If you have ever had a conversation with someone around low-income families, you may have heard them question why some people with low-income have seemingly expensive items. Something along the lines of, “Well if they don’t have a lot of money why are they spending $150 on shoes?”
This sentiment is quite pervasive. Many people simply believe that poor people shouldn’t have nice things. This comes up a lot particularly in low-income schools in which students are judged about everything from their tattoos to their video games.
From my personal experience these types of wonderings are often misplaced for a variety of reasons:
1. It’s none of your damn business.
This should actually be the only reason anyone needs.
2. All students in inner-city schools are not poor.
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that just because you are at a school with a high free and reduced lunch population that every student must be low-income. But if you get to know the families, often you will find that many of your students don’t come from impoverished backgrounds at all.
Many of the students who go to my school have parents that make great money but still live in the neighborhood to be close to family. Imagine how much disposable income someone with a middle-class paycheck living in a working-class neighborhood would have? Probably enough to send their kid to school with nice shoes and an iPhone.
3. Sometimes buying expensive items makes more sense.
One thing you find out by being poor is that you get what you pay for. Cheap items are usually cheaper for a reason. It is sometimes better to reach for an item that is a little more expensive and will last longer.
Additionally, if you have multiple kids, which most families do, buying an expensive game console as a “joint gift” is actually probably cheaper than buying them gifts individually.
4. Families didn’t always buy expensive items themselves.
Just because you see a student with a nice item doesn’t mean their family purchased it themselves. Sometimes students receive these types of items as gifts from other family members or even community partners through various programs. Just because a student’s parents don’t have a ton of money, doesn’t mean their grandparents or extended family doesn’t have money to buy them nice gifts. You just never know how a student received an item.
I once participated in a holiday assistance program. One of my students asked for one thing on her list Christmas list, a specific brand of coat. She got that item through the program. This student was known around a school to come from a family with financial difficulties. So, some people made comments about her new coat, not knowing she had received the coat from a donor.
5. You don’t know how much those items actually cost.
When you don’t have a lot of money, you get really good at shopping. The average person outside of the inner-city knows that Jordan’s typically cost a lot of money. What they don’t know is that at the end of every season you can find some at Burlington or T.J. Maxx for around $50. Many would be surprised how cheaply you can find brand name items. The parents of my students would not be surprised. And this doesn’t even address the elephant in the room which is the very large brand name, knock-off and imitation market.
The same goes for electronics. You can find used video games for really affordable prices at GameStop especially around the holidays.
According to research, many Americans struggle to live below their means. Low-income Americans are probably not an exception to that trend. However, you cannot tell simply by looking at someone. Therefore, people should keep their judgments to themselves.