ask the readers: my coworker can’t afford the gas to get to work

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I work for a medium-sized organization with a great group of employees. I’m part of a small department, just six people, who work very well together. We have fun at work but produce top quality work, exceed expectations, and stay under budget.

The problem is my coworker. He is absolutely awesome and a great performer, but lately he’s been calling out sick about once a week. It’s gotten to the point where people outside the department–including higher-ups and the leadership team–have started to notice and talk about it.

I have a good personal relationship with him so I asked him what was going on. The problem he is having is that he literally can’t afford the gas to get here. He can pay for his tank to be filled once a week, but he runs out by Thursday and can’t afford to refill. He means this literally, in that his bank account is actually at $0 and he’s relying on food pantries to fill the gap. He has 2 kids and there’s not enough money. Our area is very spread out with poor public transportation, so that’s not really an option.

I would hate for him to lose his job over this when he’s trying his best. Telecommuting isn’t an option in our line of work; neither is a compressed work week. I’m at a loss of what advice to give him; he doesn’t want to tell our boss/higher management, but I think he has to or he’ll lose his job.

Readers, what do you say?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 824 comments… read them below }

  1. Dawn*

    If he’s really a great performer, I’d tell him to tell his boss. It’s embarrassing, sure, but I think that any boss worth their salt will try extremely hard to retain this guy.

    1. HigherEdManager*

      Yup. He needs to talk with his supervisor, who may be able to allow some telecommuting or know of company or community resources.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I don’t know of the guy’s personal circumstances – but – priority 1 is to have enough gas & means to get to work.

      Is there a chance he can get a $30/week raise?

      Recommending charity resources to someone working in the private sector is difficult (think of the time a major retailer had a collection box for employees’ holiday meals)…

      Many years ago I was in a similar situation – a job paid too low for me to continue in it. I had to move on.

      If OP were to talk to the boss, I’d mention the problem … of course, if the guy has other things in his life – an expensive hobby, or something else — then, yeah … he would need counseling. I did work with a guy who had to go through the “let’s cut up your credit cards” routine – he got HIMSELF into trouble. I realize that that’s not always the case – but if you bring it up with management – you could wind up with that reply…

      1. Anonymous20*

        Yep, this is where I am at now, in a low paying job that does not pay enough. I cannot continue in part-time work that just doesn’t get it done(including gas) but am having a hard time finding a FT job in my area.

  2. KJR*

    This is tricky because there could be a whole host of other things going on in his life, including budgeting or other personal issues that you and his fellow co-workers wouldn’t be privy to. My best (and really only) recommendation would be to talk to him about possibly getting in touch with your EAP if you have one. I know ours offers a free session with a financial counselor. Hopefully some other readers will be able to offer some ideas on additional resources. This really is a tough situation, and I hope he’s able to find some relief!!

    1. SherryD*

      I think this is the best advice, particularly if the OP assumes most people at the office are reasonably well paid. If the coworker has big enough financial problems that he can’t afford to commute to work, he needs to talk to a financial counsellor.

    2. The Toxic Avenger*

      Yes, I agree. It sucks to see someone suffer, but the reasons for this person’s financial troubles should not and cannot be anyone’s business but his own. Otherwise, this has the potential to set really unpleasant boundary-crossing precedents. This problem is his to solve, and a compassionate manager can lay out options for him to consider, but he needs to figure out how to get to work and meet the attendance requirements.

      1. Green*

        Yep. Can’t/shouldn’t tell the boss the reasons, but OP’s colleague should do whatever it takes to make it to work (even if that means credit card debt/borrowing/etc.). Their financial situation is certainly not going to get any better if they’re fired…

      2. The Toxic Avenger*

        There have been many comments since my post, but I wanted to clarify: I agree with KJR that he should use EAP if that is available. If it’s not, then he should probably talk to his boss, if he can trust him / her to be discreet, and frame it like, “I am dedicated to doing a good job, but I am in a real bind. Here is why I am frequently absent, and I understand that makes me look very bad. Here is what I plan to do to try and make things better.” What I meant by “this problem is his to solve” is that he should explore all the great options the commenters have suggested here, and not put that weight on his manager. At the end of it all, he may lose his job anyway, but he should demonstrate that he is aware of the negative impression he is leaving on his colleagues and willing to turn it around.

    3. AMT*

      And if he doesn’t feel comfortable reaching out to his boss, maybe his coworkers would be able to help. Perhaps one or two coworkers can agree to give him a ride a couple of days a week?

      1. Diddly*

        That’s what I was going suggest – carpooling – and then spreading the cost of gas. If not one of his coworkers (or a few) then I’m pretty sure there are websites that can match you up with people who need regular rides.
        But I think speaking to the boss will be necessary at this point due to the absences being noticed – especially if a quick solution isn’t available.
        Or could co-workers pool together and offer a loan? You might think that the company might be able to offer the same. The OP said telecommuting was out. I’m assuming that since he’s driving and public transports out he wouldn’t be able to bike it at all? If that was an option someone could lend him a bike…

        1. Jazzy Red*

          The loan idea is bad, bad, bad. If this man can’t budget his money to pay for gas five days a week, how can he ever pay back a loan?

          What he needs is a financial person to help him solve his money problems. Even his banker could help with that.

          1. Margo*

            My cousin gave me a $20 loan for gas and I paid her back the next payday. Thank goodness someone was willing to help.

            My banker laughed in my face.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Several have mentioned carpooling. One way to suggest this is to do a company wide carpool. Ask all that are interested in carpooling to give their work schedules and home locations (in general). Others might also be willing to carpool a few days a week, and if 2-3 people drive to a central location, they can cut their commute costs down without having to live in the exact same neighborhoods. That way, he’s not embarrassed by his need (providing someone lives in his direction and is willing to carpool).

    2. Anon369*

      Agreed – even informally. Maybe everyone can pick a Thursday/Friday so the burden gets spread out.

    3. Letter Writer*

      I thought about that, but we’re in a very spread out area–I’m probably the closest to him, and I’m 20 miles away. I’d be willing to pick him up once in a while, but I’ll be honest, I’m not racking it in either. I can pay my bills, but there’s not a lot of extras.

      1. BethRA*

        First of all, you’re wonderfully kind to be so concerned.

        Thinking of the carpool option – even if you or other potential Pool Pals can’t pick him up, you might be able to meet in a convenient location partway to the office – or he could drive to the driver. I don’t know what his mileage is right now, but 40 miles per day might be a shorter/cheaper ride than 60-100.

      2. Janet*

        Could he drive to your house and hitch a ride in with you? If your house is closer than work it would save gas and he should be able to swing it for an entire week.

        1. CheeryO*

          Yeah, this is the best solution, IMO. I’m sure there are days when it wouldn’t work, but maybe even 2-3 days per week would be enough to make a big difference for him.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          This is what I was going to suggest as I started reading the comments. If he can’t afford to fill the tank, then taking a day off of work once a week isn’t helping that.

          I think that seeing some sort of financial counselor (depending on where you live, you can find them for free) and some help getting to work regularly would help him. If you’re the closest, and he can’t use an online service to find someone local willing to share, you may have to step up there.

          If everyone at the company is commuting long distances, maybe some sort of company wide program would help more than just him. Some companies have ride sharing as part of their mandate to give back to the community. If your work is all shift related/no overtime maybe a bunch of you could drive to a central point and carpool the rest of the way? Here, commuting is so bad they have ride sharing parking lots in an attempt to get some cars off the road — your area may not have that problem but there probably is a supermarket or something where a bunch of people could go to and travel in one care after that?

        3. bridget*

          Or, if you aren’t on his way, is there a point on the commute where both of your routes line up? Like, you both drive 15 miles to a highway from different directions, but once you get to that point your paths converge for the rest of the way. If so, maybe he could drive to that spot, meet you in a parking lot where it’s safe to leave his car all day, and then hitch a ride with you the rest of the way. It might be a little inconvenient, but it wouldn’t cost you more in gas money and if that portion of the commute is more than 1/5 of his total distance, he should probably be able to make it through the whole work week.

      3. My two cents*

        Any chance of switching their schedule around to 4x10hr days instead? Or maybe an extra 30min every day and alternating Fridays off? …obviously, I’m not sure what coverage is needed in such a small office.

        1. BeenThere*

          I like this idea the best because the affected coworker maintains independence and isn’t building a huge favor bank.

  3. Meredith*

    Is it possible for him to carpool with someone else in the office, at least a few days a week?

  4. Amber Rose*

    Is there any way carpooling could be arranged? I know you’re spread out but if anyone lives nearby who could help with a lift once a week.

    Or maybe he can work out some kind of deal with upper management regarding a few extra dollars for gas, if his work is good. But I do agree that he needs to talk to his boss and see if anything can be done. A little embarrassment is better than unemployment.

  5. Cary*

    If I was his manager I’d tackle this as a attendance issue, call him in and ask what’s going on. That said there’s no guarantee that his manager will take the time look into this issue, and may simply terminate. It’s also tricky as if he’s been calling in sick once a week, and then says no it was because I had no money he may face some blow back even if it’s just to his professional reputation. I’d forgo talking with his manager, and solve the problem. How about car pooling, or riding a bike (I have many colleagues who bike 45 mins or more every day, and you can pick them up for a song on craigs list)? Can he take a folding bike on a bus to cut down on the biking distance? If he’s not spending money on gas then he could get a reasonable bike.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I fear being honest with management on this one will only get him fired too.

      I suspect the only thing that might work would be going around asking for donations for this guy for gas money–which is uncomfortable and public, but if LW can’t take care of him all on her own either and assuming the rest of the staff doesn’t want him fired… I can’t think of anything else really.

    2. NacSacJack*

      I would like to reiterate the bus option as well. Can he ride the bus once a week? Maybe he needs to drop his kids off at daycare. Can he drive to the daycare and then a park&ride to catch the bus? Does he live in the middle of nowhere with no bus service (BTDT)? Can he get assistance from the county?

      1. Kelly O*

        If he’s in a rural area, that may not be possible. I live in a fairly large Houston suburb, and at one point I checked into what the bus would be, and it’s seriously next to impossible. (Which says a lot about mass transit in Houston, or the lack thereof.) Many smaller cities or more remote areas would be even harder.

        I could do it, but it would take over two hours each way if everything ran on schedule, and would still not let me handle child care.

        1. Anna the Accounting Student*

          I visited a good friend in Austin, and was surprised that they had as much mass transit as they did. The expected value (to extend a metaphor) for a city that size would fall into the the “limited to nonexistent” category. That being said, “better than I expected” is not “equivalent to the system here in NYC.”

        2. LUCYVP*

          We have such bad public transportation in the neighborhood our office is in that we actually put in our job postings that public transportation is not an option. I live in a small city, but work just enough outside of downtown that the bus system doesn’t go out here.

        3. penny*

          I feel ya Kelly! Did you see that news piece a few months ago that named Houston as a top public transportation city?! Someone had to get paid off for that cuz it’s joke. I mean unless you only need to get from one side of downtown to the other. If you live in a suburb like most people good luck.

          To the LW, check to see if your area has sites to connect carpoolers or area van pools. It connects people going from and to similar areas to share rides. With the van pool one of the commuters drives and I think even gets a payment or maybe a subsidized ride.

          1. BobcatBrah*

            Houston’s actually pretty good for being as big as it actually is (as in, physically half the size of Rhode Island). They have the park and ride where they run buses from the suburbs to downtown, and then there’s the downtown bus system and the system in the hood (inside the 610 loop) is pretty good. Of course, not many people working professional jobs want to live in the neighborhoods where there’s good bus coverage.

        4. SevenSixOne*

          I work in Downtown Big City in a building I can see from my bedroom window. It’s a ten-minute drive. If I want to take the bus, it would take almost as long to ride the bus as it would for me to WALK to work. It’s great that it’s an option I can use in a pinch, but it really wouldn’t be feasible to do every day, especially if I had to deal with getting kids to school/daycare too.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            That’s my problem here–the buses are so slow and few/far between that it takes me a couple of hours to get somewhere I could drive in fifteen minutes tops. When I was job hunting with that old car, it really had me feeling desperate. If my folks hadn’t helped me out with Oliver, I could not have gotten this job.

            1. Hotel worker*

              Public transit in my city is so bad that a 15 minute drive to work takes 2.5 hours on the bus on a good day, on a bad day, the bus doesn’t come at all.

      2. LawBee*

        Busses aren’t options everywhere – you don’t even need to live in a rural area, a lot of cities just aren’t set up with good public transportation. I looked into taking the bus when I got this job, and it was not feasible at all. Not only was it a 90 minute minimum commute, a) I’d still have to get to the nearest bus stop to my house which was 5 miles away with no park&ride, b) the nearest stop to my office was even farther away, and c) the schedule did not match my work schedule in the slightest.

