Can You Afford This?

Recently I was in a pinch and had to quickly buy some pasta sauce to make dinner for my family. I could have gone to the local grocery store where I normally shop but it was just a little out of my way. Instead I stopped by the gourmet store in town and picked up sauce that cost a ridiculous $10. For the convenience of saving 5 minutes I paid double of what I would normally.

Later that same weekend, my mother happened to be in the same local grocery store above and saw a “great deal” on family packs of pork chops. She decided she would stop there on the way home to Pennsylvania, purchase three packs of 6 chops, put them on ice for a 5 hour car ride and freeze them for the winter.

In my situation, I could afford to pay a premium for my time. In my mother’s, she saw a deal she literally couldn’t afford to pass up.

And there is the relativity of what is affordable in a nutshell.

Check out this new online platform that will show you what purchasing something would feel like to you if you were near the poverty line. 

For example, if you made $75,000 a year, you might not blink at spending $9 on a bottle of cough syrup but for mother at the poverty line, that same bottle will feel like $24.

If you made $100,000 and you wanted to live in a place with great school districts, like a suburb of New York, your average rent would be a $3,440. Pretty stiff. But if you were a low income family who also wanted to live in those areas with the same great schools, the cost of rent would feel like almost $12,000 a month.  

The simple fact is that when we use the term affordable, we typically think of it relative to what we can afford and not what others can’t.

What does this mean when it comes to helping more Americans move up?
Consider this:

A Gallup poll shows that 1/3 Americans put off health care treatment because they can’t afford the copay or deductible.
Half of all high school students who take college prep classes don’t go on to attend college. The number one reason – they can’t afford to.

As a country, WE can’t afford to have significant portions of our citizens not living up to their god-given potential because of they can’t afford basic things like staying healthy or becoming more educated.

It is too easy for us to judge others for the choices they make with limited financial resources without truly appreciating how difficult those choice really are.

(In fact as Sendhil Mullanthain points out in his important book, Scarcity, in general people with fewer resources are often more resourceful.)

So the next time you judge someone who doesn’t seem to “value” education like you do, consider that to them the simple act of buying college text books for four years ($2200 to you) could feel like $24,000 to them.

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