don’t want my co-workers to know I’m living off cupcakes from the employee kitchen

A reader write:

Last winter, I made a big geographical move across the country from a town where the economy is always booming to a large city where job opportunities are more far and few between. Long story short, I was getting out of a bad marriage and the environment of my home town was a toxic backdrop to that; the move was necessary. Unfortunately it meant re-starting my just-out-of-the-gate career and while I was able to find a job at a medium-sized non-profit, my pay has been more than halved. I love the organization; their values and mission match my own and I usually can’t wait to get to work every morning. My job itself is very boring and I am overqualified, and my ongoing search for a better job has been unsuccessful, but I’m so much happier than I’ve been in years. Until now. Our agency is a member of a much larger charity, and thus every fall we have tons of workplace activities to raise funds for the “Mother” charity. So we have ‘swear’ jars, 50/50 draws, and other light-hearted fundraising stuff going on. The problem is that we have also designated the agency a ‘jeans-free’ zone, so our usually very casual dress code will now exclude jeans AND ‘require’ a $5 donation for every violation.

I like to think that I am a generous person, dedicated to supporting several charities. But after bills, child support payments to my ex, my monthly transit pass and student loan payments, I have $0 in the bank. I haven’t bought shampoo, tampons or food in four months and I am living off food my co-workers bring to share and meals my roommate brings home from her German grandmother (so mostly cupcakes and sausage). I also have three pairs of pants, all of them jeans. I got paid yesterday and I have $20 left that I need to buy a Christmas present for my son. No one in my life except my roommate (who has been my best friend for 15 years), my boyfriend and my ex know that I am living this way. I am not thrilled that I can’t afford to buy more clothes, but I am thoroughly ashamed that I can’t be held to the same giving standard as all my other co-workers. Being left for a younger woman and divorcing at age twenty-six, being an adult that can’t afford to feed herself and being a mother who can’t afford to call her toddler when he’s just learning to talk have all been pretty humiliating experiences. But I don’t know how to deal with my lack of non-denim pants and my lack of paying the toll without exposing my humiliation to my coworkers. I know that a lot of people are going through hard times right now, so I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem; I just feel like such a failure of a person and I don’t want everyone to know about it!

Fining employees is a silly way to enforce a dress code, but since you do need to follow the dress code regardless, let’s deal with that: Let’s get you some work clothes so that it stops being an issue for you.

And to do that, you must ask for — and accept — help.

You sound like someone who really doesn’t want to ask for help, which I can completely relate to in a very different context. But help is out there, and would almost certainly be gladly given if you tell people you need it.

Some thoughts:

* If you can afford it, you can usually get $5 pants at Good Will and the Salvation Army.

* Will your roommate or friend loan or give you pants in your size?

* Does your city have a branch of Dress for Success? They offer business clothing free of charge.

* Contact a local church or synagogue, explain you’re a single mom who can’t afford work clothes, and ask if they have a program that would help. Many will.

* And last, I suspect that if you’ll share what city you’re in and what pants size you wear, there will be readers right here who would help you out.

Most people genuinely like the opportunity to help others. Let them know you need the help. You can pay it back by helping someone else when you’re in a position to do it in the future.

Good luck.

You can read updates to this post here and here.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Christopher Allen-Poole*

    As someone who used to work for Catholic Charities, I’ll add:
    * If your church does not have a way to help, then be sure to ask if they know anyone else. (Often other churches/denominations/religious groups would be referred to us. We were glad to help.)

    I’ll also make the dogmatic pronouncement that charities should not require their workers to “dress up.” The pay is terrible, often the people you are dealing with are rude (I got yelled at by clients because I did such crazy things as take lunch breaks occasionally…), and the word “glamorous” is completely foreign. The least you could do is allow the people who work for you the freedom to wear blue jeans.

    1. Beth Anne @ The Catholic Couponer Blog*

      I AGREE!! I worked for a SMALL financial advisor for 2 years and she expected us to dress as if we worked for a Fortune 500 company! It was so hard to find reasonably priced clothing.

      What made it worse was that she only paid me MINIMUM WAGE! So it wasn’t like I had a ton of money to spend on clothing (like she did). Plus her daughters worked for her and she used to buy them work clothes all the time.

  2. Chris V*

    Sorry, but I have a major problem with a workplace that requires workers to donate money for whatever reason a boss states. People go to work to earn money, not to pay money. If employers want to make a policy then fine, make a policy. But, making people pay money toward that policy? If there isn’t a law against that, then there should be a law.

      1. Suzanne*

        Although in these economic times, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, someone figures out there is money to be made if all of us employees would pay for the priviledge of working!

        1. Anonymous*

          Actually, if you live in the state of PA, you do have to pay a right to work tax…52.00 per year, that use to come out of your 1st pay but that was causing problems if you changed jobs and did not have the proof that the tax was already taken out for that year…so now they take out 1.00 per week so if you change jobs it doesn’t matter

    1. Stacy*

      I would like to add to this that many people make conscience decisions about what kind of charities to give to themselves. Granted, there are a couple of causes that are going to non-offensive to a large number of people, but there are also a lot of causes that may go against a person’s belief or values system. Not only that, but even if you believe in giving money to a certain issue/cause, you still may have an opinion about which organization to give your money directly to – because not all… say, literacy programs/women’s health organizations/animal shelters, are the same.

      Then again, perhaps because of my time spent working in the non-profit world, I think about this a lot.

      1. jmkenrick*

        Thank you for that! There are a number of charities that I’m not comfortable supporting – some because I don’t support their message, and others because I prefer to donate to established charities that I’m familiar with…I want to feel confident my money is being put to good use, not getting tied up with red tape or similarly misappropriated.

        1. Suz*

          I agree here as well – I’ve always been against corporate-forced (“voluntary”) donations (but be sure to turn your card back with $0 marked, which of course has your name or employee ID# on it), of which I don’t agree with on principle or the charity itself, or the fact that the charity chosen by the company is self-serving to the company.

  3. Lynda*

    I’m sending pants. Just give me an address where I can send them, and your size. After job hunting for 10 months and living on oatmeal and pasta, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pass along my good fortune – a job I love.

      1. Suz*

        I’ve got pants and suits to send. Shoes too. Maybe your roommate can spot you a POBox?

        I’m still out of full time work (it’s been 3 years from work in my industry, over 1 year from my last non-related FT job) and lucky to have part-time work. I have tons of pants I can’t use in my current job, plus they don’t fit now thanks to this great weight loss plan I’ve been on (pay the mortgage, keep your credit score up for those potential interviews, eat less).

    1. Emma*

      I can help too! I am a bit handy with a sewing machine too, so I can try and bring in/hem my work pants if they end up being too big or too long for the OP.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    Wow. This is just stupid. Just tell them that you are still recovering financially from your big move and will happily donate when you get settled in? Everyone goes through waves of hard times so there is no shame in being financially tight. This is especially true if you are just getting started (which you are). And don’t fall for the giving standard trap. It isn’t about equal amounts, but about equal sacrifice. I suspect that for you even $1 would be a bigger sacrifice than your coworkers $$$ donations.