        (what is BDTD?)

        It sucks for this guy, especially with kids in the picture.

        1. Retail Lifer*

          I live close to the downtown area of a major city. There are plenty of bus routes close to me, but the jobs are all out in the far-flung suburbs where few or no busses go. It takes me over an hour to get to work in an adjacent suburb, and that bus only runs once an hour. And it doesn’t cover much of this suburb.

        2. Cactus*

          Yep. In my current city, the bus is a great option for some people, especially if you work downtown, and don’t live too far out, and don’t mind walking up a few hills.

          Where I used to live…there was a very small subset for whom public transit worked great, I’m sure. If you lived and worked on one of the commuter rail lines, you were basically golden. If your job and your home were on the same bus line, there was more of a traffic concern, but still: easy enough.

          Anyone who needed to transfer, or who lived further into the suburbs, was faced with a very annoying prospect. And if you were in the outer-ring suburbs or in a different county (as I was for a while, and as a few of my former co-workers were the entire time we worked together), things went from doable-but-irritating to impossible.

        3. LB*

          I am from the DFW area while there are DART trains and buses. It isn’t a viable option especially in the summer months. The bus is also more expensive. $5 for a day pass. if he works 6 days a week. It’s about the same as 14 gallons of gas give or take. if he can’t afford gas, he can’t afford mass transit. I wish I could help more, but I am in Beijing at the moment, and am dealing with a similar dilemma. The company that hired me made promises it isn’t keeping concerning giving assistance to finding an apartment, and financial assistance (housing allowances) in being able to afford the acquisition of an apartment. It’s s much different in Beijing compared to the US where you have to pay three months of rent in advance, you need to pay a deposit fee that’s the same as a month of rent, and you need to pay an additional fee that’s the same price as rent. It’s very easy to spend $2,000-$6,000 to GET an apartment. That’s dollars as in USD. Since my employer isn’t willing to help, I am in the position where I cannot get straight back to the states and I do not want to go straight back to the states as that puts me in a worse situation so I’m headed to Japan. I wish this man could do something similar to me. Because I know if I go back to America I’ll be in his situation.

  6. ginger ale for all*

    From the website needhelppayingbills –

    The Salvation Army may be able to provide free gas vouchers to qualified individuals in an emergency situation. Funding is limited, and the vouchers are only distributed in a limited number of situations. Find more information below on how to get free gasoline from the Salvation Army, as well as who to contact. Other forms of transportation assistance may be provided as well, such as bus passes or car repairs.

      1. Susan*

        Yes. In addition to all the suggestions for reducing his commute costs, it seems like he needs an immediate advance or subsidy so he can start working five days a week again.

    1. Steve G*

      Its a good suggestion, I’ve never heard of this, but IMO it is like a subsidy for businesses to not pay living wages, and it is sad that this has to even be suggested (though I am not criticizing you in any way for raising this possibility)

      1. fposte*

        Though I think we can go too far the other way and insist this must be the employer’s fault. A living wage isn’t going to cover every exigency, and the OP notes that she can make it on the same salary. I don’t think that makes it the co-worker’s fault either, though; I don’t think it’s a simple binary of job or guy, and if I were assigning blame I’d go for a system that makes it into that binary.

        1. Steve G*

          I do err on the side of it being the employer’s “fault” or responsibility, because we aren’t talking about anything extravagant, just gas for work. We aren’t even getting into retirement savings or a right to make enough to own a home vs. rent, etc. The Walmart wage debate last year is still fresh in my mind……..

          1. Green*

            You have no idea how OP’s colleague is spending their money or how much OP’s employer is paying him! How can you assume it’s the employer’s fault? What if OP buys 50 lottery tickets a week in the hopes that they can retire rich? What if OP has a gambling problem? What if OP racked up $20k in credit card debt on Gucci suits?

            1. Koko*

              Right – a living wage for one person is not the same as a living wage for any other person. People bring different expense baggage to the table – a costly medical condition or a relative with medical bills, a food allergy that requires expensive food, kids, pre-existing credit card or student loan debt, a monthly car payment, higher than average auto insurance, higher than average rent, etc. Some of them could have been avoided maybe, others are bad luck. But an employee with very many of those extra expenses might get by OK while an employee with a lot of them doesn’t get by.

            2. Steve G*

              I am assuming that because I have never known more than a few people to waste money like that, but have known hundreds to be responsible, so I can only err on the side of assuming that most people are responsible with their money, with maybe an occasional slipup.

              1. Green*

                Uh, that’s not a great basis for the assumption, particularly because you have no idea how most of the people you know spend their money or what their finances look like (or how employers spend their money or what their finances look like).

                1. Steve G*

                  I don’t like the assumption that assuming stuff is crazy, actually, you can have a really good idea of where peoples’ money is going if you know a little bit about them. Most standard items like phone/electricity/insurance are going to be the same +/- tens of dollars, rents and mortgages are easy to estimate if you know the real estate market…unless someone is a high earner, most budgets don’t have hundreds and hundreds of dollars of discretionary monthly spending going on that can be trimmed.

                2. Green*

                  Most budgets < $$$$$$ DO have hundreds or thousands of dollars *annually* that can vary based on whether you have a car payment, how much it is, your gas bill, small differences in apartment appearances or locations, etc.

              2. fposte*

                But you’re still setting it up as responsible vs. careless, employee vs. employer. You can be careful with your money and get fairly paid $50k and have to pay off medical bills from your wife’s illness that leave you strapped; that doesn’t mean it’s your job’s fault *or* that you haven’t been responsible.

                This is, IMHO, an American problem; if it’s all simply capitalist, it’s the obligation of either the job to paternalistically make sure you’re covered for everything, regardless of your worth to the business, or the individual to make it happen all on his own. But that makes it the job’s obligation to cover special kids’ schools and medication trials and other hideously expensive stuff, not just day to day costs.

            3. Kelly O*

              But if the person in question has a couple of kids (which is mentioned in the letter) that affects expenses too. I know it seems like I’m on a soapbox about this one, and I guess it just hits pretty close to home right now. But what is livable for one person may not be for the next, and there are all sorts of things that affect your ability to get from paycheck to paycheck.

              We’re dealing with my mother-in-law being ill and it becoming clear she may not be able to live alone much longer, plus a preschool age daughter, and my bonus daughter going off to college in the fall… I mean, I make a good salary where I am now, miles better than I’ve ever made, but we’re struggling more than ever because my husband lost his job. Theoretically we should be in a better position than we’ve ever been, but stuff happens.

              So I’m not assuming the person is buying lottery tickets or Gucci suits or gambling. I’m assuming this person has kids to feed and electricity to keep running and is quite possibly rent poor (as I am starting to feel.) Sometimes, stuff just happens, and a little compassion can go a long way.

              1. Green*

                This kind of implies that the people who don’t think OP’s colleague should go to their employer (or are offering suggestions you don’t find helpful) aren’t compassionate.

                One’s expenses has nothing to do with their salary. It does have a lot to do with what their quality of life is on that particular salary, particularly if those expenses are related to serious hardships, and for that I absolutely feel compassion. However, it also shouldn’t reflect on the employer’s “compassion” (or lack thereof) if they did not help this employee.

                1. Kelly O*

                  The attitude of some posters in these comments comes across as less than compassionate.

                2. Green*

                  You were responding to one of my comments (in which I was simply saying that we have *no idea* whether OP’s colleague is spending money wisely or unwisely, whether their employer is paying a fair wage or an unfair wage, and that maybe nobody is in “the wrong” here), so I’d say that’s a less-than-charitable interpretation of the purpose of my comment.

                3. JB (not in Houston)*

                  I agree with Kelly O, it may not all be the intention, but some of the comments are don’t sound very compassionate. I’m not saying they have to, just that some of the comments sound like they are leaning more toward it being the fault of the employee somehow. We don’t know whose fault it is–or that it’s anybody’s fault at all. But I think Kelly O’s point was that the compassionate thing is to assume for purposes of our comments that it’s not the employee’s fault when we don’t have enough information to say otherwise (though I may be wrong about that).

                  And honestly, like Steve G was saying, for me that also makes sense because I’ve known a handful of people who are irresponsible with their money or who don’t manage it well, but by far, most of the people I’ve known with money troubles weren’t in that situation because of their bad habits. It’s like how the vast majority of people who declare bankruptcy are in that mess because of health problems/medical bills, divorce, or job loss, not because they were living above their means.

                4. Green*

                  I like the irony of assuming others’ intent and then claiming the compassion high ground; kind of a chump move to assume LW’s friend is the only party deserving of assuming best intentions. I’m in Fposte’s camp, which is that it may very well not be anyone’s “fault”; it might just be a crappy situation. I think the “compassionate thing” is to assume we have no idea whose fault it is, or if it’s anyone’s fault, if we have no idea whose fault it is or if it’s even anyone’s fault.

            4. L*

              And then why the assumption that the employee is at fault? Many employers don’t enough that an individual can manage. Plenty of people are one major life accident away from living paycheck to paycheck or worse. This happens to plenty people whether they make 30k or 90k.

          2. Adam V*

            On the other hand, no one has said how far away the employee lives from work. It’s hard to blame the company if the issue is “my work is really far away from my house”, which is something that has been known since the employee started working there (assuming nothing obvious like “the company used to be much closer then moved across town”).

            1. Editor*

              The letter writer said the area is rural. Driving long distances to work in rural areas is a hazard of living in a rural area, and sometimes being born in a rural area limits the options to leave the rural area. The rural area I grew up in had lots of hills, and taking a bicycle to work would not have been an option for most people whose commutes were 30 or 40 miles.

              I hope the employee has talked to someone at the food pantry about the gas problem. Sometimes people who work or volunteer at food pantries know quite a bit about other sources of assistance in the region, or at least know who to ask.

        2. Lane*

          We were also told he has two kids, OP wasn’t mentioned if they have. A *possibly* single person is going to have a lower cost of living than a guy with kids. Food, even housing sizes change, and it all costs.

  7. Katie the Fed*

    How is your relationship with the boss? Is the boss cool? This might be something that you could mention to your boss, but only if you think she’d be discreet about handling it.

    I’m thinking of this as a boss – this is something I’d want to know. I’d rather work with a good performer to come up with solutions than lose him altogether.

    This reminds of a story about this factory worker in Detroit who was walking 5+ hours a day just to get to his job. Awful. Many people DO have a good work ethic and want to work – but it’s not always that simple.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      “Many people DO have a good work ethic and want to work – but it’s not always that simple.”

      Thank you for this statement Katie, thank you!!

      Yes! The man was making $10.55 an hour working in a factory walking 20 miles or so round trip (and in his mid 50s!!!). A stranger started a GoFundMe with a $25k goal and it ended up reaching $350k and a local Ford dealership donated a Taurus to him. I have no idea if he ever received the full $350k but either way it was a very touching story.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I couldn’t even post the link to that story because reading it again would make me cry.

      2. S*

        There was a follow-up article about how the money and car gave that man more problems because he didn’t have a safe place to park the new car, and then family/friends started harassing him to give them money because he’s now So Wealthy. I think the neighborhood vandals started threatening him as well.

        It’s a touching story, yes, but knowing the details of what happened a few months later after the generous act made me feel a lot more cynical about acts of charity like that and how disruptive it can be sometimes. Everyone had their hearts in the right place, but unintended consequences…

        1. Natalie*

          I kind of hate crowdfunding for that reason. It seems like a solution, but the structural problems are still there. And it’s only a solution for one or two people, while many others may languish unnoticed.

          1. zora*

            yes, this. And I hate the ‘donate/give loans to specific people’ organizations for the same reason. The vast majority of them are not addressing systemic problems at all, and not educating the donating population about them either.

            1. LD*

              Only when they start out with poor money management skills or have no idea that money is gone once you spend it and that the things you buy require money to maintain them. Unfortunately, it does seem to be that the population who buy lottery tickets are less informed about the cost of money.

        2. KT*

          Just like Extreme Home Makeovers or whatever the show was where they built poor people huge mansions–they built monstrosities of houses with utility bills way over what they could afford–some of them ended up declaring bankruptcy because they couldnt sell the house and the payments were way too high.

          Instead of swooping in and dropping these monstrous gifts, SUSTAINABLE changes need to be made! Education, job skill training, etc

          1. Stephanie*

            Or the property and/or gift taxes. I’ve heard that’s an issue with those giveaways as well. One of those years when Oprah did her Favorite Things giveaways, people got a car. It was later revealed that many people had to sell the cars since they couldn’t afford the gift tax (and the production company hadn’t covered the gift taxes).

