Opinion: Budgeting when you live below the poverty line

Dec 7, 2022, 2:00 PM | Updated: Dec 12, 2022, 2:58 pm

Glass jar with coins on table, closeup. Money saving concept (Adobe Stock)...

Glass jar with coins on table, closeup. Money saving concept (Adobe Stock)

(Adobe Stock)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

Let’s say you’re married with two children, an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. You work as a laborer picking fruit for $9 an hour. In 2021, your family of four would have been considered to be living below the poverty line if your household made less than $26,500. Your annual income after taxes is $14,000.

After paying rent and utilities for the tiny apartment you live in, you have $20 a day left over to take care of all of your family’s needs. Your spouse doesn’t work because of a back injury, but at least you don’t have to pay for child care.

You get home from work tonight, and you start planning for the next day. Your daughter has a fever and needs medicine. You need bus fare to get to and from work tomorrow. Your son accidentally tore his shoes while walking home from school. Both children only have one pair of shoes, and the weather is turning cold. You have $20.50 and no money in the bank.

What do you spend your money on?

This is the assignment my 15-year-old son was given by his language arts teacher last week. The class is reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

The assignment is called “A Day in the Life of the Working Poor.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines “the working poor” as anyone who spends 27 weeks or more in a single year either working or looking for work but makes an income that falls below the poverty line. 

Aiden’s teacher wanted the students to get a better feel for what the characters in the book, most of whom live at or below the poverty line have to deal with.

My son learned so much from this lesson. He was shocked and saddened by the choices he had to make. I learned even more by going over it with him. I thought you might want to try it.

Admittedly, the prices given in the exercise don’t necessarily reflect the inflationary prices we’re facing today, but based on this list, I’d be curious to know what you chose to buy.

Price list

Apples 75 cents each Bananas 75 cents each
Lettuce 65 cents/head Carrots $1.50/2 lb. bag
Bread $1.99/loaf Butter $3.50/lb.
Can of beans 85 cents Can of soup $1.50
Cereal $3.50 a box Chicken $3.29/lb.
Eggs $2/dozen Hamburger $2.49/lb.
Bread $1.99/loaf Butter $3.50/lb.
Milk $2.35/half-gallon Yogurt 89 centers/individual 8 oz.
Cheese $2.99/1 lb. package Ice cream $3.50. one-gallon carton
Rice $1.00/lb. Tuna fish $1.50/can
Salad dressing $$1.60/bottle Peanut butter $2.90/jar
Jam $1.75/jar Bus fare $1.25 each way
Duct tape $3.00/roll Masking tape $2.00/roll
Medicine $5 per package Shoes $10 for the cheapest

The first thing Aiden bought was the medicine for the sick girl. Have to have that. Then he bought bus fare so the parent could get to work so they would have money for the next day. He wanted to buy duct tape, but he couldn’t afford it. So, he bought masking tape and decided to tape the son’s shoe around and around to hopefully keep the snow out.

He bought tuna fish and an apple for lunch. After he finished breakfast and dinner, there wasn’t enough money left to buy bread. I asked him how he would feel if he had to go to school with just tuna fish and an apple for lunch. How would he feel looking at the other kids eating Lunchables and ham sandwiches and drinking chocolate milk?

“Sad,” he said. “Are there really kids like this?”

“Yes,” I answered, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that he has never known hunger. “And worse.”

“How could it be worse? I can’t even buy them new shoes!”

How can you help?

We talked for a while longer about how important education is, and how important working hard is — and then we talked about giving. I told him about the Quarters for Christmas program we have at KSL NewsRadio, how people donate money, and how that money goes to buy shoes and coats for kids who need them. We talked about how much money he thought our family should give.

As you celebrate this holiday season, may I ask you to think about the working poor, our neighbors, and our children’s classmates, who need our help this winter. Please give generously to KSL’s Quarters for Christmas.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View. 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


possible new jazz arena shown in rendering of downtown salt lake...

Jeff Caplan

Jeff Caplan’s Minute of News: How to make a billionaire wealthier

Billionaire and Jazz owner Ryan Smith teased at a possible new arena recently. Will he pay for it, or have the state do it for him?

21 hours ago

"Scrambled" is a good movie you'll want to see just for Leah McKendrick....

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show Review: ‘Scrambled’ actress Leah McKendrick was a joy to watch

Actress Leah McKendrick leaves you wanting more of her after watching "Scrambled". It's a good story about "writing what you know."

26 days ago

"The Promised Land" movie is packed with good storytelling and a fun main character....

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show Review: ‘The Promised Land’ is good storytelling with a side of Mads Mikkelsen

Good storytelling and Mads Mikkelsen make for "Promised Land" being a movie you'll want to see as soon as you can.

27 days ago

holiday shoppers get ready to start spending at city creek mall...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: All I want for Christmas is to control my holiday spending!

Amanda Dickson wants to start doing a better job of controlling her holiday spending -- putting the emphasis on people rather than stuff.

3 months ago

KSL Movie Show co-host Steve Salles says "Maestro" is a fine picture you won't want to miss....

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Maestro’ shows a renown composer, flaws and all, exquisitely

Don't miss this movie review of Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Leonard Bernstein. "Maestro" is and exquisite and real must-see picture.

3 months ago

Image of Utah's Morning News host Amanda Dickson and colleague Kate Davis, who says she is grateful...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: Social media and the importance of the radio community

Unlike social media, radio is one of the few experiences that offers everybody listening the same information at the same time.

3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Opinion: Budgeting when you live below the poverty line