    I agree with Goodwill. I had one job once that required lots of fancy evening gown dresses (smoozing with our customer). There was no way I was going to spend my hard earned cash on something I could only wear a few times. I found some really nice gowns at Goodwill for $10. No one knew.

  5. Anonymous*

    I just wanted to let the poster know that they are not alone. I went through something VERY similar.

  6. K*

    Sorry people, I can say that this kind of donation dress code is incredibly poplular in workplaces. Usually is is structured as having the option to dress down from the regular dress code in exchange for a donation. I have to say that it is a little weird to have the dress code formalized first and then requesting pay to go back to the usual standard.

    On the donation front, sometimes charity thrift stores will have programs for people who can’t pay the prices. Further, some larger cities have programs specifically designed to assist women in transition, particularly those needing assistance for work-appropriate clothing. Women’s shelters may be a one-stop place to start for referrals. Also see if you can find out what organizations your local United Way supports. That could be a key to finding out what services are in your area.

    I work at such an organization and can tell you that it really is something we love to do. Plus, it is not uncommon for people who have used to program to come back later as donors and volunteers when their situations improve. If you have a problem with accepting help from one of these organizations, think of this option as a way to repay the kindness.

  7. Liz*

    I just opened a mass email from a long-time, very talented and hard-working non-profit employee who is facing homelessness. Literally, she will go into a shelter unless someone offers her a couch (she could have mine, but she lives on the other side of the country).

    I am fine with a non-lavish lifestyle afforded by non-profit salaries, but when exactly did we reach the point where dedicated employees are treated like this? Is anyone else absolutely appalled by the idea that a full-time employee would be scavenging for food donations from coworkers? This is just wrong.

    1. saro*

      Completely agree with you. I don’t see why some think it’s okay that people who work at non-profits aren’t paid a living wage.

  8. Harry*

    I don’t think the issue here’s just about jeans. As much as you are happy working here, the low pay will catch up to you sooner or later. You will need to consider the future of your child as well. Keep looking for that job which pays higher but will also make ou happy. You need to take better care of yourself.

    1. Anonymous*

      I have to agree with Harry. The generosity of others is a temporary solution. It can get you over a hump, but what will keep you from sliding back? As you work for a nonprofit I would suggest seeing what free or sliding scale resources are available for counseling. It seems to me that you have some tough decisions to make. Best of luck.

    2. Clobbered*

      The OP will need a pair of pants to get another job – it’s not like they can interview in jeans. So they need to fix that problem first.

      But the whole thing boggles my mind. Allowing people to buy their way out of a dresscode just proves you don’t need to have one in the first place.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, it does. If you needed people to dress up, you wouldn’t allow a buy-out. (I’ve seen places do “Casual for a Cause” where you pay a buck to wear jeans on Friday, but this was an environment that was dressy the rest of the time—not a sudden “no jeans unless you pay” rule.)

  9. gingerR*

    Is an evening job an option?

    With the post-breakup bills and all it might be a good option to look into an evening job. Not forever, but long enough to build up some cash.

    If you’ve moved to a town with a better economy there probably are opportunities for retail jobs that aren’t a long-term thing but might get you through this tough season.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to talk to co-workers about the pants problem. While your poverty may make some uncomfortable, others will have a daughter your size or some pants they can’t fit into anymore and will be helpful.

    1. Sarah*

      I was about to post the same thing. OP, please do provide your information to AAM. You’re doing so much to get yourself back on the right foot and we want to help.

      I also agree with Anonymous, below. You’re working your tail off, you’re highly qualified, clearly you’re passionate – if you have enough to point to in terms of successes for your employer, you should definitely ask for a raise. Not so you can give it all away, but because you deserve a living wage!

    2. Natalie*

      Good idea, especially with the holiday shopping season coming up. A lot of places hire temporary help for Thanksgiving through mid-January.

  10. Melissa*

    I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to not be with your child, much less not being able to purchase pants. I have recently lost weight and have a closet full of pants that I can’t wear. I just need a size and an address and I will mail them today along with a gift certificate for groceries. I know it is hard to ask for help. My heart just breaks for you. Please let me (and others) help.

    1. NicoleW*

      Same here! I have a pile of work pants that I’ve been planning to take to the Salvation Army – if any are your size, I would be happy to send them along.

  11. KayDay*

    I am so sorry to hear about your situation. I definitely second the dress for success and goodwill suggestions. It might be a bit late in the year for it, but you also might want to check out the department store (I’m thinking JC Penny, not Neiman Marcus) clearance rack–there might still be some summer pants on sale. I would also suggest seeing if any of your friends have an old pair of work pants they could give to you. Even if you don’t want to share your financial problems with them, most people would understand that to have to purchase a whole new bottom half of your wardrobe all at once would be expensive. When I lived with roommates, we used give each other our no longer wanted clothes when we moved in/out.(Also, personally, I find that work pants are more forgiving than jeans and you can go a size up or down much of the time.)

  12. Susan E*

    Short-term lots of options for finding pants above. I’d suggest too as others have that you look into a second job so you can cover all your day to day expenses–food, clothes, and put a little by. It’s tough making it in today’s economy even when you’re not dealing with so many life challenges. Dont be embarrassed to ask, most people will understand only too well…

  13. Anonymous*

    I find it interesting that nobody here has suggested going to her boss.

    Clearly they like her, and they have little incentive to ask her to leave. Chances are that upper management is simply oblivious: it doesn’t occur to them that the donations and charges will actually have an effect–possibly others are just working for spare cash, or have spouses who bring in more $$$.

    I’d ask for a raise. When they ask why, you can simply explain that you want to buy into company culture through charity, but that you can’t afford to be charitable on your current wage.

  14. Anonymous*

    I would like to send you a gift certificate to WalMart to buy your child Christmas presents and groceries. Please send your address to

    I KNOW how hard it is to accept help, and what it feels like to ‘scavenge’ just to have a meal. I had people who helped me, and part of the way that I justified accepting help was that I would ‘pay it forward’ when I could. If you send your address, I would appreciate the opportunity to repay people who helped me when I needed it.

  15. ruby*

    I empathize with your situation, I was un/under-employed for over a year and while I was fortunate enough to have the financial resources to weather that time without extreme consequences, I do understand that makes me very very lucky. I am now fortunate to have a job where I am well-paid and I am thankful for that every day because I know how quickly that can change.

    To address your most pressing issue, I think Wal-mart, Kmart or any thrift store would provide you with the opportunity to get 2-3 pairs of pants for work for $10/each or less. We could endlessly debate the relative evilness of Wal-mart but if you can walk in there and pick up a couple of pairs of khakis for $20 and alleviate this stress in your life, do it! If you set-up a PayPal account for people to chip in, I think from this thread alone you would get enough $$ to give you a work wardrobe you could count on. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help – you would help someone in need without judging them, so let others do the same for you.