          2. Jenna Maroney*

            Speaking as an educator, I think better and more accessible education at all levels is a crucial project for our time, but I actually don’t really consider it a sustainable “change”; increasing (e.g.) college graduation rates is not necessarily going to provide a buffer on unemployment, and considering how many college graduates (and beyond!) are already “underemployed,” often struggling to make ends meet (especially taking student loan payments into account), I don’t think increasing the percentage of them in the country (which we have been slowly doing for the past several decades) is going to somehow make jobs which are currently not livable more livable.

            1. KT*

              Sorry, I should have been more clear. I didn’t necessarily mean college or grad school. I meant education in terms of financial literacy, home management, and genuine employable job skills.

              Just having a background in how to make a budget, what taxes really are, how to negotiate certain bills, or trade skills (we have a culinary training program that helps minimum wage workers move up to a livable wage, for instance) make more of a difference that anything else–I agree that college/student loans are certainly not the answer!

                1. Charlotte Collins*

                  I am one of the few people I know who was taught the basics of these concepts in 6th grade! We had these awesome new, enthusiastic teachers who used everyday budgeting and planning as the basis of the unit on economics. I learned how to write a check and the basics of everyday costs like rent and food (we had a fake bank that was set up in the class and one kid got to be a banker). Unfortunately, credit cards weren’t as big a deal then as they’d become 10-15 years down the road, so we didn’t really deal with that aspect, which is too bad. In order to graduate from high school, I was also required to pass a one-semester class on Economics (the other semester was Civics – we had to pass the Constitution Test to graduate).

    2. Stephanie*

      Ugh, yeah. We have the same problem at my current workplace. We’re in a sprawling metro with insffucient transit, the company doesn’t pay particularly well, and there are a lot of shifts outside working hours. I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this yet at my job either.

      1. AnonyMiss*

        I’d almost wager you haven’t heard about this because those who are in those shoes are just so ashamed of making “decent pay,” yet being so poor they can’t commute to work. I used to have to work out of town, and have an hour commute each way. Even with a pretty efficient little car, I’d go through almost two tanks of gas a week, clocking in around $60. And even though I made $19/hour – I’m a sole provider for myself and my husband who’s still in college. So out of that money came my now-mandated health insurance, my mandatory government retirement, rent, car payment, car insurance, bills, food, and gas. All too often, on the last few days before my paycheck, I’d have to call around to relatives and see if someone can float me just $20 to keep me going to work… or call in on Monday (we got paid on Tuesdays – go figure).

        Just because it’s not spoken of, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      I was so happy when that guy in Detroit got a free car! He truly deserved it. Incredible how he never missed work even though he had to walk so far in the freezing Detroit winter.

    4. hnl123*

      “I’m thinking of this as a boss – this is something I’d want to know. I’d rather work with a good performer to come up with solutions than lose him altogether.”
      I have a friend who was quite close to her boss. When she fell on some hard times, she talked to the boss, and the boss gladly gave her a (well deserved) raise because she couldn’t NOT have my friend working for her.
      It might not be common place practice, but there ARE managers (and companies) who are willing and able to give raises. Sucks that a bad situation had to slap the boss in the face for them to wake up and realize to pay their employees well, though.

    5. NYC*

      A couple of years ago when I was working a freelance position and I wasn’t working 40 hours a week so paychecks some weeks were not always enough. So I started to walk to and from work because it was either pay rent and eat or but a metrocard. Thankfully it was 45 minutes each way and it was during the spring/summer so weather really wasn’t an issue. It really sucked and I never admitted to anyone that was why I was walking.

      1. K.*

        I definitely walked everywhere during a very lean period – I was freelancing and temping too and living very, very close to the bone, and I was thankful that I lived in NYC where walking was even an option (and no one would be suspicious, as New Yorkers walk everywhere). I would budget $X for a Metrocard and when it ran out, it ran out, and I hoofed it.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I did that, as a rookie–and managed to get by on $5 a week (meals were part of my room & board). A 45-minute walk is really not that big a deal. I kind of wish I’d kept it up.

      3. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I remember after I got laid off from my job in DC, I started walking everywhere to save money. If it was really far or was late at night, I took the bus. Metro was (and still is from last time I was there) kind of expensive, so I only took it if absolutely necessary. Luckily, it was summer, so I had mostly ok weather to do all that walking.

  8. Ad Astra*

    Is there any way he could carpool or hitch a ride with another employee from time to time? Ideally, there’d be someone who lives in the same area and works the same shift who would also benefit from the arrangement, so it wouldn’t feel like accepting charity, which would make many people uncomfortable in a work situation. Is there someone who might be willing/able to drive him once or twice a week just out of the goodness of their heart?

    Does your company have an EAP that could direct him to some additional resources that could ease the burden? He might qualify for some kind of program that would save him money on another necessity, like food or utilities, so he can throw a little more money in the gas tank.

    Can I just Venmo this guy $20 next week?

    I used to come dangerously close to not having the gas to get to work on a regular basis, and if I had children I would have been in your coworker’s position more often that not. I’m really interested in what the other readers come up with to help him.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Now that I think about it, Venmo might be kind of a weird way to do it, for privacy reasons. But I really would chip in some money because otherwise this particular story might keep me up at night.

    1. 2horseygirls*

      I’ve been there, too – sleeping with a space heater, my toddler and all the dogs in one room and praying every night b/c my ex-husband cancelled the gas account with a big balance when he moved out. I have been lucky to receive the kindness of strangers and truly believe it is my responsibility to pay it forward.

  9. Stranger than fiction*

    I do not wish to add any judgment whatsoever, as i know things really can be this dire. But, i have a coworker (who actually makes a bit more than me since she’s been here longer) that asks me or another coworker for gas money every now and then. In her case it’s annoying because we know full well she blows her money on other unnecessary things, like cigarettes and getting her kid a candybar treat at the convenience store daily after work. Not saying it’s the same here , BUT at one point i shared an excel budget template with her and im simply saying maybe he too could find a solution by making a simple budget of income/expenses. It’s often quite shocking when you see it there in black and white where all your money is going!

    1. Ad Astra*

      Cigarettes are a waste of money, but they’re also addictive. Most people can’t just stop buying them when someone points out that they’re expensive (as if the person buying them by the carton hadn’t noticed).

      A candy bar every day is probably a little too much candy for a kid, but that still only adds up to $5-10 a week if this is truly a daily habit. When you’re poor, a $1.50 candy bar is one of the few nice things you can afford. I think people sometimes forget that when they criticize broke people for spending money on stuff they don’t literally need to live.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I never criticize poor people for how they spend their money, but I think this is a different point. We’re talking about someone who literally has no money to pay for his gas and might lose his job over it. If he’s in the same situation as Stranger than fiction’s coworker, and he’s spending $5-10/week on candy and cigarettes, he could spend that money on gas instead, and that might tide him over. That’s not paternalism; that’s thinking through solutions.

        There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that the OP’s coworker isn’t budgeting well, but it’s worth thinking about. (For the record, most low-income people I know budget EXTREMELY well because they’d be underwater otherwise.)

          1. Turanga Leela*

            Depends on where he is and what kind of car he drives. It sounds like he can get four roundtrips on a tank of gas, so getting to and from work takes a quarter of a tank (very roughly). I can fill up my car for about $40, so $10 would get me a quarter of a tank.

      2. The Strand*

        So true.

        If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s essay on what being poor is like, it’s a serious reality check. I believe one of the aspects of it is that for someone who is poor, candy is one of the only luxuries you can afford.

        I grew up under the poverty line, and when I first graduated from college, I remember that buying a coffee drink every two weeks or so was an Seriously Expensive Treat. Reading his piece reminded me that there are people in much, much more dire circumstances than I ever was.

        1. Stephanie*

          On a related note, I’ll also recommend Linda Tirado’s book Hand to Mouth. It’s written more like a Lewis Black-like polemic; it also addresses the realities of living at the poverty line.

          1. The Strand*

            When you say Lewis Black, you mean it’s also funny? That would make the reading go down easier.

            Thanks for the suggestion.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I so much love John Scalzi! Thanks for mentioning this, I hadn’t read it.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes I totally realize they’re addictive and you cant quit overnight, but it was just an example of things you sometimes don’t realize add up. And, the DAILY candybar was so the kid won’t scream in the car, i mean really. She loved the budget idea and oddly hasnt asked us for money in a while

        1. Ad Astra*

          Adding up the cost of cigarettes is a great way to prevent people from taking up smoking. It definitely worked as a deterrent for me when I realized I was buying a pack or two a week. Showing a pack-a-day smoker how much they’re spending on cigarettes might make them want to quit, but breaking a physical addiction requires resources that many poor people don’t have.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It’s one of the things that keeps me from going back to it. I can afford it better now, but I don’t want to spend that much money on a consumable.

        2. sunny-dee*

          Also, you can go to the state or county health department and get nicotine lollipops and gum for free. So, if you wanted to save $50 a week, then you could quit for free.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I didn’t know that. I wonder how widely practiced and how widely known that is. I’ll be sure to point out that resource next time I run into someone who’s trying to quit smoking.

            1. Brit*

              Maybe not directly from the health department, but they will definitely know of places to go that can help you get resources to quit.

              Signed – one of those people the health department always directs calls to.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            If you have health insurance through your employer, it’s worth checking to see if they have a smoking cessation program. Exjob had one where they would foot the cost of all that.

        3. zora*

          “She loved the budget idea and oddly hasnt asked us for money in a while”

          Wow, Stranger than fiction!! That is so interesting! good for you for finding a way to gently tell her something that she probably just didn’t know and might actually help without having to be a jerk about it.

        4. Ten*

          She may just be embarrassed about it now–maybe she thought she was being casual, but didn’t actually want any attention brought to her finances.

      4. Karowen*

        What sticks out for me isn’t that she shouldn’t be buying the kid candy bars, it’s that she’s doing at a convenience store, which are always overpriced for small items like that. If she took that $10 to Walmart one week, she could buy a large bag of snack sized candy bars, give the kid 2 a day, and be set for 4 weeks – leaving her a spare $10-$30 to put gas in her car.

        1. Karowen*

          To be clear: I chose Wal-Mart because I was able to look up their prices. I am assuming that she can get to a grocery store and I may be way out of line for that, but I think I’d rather waste my gas driving a coworker to the grocery store so they can get what they need at a more reasonable price than just give people money for gas.

        2. Grapey*

          Bulk purchasing is sometimes cost prohibitive to people that are that poor.

          Additionally, if it was because the kid was screaming about it (from another comment), I imagine that kid would be smart enough to find the whole box and house it all at once. I grew up in a poor family and any excess (including food) was immediately consumed.

      5. Colette*

        I’m all for people spending their money as they see fit, up until they want me to subsidize their lifestyle. So a coworker asking me for gas money when I know she buys daily chocolate bars? I’m not going to help. Money is a finite resource for most of us, and I’m not going to give up my luxuries to pay for hers.

        In the case of this letter, the coworker isn’t asking for money. If I thought it was a budget issue, I might suggest some budgeting resources, but I’d do that among other suggestions.

        1. LawBee*

          I’ve only ever heard the “I don’t want to subsidize someone’s lifestyle” comments from people who also believe in the myth of the welfare queen. . .

          1. Colette*

            I have no problems with programs that help people in need – they’re important and necessary. However, I’ve had friends and acquaintances ask me for money (or to do things that cost money, like drive miles out of my way regularly) with no acknowledgement that they could make different choices to solve their own problems. I’m happy to help people in need due to circumstances beyond their control. I’m not happy to help people in need (or want) due to poor choices.

            Again, I’m talking about one on one help, not organized programs.

          2. Ygritte*

            People are only “in need” if they have literally no luxuries, according to some people. It’s like the fallacy “Oh that poor person has an iPhone they’re just stealing money from everyone….” ignoring that it’s a practical way to maintain internet and phone access for a relatively reasonable price. Poor people also deserve to have nice things and luxuries. And I can think of few cheaper luxuries than buying a $1 candy bar for your child.

      6. Green*

        I agree that it’s not appropriate to criticize broke people for spending money on stuff they don’t literally need to live *UNLESS they’re asking you to subsidize those things.* You don’t get to make something someone else’s problem and then do the “blah blah blah this is my one luxury I allow myself so I feel rich” dance. They ask me to change how I spend my money, then I think it’s fine to ask them to do the same. If they’re paying their own way, then it’s their business if they make $100k less than me but drive a nicer car than me (until we all get to subsidize that person in retirement, yay…).

