Money Alone Isn’t the Answer

I was blown away listening to Finding Me by Viola Davis - review HERE! If you are interested, I suggest you enjoy it as an audio book. Her emotions come through her voice in a way that is both beautiful and hard.  I learned so much about what true poverty is and the many subtle ways racism is built into society. There were also life lessons to embrace. 

"I thought my money and success could save all of them. I learned the hard way that when there are underlying issues, money does nothing. in fact money exacerbates the problem because it takes away the individuals ability to be held accountable."

When I read this passage, it resonated deep. It was something I had come to understand over the last few years, but I didn't trust the knowledge. There didn't seem to be anyone else addressing the topic of money in this way.  It was both validating, and life changing. What wasn't clear guide was how to handle the need for money in a way that brings independence. 

I grew up on the poor end of the scale. I didn't grow up in true poverty. We didn't have a lot, but we had a roof over our head, furniture, food, and clothing. The food was simple. We didn't eat out. Most of the clothing was hand-me-downs or ones sewed at home. Thankfully name brands weren't a big deal back then. Anything store-bought was cheaply made from a discount store and usually on sale. We didn't really take holidays, but that was okay as we spent our summer holidays at my uncles' farms. Playing on the farm was a blast, and I honestly didn't know anything else. 

As a twenty something and on my own, I lived on the edge with low-paying jobs, still buying cheap clothes and always sharing any rental with another person. I had no skills to budget or understand how to improve my life. When I got married it was the same. My husband made good money, and fortunately he has more skill at handling it than I. But we started at the beginning with literally nothing and had to work our way up - kids, home, car and retirement account all took time and sacrifice. Then one day things changed.

We looked around and the kids had all moved out. Our mortgage was paid off and we owned our cars free and clear.  We did it by sacrificing. Our furniture was old, our house dated and slowly falling apart, and we camped instead of travelling to exotic destinations. No regrets. We were free. The checkbook didn't need to be need to be balanced every day. We could take holidays to Europe and Hawaii, and eat in restaurants once and awhile.  We still watched what we spent, but we could breathe

That is, however, when money also became a burden.  The need was all around us. Emails and phone calls came in - requests that were hard to say no to. When we did chose to help out, it was never enough. Never a one an done. The same need kept resurfacing again and again. I didn't understand what was happening. I grew up with little and had many times I would have loved a helping had. There just wasn't anyone I could reach out to. So why was what we offered not making a difference in the long run. 

Over time the idea arose of whether what I was doing was honestly helping. Sometimes the answer was yes. The need was immediate - a medical crisis or other unexpected event that arose suddenly.  On the other hand, when the need came regularly and was always the same, I began to feel cash wasn't the solution. It was like putting a finger in the hole of a leaking dam. What was needed was help that worked to change the circumstances keeping people in need. They needed to be empowered.

Empowerment requires way more than a handout. People need a steady and reliable income, education on how to handle and budget money, the encouragement to stick with it, mental health care if indicated, housing and food that is affordable, a feeling of safety and most of all, real hope for a better future.  Few people want to live with their hand out, living on the edge and always looking for where their next few dollars will come from. Their pattern of lack needs to be broken in a real way so those in need can gain control of their destiny. 

There is no easy answer to the question of how to best to do this. However, knowing the direction I should be putting my efforts towards does give me focus and hope.  Lack is a symptom of much bigger problems, both personal and societal. For those in the front line, you have my respect.  The work has to have heart breaking moments.  For the rest of us, we need to pay attention to what our intuition is telling us on when and where we should step in, what our contribution should be, and what organizations we need to support.