Two Broke Girls: Students pinch pennies to make ends meet

Gail Finch

Being poor sucks – we’re just going to put that out there.

When you’re poor, you can only afford the necessities and there’s very little room for much else.

The poverty line keeps moving lower and lower as the distribution of wealth is skewed in favor of the rich who make money off of the working class without them even really trying.

This means that there are a lot of low-income families in the United States, and low-income students never really speak up about it because they don’t want to be seen as someone who needs to be pitied.

Many students get jobs to help their families with bills and other living costs, but it’s not enough with the ever-rising inflation rates and the stagnation of minimum wage.

For those who aren’t aware of what it’s like to be poor – we live just like any normal middle-class family except there’s more restrictions on what we can and can’t afford.

Going out to eat is a luxury we can’t afford unless it is the dollar menu at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, and even that is something we don’t get to do frequently.

We have phones, cars, and other things, but they’re probably used, cheap, or both. We will never have the latest and greatest, and sometimes, kids can be embarrassed by their lack of gadgets or the fact that they own a $30 phone when most of their friends carry iPhones.

A more serious issue is that fact that dental insurance is usually non-existent, and decent health care is usually out of reach as well. The lack of quality insurance only serves to put us in worse condition later in life as we usually put off routine check-ups with the dentist, and don’t go until there is a serious issue.

Students who qualify for free/reduced lunch are often embarrassed, but the fact that we all just scan our IDs helps avoid anyone else knowing about it. Even though students are able to avoid being called out by their peers by scanning their IDs, there is a marked drop off in the percentage of students who claim free/reduced lunch at a high school level. Students shouldn’t be embarrassed to eat – all youth deserve to be full so they can concentrate on learning and not their stomach growling.

At the high school level, the free/reduced lunch program is also valuable because it allows lower income students to pay a reduced cost for AP/IB testing and summer school. Without these opportunities, many low income students wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the same things as their peers and would fall further behind.

While free/reduced lunch and subsidized test fees are helpful in most school-funded areas, it doesn’t help much when you’re a senior. Being a senior is expensive.

There’s graduation fees, prom fees, college application fees, actually paying for college, and in most cases, car fees (like gas. $2.50 a gallon, please stop, we need food). The bills really add up at the end of the year, and low-income students struggle to get by as it is.

In some cases students have to work one or two jobs to pay those school fees or to pay their bills. There are not enough hours in the day to go to school for 8 hours and then go to work for another 5 hours. However, it has to be done.

It’s a good experience for the real world, but it gets to be too much sometimes. We can’t tell you how much caffeine we’ve ingested just so we can get through closing time at work.

This all sounds really sad and for some people it’s the end of the world, but we’ve learned that YOU. MUST. BE. POSITIVE. If you don’t think positively, then you’ll fall down into a depressing hole and never get out. Then you’re no use to any job and things have less of a chance of getting better.

There are some positive aspects of being poor. Weird, we know.

People who work two jobs, pay bills, or experience their parents telling them no when they ask for something are usually better equipped for life.

When you get out of high school and become an adult, we all have to grow up and pay bills. Those of us who have dealt with this for the majority of our adolescence already know what it’s like while those born with with plenty of money have yet to experience what it’s like being yelled at by a customer because they’re having a bad day or having their lights turned off for two weeks at a time because they couldn’t pay the bill.

The real world is hard. Very hard. Children who grew up poor know what it’s like and are born with low expectations, so sometimes things go easier for them later in life when kids who’ve always had everything are just learning those same skills much later into adulthood.

Being poor brings a bit more appreciation for life sometimes, too. There’s a big misconception that when someone is poor, that it means they are lazy and they don’t take care of themselves or the things around them. For some people, that is their reality, because being poor is depressing sometimes. But most of the time, that’s not the case. We have a better appreciation for the little things in life and tend to take better care of our stuff because it’s expensive.

Our perception of life situations is different from someone who has a little more money. Family nights out are more special because they’re usually far and few in between. Giving someone a gift is more personal because we probably spent a little too much on them, but that’s okay because they deserve it. The little things seem bigger because they seem more genuine.

We aren’t saying that the same can’t be said for people who have money. This article isn’t about us versus them…it’s about exposing what it feels like to be poor in high school.

The only thing we can really say is that being poor isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you stay positive and keep your head above water, it’ll get better. Learn to appreciate what you have, talk to someone about your situation, and know that it’s okay to ask for help from friends and family.