    I am a bit suprised to hear that a non-profit, with its low salaries, would be putting this much pressure on employees to contribute. Once you have the pants issue solved, I think having a conversation with one of the managers that you feel most comfortable with is a good idea. You don’t have to get specific but you could say that in this economy, people may want to contribute but not be able to and maybe they could cut back a little on these fund-raising things to reduce the pressure. I wouldn’t share too much of your personal situation but keep it more general.

    My current company is the first place I ever worked that does United Way and it is incredibly uncomfortable how much pressure is put on us. This year, the goal was to have every employee go online to either opt-out (say I am not contributing) or opt-in (sign up to make a contribution). It’s all couched as “voluntary” but when it’s mentioned in staff meetings over and over and we get endless emails from management exhorting us to participate, it doesn’t feel voluntary. I am a manager and had two staff members mention to me how overly aggressive they found the campaign and I totally agree with them. I am vehemently opposed to fund-raising in the workplace but it seems to be here to stay.

    1. KellyK*

      I agree that the aggressive fundraising is really inappropriate, and just because you call it “voluntary” doesn’t mean there isn’t a ridiculous amount of pressure.

      I’m fine with low-pressure fundraising, whether it’s individual employees doing their own thing or company stuff. If someone tacks an order form for Girl Scout Cookies up in the break room, or the company does a 50/50 raffle for a local charity, no problem. But there should be no guilt, no pressure, and no hounding people.

      1. kristin*

        I used to work at United Way, and as employees, we were VERY strongly encouraged to participate in the campaign. Like, we had company goals like, “If we get 100% participation this year, we can wear jeans on Fridays.” So if we didn’t get 100% participation, it would be known that someone didn’t donate (although there was no set amount- you could do whatever amount you wanted).

        It sounds like the OP works for an agency that is supported by UW. She should def. talk to her boss. It’s possible she’s not the only person at her organization struggling financially.

        1. That HR Girl*

          I was going to say the same thing… I do not work for an NP but the corporate organization I work for is a huge supporter of UW. We too have similar aggressive fundraising goals, but we certainly do not expect those making the lower end of the salary to contribute… although we are surprised and thrilled when they do.

    2. Jamie*

      ITA about hating the pressure of donations in the workplace.

      It’s unethical, imo, to subject employees to these kind of pressured situations – an employer should stay away from any inference that they know how you should spend any part of your paycheck. (And that goes for collections for Christmas presents for bosses, baby showers, etc. Yeah, I’m a grinch.)

      My heart goes out to the OP – it’s a really rough patch and most rough patches do get better…although that’s little consolation now.

      Other posters were right about calling organizations for work clothes. We work with one such organization – they are in business to help the unemployed find jobs and we need qualified candidates – win/win. They do supply work/interview clothes for their clients who need them – I would imagine most would also be willing to help in your situation.

      And employers who are adding financial hardships to their employees need to either increase their pay so far above market that it would no longer be a hardship or knock it off.

      1. Samantha*

        I TOTALLY agree with you about the forced donations and the forced buy-ins for gifts. I absolutely refuse to do it. The company and the people I work with do not have any right to say how I need to spend my money. If they are so concerned about people having gifts for occasions then the company needs to pay for it. These people aren’t my friends or family. And while I don’t mind low pressure fund raising at work I refuse to contribute in anything that is high pressure. I’m so stubborn that even if I had wanted to contribute to that charity I won’t because it’s now expected of me. LOL I also disagree with the idea that I have to pay to wear what I want to work. Are you kidding me?

        1. Natalie*

          “If they are so concerned about people having gifts for occasions then the company needs to pay for it.”

          Very true. I’m in a small office, and we don’t buy each other gifts – birthdays are celebrated with a company paid staff lunch.

          Our boss just left after 13 years, and we did all chip in to get her a gift, but it was totally pressure-free. A plain manilla envelope went around with the card. Everyone put in whatever they could afford, and no one knows what the others contributed. (I even put in the first contribution and passed it to a co-worker who already knew how much I was giving.)

  16. KellyK*

    In addition to what other people have recommended, I would see about getting your child support reduced. I wouldn’t do it if it’s going to take food out of your kid’s mouth, but if you can’t afford to buy food, your child support payments are too high. Were they based on your previous income?

    Also, I wouldn’t feel at all bad about not participating in the charity stuff, like the 50/50. If anyone asks, you don’t need to go into quite how dire things are for you right now, just tell them that money has been tight for you lately. It’s tight for a lot of people. If someone really clueless presses, you can always say you’re not comfortable discussing your personal finances in that kind of detail.

    It might also be worth talking to your boss to ask if there’s any way the dress code change can have an adjustment period so that you can get dress pants. It is pretty demanding to suddenly expect people to go from jeans to business casual, and a week or two worth of dress pants is a pain to suddenly acquire even if you can afford them.

  17. Molly Hoke*

    I would like to help too- whether it be by donating work clothes or money, too. You have done a brave thing and sound like you are doing your absolute best and deserve a break. I am glad to hear this job makes you happy and you look forward to going to work everyday. Keep your chin up and things will continue to improve.

  18. Jackie*

    I am sorry to hear that you are faced with this situation. I think it’s great that you are keeping up with all your bills but can you qualify to defer your student loans or make smaller payments on them so you won’t be so cash strapped.

    Good Luck!

  19. Grich*

    You may also want to look for a local Humanist organization. They usually have a programs to help with situations like this. Even better, is that you won’t be dealing with a religious institution!

  20. Heather*

    I am very sorry to hear about your situation. Not sure why you are paying child support and not being able to see your child.. That being said, I do not see an address or clothing sizes anywhere and I would like to help if I can. Can you please post this.

    Thank you and hang in there, times will change for you. It is amazing to realize how much you can live without when you have too.


    1. Anonymous*

      That surprised me too… I mean, it’s an extremely common thing with Fathers because family court is insanely biased against them, but I’ve never heard of this situation with the mother.

      1. KellyK*

        I know at least one woman who’s in a similar boat (ex-husband makes twice what she and her current husband do, combined, gets child support, and yet sticks her with paying for a lot of the kids’ necessities on top of that because he just doesn’t want to). Probably lots of people have heard of cases that are unfair to one parent or the other. How biased family court is depends a lot on the individual judge, but in general, child support doesn’t cover half the cost of actually supporting the child.

    2. Jamie*

      Child support has nothing to do with visitation.

      Visitation is an issue between the parents – regardless of whether it’s one parent being vindictive or the lack of funds for a long distance visit.

      Child support is to provide financial support for the child. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc. The child needs this regardless of whom he/she visits and how often.

      The amount is determined by the court so each parent contributes a fair amount based on many factors. It can sometimes be reduced due to changes in income – but if those changes were voluntary the court takes that into account as well. I am not saying the OP would ever do this, but just to throw this out there…reducing child support without the courts consent opens another can of worms that can take decades from which to recover.

