Nikki has been doing some practical math exercises in school that prompted her to ask to go grocery shopping with me so she could practice calculating things like: “Which is cheaper per ounce, big box or little box?”
Now – before you grumble about how irritating it is to hear your friends subtly reference their smart kids…know this: She really just wanted a free cookie. Also? She got bored after the first calculation.
That first calculation prompted a conversation about how often you can save by buying in bulk. And that’s when I jumped at an opportunity to give a lesson about poverty. I honestly jump at these opportunities a lot, which is why I thought I’d share my basic story with you.
The Story of Rich Kim & Poor Kim
When it was just me and your brother back in my college days, sometimes I would go to the store with $20 to buy all of the groceries I needed for the week. That’s when I was Poor Kim. I almost ALWAYS noticed that it would be cheaper to buy the bigger size of something: Milk, Cereal, toilet paper…the necessities…but I never could. I only had $20, so I bought the 4-pack of toilet paper, the half gallon of milk, and the small box of cereal.
[Edited to add: Poor Kim always bought generic. Big K brand was Poor Kim’s jam.]
Now…think about that over, let’s say, a whole year. I could have saved 45 cents in about 2 weeks if I could have bought the bigger box. What about the bigger milk? And the bigger cereal? How much could that have saved me in two weeks to buy a bigger size? Or in a whole YEAR? So take Kim from 1998 (Poor Kim) and Kim from 2017 (Rich Kim) and look at how much money they each spent per ounce of cereal, per gallon of milk, and per roll of toilet paper and what will you find? (Not accounting for inflation, of course.)
You would find that Poor Kim spent A WHOLE LOT MORE on cereal and toilet paper and milk over the course of a year than Rich Kim did. Rich Kim spent LESS than Poor Kim. Think about that.
THIS is what I mean when I say, “It’s a lot more expensive to be poor.”
Poor Kim never could fill up her gas tank when the prices were low. Hell, I never filled up my gas tank at all. At most I would have a half of a tank unless my Dad had come in town and filled it up for me. [Edited to add: Poor Kim had it good because she did not suffer from generational poverty. Many people never had parents who could fill up their tanks.] I also didn’t have the time or the energy to shop around for sales. I also didn’t have the time to cut coupons. And if I did have time? I was too tired and too depressed from being poor all of the time.
Also – things like tylenol for fevers? That’s something everyone has to buy for their kid at some point. Even if I bought the generic version, it was $4 out of my $400 paycheck. That’s 1% of my paycheck for Tylenol. That’s A LOT. The average person in Huntsville brings home $1100 on a 2-week paycheck. For that person 1% would mean the same Tylenol cost $11. But it doesn’t, it still only costs $4 for that person too. The person making the average won’t have to stress so much about buying the Tylenol, but when your brother was little? It was a tough thing to need.
So compared to percentage of your income, being poor is A LOT more expensive than even being average, or middle class. Not only can you not take advantage of bulk pricing or sales at certain times, but everything is a bigger percentage of your income so you’re probably going to have to make tough decisions about whether to pay bills on time.
Remember how we went to Shoe Carnival when they were having the Buy One Pair Get The Second Half Off sale? So you got TWO pairs of shoes for $60 instead of $80? Well…Poor Kim couldn’t ever afford to do that so instead I would buy one $40 pair and just wait until they fell apart and buy another $40 pair. So, same amount of time passes, same amount of shoes worn out, but Rich Kim spent less than Poor Kim because Rich Kim has enough buffer in her budget and income to take advantage of sales.
Just think of the few ways I’ve explained right now that Rich Kim can spend less money in a year than Poor Kim. And these are just a few of the ways. There are many more. And how is that fair? Poor Kim is the one that needs to spend less, but she spends more.
And this is why Rich Kim pays her taxes and smiles. Rich Kim doesn’t mind being in a higher tax bracket than poor Kim because Rich Kim remembers how much it sucked being Poor Kim. Rich Kim knows “Fair Tax” isn’t actually fair, so she supports a tiered tax system so that she shoulders more of the burden of paying our police and for our road repair than Poor Kim has to.
It’s the least that Rich Kim can do.