Although poverty is an increasingly significant problem in the U.S., many citizens remain unaware of how prominent it is nationwide. HeraldOnline.com reports that the national poverty rate stands at 15.3%, with this number rocketing to 27.1% among African Americans. Not only this, but one in four children also live beneath the poverty line, which confirms that economic hardship is impacting heavily on individuals of all ages.
While these statistics highlight the growing prominence of poverty as a social issue, they do little to educate citizens on how hard life is for those who are affected. Live Below the Line is an established international challenge that seeks to change this by raising awareness and giving individuals an insight into the realities of poverty, and it has now been launched for the second consecutive year in the U.S.
Facing the Challenges Posed by Poverty
The World Bank estimates that individuals who live in extreme poverty have a daily budget of just $1.50, which includes all daily expenditures relating to food, drink and transportation. The Live Below the Line Challenge encourages participants to adopt this budget for an entire working week, although the campaign's growing popularity has seen many Americans continue to sign up and embrace its principles beyond the official launch. Although a total of 3,200 citizens participated for the five days between May 7 and May 11, the Facebook campaign has registered an overall engagement of 50,000 individuals to date.
For those who undertake the challenge, the question that remains is how to cut their everyday expenditure without compromising their quality of life, and this is something that those who exist beneath the poverty threshold have to consider every single day. Food is the most obvious expenditure where money can be saved, especially when you consider the amount of disposable income that is spent on fast food and eating out in the U.S. every year. As recently as 2009, 24/7 Wall St. reported that the average household spent $2,619 on food purchased outside of the home, which reflects the differences in spending attitudes between those with wealth and those who struggle to make ends meet.
How to Eat and Drink Affordably
The key to saving money on food is to understand the manufacturing, packaging and logistical processes involved. It is these things that determine the cost and retail price to the consumer. Cheese is a relevant example, as individuals who purchase pre-grated brands are paying a far greater premium for the preparation of these goods. It is possible to save an estimated $3 per pound by instead purchasing whole blocks of cheese, and these savings are reflective of the difference between buying whole goods and prepared foods. Buying food that is in season also allows you to make considerable savings, as it reduces the production costs and those associated with the logistics of delivery.
Beverages pose a similar challenge to those with an estimated daily budget of just $1.50, but there are available solutions for anyone who is willing to make difficult choices and invest in only the core basics of a healthy and nutritional diet. Alcohol is one of the first luxuries that can be slashed when attempting to live frugally, as 2009 saw U.S. households spend more on wine, beer and spirits than on soft drinks and non-alcoholic beverages combined. Bottled water is also an unnecessary expense for those on a restricted budget, as over 90% of the nation's water systems meet all of the regulations that are stipulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Travel by Foot and Slash Your Annual Fuel Budget
Another considerable everyday expenditure is transportation; the way in which you travel to work or places of recreation affects your budget significantly. Fuel costs are a huge and often unmanageable burden that weigh heavily on poverty stricken families, especially when you consider the additional costs of purchasing, maintaining and insuring a car. Even though the price of fuel in the U.S. has fallen recently by a total of 15.9 cents to $3.624 per gallon, walking and utilizing public transportation remain eminently more affordable options. This is reflected in the annual budgets of each area's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with New York's alone being set at a staggering $13.4 billion in 2010. The average driver in Los Angeles experiences an estimated 63 hours delay every year due to traffic and high levels of congestion, so embracing public transportation or walking can allow you to travel more conveniently while also drastically reducing your daily expenditure.
The Bottom Line
The Live Below the Line challenge may not be a new concept, but it has increasing relevance in the modern social and economic climate. As of May 2012, the estimated population growth in the U.S. stood at 0.899%, and this continues to place a strain on the nation's natural resources while driving a growing number of families towards the poverty line. By addressing the challenges of frugal living and embracing ways where money can be saved on food, drink and everyday transportation, it is possible to understand the difficulties faced by those afflicted by poverty and develop more responsible spending habits in the process.