old England must be different. In the US, specifically in my little corner of paradise on the Colorado front range, the farmers markets are cheaper, have much better variety and quality, and cut down on my carbon footprint. And, if this weren’t reasons enough, I like getting to know the people who grow my food. Connie and John Zweck are the most wonderful people you’d ever hope to chat with over a pound of golden beats and my life is richer for knowing them.

  30. November 6, 2010 at 7:35 pm —

    @davew: I think it varies with the area and the specific market. I’ve seen both great deals and over-priced stuff exactly the same as in the supermarkets. Sometimes in adjacent booths. There’s usually lots of organic, “all-natural” produce, about the same price as in high-end yuppie stores. (Avoid the “super-natural” produce, it will attract zombies.)

  31. November 6, 2010 at 10:34 pm —

    @Buzz Parsec: I think it varies with the area and the specific market.

    You’re likely right. I live in a fairly small town with a long history of farming. Our farmers markets may be different than ones in more urban areas.

  32. November 7, 2010 at 8:19 am —

    @davew:

    Yes, I imagine its different in the US, but in the UK they mostly seem to be Marie Antoinette style farmers markets, selling essentially eco-lifestyle bullshit.
    There are a few exceptions where they sell specialist products that would not otherwise be available in that area. My favourite was one in Cheltenham held on Valentines day a few years ago. A butcher had a sign up saying “Put the romance back into your life — treat her to some tasty love Faggots”.
    Yum!

  33. November 7, 2010 at 10:35 am —

    @davew: Certainly agree with that. The farmer’s markets in NYC are (mostly) far cheaper than the supermarkets and they are folks from upstate or NJ farms. My wife worked for 2 different farmers for a year or so, selling all over the city. The farmers were great people, who took care of their workers, and had a good time doing the work. My wife said it was a great feeling to know that you are doing a good, honest days work, selling veggies and apples. Oh, and golden beets are the shit!

  34. November 7, 2010 at 10:53 am —

    Quite honestly, the first thing I thought of when I saw that was that I hope to hell they saved enough to cover the taxes. Just because they gave it all away doesn’t mean they still won’t be taxed on it at the end of the year.

    I would be setting up funds and things to make sure I didn’t have financial worries, I would make sure my nieces and nephews had all the education they wanted, and I’d be supporting charities. Perhaps I’d take on Susan G. Komen and point out how they can’t trademark “For the Cure” when there are so many other diseases out there that need curing…

  35. November 7, 2010 at 12:16 pm —

    @Chasmosaur:

    I could be wrong about this, but I am fairly sure that here in Canada the actual winnings in a lottery are not taxable. What is taxable is any monies, such as interest etc., earned on those winnings.

    I twice won a few thousand dollars in the lottery and did not have to declare it for taxes.

  36. November 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm —

    I grew up in similar circumstances. If by some bizarre accident I played the lottery and then won, I would likely return to grad school, finish a degree, then find someplace to teach for a token $1 a year. That would satisfy (for me anyway) the conflict outlined in the post: whether to donate or keep, if keep, how much, etc.

  37. November 7, 2010 at 6:14 pm —

    @John Greg:

    Wow – I just looked it up and that’s cool. Your lottery winnings aren’t taxed. Another reason to love Canada. (I grew up next door to Canadians and did a lot of field work there – it’s not a reflexive love ;) )

  38. November 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm —

    My odds of winning the lottery are about the same as my chances of ever having sex with Salma Hayek. But I still persistently dream of both of those things.
    I grew up money poor but land rich. I lived on a farm, and my neighbors were mostly family members, so I could roam on their land, also. Now I equate wealth with land, room to roam, a buffer zone between myself and the rest of humanity. If I won millions I would both buy back the farm, and take care of my immediate and extended family. I would put the land to some use, because working is good for the “soul” and it keeps you sane. I just wouldn’t have to have the kind of spirit killing stress associated with trying to keep your head above water at all times. I would also fix up my boat and go sailing for a few years. etc, etc, etc.

  39. June 2, 2012 at 10:04 am —

    On not giving to charity out of guilt – it’s like my notion of “sainthood” (not necessarily in the religious sense).

    People who seem to sacrifice everything for what they care about, and live lives that seem strange and hard to us are often revered, but what we don’t often talk about is that for some people, living like that is easier. For them, THAT is the reflexive way of life, and NOT living like that is difficult. Maybe they trained themselves to be like that, but part of it is that they happen to enjoy living in a manner revered by their society.

    Giving to charity is nice. It’s also a way to be sure none of that money gets taxed (though there’s no reason to assume that’s why they did it), and like you said, it’s often something done by people who’ve not known financial hardship, at least not in recent times.

    My own reflex would be to pay taxes on the money, and then of what was left, pay off all my debts, put some into savings, live cheaply off some of it for a couple years and do nothing but writing (and maybe work I enjoy), and put whatever is left into my sundry climate action project.

    There is something to be said for the notion that the things we do in life may be more worthy than the money we give to others, though they’re generally not as good a way of getting praise. Ensuring that you don’t have to worry about money for a period of time so that you can focus on what matters to you may be considered selfish by society, but then it comes down to what you do with your time.

    Giving money away is a little bit like running for office with the promise of lower taxes, higher employment, and cookies. It’s popular, it can be good, but not doing it doesn’t make you a bad person by itself.

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