I think you’re being too dismissive of the psychology of poverty.
My family wasn’t rich either. We weren’t poor, but especially compared to most of the kids I went to school with, we certainly weren’t anywhere near the top tier. I bought my first car. And my second, and so forth. Nothing was handed to me either and it sounds like you and I have similar financial mindsets.
But if you drove beaters, you could afford to do it, which means you weren’t dirt poor. What I mean by that gets back to the original question in this topic. If you’re making $1,000 a month, and a $600 car repair comes up (which is on the cheap side these days), it’s going to hurt. Badly. “Well repair it yourself!” we might say. “It’s cheaper!” And it is, until you factor in the tools you need to accumulate to do most car work by yourself.
I easily have 5 figures worth of tools and tool storage. And my collection isn’t half of what many regulars here have, I’m sure. I’m lucky enough to have been able to acquire those tools over time, and I’m also lucky enough that should a job come up where I need a tool that I don’t have, I can probably afford to go buy it.
There are a lot of people who aren’t that lucky. These are people for whom $100 is a literal fortune. And that’s where the psychology of being poor comes in.
If you were truly poor - as in, you can’t afford to live, and you charge groceries on a credit card because otherwise you don’t eat, and you constantly live with bill collectors calling you day and night hounding you for payment, and then you stumble upon $200, it’s pretty difficult to use it wisely. You’re not going to save it because it’s just going to fly into the pocket of a bill collector. And paying down debt… Well that barely makes a dent in your overall debt picture, and so you’re in exactly the same position you were before you paid it down. The only thing that will really change your life is to buy something that most would call frivolous.
I’m not saying that’s what they should do, or that it’s the responsible thing to do, but I am saying that enough of them do it that it should be recognized as a condition that needs addressing on a societal level.
Let me put this another way: People are very quick to point at a poor person and say “You have some small luxuries, and therefore it’s your fault that you’re poor.”
When the banks crashed in the subprime mortgage fisaco, we heard a lot of people pointing at homeowners saying “It’s all their fault, they should have known they couldn’t afford it, they deserve what they get.” But I didn’t hear a whole lot of people pointing at banks when the government bailed them out for preying on poor people in order to gamble that they would realize huge profits and saying “you’re the financial experts and you approved the loans, it’s all your fault.”
Our society is very quick to punish the poor for being poor, but we’re not very eager to punish the rich when they make stupid financial decisions.
Had we been less weighted toward supplication to the rich, we’d have bailed out the homeowners, who then would have bailed out the banks by paying off their mortgages. Instead, we bailed out the banks allowing rich corporations and rich people to continue being rich, while screwing everyone else 6 ways from Sunday, including those of us who were not in default on our mortgages.
Again, I’m not saying that poor people are completely innocent victims of circumstance, but I am saying that if we were as generous in our treatment of poor people as we are in our treatment of rich people, we’d have a lot fewer desperate people.