          1. Green*

            Ah, yes, love the “your feelings are invalid because you aren’t currently poor, regardless of your prior income history or student loan payments totaling over $250,000” sentiment. Again, if you are spending your own money, I would agree that my opinions have less than zero relevance. If you’re asking for my money (or, in this hypothetical, asking for your colleague sub-OP’s money), then my opinion (if I happen to be your colleague) becomes relevant.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Maybe no, but lecturing those icky poor people from the vantage point of a six-figure salary while making utterly ridiculous assumptions rooted in ugly stereotypes (50 lottery tickets? Really?) is pretty gross.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I didn’t read the comment as assuming the person was buying lottery tickets, but rather pointing out that we don’t have any information about the person’s situation and that there are all kind of possible scenarios (or rather, we didn’t have much info in the original letter; we certainly do now that the OP has provided more in the comment section).

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  (But you can certainly disagree with any commenter — it’s just not okay to tell someone they’re not welcome to join the conversation here.)

              2. Green*

                That puts a hell of a lot of words in my mouth that I didn’t say. I think you’re projecting a bit here.

      7. NYC*

        In NYC depending on the brand and where you buy them packs of cigarettes are from $12.00-$15.00.

    2. MegEB*

      This is really not the same thing at all. There is nothing in this letter to indicate the OP’s coworker has trouble sticking to a budget, and his financial woes could be due to any number of reasons. I’m sorry your coworker is annoying but it’s not the OP’s place to suggest her coworker make a budget, as if he doesn’t already know how.

      If I was the coworker and I confided a deeply personal problem like this to someone, who then turned around and suggested this, I would stop confiding in them immediately.

      1. Another HRPro*

        There is a difference between telling someone they are not good with money and recommending free available help with budgeting. It is possible the person has some debt that an agency can help reduce which would help increase cash flow. They may have a family member they are supporting but maybe that person would qualify for some social benefit which could ease the burden. We don’t know what the cause of the issue is, but there may be ways to help if the friend is willing to reach out for that help.

        1. fposte*

          I agree on principle, but if somebody told me, after I asked, that they were having trouble affording gas and might lose their job, I think sending them tips on budgeting help would be on its own a dismissive response. If it’s part of a larger conversation and the person has acknowledged that that might be an issue, that’s another matter.

          1. sam*

            Part of the question is whether the employer is actually paying everyone a living wage or not. If they’re not, it’s going to come off as well as when McDonald’s published those ‘sample budgets’ a while back that made some absolutely asinine assumptions about peoples’ work and spending habits. Also some ridiculous under-calculations for things like utilities/healthcare/rent.

            Question number 1 – is this a problem with the employee’s spending habits, or a problem with the employer’s payment practices?

            1. fposte*

              I think it’s quite likely to be neither. Individuals can have genuine financial needs that aren’t fault-based that are nonetheless more than employers can be expected to meet.

              America likes to set the system up as adversarial between those two and keep the rest of the machinery out of the picture.

          2. Green*

            I think sending them an unsolicited spreadsheet would be a bit paternalistic for a colleague. But letting them know that the EAP at your workplace includes financial counseling wouldn’t be fine.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes that’s all i was trying to say and it wasn’t unsolicited, she asked me for help. Plus i was simply trying to express sometimes we just dont realize where all our money is going

          1. zora*

            I think sometimes telling someone about budgeting can actually be helpful. We don’t teach it in schools, a lot of people honestly just don’t know about it. I think one non-judgmentally-worded comment about “have you heard about keeping a budget? here are some resources, just a thought” just one time, without follow-up, could be helpful. And not inherently dismissive or paternalistic. IF someone has expressed they are having trouble and don’t know why. (as in, not completely unsolicited). If I got *one* comment like that I would just appreciate that they were trying to help and let it go. Multiple comments or a complicated spreadsheet would be obnoxious.

            1. MegEB*

              “Have you heard about keeping a budget?” is honestly one of the most condescending things I’ve ever heard. I know we don’t teach budgeting in schools (although I dearly wish we would) but come on now. If you’re a single parent with two kids you obviously know what a budget is. The vast majority of Americans know what it means to keep a budget. If someone came back at me with that response after I told them I couldn’t afford the gas to get to work (which can be a deeply humiliating thing to confess) I would never confess anything to them ever again.

              1. zora*

                I actually know lots of people who did not know about ‘keeping a budget’ until someone showed them. It is a thing.

                1. MegEB*

                  I just … I can’t believe that. I’m sorry, but just no. This man is raising TWO KIDS on one income and cannot afford to get to work and your first thought is to tell him “Have you thought about keeping a budget?” That’s Gwyneth Paltrow levels of obliviousness. He’s not some fresh out of school twenty-something, or a trust fund baby who somehow got cut off from their source of income. This is a working adult who has had to deal with some awful, horrific life situations and your first thought is that he’s frittering his money away on nonsense? That is just not a world most Americans live in.

                2. zora*

                  I never argued that the OP should say that to her coworker. This was in response to Stranger than Fiction’s story, which was a completely different situation.

                3. Althea*

                  @MegEB, yes, it happens all the time. I taught a friend of mine at 24 how to use Excel to keep a budget after she had gotten herself into a lot of debt. She really had never known how to do it. To this day, she uses the template I set up for her. I also taught my husband about credit cards when I started dating him at the age of 26. He knew how to use them, but didn’t realize you could and should pay them off every month to avoid interest.

                  Both of them are quite good with money (especially after learning these things) and have a naturally good head for it, but they didn’t have a path to learn the skills, coming from families with similar lack of knowledge. It’s a really terrible thing in our society, especially when we ask 18 year-olds to take on thousands in debt with no guarantee they know how to handle money and debt.

              2. Lindsay J*


                Especially if you’re at the point where you can’t afford putting gas in your car to get to work!

                I think this is what annoys me too about most budgeting advice articles on the internet. It’s all “Make your own coffee at home instead of spending $7 on a Starbucks frappachino,” when, presumably if you’ve reached the point that you’re searching out budget advice on the internet you have enough common sense to not be spending a ton of money on frivolous things. (And if you’re really pressed you may have already given up coffee all together, never mind Starbucks.)

                1. Bunny*

                  I’ve had periods in my life when I was seriously cash-poor. I’m talking, regularly running out of electric on the meter the last few days of the month, rationed food to the point of eating vegetables that only had a *little* bit of mould on them, and bursting into tears when supermarkets increased the cost of their basic staples by a few pence, because I knew it meant re-writing my entire budget to calculate a new way to stretch too-little-money into too-little-food.

                  And I agree 100%. Every bit of budgeting advice I found during that time was less than useless to me. “Try switching from name-brand to store’s own-brand!” when you’re struggling to by the own-brand that you rely on. “Look for a cheaper mobile phone contract” when you don’t own a contract phone and have managed to stretch £10 credit over 6 months. “You can still afford better quality food if you are more careful with portion sizes” when you’re literally making dinner by mashing week+ old vegetables into store-brand flour and when one of your staple ways to make an emergency meal is pasta with toasted porridge oats stirred into it because there is literally nothing else in the house.

                  A well-meaning friend bought me a “how to eat well on very little money” book during that time and it literally listed ingredients like lamb, seafood, asparagus and fresh lychees. Prohibitively expensive foods even now we’re financially much better off.

                  Of course, there is one thing we could have cut out. Out pets. We have two cats, and if it was a choice between buying food for us or food/litter for them, they won. But you can judge me all you want for that. The situation we were in was abysmal for our mental health – his chronic depression, my anxiety disorder, and our general mental health due to the constant stress of it all – and those cats and comfort they provided was more than once the line that stopped us from doing rather unpleasant things to ourselves.

                  Wow. Sorry, I didn’t mean to turn this into a rant. I guess I have a lot of Feelings about this stuff.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. The advice IS ridiculous–it assumes dollars (pounds) when you’re actually talking about a budget of cents (pence). I was in college when this happened, but I once lived on tea, a loaf of bread, and a packet of bacon for an entire week. That was it. Quite literally nothing else was in the house.

                  When I moved to the east coast, I had no money and I literally starved. I had to pay for the bus to work, and most of the time I had no food other than a muffin in the morning from the food court (I worked in a mall) bought with scrounged change. I ended up coming back because it was unsustainable. To this day, I still panic a bit when my food gets low and I often buy too much at the supermarket (especially dry goods) because I’m afraid of running out. I don’t eat much of it; I just like to know it’s there.

                  I didn’t grow up poor (middle class), but I’ve been there most of my adult life.

            2. Ad Astra*

              FWIW, I learned about budgeting, how to balance a checkbook and write a check, and a little bit about interest rates in school. In elementary school, most of my teachers had some kind of point system where you could earn points for grades and good behavior, or lose points for bad behavior. You kept track of this in your register, just like you would with real money. Each quarter, the teachers held an auction, where you could buy Beanie Babies or candy or whatever (probably donated or purchased with the teacher’s own money) with your points.

              I think the interest rates came up in Algebra.

              Home Ec classes also taught us how to do laundry, some basic cooking, extremely basic childcare (basically, never shake a baby), and even some sewing. Maybe I’m just lucky?

              1. Knit Pixie*

                (The following is meant to be a reply to Ad Astra’s comment, and not meant to cast dispersions upon anybody here or upon the situation at hand.)

                It’s amazing to me how Home Economics was objected into virtual oblivion in the U.S., especially when people complained in the same breath how schools weren’t teaching anything usefull anymore. The first few weeks I was in College dozens of girls in my dorm completely ruined their laundry, because nobody had ever taught them that you don’t add bleach to every load. Some others would save their laundry for Mom to do, and then complain that they weren’t being respected as adults at home.

                When I was in Japan teaching English I was told I may as well skip the lesson plans on chores (perhaps a bit facetiously) for my junior high school class, since according to my fellow teachers, it was exceedingly rare to find a kid who was actually expected to do any (they needed to concentrate on their 16 hour a day quest to get into the right high school) and I risked the dreaded eye glaze.

                Sadly it has all seemed to have resulted in examples of fully grown adults who cannot budget, cook, clean, do laundry, and have to throw out clothes with the slightest tear because they cannot make a simple repair. Seriously, if not at school and not at home, where are people supposed to learn these skills? The knowing and doing of these things is just not imparted at birth.

                I have no children (so I will speak brashly) but if I were raising any, they wouldn’t be learning about Home Ec. on the streets.

                1. misspiggy*

                  Same in the UK. I learned all about food hygiene in Home EC before it was cancelled (very useful for my subsequent career in places where food can make unwary foreigners sick), nutrition, cleaning up properly; and the pride in making quite complex dishes on our own has encouraged me to keep cooking even when fatigue and pain have pushed me the other way. When they brought the National Curriculum into the UK the government didn’t want to spend money equipping and updating school kitchens across the country.

                2. sam*

                  I loved Home Ec, even as a strident feminist. I still use valuable things I learned in that class. The only thing I remember my slightly older compatriots objecting to was when they only taught Home Ec to girls (and Shop to boys). By the time I was in school, both were co-ed. Of course, this was 20+ years ago now.

                  I also took typing. on a typewriter.

                3. Helka*


                  I was one of the lucky ones whose school taught both, also. Those were some of the best lessons I ever learned — in both classes! In Home Ec, my most enduring lesson was how to handle hot oil for cooking without suffering horrible burns — in Shop, principles for safe machine operation and situational awareness. Those are both valuable for all genders.

                4. Charlotte Collins*

                  In 7th grade, we did one quarter of Home Ec, one quarter of Art, one quarter of Shop, and one quarter of Drafting, and everyone took all four. In Home Ec, we all made an embellished pillow to learn sewing skills. We also learned very basic cooking skills (which were below the level I was at, since my parents had taught me to cook, but new to many students). We also made a dust pan, a napkin holder, a basic wrench, and a keychain in Shop. These were all useful skills, and I doubt if they are taught anymore. (I had a friend in high school in the 80s who took the sewing and design classes in Home Ec. She was on the heavier side and made a lot of her own clothes – they were lovely and she could never have bought anything similar in clothing stores at the time.)

                  It is sad that now some of these things now aren’t seen as being useful, and the handmade things that I know my grandparents depended upon to save money now are often too expensive for people to do on their own. (Everyone I know who makes clothing, quilts, furniture, etc., does it because they love it – they sure as heck aren’t saving money on their materials.)

      2. fposte*

        Yup. Two kids are pricey as is, and in a rural area you’re going to burn a lot of gas just schlepping them around. If there’s a special need anywhere that’s an exponential increase, and we may be talking only $30k or so annually.

        Sure, he could be making $100k and stink at money management, but there are plenty of pay scales that would run you out of gas before the end of the week without luxury spending.

