Getting Out Of The Bottom Class – Part I

In every society there is always the bottom class. The family so poor they cannot afford anything decent and the kid who often goes hungry. I have seen people climb up from that situation by themselves as an individual, but very seldom as a family unit. Today we will explore what a family unit can do to get out of the pits, with the main responsibilities on the parents.

In Chinese there is a saying called 開源節流, which can be translated to opening sources and reducing outflow. This article is split into 2 portions, the first being reducing outflow (spending) and the second portion being opening sources (increasing income). Getting out of the bottom class especially while in a disadvantageous situation (eg single parent) requires grit, patience, persistence and many times to put down your pride.

While this article is specifically targeted at the bottom class, the middle class may still find one or two points applicable to them.

We will make a few assumptions. First, to up the difficulty level, we will assume a single mother with 3 young children. Second, we assume the single mother is not highly educated, is currently drawing a low salary of $1800 per month and living in a public housing rental flat. Third, we assume the 2 of the young children are in primary school and the last one is in kindergarten.

Although I could make the difficulty level even higher, but I think this level should cover most of the people. Due to the nature of our example, the savings part will be more like scrimping to keep as much of the already low salary as possible.

The Job
There are many people doing different kinds of jobs, from the low level administrative clerk to a delivery rider to a supermarket cashier. When we find a job, we cannot just look at the salary, but the overall package and what you can get out of it. For example, I once worked in a noodle shop which provides free lunches, and in another food shop which allowed me to take back the leftover food after closing. Asking for food is something which one can negotiate easily in a food establishment. If this shop rejects, go to another shop.

Due to the need to care for her young children, this single mother will be working 4 hours a day, drawing a salary of $10 per hour = $40 a day. She works 6 days a week, earning $240 per week and $960 in 4 weeks. If she is working at a better restaurant, she can even get tips from customers. Take note that outside of America, tipping is voluntary.

Whether you are taking the leftover food or had negotiated to take back sufficient food (be it cooked or raw) for your family members, your food benefits can be roughly worked out to be $15 for 4 people (the mother + 3 kids) a day for all 3 meals. This $15 may be what it cost you in the market, but only $5 to the boss who bulk buy the food ingredients. The noodle shop I used to work for bought raw noodles at a rate of $1 per kg. So when you negotiate, remember that the benefits you ask for does not actually cost the boss that much.

Your overall package will now be $960 salary + $15 x 6 days x 4 weeks = $960 + $360 = $1320 every 4 weeks. For easier calculation, we take it as $1400 a month as there are more than 28 days a month. Take note that this is accounting the fact that you are working only 4 hours a day. If you can work longer hours, you definitely earn more. Should you realise in the end your boss does not give you the benefits you had negotiated, simply jump to another job. Jobs of such nature are easy to find.

We compare your $1400 a month to another administrative staff who earns $1800 working 8 hours a day (total 40 hours a week), has no free meals and no other significant benefits. Although your job does not give you as much social recognition as maybe an office worker in the central business district (CBD) area, you are still better off overall, even after factoring in paid annual leave and sick leave.

There are also other jobs with similar benefits you can consider. Supermarkets often offer staff discount for their items, which we need it anyway. Childcare centres often need female labourers to wash the dishes and clean the area, and they usually provide meals where staff can also take home the leftovers. Do not work in food establishments which sell unhealthy food (eg fast food restaurants) because you simply cannot take back and eat in the long term, especially for your growing children.

If your children are young, find a school near the house for them. Jobs I mentioned above are also relatively easy to find at a location near your house. With the near location, one can easily save on transport cost and travelling time. Time is an important resource for everyone. It is unwise to travel 1 hour to the CBD area just to work at a lowly paid job. If you are living in a country where not everything is within a short walking distance, buying a second hand bicycle will also suffice.

Since we are at the bottom class, our low salary is usually not taxed much. As can be inferred from the job paragraph above, what will be good is to make the job benefits a significant portion of your overall package. Gross salary is taxable, but benefits are not. Lower earners generally do not get taxed much. The picture below shows the tax rate of Singapore.

But if you are at just a slightly higher end of the bottom class, you may have to pay just a bit of tax. Most countries’ tax system allows you to claim for rebates. Whether it is having children, or being a single mother etc, the rebate system is different for each country. Even if you do not know how all these works, find a friend who knows them well to help you with it. Rebates often have to be actively claimed and not given by default.

Free Items
As the children grow up, they will need textbooks in school fitting for their level. If the age gap is not too wide, the younger sibling can use the textbooks of the older siblings. But what about the very first one? Rather than buying them, societies nowadays have apps or communities which give away used items away for free. Textbooks are one common item which they give away. Take for example the Olio app (disclaimer: I do not earn any referral fees or anything), a platform for people to give free things away. From textbooks to refrigerators, clothes to food items, there are many free items which one can get from others. What you can get for free, do not buy. A dollar saved is a dollar earned.

Just another tip. Expats who just arrived generally like to buy new furniture and electrical appliance. Since their companies paid for it, they have no need to save the money. They often throw out items from the previous user even though they are still new. Some give things away on apps like I mentioned above, some enlist the help of their property agents to sort it out for them. If you know of any friends working in this line, ask them about it. You may be able to replace your already old items with relatively newer ones at only a transport cost.

