Let’s face it, existence comes at a price in our world. Food, clothing and shelter cost money. Strangely enough, the less money you have, the more expensive life actually becomes. Poverty has a very high price tag. It seems counterintuitive at first, but if one considers the issue for a moment, it immediately becomes clear that the poorer one is, the more they pay for things. Try taking a bus to Sam’s Club to do money-saving wholesale grocery shopping. Sure, corner stores abound in neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. Staple items cost more there. That’s one very simple but extremely real example of the high cost of poverty.
Credit.com found that nearly one-third of all Americans have a credit score of less than 601. This is important because poor credit is an impediment to more favorable loan terms and interest rates. In short, it costs the poor more to have access to credit, if they can gain access to it at all. Combine this with the fact that, according to CNN, most Americans do not have $500 in savings, and you soon understand why the payday loan and subprime lending markets exist. Those industries charge more for access to capital. Much more. It’s a fact that some payday loan companies charge upwards of 600% in interest. A car loan to someone with poor credit can have a 20% interest rate, or more. That means someone with poor credit will pay more for the same car than someone with good credit and a lower interest rate. Compare that to the 6.5% to 9% interest rate for a Small Business Administration loan. It’s no wonder poor and lower middle-class families can barely keep their heads above water.
Poverty is not just an economic condition, but most insidiously, a state of mind that can transcend socioeconomic borders. This mindset is the product of a self-perpetuating cycle of economic mis-education that produces generational poverty. The cycle is powerfully adhesive and very difficult to escape (difficult, but not impossible). This is the reason many professional athletes go broke soon after they have exited their leagues. Because of a lack of economic education, their wealth was inauthentic and nothing more than an aberration. Their capital was spent on depreciating items instead of income producing appreciating assets. The lack of an economic education is also an explanation as to why, according to Time Magazine, 70% of rich families lose their wealth by the second generation. Financial literacy is true wealth’s bosom buddy, and you will rarely find one without the other.
In order to shatter poverty, we need to do three things. First, we as a nation need to accept that generational poverty is bad for society as a whole. While there is no excuse for the crime that plaques our inner cities, an explanation can be found in the socio-economic circumstances of some inner-city citizens. An education, and an economic education in particular, has the potential to enlighten, and gives rise to aspirations and alternatives. While crime is definitely not an automatic result of poverty, we must admit that the lack of an education can limit human potential and drive us closer to a reliance on base survival instincts. More to the point, resigning large swaths of the population to poverty strains the social safety net systems of welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Therefore, poverty costs us all in the form of higher taxes.
If you can look back across generations and see nothing but poverty in a country where vast fortunes are not uncommon, it may lead to questions such as, “What is there to strive for if my daily goal is mere survival?” The same realities can be found in Appalachia, the Reservations, the barrio, and the ghetto. Poverty is no respecter of color, creed, gender, sexuality or any of the other discreet buckets modern society emphasizes. In fact, you can work full time and still be in a situation wherein survival is the most pressing goal. We call this living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The second thing that is necessary to kickstart an economic revolution in America is personal financial responsibility. We must make ourselves responsible for growing generational wealth. This involves sacrifice. Obtaining an economic education and then practically applying that education is a more powerful prospect than the trillions of dollars that have been spent on the so-called War on Poverty since 1965. In fact, poverty programs have conspired to subsidize and produce poverty. While the percentage of poor in America has remained at 17% for over half a century, the real number of poor has increased right along with the population. We must commit to getting an economic education and then being evangelistic in passing that education on to our families, especially our children.
We must all become soldiers in the war on poverty. That means emphasizing those social patterns and governmental benefits that lend themselves to wealth creation. I am speaking of marriage and two-parent households. Married couples share costs, enjoy tax advantages such as unlimited gifting and Estate Tax exemptions and, according to Forbes, married couples have increased access to low-cost credit. Two-parent households have a better chance of teaching good financial habits to their children simply because of the aforementioned benefits to being married.
Third, we have to understand that while there is nothing wrong with consumerism, we must become smarter about how we consume. I am not advocating a rejection of material goods or a spartan lifestyle. If you want something, I think you should have it, as long as it does not jeopardize the long-term financial prospects for you and your family. Go ahead and purchase that Mercedes-Benz, but realize that there is a smart way to purchase a depreciating item. Buying a pre-owned vehicle is much more cost-effective because new cars tend to depreciate quickly in the first few years of ownership. Also, a luxury item should never be a higher priority than putting money to work for you and your family. Is it really smart to roll around town in a fine European automobile when you have no investments? A dividend-paying stock portfolio does not have leather seats, but it does produce income. Rental property can’t make you look cool at a red light, but it can appreciate while producing income.
Poverty is costing our nation trillions of dollars in unrealized opportunities. It is also zapping the spirit of many of our citizens who work day in and day out and never seem to be able to get ahead in this relatively short life. I firmly believe that introducing more Americans to a true economic education, the stuff they did not teach us in school but should have, is the key to real economic empowerment. There is no pity party needed- just the acquisition of an economic education, followed by execution.
So where does one start? What can be done right now to join this revolution? Commit to learn how money works and accept responsibility for the financial foundation of yourself and future generations. Question the economic orthodoxy of going to college, getting a job, saving money, and retiring. Instead, dedicate yourself to a cost-benefit analysis of each step in your fiscal life. What amount of money makes sense to hold in a savings account? What is the real purpose of a bank? Is there a more cost-effective way to achieve your goals other than a college education? How does one become a business owner? We will explore these questions and more in depth at The Wealth Hustle. Enlist as a Soldier in the War on Poverty by accessing the Wealth Hustle page on Facebook and Twitter. Ask a question, and we’ll mobilize our financial experts to answer it.
We are serious about teaching people how money works so they can make it work for them.