        1. Green*

          Yeah, but if you have to pick between not schlepping kids around and not schlepping yourself to work, you’ve got to pick not schlepping the kids around (to anything other than somewhere required by law). Otherwise, you’ll find yourself without money to schlep anyone anywhere.

          Priorities in this situation:
          (1) Maintaining survival needs: food, water, basic shelter, electricity.
          (2) Maintaining income source: getting thyself to work.

          (3) Everything else.

          1. fposte*

            I didn’t mean schlepping to craft school and soccer camp. If you live in a rural area and have no childcare, your child has to be schlepped someplace for the whole time you’re at work, and it’s highly unlikely that that’s only one place and that the several places are conveniently co-located.

              1. Green*

                Yeah, we get it. Fposte = super compassionate. My post = not compassionate because someone somewhere may not have expenses they could cut.

                1. Steve G*

                  Just came back to read responses to my comments…..and I agree with Kelly O on most points, but also agree with you if you’re getting a bit upset with people assuming you’re not “compassionate,” (which isn’t even the main issue) because you do raise some valid points, especially if the person is actually earning an OK wage.

                  My comments came from the point of my general cynicism surrounding wage stagnation in the USA…

                  A big issue not raised here is social capital, we know the OP’s MIL has unfortunately passed, but we don’t know what other social capital he has. I mentioned my poor sister somewhere here. At least she can turn to my parents if she need a short term loan, or go to my parents for food if she doesn’t have $ before payday, and she gets big checks + random gift card for Christmas from some relatives that last at least 1/2 of the year. We don’t know what type of similar support network the guy in question has. Just throwing that out there……….

                2. Green*

                  You can’t use the Carolyn Hax “wow” when you actually said above: “I agree with Kelly O, it may not all be the intention, but some of the comments are don’t sound very compassionate” and played the whole (totally bizarre) compassion-superiority game.

                3. Helka*

                  The point was nothing to do with compassion. The point that fposte was making was that the schlepping in question is the kind required by law. So it’s not optional, and needs to get prioritized at #1 because “don’t do things to get yourself arrested/get your kids taken away” is pretty high priority.

                4. Green*

                  I *agree* with fposte’s point, which fits into the exception I outlined into my post (since probably can’t leave kids alone all day). I was suggesting a prioritization structure in which almost everything that’s not a literal necessity goes below gas-for-job. My “beef” was with the “compassion trolls” who have, throughout this thread, distorted my comments (or said that my comments have “less than zero relevance” in such a nasty way that AAM had to intervene) while implying that they are truly compassionate people and that I am not. Nobody likes people being nasty to them and assuming worst intentions WHILE CLAIMING THE MORAL HIGH GROUND.

                  Also, the “mee-ow” thing is pretty gendered.

                5. Kelly O*

                  I think maybe you’re taking this a little personally.

                  Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the word compassionate. But honestly, when someone is in a difficult situation, it seems sad that the immediate response is that the person is not managing money well, or is somehow being wasteful, and just needs to get a better attitude or a second job or something.

                  It’s just taking a moment to acknowledge our humanity – the things that are part of my reality may not be part of yours, and vice versa. I can’t put myself in your shoes because I don’t know you and I don’t know your situation. The same could be said of you putting yourself in mine. We can try to empathize. We can extend human kindness to others.

                  There are plenty of people who do have expenses they can cut. But for purposes of the original letter writer’s example, we’re dealing with someone in extenuating circumstances who very realistically may have few resources for help (at least perceived resources) and who may be in a position where there isn’t anything left to cut.

                  Again, I am not at all saying that what you are saying is not true sometimes. But I’m looking at this individual. Not a larger take on people who mismanage money or who are wasteful. This individual, who it seems is struggling with more than just gas money.

                  So I guess what I’m saying is that I really hate seeing you seem to feel (and again, it’s just the feeling I’m getting) of being piled on. That’s not what I intended at all, and if I made you feel that way, I sincerely apologize. I’m just looking at this one person, who seems to deserve kindness and compassion, all of which ought to have a place in the working world, at least in my opinion.

                  Short answer? This ain’t duck club.

                6. LD*

                  I know it is often hard to get an intended tone from comments, but I read fposte’s comment as an explanation, not as a rebuttal. Most commenters here are particularly respectful.

    3. Steve G*

      Well, with how wages have been stagnating, I have been more and more sympathetic to and believing people when they say they are having money trouble, because most IMO really don’t have corners to cut. Your own example proves that – you are going down to the level of candy bars (what are were talking about there, a $1?) and cigarettes (even a die-hard smoker is “only” spending a few thousand per year). Look at the bigger picture – does this person own a home? How reliable is there car? When was the last time they travelled? How many times per month are they wearing the same clothes? My guess is that the cigs are their only luxury.

      I get your point that the cigarette money could go towards gas, but you’re really pointing out a much larger issue, that so many people are on such tight budgets that a few hundred dollars per month makes the difference between being able to get to work or not. That’s pretty sad for what is supposed to be the greatest country on earth (unless we are talking about entry level or very low level jobs).

      In this economy, I am also against the assertion that someone is going to realize all of this financial waste just by making a budget. I have definitely known quite a few people who don’t drink, don’t smoke, make coffee in the office (never bring it in), always wanted to go to cheap places to eat, have dinky old cars, roommates, etc., and still were always broke. The American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality doesn’t always help when you have rampant wage stagnation.

      1. Windchime*

        Yeah, it’s pretty tough to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.

        1. Anx*

          It’s also physically impossible if you do have them!

          Or at least, the phrase has roots in having been an example of an impossible feat.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Totally get that, but also live in an area where a lot of people refuse to give up the slightest luxury, like daily Starbucks for example. And i dont agree the little things dont matter, they totally add up. I mean cmon, cigs are what $6 a pack, half pack a day thats a lot of dough. I quit smoking in 2006 and it was f’ing hard but the $ i saved was awesome.

        1. NYC*

          I don’t smoke but ciggies in NYC are from $12-$15 a pack depending on where you buy them.

        2. Steve G*

          I guess you’re right on the cigarettes, I can’t say I’m 100% right in that argument. But I still think that when we get to the point where “we” are tweeking a budget +/- a hundred or two hundred dollars per month, there is a general societal issue. If the employer is paying a similar wage to most employees (as per the OP’s followup comments), how many are able to afford to buy vs. rent, or accumulate an emergency fund, or save for retirement? We are going to have serious issues in this country is people aren’t able to afford these things because working folks are all living paycheck to paycheck.

          1. Anx*

            Yeah. And I don’t really get them phrase, because sometimes I feel like I’m living paycheck to paycheck, but I do have about $2,000 somewhere that I could access within a few weeks and with quite a bit of hassle, but it’s my “emergency plane ticket if a family member dies” money and I won’t dip into it. So I’m not really living paycheck to paycheck, but if feels like that.

        3. RMRIC0*

          Sometimes it is good to have that little reminder about how things add up in your life. Like I used to get coffee and a bagel every morning until I did some math and was like “I could go to the grocery store and buy a million bagels for this money.” That couple of bucks every so often is really easy to ignore or dismiss unless it’s put into the whole context.

          And it’s hard to give OP good advice because we don’t know the whole context – though it’s clear that something’s gotta give.

      3. Green*

        You’re saying that people don’t have corners to cut and then saying how sad it is that a “few hundred dollars a month” can make a difference. Of course a “few hundred dollars a month” can make a difference, and that’s why cutting those items out of the budget is important even if it’s only like “$1 a day” or “a few thousand dollars per year.”

        I have bi-weekly maid service that costs the same amount as my colleague spends on his smoking habit. Why would almost everyone consider the former a luxury but some folks defend the latter as a “small luxury that shouldn’t matter”?

        1. MashaKasha*

          Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there. Are you addicted to your maid service?

            1. Green*

              This is the first year I’ve had a maid service, which I can now afford only because I have finally paid off my $2500/month in student loans. I also have severe allergies and allergy-induced asthma, so it is actually a HUGE relief to come home to a clean house.

          1. Green*

            No, but it greatly improves my quality of life. (And I specifically chose not to start smoking because it is bad for your health, expensive and addictive.)

            Would I get a pass if I spent my money on meth instead? Coca-cola? Chocolate? Malt liquor? Lottery tickets? (All of which are addictive.) Or would people tell me I need to quit spending my money on that and get my *ish together?

            It doesn’t matter what it is. If the person is asking you for cash and spending money on unnecessary purchases, then they don’t have the money for whatever that “special treat” is, and need to quit buying it or proactively seek out help to get themselves off of it.

            1. Ad Astra*

              If you had an addiction to meth, alcohol, or gambling that was making it impossible for you to pay your bills, I would tell you that you need help. I wouldn’t lecture you about spending your money on “unnecessary” things, because I’m a compassionate person who understands that you can’t just will yourself to stop using meth, alcohol, or lottery tickets without significant support.

              As for chocolate and Coca-cola, I don’t think it’s likely an “addiction” to those substances would cost so much that you wouldn’t have money for gas.

              1. Green*

                You’re such a compassionate person that you assume commenters who disagree with you aren’t compassionate people? :)

                Again, if someone has an addiction and it is causing them serious effects, the request for money is a symptom of the addiction (and, while we’re at it, acquiring objects or spending money in general can be an addiction, as can food, particularly sugary items, but I guess that’s not a real “addiction” since you compassionately put it in scare quotes?). Giving someone who has an addiction money is ENABLING them. So, yes, you should tell them to address the underlying problem (which may also include recognizing the total cost of what they’re spending on their addiction) and tell them they need to get their selves together. (And lots of people can just will themselves to stop their addictions without support, cold turkey; some people need lots of support. It’s not one-size-fits-all.)

                1. Green*

                  Anyway, the whole point is that a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars can and should make a difference in deciding where you choose to spend your money. Steve G. says you shouldn’t go down to the level of candy bars, but that’s the whole principle of know-what-you-spend and then making sure that you’re spending your money in a way that aligns with your priorities and values for budgeting. Maybe the candy bars stay in the budget at the end of the day, but habitual or spontaneous purchases can both add up; at least if you add it up and question it, you’re making an informed decision.

                2. Ad Astra*

                  I’m sure you have some compassion, and I agree that sometimes giving someone money can be enabling. I just disagree that “Stop spending money on unnecessary things” is helpful advice. If this person were able to just quit cold turkey, as a few people are, then they likely would have done so long before it became a financial problem.

                  People who don’t have money for gas but can’t stop spending money on cigarettes/meth/booze/gambling/whatever need help. Maybe not necessarily from you (if it’s a coworker, for instance), but they can’t fix this alone.

                  Of course, we’re sort of mixing up the OP’s story and Stranger than fiction’s story, which aren’t really equivalent situations.

                3. MashaKasha*

                  I missed the part where you said your colleague, who spends as much on his smoking habit as you do on the maid, is hitting you and your other colleagues up for money and that you give that money to him. I scrolled up and still don’t see any reference to him doing it. All I saw was a post where you stated that he was spending too much money on cigarettes.

                  FTR, I agree that smoking is an evil and expensive habit, which is why I stopped smoking five years ago (finally succeeded after years of trying to quit) and also why I’ve been telling my teenage children not to even try. Sadly only one of them listened.

                4. Green*

                  I’m talking about Stranger Than Fiction’s story, which is what we’re replying to here, wherein her colleague repeatedly asks her for gas money while spending money on cigarettes and candybars. Asking a colleague for money is inappropriate. Repeatedly doing so is even more inappropriate. It becomes even more galling when they’re hitting up colleague for a necessity while spending money on unnecessary items.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          My question to you is this (and you may not see this because I didn’t notice this post until today myself):

          If your financial situation changed, would you be okay with cutting your maid service and doing the work yourself? Because that is what you might have to do to make ends meet. Let’s face it–if you’re poor and can physically do your own housework, it’s not strictly necessary. It definitely is a luxury.

          I get you having it. I would have it too if I could afford it, because I spend more time doing goddamn chores than I spend writing. I pay someone to mow my lawn because my shoulder is so effed up that it hurts me to do it–but when I don’t have the money, I have to do it myself. Despite the physical issue, having someone else do it IS a luxury. But in hard times, it’s one of the first things to go.

          1. Green*

            I’m not bragging about having a maid service. I’m using it as an example of a totally frivolous unnecessary expense (that costs the same as the cigarettes that people were pooh-poohing as such a small expense it shouldn’t be considered towards one’s budget) that I would *absolutely* cut before ever even CONTEMPLATING asking a colleague for cash (this is in response to to the sub-OP example, where colleague repeatedly asks for gas money while buying cigarettes and candy bars and people were like “Don’t judge the candy bars!” and then same people proved my exact point by “judging” my maid service).