      It’s heartbreaking when an adult is going through tough times as the OP described. It’s another thing altogether if a toddler didn’t have proper food or shelter.

      I think the fact that the OP is honoring this obligation despite her tough circumstances right now speaks volumes about her character.

      1. KellyK*

        Yes, absolutely. Since I brought up child support, I want to emphasize that just not paying, or paying less, is obviously not an option, and that going to court to get it reduced is only something to do if you’re confident that your ex can and will provide appropriately for your kid on the reduced amount (and whatever his income is).

        1. Jamie*

          I agree, Kelly. One one hand it’s all about providing for the child, and if one parent can shoulder more of the burden while the other gets on their feet, imo, that’s a gracious thing to do.

          It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the custodial parent doesn’t have the legal right to reduce or waive child support. Because even though it’s going to the parent for the child’s care it’s money owed the child – not the parent. So at some point it would need to be rectified.

          It’s an entirely different ballgame if the custodial parent is dependent on that money to provide basic needs. At that point everyone should just scramble to do whatever is necessary to make sure the kid(s) are cared for. A check even a day late can impact the child(ren) when the parents are living day to day.

          A good judge will take into account the financial situation of both sides, and if possible, allow the struggling parent to get on their feet. For the sake of argument if a $100 per week reduction in CS wouldn’t impact the custodial parent’s ability to care for the child, but it’s the difference between the non-custodial parent eating regularly? The best interest of the child is in long term financial stability of both parents…so reduce it for a while. If that $100 is needed for food for the kids…then long term stability will have to wait and in the meantime the little ones need to eat.

          The above was in regards to the subject of cs in general, not the OP. I wouldn’t speak to a situation where I don’t know the facts.

          I just clench a little when people marry child support with visitation, as if there’s a correlation. Child support isn’t an entry fee to see your kids, it’s a legal and moral obligation those of us who are parents assumed when we had kids. I appreciate you drawing the distinction of putting the welfare of the children first.

      2. Kristi*

        OP here, I’m humbled by the compliment Jamie.

        Speaking to the custody situation just because my situation is a little odd. There was no court decision on custody, we just made the decision between the two of us about what was best for our son and had it drawn up by our lawyer. My payment schedule is in line with federal guidelines and I am more than happy to pay it. My ex-husband was a terrible partner, but he is a loving and devoted father who I know will put the money to good use for our child. I get generous visitation which comes in the form of two months in the summer and Christmases, it’s the geographical separation alone that keeps my son away for so long. But I’d pay child support before I’d pay for my dinner, hence the cupcakes.

  21. hnahk*

    AAM, if you have her information I would like to send a small donation her way. khanh(d0t)lau(at)gmail(dot)com

  22. Karyn*

    Hi there!

    I’d be more than happy to send you some work clothes. My email is – please just send me your sizes (shoes, pants, shirts) and I’ll clean out my closet! :)

    As a fellow divorcee (at age 23, no less), keep your chin up – there’s something better ahead, I’m sure of it.

  23. Dawn*

    AAM, if the OP has given you her pant size, I can see what I have. I have some high-end clothing, including suits, ready for donation. It’s mostly sizes 8 and 10.

  24. Dawn*

    I forgot to add that the OP should have a talk with her boss. If it were one of my employees, I’d want to know if they were struggling and something we implemented in the office was causing a hardship. Although, we wouldn’t implement any of those things mentioned because I don’t believe in “demanding” donations from employees. She can keep it between her and her boss. No need for the rest of the office to know. Who knows, she might get a small “cost of living” increase.

  25. littlemoose*

    I am so sympathetic to the OP; she made some difficult but necessary changes and I know it must be so tough for her. I will also gladly contribute clothes and/or cash if we are provided contact information. I am a lawyer but was underemployed (retail) for a year and a half after graduating, and if I hadn’t been able to live with my parents rent-free I don’t know what I would have done.

    Also, I second the idea that you try to look into getting your child support payments reduced. It does sound like they may have been based on your previous income and now are disproportionately large. If you cannot afford a lawyer, try your local legal aid organization for assistance. You can also contact your state or local bar association and inquire about low-cost or pro bono legal services. Contacting a church or other social organization may also be helpful in this respect, as they may know lawyers who can provide some volunteer services.

    Finally, have you looked into trying to reduce or suspend your student loan payments? You may be able to reduce your payments or get a temporary forbearance. The borrower may be willing to work with you, and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    I hope this helps! Good luck!!

  26. Laura L*

    I want to chime in with everyone else:

    1. If you have or can setup a PayPal account, it would be super easy for those of us who can help you out, to help you out. I would be happy to help out in any way I can and I think this might be the easiest.

    2. Definitely try a local humanist organization in addition to houses of worship.

    3. Also, definitely try Goodwill or the sales racks at Target, Wal-Mart, or cheap department stores. It can take some looking, but I have at least two pairs of work pants that I found at the one of those places. Also, consider Old Navy. I get most of my jeans off their clearance rack for about $10, but I know they also have work clothes.

    Good luck!

    1. Nellie*

      Agreed on Paypal! Not to make it more cumbersome for you, but this would be really helpful since I’d be interested in donating but would prefer not to post my e-mail address here.

      You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers – I hope your situation improves soon!

  27. Nichole*

    I also recommend that the OP seek out mental health services. Going through so much and being in a new city compounded by not being able to meet basic needs like food and clothing and, on top of all of it, being separated from your child is enough to make the srongest person fall apart. Depression creeps up, and it can keep you from recovering and leave you stuck in this dark spot. The same churches and community groups that may be able to help with clothing should also be able to refer you to free counseling services, and most companies the size you describe have an employee assistance program (EAP) for both full and part time employees, so you can talk to someone, often by phone, for free. In our area, the Township Trustee’s office maintains a list of food and clothing pantries, and the workforce development center also provides information on community resources. The help is out there, and it’s ok to ask. It’s part of getting back on your feet. My heart goes out to you OP, just tell us where you are and I’m sure one of us knows someone there who can help.

  28. majigail*

    I see a lot of people talking about the treatment of this employee and the employees of this nonprofit as unfair, but I have to say that these kinds of things go on in a lot of nonprofits and its a cultural thing. It’s not meant to be a hardship on people by any means.
    My staff are typically the ones that request the extra fundraising pieces, and it’s all in good fun, and never forced or even “voluntary” in my eyes anyway. Who ever wants to play, can play. If an employee told me in confidence that they could not participate, we would find a way make them feel more comfortable.
    We are a no jeans office expect on Fridays, but I don’t expect my employees to dress way up. A neat pair of pants, a skirt, or whatever looks nice is fine. I’m more concerned about if its clean and doesn’t look like it spent three weeks on the floor! I have to dress up more because of my position, dealing with donors and others in the community, but my administrative assistant is fine in khakis and a polo. If she started wearing suits, I’d probably worry!
    It sounds to me like you need to have a private talk with your manager to clarify the expectations. She knows what you’re making and she knows the cost of living in your city. If she’s any good, things will add up for her fast.
    Good luck!

