Poverty and luxury


On an online forum I frequent, someone recently asked if the members thought it was OK for someone whose family receives food stamps to spend money to get a facial. Berefit of things to blog about recently, I thought I'd bring that question, and my thoughts on it, here.

First, yes, I absolutely think it's OK for someone who is receiving food stamps to get a facial. I believe that those who qualify for government assistance should receive it, and taking it doesn't make them any more in need of my (or anyone else's) monitoring their spending than not taking it would. So whether or not you get food stamps makes absolutely no difference, to me, in whether or not you should get a facial. You are in charge of your money and how you spend it.

The response to that from the right (and much of what passes for the left, honestly) is that if someone has money for facials, then they should leave the food stamps for someone who "really needs them." I call b.s. on that. The truth is that nearly everyone in the U.S., even those who are constantly preaching and bragging about their frugality, has luxuries. Our standards for receiving assistance are plenty low enough without trying to cut out anyone who spends any money on anything that we don't consider necessary, especially when that consideration is so subjective. For example, that facial money could be spent on cable, or zoo admission, or cigarettes, or books. All of these things would be serving some of the same purposes the facial does--relaxation, a feeling of brief luxury, entertainment. Would they all be subject to scorn? Is it really possible that we believe that someone whose income is low enough to qualify them for government aid deserves none of these things, ever?

Speaking of "deserve," I think that's part of what this debate is about. The idea that that the poor deserve only subsistence. I reject that notion. Everyone deserves more than subsistence. And given the extreme luxury in which the majority of this country (myself included) lives, it is extremely hypocritical for us to spout about other people's wastefulness. Chances are very high that we ourselves are wasteful, but we have much more trouble identifying our own wasteful natures than those we see, especially when we see ourselves as somehow subsidizing other people's spending, as we do in the case of recipients of government dollars.

Clearly, I think I deserve luxuries. I spend a stupidly huge portion of my income on them. Why, then, would I think anybody else doesn't? How small and miserly would I have to be to begrudge other people the things I think are nice and fun and pampering just because they have less disposable income than I do?


You know, when it comes to down to it I agree everybody deserves a treat or a luxury once in a while, but I've seen several documentaries here in the past years about people living on the absolute minimum with government aid, and they all seemed to have a problem with priorities. For example, I was very surprised to see so many people who talked about their tough situation smoking. I mean, it's an addictive habit that's really expensive, one of the first things that needs to go if the finances aren't there, IMO. If you've taken a good hard look at your spending and have your priorities straight, no problem to get facials or whatever, but I believe a large group of people in trouble are where they are because they can't separate needs and wants very well.


Thanks for this. We are so quick to judge poor people who make the very same decisions that we make every damn day. Sure, a lot of poor people make bad decisions. But so do a fuckton of rich people. They just have a bigger cushion to fall back on.

Before we throw stones at those who don't make the "good decision" to cut all the luxuries out of their life, we should take a close look at our own lives. Christine, how much good could you do in this world if YOU cut out all your luxuries?

I can tell you that if I ditched my cell phone, got rid of my car, ate cheaper (and less organic), stopped having drinks with friends, etc etc, I could donate a lot more money to those who need it. But you know, I like to enjoy my life. And I think that those living in poverty deserve to enjoy theirs too.

I'm just gonna keep on posting! ;) But I had two more thoughts.

1) It is not right to decide for others what their priorities should be. Maybe that facial saves a woman's sanity. Maybe it doesn't. But I don't think its anyone's place to tell her (or him) that her priorities should be otherwise, because we don't walk in her shoes. Likewise, I have in the past used food stamps to buy organic food. There are many people who would say that isn't right - that I should use them for cheaper foods, to fill my belly at the maximum possible value. Well, SAFE, chemical free food is a priority to me, and anyone who wants to tell me I should live otherwise can go you-know-what-themselves.

2) I very very much believe in gifts freely given. If you are going to give something or do something for someone, you should do it because you want to, no strings attached. I want to make sure everyone in the world has the *ability* to fill their belly. And if it were up to me, I would give each person the resources to do so. I wouldn't force them to do so...but I would empower them to do so. And I would do it freely. Its like giving money to a homeless person, which I do occasionally. I don't know what they are going to do with it, and I don't care. I give them my change because I want to. Once it is given, it belongs to them, and they can do what they please. (Actually its like giving any gift to anyone. My aunt may regift or throw away the sweater I buy her, and that is her business!)

I see your point, but I have to disagree at least a bit. I have friends who constantly complain about "being broke", but have an extravagantly pretty car, all the electronic gadgets, and go out on the town at least a few times a week and drop a ton of money on booze. These people have trouble paying rent and huge credit card bills. I don't feel sorry for them at all, and get annoyed when they complain about struggling to pay bills. There's a place for luxuries, sure, I like them too, but if I don't have CASH to pay for them, I can't have them. That's just how it is in our house. We've lived with minimal "stuff", many handmedowns, and no vacations for years, because paying off our debt (and not accumulating MORE) was our priority, as I think it should be for anyone with a debt.

I absolutely agree with you. Perfectly written post!

if someone has money for facials, then they should leave the food stamps for someone who "really needs them."

WTF?? If someone qualifies for food stamps, then that person really needs food stamps--the threshholds for food stamps are set very very low.

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