      4. Jillociraptor*

        Really well put.

        We live in such an individualistic society with so little patience for others and commitment to collective betterment. It bums me out.

        1. Steve G*

          Tiz true. Somewhat related, one of the books I am reading goes into how the decline in civic organizations is contributing to this – The Great Degeneration – How Institutions Decay and Economies Die.

          My 2 cents from my short life is that the past 15 years have has ALOT of inflation in certain items (especially housing) coupled with lots of wage stagnation. This happened throughout history, but I think no one is seeing it now, because other things (music, fashion, TV, pop culture, etc.) haven’t changed as drastically at the same pace, so people aren’t getting the feeling that times has changed – but they have. I think people need to have a VISUAL AID to see inflation, and this is the first time it hasn’t happened. I mean, cars look pretty much the same as they did 15 years ago. So do clothes. Music hasn’t changed much. Its not like the difference between 2000 and 1985….or 1985 and 1970, etc. I think without the visual aids, people not impacted by the changes don’t see the changes.

          As a result, many (usually older) people don’t come across as sympathetic when younger or lower earners complain about COL issues, because they simply don’t see them, and think their similar salary in the 90s or 80s still has a similar purchasing power.

          As a result,

      5. LuvzALAugh*

        +1000000000000 Thank you Thank you Thank you. I remember the other day considering cutting my 1 dollar cup of coffee from my budget and was like really THIS is what I have to do for a company’s profits. Graduate degree level education, dedicated employee, skilled employee yet just make ends meet for basics. Don’t have cable. don’t have a cell phone plan, when my car that’s paid off dies (it’s coming soon) I can’t replace it. I really hope someone isn’t looking at my morning coffee as a sacrifce I should make because it is a luxury rather than looking at how crappy the wages are. Going to work to make someone else money the rest of your life in exchange for basic food and shelter ……………….. let’s not have the horrid parts of history repeat themselves only the lovely ones.

        1. Steve G*

          As you can probably tell, I 110% agree with you! Hell, this situation is exactly why my ancestors left Ireland and Czechoslovakia and why I am here! Not even to mention France in the 1700s.

      6. Relosa*

        Thank you for saying this for me. All the money-shaming going on in here (or close to it, as I get most of it comes from a place of well-meaning) is making me do my slow-breath-countdowns to chill and not be snarky.

        Situations like this happen ALL the time, and I am constantly in situations like this, and these have happened to me as well. SO many people are dealing with this and never say a damn thing, because it’s so *gasp* impolite to do so.

        The level of humility someone has to accept to admit that they can’t put gas in their car only after calling out several times should be enough to understand how precarious the coworker’s situation is. Period. Coworker has two kids and can’t get to work. Fix immediate problem first (carpooling/getting to work) then direct to EAP later. Don’t shame them about something they already know about.

      7. K.*

        I read an article by a social worker recently. She was working with a client who was employed full time as a home health aide or nurse’s aide or something like that. The client was a single mother of one. She was visiting food banks to get her through the month so the social worker tried to do a budget. After all necessary expenses – like, could not cross off one item – the client had three dollars left at the end of the month. She was eating from food banks because she and her kid couldn’t eat otherwise. There was no belt tightening to be done. And the client looked at the social worker knowingly, because she KNEW the social worker was going to say “Well, you can cut out this or that or the other,” because everyone says that, but the client really was living that close to the bone. To her credit, the social worker was chastened. But it really is possible to work full-time, not waste money, and have zero money left over.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Oh man. I have a lot of experience with nursing homes – the aides get paid peanuts. It’s horrible. They’re the ones who are wiping your loved one’s butt at all hours of the night and enduring verbal abuse from scared, angry and senile patients. Awful job

    4. anonanonanon*

      I’d find it extremely condescending and judgmental if someone shared a budgeting template with me because they thought I was spending money on “unnecessary things”. How someone spends their money is none of your business, especially if they didn’t ask for financial advice.

      A candy bar may seem excessive, but people who are poor deserve to treat themselves or their kids to nice things, even if that’s something as simple as a candy bar. So many people expect lower income people to only buy what they need to survive, as if they’re not entitled to buy themselves something nice every now and then.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Also, as gross as it is? A candy bar is a lot of calories for the price. So is a dollar menu sandwich from a fast food place. Good calories? No, but calories.

        1. anonanonanon*

          Exactly. When people live on a budget, they tend to buy the cheapest food that will fill them up. I get SO angry with people who criticize lower income or poor people for not making healthier choices, because when it comes down to it $5 can get you a couple of apples from the supermarket or five dollar hamburgers from a fast food place. Healthy food is expensive. High calorie and unhealthy food is usually cheap.

          1. KT*

            Truth. Being poor is incredibly expensive–you need to buy cheap foods to survive, which costs you your health

          2. simonthegrey*

            Even where healthy food is cheaper (because I know all the arguments; I lived on rice, beans, and eggs from my friend’s parents’ chickens for over a year when I was working retail) it isn’t always better. Healthy food requires that someone be able to cook (and therefore have learned from parents or family), that they have time to cook, that they don’t come home completely exhausted and still need to cook, clean up, go to bed, get up early, and do it all over. If I am a single parent or my spouse works an opposite shift, I may not have time to do all that with my kids. McDinner may give me time to actually give them baths, oversee the homework, maybe do some laundry, etc. Most people who talk about how easy it is to eat healthily have NEVER tried to do so while poor and exhausted.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Also, it requires that you have the facilities in which to cook a meal. Not everyone has access to a full kitchen all the time.

            2. Xarcady*

              Totally agree. At this moment, I’m working 20 hours a week at a retail job and 35 hours a week at a long-term temp job. The days I leave home at 7 am and return home at 10 pm–there’s no time on those days for cooking or shopping. Just barely enough time to race from one job to the other. And that’s 3-4 weekdays, every week. Weekends are spent doing about 15-17 hours at the store.

              And the days I pull a 9 hour shift at the store–nope, I’m not standing in the kitchen for another hour to cook dinner. I just want to sit down and do nothing for a while.

              I’m single. On the days I have time I can cook a big batch of something and freeze it in individual containers. One big casserole or batch of tomato sauce can yield 5-10 dinners. The return on investment for a family of four for the same amount of time and energy spent cooking would be 1-2 meals.

              1. Relosa*

                When I have multiple jobs, I refuse to let myself be gone for more than 10 hours. I just can’t do it anymore. There was a time recently when I was only working about 55 hours weekly between two jobs. Not too bad, right? Monday – Thursdays were easy and even a full 8 hour day was wonderfully split – a few horus in the morning, and a few in the evening. It was great!

                Except my weekends were like this, for months on end:
                Friday – 9am – 2:30pm, 6pm – 12midnight or later
                Saturday – 9am – 1pm, 5pm – 1am or later
                Sunday – 7AM – 1pm, 5pm – 9:30pm

                So that means in 60 hours, I would work 34+ plus one job had an 18-mile commute. The job I worked in the mornings was incredibly safety-sensitive. I tried so hard to get out of the 7am shift for safety, and it was the busiest shift of the week, but nobody – NOBODY – would take it (I worked solo).

                This went on for months and months. I had zero days off. I’m single, but I do have a dog and had a car that could not really handle the crazy driving around. I was still constantly behind on stuff and couldn’t even make enough money to maintain and repair my car. My saving grace that winter was that I had a heated garage – I paid an extra $50 in rent monthly for it but I don’t think my car would have made it through winter without it.

            3. Relosa*

              This. It takes work to keep your body healthy. Food is one of the simplest solutions, but one that requires a lot of labor. I even deliberately just keep raw produce on hand – celery, apples, berries, nuts, bananas, etc – because they are so easy go-tos, but I still have to cook a full meal once a day at least. Not to mention trying to keep yourself in shape. I’m thankful because I’m a vegetarian and that had such a great impact on my grocery budget – but in college I could get by on $20 weekly at the co-op, and now just a quick stop-up is usually twice that. I don’t buy processed foods or keep snacks in the house, I purchase staples and cook just about everything from scratch.

              America seriously has such a messed up work ethic and schedule.

              This whole thread reminds me when McDonald’s released the theoretical budget for their employees – that included having a second job, and sitll not making realistic ends meet.

              1. Ten*

                Yeah, and imagine if you had $20 a week to feed a family of 5. that’s what some people are dealing with.

                1. Relosa*

                  Exactly. I feel for the OP’s coworker. I don’t even have kids – the fact I can’t support them and have no ability to do anytime soon is one of the biggest reasons I don’t want kids.

              2. RMRIC0*

                The best part of that farce was how grossly it failed to understand the basic working conditions for minimum-wage employees (ie. you are part time and your boss/scheduling will make it nearly impossible for you to have a second job).

            4. Stemmie*

              When I was working to put myself through undergrad, on the days I had no time to cook, I always bought the calorie-densest thing from the vending machine outside the lecture hall (12 off-brand Oreos for a dollar!) because it was cheaper per calorie than, say, a chicken sandwich at the cafeteria.

        2. Anx*

          It boggles my mind that things are advertised as low calorie. Aren’t calories sort of what I’m buying?

          I mean, I do try to balance my sugar fat and protein and get some fresh food and micronutrients, but the biggest priority is getting as many calories as I can for the money. I try to get at least 1000 a day, more if I can.

        3. Jasmine*

          Interesting that you mention this. To this day, I scan the gram amount on the packaging in vending machines to find out which one has the most calories for the least price. I sometimes don’t even realize I am doing it.

      2. Steve G*

        +1. It scares me how much little some people live on and how frugal so many people actually are, I am so happy I don’t have to live like that, and want to actually help those people by bringing them out to lunch or dinner or coffee or a nice Christmas present or whatever at least to give them an occasional treat

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          A lot of places have “giving trees” around the holidays. You can choose a name and list of ideas and turn in a wrapped present (usually for kids, but some include adults) for Christmas. My mother participates every year through her church.

          Last year, my knitting guild created hand-knit hats for kids at low-income grade schools. I made two hats, and thought it was nice the kids were getting nice, warm, cozy hats instead of the scratchy, thin, cheap hats that would be all most of their parent could afford. (We also do community projects to knit for homeless adults and other groups, as well as gathering donations of needed items.)

          So, there are ways to give people tangible gifts that are both needed and appreciated.

      3. banana*

        The difference here is that the coworker had been borrowing money, and not repaying it, from STF. It’s not like the template was shared out of the blue.

      4. Green*

        I’d find it extremely condescending and judgmental if someone shared a budgeting template with me because they thought I was spending money on “unnecessary things” UNLESS I asked them for cash. Then it sort of comes with the territory.

        1. Ad Astra*

          No, that would still be extremely condescending and judgmental. If you don’t want to give someone gas money, which is totally your prerogative, you can kindly but firmly refuse.

          It does look like Stranger than fiction is saying this woman asked for help figuring out her money situation, not just gas money, so sharing the spreadsheet was reasonable and helpful. But sending someone budget advice because they asked you for some cash is like telling a panhandler to get a job. It’s mean spirited, and it’s likely something that person has already considered.

          1. Green*

            I disagree. If someone I know asks me for cash (or otherwise involves me in their financial life) then they are saying that they either (1) sincerely need help (that may or may not include cash) or (2) they’re someone who is rude and expects me to change the way I’m spending my money to support their personal preferences. It’s kinder to presume they’re in category #1, in which case they get my sincere help. Otherwise, I will happily keep my mouth shut on their finances.

          2. zora*

            i don’t think it is inherently or automatically mean-spirited, though. I think it is very possible to gently and quietly offer a suggestion and then drop it. It might not be something they had already considered. And this person is already talking to their coworkers about money issues.

            I think there is a way to be supportive in offering advice or a suggestion to a struggling coworker without being a jerk about it.

            1. Green*

              Exactly. Most people are just trying to help, and they’re sharing things that have worked for them, particularly if they’re already discussing finances, which opens the door to sharing information or opinions that you would ordinarily keep to yourself in an effort to be polite (which often means avoiding discussing finances at all). In general, one shouldn’t ask for money from colleagues at all, so I would assume that they’re friendly enough to have a frank but kind conversation if they’re friendly enough to ask for cash.

    5. Laurel Gray*

      Despite what many financial blogs and articles say, for MANY people, cutting out “small” things really will not change their situation. While cigarettes are an addiction and a whole different subject, that candy bar will not change a person’s financial situation much, if at all. Also, while I think the intentions may be truly sincere, it is completely out of line to give someone unsolicited budget advice because they ask for money. I think a simple no should suffice in these instances.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I love those financial articles. “Stop buying a $5 coffee at Starbucks every day and you’ll save $2,000 in a year!” The people who need the financial help don’t even have a car to get to Starbucks.