    1. Mike C.*

      Just because it happens in a lot of places or that you feel it’s totally voluntary doesn’t mean that it is a fair or comfortable process.

      1. KellyK*

        Very true. Calling something voluntary and having it truly be comfortable and pressure-free for people to not participate are two very different things.

        1. fposte*

          Umpteenthed. Much better if you can set up a way people don’t have to tell you in confidence that they can’t participate, and that participation doesn’t result in a visual differentiation. Ironically, the less money you have, the less anything at work can really be “voluntary.”

    2. jmkenrick*

      I agree. Naturally, it’s a fine line, since you don’t want to stop employees from having fundraisers if they’d like but I think you do have to tread lightly there.

      As far as the dressing-up goes – there’s nothing wrong with offices that require fancier outfits, that’s life – but I think it’s important that dress standards be consistent and communicated when the person is hired. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to suddenly come up with three-piece suits after they were hired with the expectation they could wear jeans.

      1. Natalie*

        Particularly for lower-paying positions. If you’re hiring an investment banker it’s fairly safe to assume they own a closet full of suits, but an administrative person probably only owns the suit they’re interviewing in.

    3. Anonymous*

      I appreciate your attitude but really anything that is giving at work will end up feeling like a requirement especially to people who can’t afford to give. Unless there is only an anon box with no way of anyone knowing who is putting what in there.
      If you want to find a way to support charities on behalf of employees things other than knowing how much they gave and to who are possible.
      A large percent of people would never come to the boss and say, I can’t afford to participate and this is making me uncomfortable. Because they think that will make them not a team player and more likely to be first on the chopping block.

  29. New to HR*

    Thru personal experience with my husband’s child support problems, I know that you can contact the child support office and provide proof of your reduction in wages to get your child support reduced.

    Hang in there, life has a way of turning around if you can just make it through!

  30. Anonymous*

    A few things:

    1) Lean on those that are there to support you. Things will hopefully get better and when they do – pay it forward.

    2) I second everyone’s suggestions of checking thrift stores, Walmart, Kmart, etc. I would also like to highly recommend Target because they’ve really made some strides in the lower-cost clothing department with the help of designers who had previously worked for much higher end lines. Plus, in this case, your youth is an advantage – since some of the best clothing I’ve seen there would be most appropriate for women in their teens, 20s and 30s, (of course, this is in California). I realize though that with how little money you have, this store might even be a stretch.

    3) I worked for a non-profit museum in which all employees were asked to make a donation to the museum’s expansion project. I can’t think of anything worse than feeling forced to donate to the charity you WORK for. I was a college-educated adult getting paid about $11.50/hr at the time too. Much like what has been mentioned by those working for United Way, the idea was to be able to say that they had “100 percent” participation when it came to staff donations.

  31. Anonymous*

    I couldn’t tell from the letter if the dress code change was a “fun game” for the fall or if it was a permanent policy change. If it was a “fun game” I would quietly speak to your manager/ED and mention that your financial situation would prevent you from participating. (This also goes for the other “fun” fundraising activities.) If it was a permanent change, talk to the manager about loosening the dress code for the next few months to give employees more time to update their wardrobes. You might be surprised how well people react to a simple, but direct, “I cannot afford that.” If that doesn’t work, perhaps your employer needs to learn that charity begins at home/the office.

  32. Rachel*

    I’d love to be able to donate a few dollars to the OP as well.

    Additionally, I’d recommend the OP check out It’s a forum dedicated to making money online at home. Real, legitimate, freelance opportunities. If the OP has internet at home or can go to a coffee shop during the evening, she can make some extra money fairly easily. I’ve been in this position before, and everyone in that forum was incredibly helpful during my tough time.

  33. Catherine*

    I agree with the advice that you should be looking for help–not just for the clothing, but for food, financial counseling, and divorce counseling (if you’re not already getting any). Your immediate problem is the clothing, but it sounds like the bigger problem is that you have zero leeway in your budget and that your situation is overwhelming.

    Someone else mentioned that an employee assistance program may help, and I think you should definitely try that if you have one. Because you live in large city, there may also be a general help hotline that can tell you how to hook up with various kinds of social services. You might be low-income enough to qualify for food stamps or to use some food pantries. Free financial counseling might help you find a way to reduce your debt payments for the time being, and free divorce counseling just seems like a good idea for general support and dealing with stress. If you don’t have an EAP or a general hotline as an easy way to start, then start with local agencies like Catholic Charities or Salvation Army and ask for referrals if they can’t help. Local churches/religious institutions can be another place to start, but an individual church isn’t necessarily well-networked with the local agencies–social services agencies tend to be more aware of what else is out there.

  34. Suz*

    The non-profit I work for does this type of fundraiser all the time too. By tying the fundraiser to the dress code it makes it obvious who donated and who didn’t. It’s very embarrassing to not be able to afford to donate and have everyone in the office know it. Even if people don’t think you’re too poor to participate, you can’t help but feel like that’s what all your coworkers are thinking about you. I’ve talked to management about it multiple times but it never helps.

  35. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ll reach out to the OP directly and see what information she’s willing to share (email address, mailing address) for people who want to help, and then will post an update here!

  36. Andrea*

    OP, please set up a PayPal account so that we can donate. I’d like to send you some money for work clothing, personal care items, food, Xmas presents, whatever. When I was working my way through grad school, I was desperately poor and had to rely on my parents and friends for clothing and food and soap and shampoo. I would consider donating to you to be an opportunity to do good deed–please help make that happen.

    And I’d also like to urge you to seek out free counseling services. Depression can creep up on you and hold you back. Find someone to check in with from time to time to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you.

    You sound like a resilient woman who has had to make difficult choices. I hope that things get better for you soon.

  37. Anonymous*

    I work in a place that has a dress code/uniform; my department has its own separate dress code with the exception of wearing black pants. To get people to donate to certain causes – such as a fellow employee doing a march against or a company-wide campaign for a charity – the company allows a “dress down” day, and depending on how much you donate, the more “dress down” you can. So, for example, if you donate $1, you can wear blue jeans. If you donate $5, you can pretty much wear whatever you want that is, of course, in good taste.

    I refuse to pay for clothing I have already purchased and can wear whenever I want. I do not need to be paying for the same jeans over and over when the initial cost of the jeans were $29.95. Also, I have a trust issue with these causes; I have heard stories where there is a third party collecting the money and the money never makes it to its supposed destination (aka the charity). If you want to donate money, donate it directly to the charity and get receipts. I’m sorry to sound so skeptical and cynical.

    I do not work for a non-profit.

    1. Anonymous*

      Unlike pretty much everyone here, I enjoy dressing up for work. I rarely wear jeans in general, and have never taken advantage of casual Fridays at my job. I’d hate for people to judge me and my contribution based on my clothing choice. Ugh!

      1. fposte*

        Me too. I’d be happy to add a tiara to do double-duty for somebody with no non-jeans options :-).