Saving Water
Some countries like New Zealand provide free water to the residents, but many do not. Especially in countries like capitalist Singapore with no natural water sources, the water bill is especially high. To save on the water bill, one can also recycle water even in the household. For example, laundry water can be stored in pails and used for flushing toilet. Rainwater can be collected to wash the corridor outside the house. We do have air pollution, but if you do not really mind, rainwater is still relatively usable to put in your washing machine for laundry washing. At least you can use it to wash socks and rags.

Every school and workplace should have a water dispenser. While at work or school, we fulfil our water requirements free of charge there. But before we go home, have each children and yourself fill up a 1.5 litre bottle of water for the later part of the day.

Use Public Resources
Public resources are for the public to use, and there is no shame in using them. One good example is the public library or even the school library. Do you at times find the weather too hot to bear, especially in tropical countries like Singapore? The children can sit in the libraries to do their homework, enjoying the free air-conditioning. The library also has free computers to use should the children need it to get things done and if your house could not afford a PC. In fact, you could also do your free daily phone charging in the libraries.

What about bathing? Many schools have a changing room where the students can bathe and change out. If your children’s school is near the home, why not bathe in school before going home? Utility bills can be saved by using public resources. Yes, all these may seem like very small money, but to the bottom class, $100 saved every month is indeed something significant. This is especially so if you are living in an extremely capitalist country without much social welfare, for example America and Singapore.

Free Food
Maybe you are lucky enough to get a slightly better paying job after factoring everything, and decided not to work in a food establishment. This time you will have to spend money buying food. But what we can get for free, we do not buy. This will depend on your luck, but in many communities there are also non-profit organisations. Find one related to reducing food waste. For example in Singapore, one such organisation is the FRSK – Food Rescue Sengkang, who generally communicates via their Telegram group. Volunteers have collected leftover food from the various markets and distribute it to everyone every week. The food distributed out ranges from raw vegetables to canned food, from milk powder to fruits, from peanut butter to honey. Although there are good food at times, but do manage your expectations of these leftover food. One is able to collect sufficient food to last a family of 4 for quite a few days or even a week. I have personally went to the food distribution events myself and found them satisfactory. It definitely helps out the bottom class a lot. If all it takes is a total of 4 hours to travel, queue up and get free food for a week, then it is worth it. Time is precious, but unfortunately for the bottom class, time is also cheap. Bring your children along, so that they may help out and learn the difficulties of the adult parent.

Scholarships And Financial Assistance
This is dependent on hard work and of course luck. Are your children doing well academically? If so they can consider applying for scholarships. At higher learning, scholarships can be offered for those who do well academically, although they have also been offered to people who well in certain specific sectors such as sports. With scholarships, the children could enjoy free higher education, perhaps also getting a monthly allowance and at the end of it guaranteed a job. But this is for those older children who are pursuing higher learning.

If your child is not academically inclined, there is also another type of scholarships usually available – joining the military or uniformed services (eg police officers). Many countries’ uniformed services provide free university education in return for a bond of a few years with them. It may not be a nice thing to do especially if you do not like that kind of work environment. But if your children can take the few years of unhappiness, the advantage everyone gains from the financial aspect is tremendous. Not only can they have higher education without the need to pay for it, they are being paid a small salary during the term and are guaranteed a job.

For students in the primary or secondary level, they can also apply for financial assistance. This is also dependent on luck and the country’s system. If your country has too many poor people, then the financial assistance may not get to you. If not, that little bit of financial assistance every month will help in expenses. For adults, there are also financial assistance schemes provided by the society provided you meet the eligibility criteria. Of course, this is where one has to put down the pride and ask for the much needed help. Some are not able to do it.

Your Own Skincare
Women like to look pretty and sexy. Unfortunately life catches up to many of us and not everyone of us have the luxury to spend time and money on our face. But this does not mean that women should just give up simply because they are poor. In many shopping centres there are big shops selling various brands of cosmetics. In Singapore for example, Sephora sells all kinds of women skincare and cosmetic products. At every section there is a tester section for people to use. Use it. Squeeze some facial cleaner and go to a nearby toilet to wash your face. Come back and put all the toner and moisturiser you need. You can do it everyday if the shop is near your house. If not, just do it whenever you pass by will do. A pretty face will boost your confidence somewhat.

I am sure there are also many other creative ways to save money. Yes many of these examples are on the scrimping level. Unfortunately if you are in the bottom class and wants to get out of it fast, you have to do what you can. Sacrifice your pride and ego. You are not committing any crimes. I have seen with my own eyes young ladies in their 20s taking a food box and going to a hawker centre to pick off the leftover food people eat, so that they could bring it back for dinner. To be honest, I would not even do that myself unless I am really desperate. For the non-Singaporean readers, hawker centres are open-air complexes that house many stalls that sell a wide variety of affordably priced food.

There is no shame in working hard and doing what you can legally and morally to get out of the pits. Bite it through, for the sake of yourself and your family.

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