        1. Heather*

          Elizabeth Warren’s book “The Two-Income Trap” is a really great explanation of why the “latte factor” is a load of crap. Highly, highly recommend!

        2. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, when my husband lost his job, I was panicking over the loss of that income.
          People said:
          • Cancel cable (never had it)
          • bring lunch from home (already did)
          • stop going out to restaurants (didn’t do that anyway)
          • don’t buy the paper; read it online (not that much money)

          Those things weren’t going to add up to $40k in a year!

          1. NJ anon*

            Ditto! I hate all the “helpful hints” to save money. I already brown bag my lunch, drink coffee at home, don’t go to the movies, etc, etc. What’s left?

            1. Relosa*

              you know what’s sad – I’m living super-tight myself right now. I just ran out of coffee and filters at home this morning (how perfect!) and realized I really can’t afford the few bucks to go buy more grounds. But I do have a dollar, that I could use to get a single cup at a convenience store or fast food if I wanted.

              Our economy isn’t messed up or anything.

              1. Anx*

                And I don’t mean to sound like I’m judging anyone for making coffee at home, but I love how the #1 budgeting advice is one that diverts money away from local businesses.

                I want my local coffee shop to stay open, not to have everyone stay home and make coffee instead (I am not a daily, or even monthly coffee drinker). Sure it’s a good budgeting tip, but I can’t help but cringe at the advice.

                1. Relosa*

                  It’s definitely a losing cycle. I want to support local businesses, and I want to participate in major parts of the economy – buying a car, or a house for example. But that’s impossible for me these days. It really is.

              2. Nancy Drew*

                You can make a coffee filter out of a paper towel or napkin, if that helps. Unfortunately I have no substitute for coffee, but I feel your pain! You could go to Jiffy Lube and feign interest in the price of an emissions test–they usually have free coffee, soda, and popcorn there. Sometimes the tire places have free coffee too.

                1. Relosa*

                  There’s a coffee filter thief in my house – he will rectify it :) I’ve definitely used paper towels before, makes weak coffee though. Sigh!

          2. Charlotte Collins*

            A related one is the “how to cut your energy bills.” Since I live in an apartment, I really can’t install solar panels, switch to propane, or make most of those other changes (some of which are very region specific). They’re really written for people who have already have a house and just want to know what upgrades might help them save a few bucks or make their house more salable.

            This does make me think, though, that the coworker might look into whether his area has any programs to subsidize energy bills (some states do, especially for the elderly or those with children).

        3. Anx*

          Good grief, I’ve been less than 2000 annually in my worst years following the recession. I still buy an iced mocha or a coffee milkshake at least once a year, though.

      2. Sabrina*

        I saw a blog post on how to pay down your student loans and one suggestion was to take cheaper vacations. You know, instead of going to some place like Fiji, go to Greece instead. So much cheaper.

        1. NacSacJack*

          LOL!!! ROFLOL!!!

          Exactly!! I havent taken vacation anywhere other than family vacation properties for ten years because anytime I go, it costs $2000. Doesn’t matter where, it starts at $2000 and goes up.

        2. Tris Prior*

          *choking on my drink*

          Oh sure. Why didn’t I think of that?

          (the only time I take a “vacation” is when I travel for money-making purposes for my side business….)

      3. Green*

        Almost all of those articles say that you should write down what you spend and then consider cutting (or limiting) “those little things.” It’s not the $1 that will change your situation; it’s the cumulative effect and the habits. Added together, they almost certainly will make a difference — whether it’s $1 a day (that’s $365 a year, which covers an unexpected car problem that might otherwise end up on the credit card) or more.

        Folks on this board need to hang out on Mr. Money Mustache/FatWallet/SlickDeals/Bogleheads and listen to rich people talk about splitting 2-ply toilet paper before they do the “Poor people deserve nice things!” commentary.

        1. Heather*

          I think what you’re missing here is that rich people have the time/money/storage space to do things like buy in bulk or split toilet paper (do people really do that? Why not just buy cheap 1-ply paper on sale?). It’s really just a game to those people, because they don’t have to do it.

          Make those same people work 3 minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, while taking public transportation because they don’t make enough to pay for car insurance, and I guarantee you the game will lose its appeal. Maybe a few of them will have the energy to do it, but they’re exceptions. Most people will just be too exhausted and mentally fried at the end of the day.

          The point is — if people can’t get by without being exceptional, the system’s not working.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Buying in bulk and making your own laundry soap and switching to Netflix and Hulu instead of cable are great ways for middle-class families to save money so they can direct more of their income to savings, or family vacations, or whatever it may be.

            None of those suggestions are viable for a single parent working full-time who’s still unable to make ends meet.

            1. Green*

              So you’ve scoured the websites and NONE of the suggestions on any of those websites are viable for a single parent working full-time who’s still unable to make ends meet? NONE?

              You should tell that to the broke single parents working full-time who are doing all of those things to help their ends meet.

              (My point about “rich people” on the boards is that they people who follow that advice range from the truly destitute to the blue collars to multi-millionaires, not that it’s just rich people. And, yes, those people almost universally call into question whether someone really just “wants” something when they say they “need” it.)

              1. Rana*

                Are those boards really accessible to who are time- and money-poor though? Even if someone’s doing their surfing for free at the library, it still takes time that might be spent doing something more immediately necessary, like cooking a meal, driving to work, or helping a kid with homework.

                1. Green*

                  84% of households in the US own computers, and 74% of households in the US have a high speed connection. For people under 44 years old, the household computer ownership rate is closer to 94%. I can’t speak to how someone chooses to prioritize their time, but I don’t think there’s a huge burden associated with suggesting free message boards or websites on financial management. We can come up with lots of reasons why any particular solution may not work in an individual case, but it seems kind of silly to throw up these roadblocks to every potential solution offered. It’s an advice board directed to the general public; if it doesn’t work for you, then discard it.

    6. KT*

      I love the mentality that poor people can never have anything nice. How dare they have a candy bar as their treat/lunch! They should eat beans and save the 70 cents to prove they’re trying.

      Come one. Have a little compassion. When you’re broke, sometimes that candy bar is the one bright spot in your day.

      1. Helka*

        Ohhh yeah. And having been there — even a few months of being poor enough to eat nothing but the cheapest meals will wreck your health for years.

      2. Dorth Vader*

        Yup. My husband and I aren’t broke, but things are tight. Would it help if we gave up our $30/month coffee budget and $20 each/month flex spending? Not enough to justify losing the quality of life that comes from being able to grab Starbucks once a week. And, honestly, even when we were scrimping and saving and coming up short (PB&J sandwiches and pasta every day for the last week of the month) I still say it’s not worth giving up. Other people may have different opinions but as long as my budget works for me, I don’t particularly care what they think (unless they are my spouse of course).

        1. Artemesia*

          I’m betting you are not about to lose your jobs because you can’t afford gas though. And then where does he get the money for whatever he is spending it on now?

        2. Steve G*

          Wow I really couldn’t live like that! Kudos to you, hopefully you make more soon. I have (slight) health issues and would feel sick if I ate pasta and sandwiches for days on end, I need lots of veggies to feel good. Thank God they are cheap here in NYC, but if they weren’t, I’d still have to source them

      3. Ad Astra*

        Probably 50 percent of my birthday cakes growing up were purchased with food stamps, and I will karate chop anyone who tries to give poor folks the side eye for buying a box of Duncan Hines or a $7 steak every now and then.

        1. KT*

          People forget that the poor are still PEOPLE, and still need some stress relief, or celebration, or some recognition that they are in fact human.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I used to go once a week or a fortnight and buy something special and cook a nice meal with it. The grocery next to my work in CA had seafood on sale all the time (we lived by the ocean so it was fresh, too), or I’d nip down to the wharf and grab something. The rest of the time, I ate at work (which came out of my paycheck, with a discount), or I’d eat crap from the supermarket.

            I actually ate pretty well in terms of healthy food–salads, soup, lots of apples and peanuts, and fish. And I didn’t have a car so I was super fit. I walked everywhere or took the bus, which was good for such a smallish city. Damn, I wish I could do that where I live now. :P

        2. Laurel Gray*

          I have yet to meet a small child who asks to be born into poverty or be young during a time of financial hardship for their parents! I can only imagine how the OP’s coworker’s children are going through life without their mother and grandmother and watching dad do everything by himself.

          1. simonthegrey*

            I also hear people saying “then those parents should not have had kids.” It isn’t always that simple. My dad was laid off when I was a younger and my sister still a kid, and was out of work for three years. Luckily my mom was working and they had savings, because my dad had been making decent money before then. My sister was seven or eight – should my parents not have had her almost a decade earlier because there was a chance of Dad losing a job? Of course not. Maybe should people think about not having kids when they’re struggling? I guess, but once those kids are BORN, punishing them for existing is a pretty crappy outlet.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Also, isn’t society kind of dependent upon someone having kids? I guess only those who are completely comfortably well off and somehow know that they always will be should have kids?

              1. Anx*

                I’ve come to accept that I’ll either never be able to have kids, or have kids I can’t truly afford.

                I’m afraid that if I wait to find out that I’ll be financially sound with a good cushion, it will be too late. I would probably have to make the decision to do it when I have a few years of steady ish income, but not before I have a real good nest egg.

                It’s been weighing pretty heavily on me the past few years. I feel like I’m destroying my would-be family by my inability to earn a good salary and find enough hours while I’m young.

                1. Knit Pixie*

                  I hear you Anx, and I just want you to know that you are not alone. It doesn’t help when people see it as:

                  Financial worries + The question of whether or not to have children = Pure selfishness and an Unwillingness to sacrifice luxuries,

                  Rather than a consideration of:

                  If I have a child will my family become homeless and go hungry because I don’t make enough money?

                  I get it ALL the time. People see me alternating ramen and instant oatmeal for lunch everyday, see me have to pop the hood of my car to start it with a screw driver, see me walking everywhere on days I don’t have to go to work to save fuel, and then tell me how I’d better get cracking on having those kids!

                  I have been offered such pearls as: “you’re not getting any younger you know” and “you are never really ready to have kids, you just do it!” and “aren’t you afraid your husband will divorce you?”

                  Hang in there Anx, whatever decision you make for yourself will undoubtedly be the right one.

                2. I'm a Little Teapot*

                  It isn’t your fault, Anx. You aren’t “destroying your would-be family.” Don’t blame yourself for a crappy situation.

                  And, Knit Pixie – Wow – the things people say to you would be grossly offensive regardless of your financial situation (when and whether you choose to have children is none of their business), but the finances add a whole new level of awfulness. I’ll bet these are the same people who then turn around and whine about irresponsible welfare queens popping out lots of kids to get more benefits, with zero self-awareness.

                3. Knit Pixie*

                  Ha! I didn’t even mention the worst of it Little Teapot. Other than to say that many of these people would begrudge me a dime under any circumstance (2009-2010 were bad years for us, but we were treated like swine for not wanting to be homeless, and soo soo selfish for borrowing money when our cousins with kids were barely scraping by), I will save my complete outrage for a day I have the energy and wherewithal to navigate the open thread.

        3. ExceptionToTheRule*

          Government cheese, rice & powdered milk were unfortunate staples in my youth that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        I guess y’all missed the part where the candybar was a treat for the kids car ride home (and at dinner time)

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          And ive helped this person in plenty of other ways, free babysitting, sharing my lunch etc

      5. sam*

        Or my favorite, the “scare” stories about how poor people have (gasp) refrigerators. or cellphones.

        You know, those refrigerators that most likely came with the apartments they’re renting. And even if they didn’t, is there something “luxurious” about having a refrigerator? If we expect people to actually be frugal about their food consumption choices (another bugaboo with the craziness we see over food stamp spending), how are they supposed to do that if they have nowhere to actually store food for more than a day?

        And cellphones? Nevermind that most people forego landlines these days in favor of cellphones, which can be cheaper, depending on what plan you get. Nevermind that cellphones are often considered a basic necessity for things like finding a job (or keeping a job). Nevermind that a cellphone is a hell of a lot cheaper as a device to get email on than a computer, and in particular if you’re housing is questionable, spending $30-40/month on a prepaid phone with data plan on something like Boost is a lot cheaper than paying for (a) rent (b) home internet service (c) a computer and (d) a landline, and the number/contact info travels with you if you move from place to place.

        (I got into it on facebook this morning with someone who was deeply offended by the sight of a homeless person who had a mobile phone, because they “should have used that money to pay rent”, as if the two things were in any way comparable. Rent. In NYC. For the price of a cellphone.)