        1. Jamie*

          On a totally off-topic note – I LOVE TIARAS!

          If you find a place where we can wear them to work let me know, and I’ll get my resume in stat!

  38. Kimberly*

    I would also like to help in some way. Most non profit professionals can relate to how challenging it can be to “dress the part”. I don’t know what area she lives in but I know many larger cities have organizations called Career Closets (or have that as a service in a larger non profit) that help women find clothing and grooming supplies such as makeup at little or no cost when they are trying to get back on their feet.

  39. Laura*

    I just lost a bunch of weight and have a lot of nice work clothes in various sizes…what size would you be looking for? I was going to donate them anyway and they are lightly used since I bought them then lost weight to the next size.

  40. Realistic*

    I am absolutely willing to help, like so many here. OP, it’s a way for us to pay back within our community, and I hope you will take us up on our offer. I am glad everyone is mentioning things like Legal Aid, or Dress for Success, and all of the wonderful organizations like that. But, to be realistic, many of these organizations are in more demand now than ever. OP may have to be put on waiting lists, or she may have to miss paid time from work to access their services.

    In fact, she may not have access to anyone who can easily get money from PayPal into her hands quickly (getting a check from them can take weeks). Amazon gift certificates to her e-mail address can be spent online and then she can have things sent to her residence.

    Until we know what city she is in, it will be hard for us to get her help quickly. Which many of us want to do. If she doesn’t have the money to call her toddler, she doesn’t have money to go to Target, Walmart or Goodwill. She doesn’t have the money to set up a PO Box to get donations from us. I’ll probably send an online phone card so that she can call her child, because I think it can be printed from online and used from any phone.

    1. fposte*

      Also be aware, since she’s in Canada, that some U.S. gift cards (Wal-Mart, apparently) don’t cross borders even if there are stores in her region.

      1. Realistic*

        oh, crud. I didn’t know that gift cards didn’t necessarily work in Canada when you buy them in the US! I hope Amazon works across borders!

  41. Anonymous*

    I don’t believe anyone’s mentioned accessing a Food Bank? Even the smallest cities (here in Canada) have food banks. From the sounds of your financial situation, you would qualify. This would help with meals and personal care items like shampoo and tampons. Over the holidays, there are usually programs to recieve hampers of goods.

    I think those suggesting even Wal-mart or target are a little clueless to just how deparate this situation is? The OP cannot afford tampons so $10 for pants would be an extravagence. I wish the OP the best and encourage her to use resources in the community – you are the person these resources are designed for, so don’t feel like you don’t deserve/are taking advantage/shouldn’t need help.

  42. Suzanne*

    I buy most of my clothes at Goodwill. Even as I type, I am wearing black slacks and a good quality top that cost me maybe $8 for the whole outfit. In my area, they also have 1/2 price days once a month. Ditto with Salvation Army stores.

    I have great sympathy, especially in the current environment when far too often people refuse to hold out a caring hand for someone like this woman who has found herself in a bad place, but villify them for not doing better in life.

    1. Jamie*

      ITA – thrift stores are awesome. I know people of every income level who go there.

      Little tip – the more upscale the neighborhood the nicer the stuff is. I have a fabulous Liz Claiborne blazer which still had the tags on it, never worn – Goodwill $6.99.

      I started going there when my kids were small and I couldn’t bring myself to pay $30 for a pair of jeans which would be outgrown in 6 months. I also like the fact that the money spent there goes back into programs helping other people. We donate there all the time – I have teenagers so our clothing turnover is pretty big.

      I know some people assign a stigma to thrift stores – but I’m telling you for a fact you go past the one by me and you’ll see tons of people who can afford the mall, but love the whole bargain hunting thing.

  43. MLHD*

    It sounds like the OP has a lot of pride, but unfortunately pride doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table.

    It’s time for her to reach out for some assistance. This is why we have food banks and women’s charities. There are lots of organizations that will help you get food and clothing and personal necessities. Depending on what your income is now, you’d be eligible for state assistance as well. You have to get over the pride and ask.

  44. Kelly O*

    AAM, if you get her information, please let us know.

    And to the OP, there are so many people here who can relate to what you’re going through. You are absolutely NOT alone, and there are people out there who can help you.

    As for things for your kid, also look at – it’s a program set up through Dolly Parton (of all people) to help provide books to kids. It depends on your geographic location, but it would be something you could supplement with for Christmas, birthdays, and “just becauses” during the year.

    1. Jamie*

      Not alone is right.

      Everyone’s circumstances are different, but it seems there’s a common visceral reaction for those of us who know what it’s like to panic over necessities.

      The first couple of years following my divorce, with three small kids and zero work experience – completely dependent on child support – changed me on a molecular level. I wouldn’t chose to go through it again, but I think it made me a better person. Sure as heck made me stronger. (Since I don’t have a time machine, might as well look for the silver lining.)

      Looking back I have no idea how I got through that. None. It sounds cliche but I think I got through the same way everyone else does…one hour at a time. I know that many others have gone through far worse, in many ways I was lucky, but the lessons in pride which come from struggle can stay with you.

      I know that extended family spent more on my kids for holidays and birthdays than for their cousins during that time – because they were trying to make up for what I couldn’t do. I learned to be simultaneously ashamed and grateful. And the ones that did it without rubbing my nose in it…extra grateful to them.

      It really does get better.

      Can I just say there are a lot of very nice people posting on this thread? Kind of restores my faith in humanity.

  45. NDR*

    I’d like to cover tampoons and other basic toiletries for a few months; I’d be happy to set up a recurring delivery through Hoseanna or Amazon if I had a shipping address.

    I also have a big bag of clothes on their way to be donated, that I’d gladly get to the OP.

    1. fposte*

      1) Thanks for turning me on to Hoseanna, which I’d never heard of before, and 2) thank you for the wonderful typo of “tampoons.” I think that’s much better than the actual word–it’s got a nice piratical flair.

      1. NDR*

        Ha! Tampoons *is* a better word, glad I mistyped it that way. :) After all, they’ve started wrapping them like party favors, might as well call them something with a little flair too.

  46. Michelle*

    I would recommend that the OP check out the website This site has local lists for just about every town across the country and people give away (for free) items they no longer need, including clothing. It is a great way to share material belonging that you don’t need and others find useful and for individuals in need to obtain items. I have successfully used it to share several times.

    Good luck!

  47. Just me*

    Please update when you have additional information about the OP. And OP, please update us. Not being able to buy tampons or shampoo, that is just plain terrible. I have had to, in previous weeks, accept help in ways that I never imagined I could. I had emergency surgery and then this past week have been without power and imposing on others as I had my 89 year old grandmother too. It gets easier to accept help. It’s not fun, but you hopefully will come to realize, as I have, that people are happy to help and you are not in this alone.

