DARE TO ASK: Dressed to impress, even when poor
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do people with the least income feel the need to buy the most expensive
Margaret, 27, New York
Look at what we all grow up with, especially urban youths. Their role models
are usually professional sports players or rappers - really good examples of how
to budget your money.
Nick, 23, Navarre, Ohio
My family was poor for most of my childhood, and all my clothes came from
Wal-Mart or similar stores.
Manda, 20, Memphis, Tenn.
An advertisement comes on, it's something flashy, hot and shows how much
you'll fit in. What does the lower class do? Crowd the stores and just about
kill each other trying to get it. What does the upper class do? Call their
broker and temporarily invest money in the company itself.
Joe, 23, Houston
We all need to treat ourselves from time to time. Sometimes it just feels
Rebecca, 33, New York
I try not to waste money on off-brand clothing because it falls apart very
quickly. With my children's clothes, especially if I buy Levis or Gap, the jeans
last much longer, look brand-new longer and can be passed down to the next child
and still look good.
Stephanie, 26, Texas
Holy G-Unit, poor people like to look fine, too.
Reasons they might dare feel this way are three-fold, says Ruby K. Payne,
Ph.D., an expert on the mindsets of economic classes and author of A Framework
for Understanding Poverty.
# Buying nice things offers tangible proof they love themselves and their
"The middle class, on the other hand, shows this by spending money on
development - tennis and swimming lessons, college, etc. The wealthy show it by
providing the best connections - boarding schools, cotillions, etc."
# It's a form of entertainment, and it takes away some of the pain of
# It conveys status. While the wealthy value high-quality, fit and subtlety
in brands of clothing, that's not always so for the poor, who often don't have
other possessions such as big houses to show off.
Another hidden but important rule, said Payne: "In poverty, people are your
possessions. If your car breaks down, you don't call AAA, you call Uncle Ray.
And if you make Uncle Ray too mad, he won't come get you."
This means when Uncle Ray needs money, you share yours with him - something
the middle class doesn't do much.
"What inevitably happens is that when you get money, you spend it right away
because you know someone will be coming along to ask for it. Then you can say
you don't have any money, and they won't get angry."
That breeds impulsivity and lack of planning.
"This is generational poverty, the only rules people know. The middle class
thinks it's about lack of intelligence, but it's about a different way of seeing
the world. It's about survival."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.