  48. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Update: I spoke with the OP, who is hugely grateful for (and I think moved by) all these comments. She’s setting up a paypal account, but for now, I can provide her mailing address to anyone who’d like it. Please email me at and I’ll provide it to you. (She notes that she lives in Edmonton, Alberta, which she fears may deter some people, since it’ll be international mailing rates — but I don’t think they’re that much higher.)

    Clothing sizes: She’s a size 14-16 … or 34/28 … or L-XL.

    1. K*

      Please, please, please, get in touch with Suit Yourself in Edmonton. They work with women in your situation to get you work appropriate clothing in transition times for FREE. The website is:

      I work for an equivalent organization in the province. Your situation is really our reason for being. And they should have a wide selection of styles and pieces.

    2. Will Weider*

      Can you provide an email address? I would like to send an Amazon gift card. No PayPal account is necessary and she can buy virtually anything she needs.

  49. Lori*

    I also recommend DivorceCare, a program that helps you get through your divorce emotionally but also practically. There is even a section on finances. It gives you an opportunity to learn about yourself, heal from your divorce…and you are supported by not only the group leader and the others in the class, but often by the host church as well.
    Here’s their website:

    And I second the advice to:
    * Talk with your boss about your situation
    * Contact the court to reduce your child support – if there is a 20% change to support (what the child support worksheet would show as your new support) based on your current income, the court should grant the change. They should also entertain your request if you have significant changes or hardship, which you do.
    * Shop Goodwill in a nice area!
    * USE COUPONS! I cut about 1/3 off my grocery and toiletries bill using coupons. There are several online places, like Red Plum, to print them, and they are in the Sunday paper. Get duplicates for things you use often.

    Consider yourself “cyber-hugged”! I am far enough past my divorce that I can see the positive, but it was no fun not having enough to pay the bills. As hopeless as it may seem, It’s NOT! You WILL get through this!

  50. fposte*

    On the donation thing itself: I’m against the pressure, especially from employers that don’t match donations but then brag about the not-really-voluntary contributions of their employees. (What comedian talked about school canned-good drives for the needy, where he’d bring in a can that would just get given back to his family? This is reminding me of that.) (Oh, and if our office had a swear jar, we’d all be buying each other rounds. )

    But I also think that many of us were fortunate to have people help us out directly or indirectly when we were starting out or otherwise struggling, and I really take pleasure in being able to pay on some of the kindness and support that I received. I wish such campaigns could take that approach more often, so that it was clearly a matter of self-selection rather than lockstep extortion.

    However, it also makes me think, OP, that you might look around for a mentor in your organization, if you haven’t already. That’s an accepted business relationship that’ll also, if it goes well, have somebody invested in you personally and in your potential for growth, and that can be really anchoring in a time when life is doing its best to humble you.

  51. Kristi*

    Hi everyone, OP here!

    Can I just said that you have all made my year? Thank you so much for all your kind words of support. There have been lots of helpful suggestions and I am genuinely touched by all of your offers of help. This has been the hardest experience of my life (you know, so far) but I have been amazed at both my own resiliency and the astounding and completely unexpected acts of love and compassion that have come from friend, coworkers and complete strangers. It is this gratitude that I am feeling now that drew me to the non-profit sector; imagining that something so small as $20 or a pair of hand-me-down pants or a kind word could be so meaningful to someone down on their luck.

    As for the jeans; I confided in a coworker who came up with a very creative solution! She secretly talked to admin and got me a month’s worth of the “I donated” stickers to “prove” I gave. A little deceptive it’s true, but I certainly intend on making up the donation when I have the money to spare. True I have to wear jeans for the rest of the month, but that at least solves my immediate dilemma.

    Alison is absolutely right, I hate asking for help, a feeling that you’ve all shown me a lot of people can relate to! That said, there is no room for stubborn pride where my baby is concerned and I humbly accept any help that you may be able to provide. As she so kindly noted above, you can e-mail Alison for my mailing address. Bright Blessings to you all!

  52. Kristi*

    PS – forgot to mention that a co-worker forwarded me the information for a shop in town that sells office-appropriate clothing for disadvantaged women so I will probably be able to pick something up there! I’ve also arranged to move to a cheaper apartment to help take some of the pressure off. But you’ve all made me hopeful that I will get through this rough patch ok!

  53. Jenny*

    I work at a non-profit and would be devastated to know that one of my co-workers was in this type of living situation. Anyone who works in the non-profit world should care enough about people to not let these type of situations occur in their workplace.

  54. Anonymous*

    Um, while we’re having a pity party, can y’all send me some cash too? You know AAM is scrambling for content when she reduces herself to shilling for beggars. I hate to think we’ve reinforced whiny dependencies by throwing handouts at this woman just because she complained online. The only thing you should be sending her is condoms.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, she didn’t complain online. She sent in a very specific question about how to deal with a situation in her office, which is exactly what this blog addresses. Nor did she ask for a single handout. What you’re seeing is other people being moved on their own to offer her help, in part because of her great attitude. I’m sorry you don’t recognize that.

      As for that snarky condom remark: Really? You don’t think it’s possible that someone might have a child in better circumstances, and then find that their circumstances change? Any of us is at risk of learning that the hard way.

      1. NicoleW*

        So glad you chimed in with a quick response, Alison!
        I was enjoying the giving spirit on all the previous comments.

      1. Jamie*

        +1. Most awesome comment. Ever.

        (And I’m usually not in favor of feeding the trolls – but Kelly nailed it.)

    2. Dawn*

      If you don’t like this blog, then why do you continue reading it? Seems like there’s always a troll or two around.

    3. Aniau*

      People go through bad things sometimes, and it’s no fault of their own. There are a few people who do the best they can with what they have in their own circumstances, and that’s all that they can do. As for condoms, sounds like YOUR PARENTS should have one, Troll elsewhere…

    4. Natalie*

      I would love an explanation of how condoms are supposed to help someone with one child who doesn’t appear to be dating. You do understand that condoms don’t work retroactively, right?

    5. Joanna Reichert*

      Wow, what I would give to know where you live – you heartless waste of space.

      The woman was previously married. Absolutely nothing wrong with conceiving children when you’re married.

      She wrote in asking about an office situation. It just so happens her office situation is influenced by her personal situation. She didn’t ask for help, let alone beg for it.

      Sounds to me like YOU’RE the one who needs condoms – or perhaps non-reversible sterilization – surely we don’t need more people like you tearing down the world?

      1. Aniau*

        Joanna I love you and miss you terribly!!!! :) Hope your new job is wonderful!!

        aaaand in my previous comment it was supposed to say “Should have used one”. Auto correct is somewhat a terrible invention!!!

  55. Jamie*

    This is a good reminder to think about these kinds of policies when they crop up at our work.

    A reminder that those who would suffer a hardship for these kinds of things (dress code $, charity, etc.) might not be as comfortable speaking up in opposition as those of us who just think such things are stupid. It’s good to keep in mind to keep a strong anti-stupid stance on behalf of those who would be more than merely annoyed should they be implemented.

    And for those who have a say in such matters, that people are paid fairly for the value they add. I’m not saying to pay based on sympathy or need (I will always be vocal in my opposition to that) – but instead of patting oneself on the back for getting away with underpaying someone for another year, strive to be proud of paying employees a fair value for their contribution.

    I read an article a long time ago that stated that once a person is making enough for basic necessities, without struggling, the curve representing the increase in happiness with additional compensation flattens out. There is a huge increase in personal happiness when you go from 25k to 40k for example, much less to go from 50k to 65k, and almost flat-lining to go from 100k to 115k.

    Maybe a good place to start would be for organizations to look at the workers on the bottom of the ladder (pay wise) and make sure it’s fair. Not over market, not charity…but fair.

    1. Joey*

      Theres a really short exercise to address this that not enough companies use. Imagine if your staff gave notice to work for a company with higher pay. Would you counter or let them go? If you’d counter you’re not paying them enough and you need to take whatever steps are within your power or use whatever influence you have to get them paid what they’re worth to your company as fast as you can.

  56. Realistic*

    I’d chip in for Anonymous 12:58 to save up for a heart. Or some Prozac. Don’t want to contribute? No problem. The rest of us wish to brighten someone’s day? It’s our decision. OP neither asked nor assumed we would help. That’s part of the fun of sending $20 instead of getting a couple of pizzas delivered tonight.

    1. Crystal*

      I love your comment. If you don’t like it, don’t participate, its simple really. Kudos to lovely, positive people. It’s refreshing to think you’re in the world.

  57. Amy*

    I have a couple $10 gift cards for Wal-Mart lying about my place. They came to me about a year ago, and I’ve been holding onto them so I could find them a good home, as I don’t need them. I would be happy to mail them to the OP (or anyone who needs a little holiday boost). AND, if the OP happens to be in Portland Oregon, I have a stack of pants that I can’t currently wear that are gathering dust, and we’re the same size, I’d love to pass those on, too.

    Just shoot me an email.

  58. Natalie*


    A lot of comments were made before you mentioned you are in Alberta, so they reference US programs and charities that might not be that helpful. But you can probably find similar organization in Alberta with some simple Google searches. In just a few minutes I found this page on the Government of Alberta site with a bunch of services available for lower income Albertans:

  59. Anonymous*

    Also consider connecting with Candora, in Abbotsfield Mall in northeast Edmonton:
    They are an AMAZING organization and some of the strongest, smartest most resilient women I’ve ever met work there – many of whom first came to their programs as participants. They have a clothing exchange (items are free), a community kitchen, a women’s saving group… and are a really supportive, welcoming, non-judgemental group of people.
    Good luck!

  60. Anonymous*

    You could also try Freecycle. People post things they have but don’t need or need but don’t have to an email list of subscribers. I often see people post food (non perishable) and clothes offers. I’ve also seen “wanted” emails, and from the thank you follow-ups, people seem to be pretty successful.

    I looked it up, there is one for Edmonton, Alberta!

  61. another boss*

    agreed that you might think about talking to your boss — if you were one of my employees, I’d feel awful about putting you in such a position and would look for ways to make everyone more comfortable.

    because it’s doubtful to me that you’re the only one in this position on your staff – if you’re not paid that well, than neither is anyone else

    good luck – you’re due for some, I think!

  62. Nethwen*

    One thing I’ve found to help save money, although it does require $20-$40 start-up, is a menstrual cup. Diva Cup and MoonCup are the two most popular brands and can be ordered online. I apologize if this is too explicit for this kind of blog, but using these products does save significant amounts of money and as an un/under-employed person, I know how valuable even $5 is.

    1. Marie*

      Seconding this! And yeah, while it’s maybe a bit explicit, it’s also an economic reality of women’s lives: this adds up!

      I got started using menstrual cups when money was good, due to environmental concerns (so much packaging with tampons), and just plain convenience (let’s get personal: heavy flow to the max, there have not made the tampon heavy-duty enough for me). When I got into a tough financial spot a few years later, I was so grateful every month to bust out my DivaCup and know that was $20-$30 bucks I was saving. Not to mention what I was saving in emergency laundry or new underwear. If you’re in a bad corner financially, one bad period ruining your own good pair of pants is more than an inconvenience.

      You can also check out sea sponges (if you have a health food store or co-op, they might carry these). You replace those every couple of months, so it’s still a cost-savings overall.

  63. SB*

    OP, it looks like all the other posters have addressed your basic needs, clothing, resources, so I will skip that part. (Except to say that AAM managers are an awesome, generous group of people!)
    What I want to tell you is this: You mentioned divorcing at age 26. my husband left me at 28. For multiple, younger women. Uggh! It was devastating. I’m now 38, and remarried to a much more suitable person. Looking back, I am so glad that I got out while I was still fairly young, and could get on with the rest of my life. I don’t intend to diminish your pain, but just to tell you that it does get better. Best wishes to you!

  64. anoni*

    I worked at one of the places too that expected every employee to contribute for birthdays and such. It is so wrong!!! I work at a place now where I make minimum wage (part time) and the servers can bring in 200.00 a night (way more than my entire week’s paycheck) and recently someone said we should all take up 5$ to pitch in for a wedding present and I said I did not have that. The response was that I could save up for it until I had to explain that I go into the negative every month and only am able to survive to reach into savings. What a joke!

  65. JuliB*

    I’d like to specifically mention that the OP should contact her nearest Catholic Church and ask if they have a St. Vincent dePaul’s conference (group) there. We’re everywhere! If not, they can refer you to the closest parish.

    Most SVdP groups have food pantries (we do, and we’re a small parish) or can give money/grocery cards for perishable foods. In addition, we can help with a specific bill (utility) if needed, and can also give vouchers for clothing that can be redeemed at your closest SVdP resale shop.

    And there’s no religion test either – we help all without questioning.

    I’ll be emailing AAM soon for contact info.

  66. Lindsay H.*

    I used to work at Target and just a little “insider tip (I’m not Martha Stewart, so don’t arrest me!) is that Wednesdays are usually the days when clothing items get marked down. Clearence price adjustments usually happen in two week cycles so if something is tagged at 25% one week, wait two weeks and it’ll probably be marked down to 50%.

      1. Lesley*

        Those poor Canadians! But seriously, I’ve been on a tight budget the last year and I’ve work in a dressy environment–Target’s been a lifesaver.

  67. Jessica*

    Please provide your sizes (pants, shirt, shoes) and address and I will see if I can provide you with some business casual attire. I sell gently used clothing on ebay (all items that my mom or I have purchased and have either never worn, or have worn just a few times) and I would be happy to help you.

  68. Donna*

    I just wanted to say I am heartened by the kindness I have seen shown on this thread. Thank you all for showing that there are such loving and beautiful people in the world!

  69. Stryker*

    Oh my god. I know that this is a long-dead post, but reading such generosity to perfect strangers is making me tear up at work.

    It’s people like all of you who make life worth living. Thank you so much for epitomizing the greatness of human character.

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