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Also, if they have a roommate, a cell phone keeps you from potentially being responsible for somebody else’s long distance calls. (I knew that to happen plenty back before cell phones were common.) Not to mention the fact that people working low-wage jobs often don’t have a personal phone line at work, but often do need to be contacted regarding children and other family members that they are responsible for.

          1. sam*

            ugh, i do remember the monthly roommate sit-down in college to go through the phone bill. There were highlighters and calculators involved. There were always 1 or 2 calls that no one would claim.

          2. Tau*

            Also, if they have a roommate, a cell phone keeps you from potentially being responsible for somebody else’s long distance calls. (I knew that to happen plenty back before cell phones were common.)

            *cringes* You have no idea what terrible memories you’ve just awoken!

            I never did get any of the money my flatmate owed me for the endless hours of phone-calls on my phone bill back.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yeah, when my college roommate did an overseas internship, came back home, and then made frequent calls to her boyfriend who was still overseas, that phone bill was Not Pretty.

          3. TootsNYC*

            Not to mention the fact that people working low-wage jobs often don’t have a personal phone line at work, but often do need to be contacted regarding children and other family members that they are responsible for.

            Or regarding shift assignments. Or new, hopefully better paying, jobs.

        2. KJR*

          Ooohhh, don’t get me started on the crap people post on Facebook, things about which they know nothing!!

        3. Steve G*

          I read “Nickeled and Dimed” a few years back in almost one sitting, it is about a woman who lives in poverty and looks for work at Walmart and as a maid, etc., and deal with all of this. An awesome but sad book I recommend.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I second this. That is a great book. I’ve done some of those kinds of jobs, but I think it’s an eye-opener for those who haven’t.

          2. Ezri*

            I can’t recommend this book enough. I know it’s gotten some criticism, but the author observes many things that people just don’t think about when they haven’t experienced it. Like her coworkers who were spending most of their money on motel rooms because they couldn’t save enough for the deposit and other up-front fees for an apartment. Or having to live somewhere without a full kitchen so you’re stuck eating fast food or granola bars. I learned a great deal about what I take for granted from that book.

        4. Anx*

          Oh man, I’d love it if I could get rent for $15 a month so long as the lease was on my mom’s plan.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          Oh hell yeah. I saw a Net10 basic smartphone for $10 in a flyer last week. You have to get the $50 a month plan to run the smartphones, but it’s $45 if you do auto-pay, and you can do internet on the phones . I was paying $80 a month for a landline and DSL. The point is, just because someone has a mobile phone doesn’t mean it cost $500 and is 018943486469687 a month.

          A Net10 feature phone is even cheaper and you can do that for like $15 a month.

        6. Anx*

          Omg the refrigerator one.

          I’ve hard that in LA it’s common to rent apartments without a fridge, but can you imagine trying to negotiate for a lower rent with your landlord in most markets if you skipped the fridge?

          1. Cactus*

            “Why yes, of course, Renter, I will take the time and effort to remove an extremely heavy appliance from your apartment just so I can then make less money from you every month! What a wonderful lose-lose situation you’ve set up for me!”

      6. Karyn*

        And yet, when people spend food stamp money on what others determine to be “junk food,” BECAUSE it’s cheap, they get judged for that just as hard as they would for a $10 steak. Amazes me.

      7. Green*

        That’s all good until you start asking someone else for money for your “bright spot in your day.”

        1. Coco*

          Why would that be so unreasonable? If someone asked me to buy them a candy bar because they had few other joys in life, I’d do it (assuming I had available means).

          1. Green*

            Because the asking includes an assumption that the person has the available means, and in order for it to not be unreasonable you need to have a relationship where the person feels no pressure to say yes. We also have social conventions around what is appropriate behavior in different settings, and asking your colleague (who you only know because you both go to the same place to earn money to spend) for money is inappropriate. Asking your brother or best friend might be very different.

        2. Ezri*

          I think the point is it’s a crap situation. It *shouldn’t* be so hard for someone to make ends meet that they have to ask anyone for money, but sometimes it is. There are manipulative scammy people out there who will ask for money and blow it, but there are also people in genuine need. It’s not black and white.

          Maybe I can’t financially accept the burden of giving a coworker money for gas / candy / etc, but that doesn’t mean I should condemn him/her as rude for asking. Desperation’s a funny thing. People in poverty have enough problems without us shaming them for not keeping them to themselves.

      8. LabTech*

        Yes, I can relate to this so much. When I was long-term unemployed, losing weight from rationing my rice and beans, and not sure how I’d scrape together rent the next month, the occasional bottled drink from the gas station meant so much to me.

        Financially, I’d justify having it on days I was planning on sending out my resume for position that matched my qualifications because the boost would help me with proofreading application materials and before sending them out.

        1. Ad Astra*

          After a mostly poor upbringing and several years of financial struggle post-college, the ultimate financial freedom in my mind is not having to worry about a $50 overdraft fee because I bought a Coke on a whim without checking my balance. Buying a house probably feels good too, but those incidental purchases, man. They’re everything.

          1. Helka*

            My folks, who are older and have been doing financially very well for years, had that moment when they overheard my roommate and I having the “okay, who’s driving?” talk based entirely around “Okay, I’ve got X amount of gas left and I can’t fill my tank till Friday. Can you drive?” Mom told me later that it had been shocking to her to realize that I was in a position where I could just fill my tank whenever I needed it, without worrying about having the $40-50 in my account.

            1. Anx*

              I think my mom thinks I’m cheap and don’t enjoy nice things and am doing it just to make a statement or something. The truth is, I just have a completely different financial situation than she does or she did at my age.

          2. Anx*

            Oh you’re so onto something.

            I look at people casually swiping their cards to get an iced tea or something like that and it transforms me back to a time before college graduation when I took those things for granted. Now, I still treat myself and splurge on some things (even frivolous things) but they are very-carefully budgeted for now.

        2. Anx*

          Sometimes the boost is psychological, sometimes physiological.

          Sometimes it a was a cookie a bought across the street at a cute cafe before going back the library. Something about buying something I didn’t truly need and going into a store that wasn’t a grocery store brought back so many memories of partaking in commerce and small town life. Sometimes it’s getting an avocado and feeling a little less brain fog that you would have with pasta.

      9. Relosa*

        Yeah, why don’t they go home and whip up their ramen! Make it gourmet with hotdogs! But not the fancy all-beef ones the butcher wrapped fresh this morning – that’s too spendy for you.

        Because all the people succumbing to convenience foods are the ones who have the time and luxury of only needing one job to go home and make the dinner.

        One of the biggest things I noticed, in my experience, was how drastically not having a car changed my spending. Even on my terrible income, and with my home-made color-coded Excel budget, I was still able to sock away an ok savings chunk each month (this was, of course, kind of laughable as I was saving up to get my federal loans out of deferment and start paying them so they weren’t sitting around generating interest while I couldn’t afford to pay them as is) and I had a really good habit of building on that planned savings by matching any ‘fringe’ spending at the end of each pay period also into my savings account. At the time, though, I had a car and was neglecting repairs because I really couldn’t afford them (And my savings wasn’t going to help either, not for awhile). But I was able to see a big-picture of what I was doing.

        Then my car died, and I started relying on transit to get to work – easy routes, very accessible areas, mind – and the amount of money I ended up spending on convenience food skyrockted. Because while the commute between home and Job 1 was alright and doable – and even better than driving IMO, the commute for Job 2 was awful and weird hours and not at all fun, plus I had back to back shifts all the time between the two jobs. Even though I had a coffee maker at home, gas-station coffee and donuts or hard boiled eggs and clif bars became my regulars on busy days. I wasn’t saving money and it cost me more to not have a car, which is shocking. I keep every single receipt and log every single purchase.

        1. Steve G*

          This made my head spin, I couldn’t imagine living like this. I did the commuting between jobs thing for 3 years when I taught ESL in Prague, but at least the public transport was OK, and the takeout options better/not expensive. But to live like this as a long term lifestyle? I don’t wish it on anyone!

      10. Not So NewReader*

        If poor people should not have candy bars at all, then the opposing statement is that rich people should eat them all the time. The logic is just not there.

        And frankly if “quitting” candy bars is necessary then your budget is going to tank anyway because your situation is very precarious, at best. Just buy the candy bar.

        I loaned a stranger five dollars. My bosses said I was foolish to do that because I would never see the money again. hmmm. It’s FIVE dollars. I am not going to go bankrupt if he does not pay me. I think sometimes people lose their sense of scale. Telling a person to bail a basement full of water by using a teaspoon is not really helpful advice – the scale is way off kilter.

        I think OP’s coworker needs a two prong attack for his situation. He needs something for immediate relief and he needs a plan for long term relief. Sometimes churches will help out with gas money, or church staff may know of organizations that will help with gas money. Then he needs a list of resources that he can use as part of a longer term plan.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          If I can afford to help someone out with five dollars, then I feel like I’m doing pretty well. If I can’t let the quarter in the cart at Aldi go once in a while, then I’m pretty bad off. Besides, karma. People have helped me, so I try to help them when I can.

  10. MegEB*

    I think telling his boss is his best option. I know it might be uncomfortable, but he and the boss can figure out a long-term solution, whether it’s telecommuting, a raise, or something else. Maybe you could help him prepare what he’s going to say in advance?

    1. Another HRPro*

      The OP should NOT tell the boss. But encouraging the friend to talk to their boss is a good option.

      1. MegEB*

        I never suggested the OP tell the boss, nor will I ever. The coworker with financial issues should bring it up himself.

    2. NacSacJack*

      I disagree. I dont think its STF’s business to tell the boss. But if the boss asks, I think STF should simply states, “Yes, its a problem, ask him. ” And keep mouth shut.

      1. MegEB*

        Oh my goodness. I never said for the OP to tell the boss. That’s a gross overstepping of boundaries and will do nothing but plant the OP squarely in the middle of a situation she doesn’t need to be in. However, I did say that I think the coworker having issues should tell the boss, as I believed (and still believe) it’s the the best option. All I suggested the OP do is maybe help the coworker prepare what he’s going to say in advance, as walking into situations like this with a script in mind can be helpful.

      1. MashaKasha*

        He’s a great performer. And he can only afford to have gas in his tank for 4 days a week. This tells me he’s not being paid enough for his great performance. This is why he deserves a raise, not based on what he needs.

          1. MashaKasha*

            No, but if I had a great performer whom I wanted to keep and whom I’d hate to lose because he literally cannot afford to commute to my office from his home, I’d make sure that he can afford to commute to my office from his home. I’ve been strapped for cash over the past year, but never so strapped that I can’t put gas in my tank – I am well compensated though – if this man has trouble with expenses as basic as this, my assumption is that he’s underpaid.

            1. Green*

              Assume he and OP are equally high performers and that both are replaceable. His chronic absenteeism, for which he has been claiming is sick leave, has come to your notice. He informs you that he can’t afford to commute. You would pay him more than OP because he has kids and his wife died? Or do you give everyone a proportionate raise? Do you pay employees with significant health problems more than healthy employees? Etc.?

              1. Green*

                (I’ll cut to the chase. The answer is no; this raises massive equity problems and legal problems.)

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  It doesn’t raise any legal problems. They can give him a raise for any reason at all, as long as they’re not giving him preferential treatment over others for legally protected reasons. It may not be fair, but it’s totally legal

                2. zora*

                  Also, I would argue this is different than randomly giving your employees raises because of what they ‘need’ to live on. This is clearly a short term situation for this guy! It just happened. I think as an employer, it is very different to come up with some accommodations for someone having a short term financial crisis, then giving someone a raise because they spend more on health care. This guy was coming in every day until a short while ago, at which point people started noticing. It’s not like he’s been like this since he started working there.

                3. MegEB*

                  Just because it started happening recently doesn’t make it a short term situation. His wife and his MIL are pretty permanently dead, so it’s not like this is going to magically get better somehow. And no, this doesn’t raise any legal issues. If giving him more money is what it takes to keep him on as an employee, and his manager decides that the raise is worth it to keep him on, then they can give him whatever raise they want.

                4. zora*

                  True, I guess I didn’t mean short term as in, it’s going to get better soon. I just think it’s different when someone who has been a strong worker has a sudden financial crisis, than if it was someone whose financial situation had been affecting their work schedule all along. It would be strange for an employer to go to each employee and constantly calibrate their salary to their expenses, but in this case it’s a financial crisis and it makes sense to make an adjustment to help him deal with a recent situation.

                5. Green*

                  There are definitely legal issues. Some states protect family status (married vs. unmarried) or family responsibilities (children vs. no children) or presence of a disability. Basing compensations on employee expenses instead of some permutation of (role + company performance + individual performance + individual qualifications) is going to be extremely problematic from a legal perspective.

                6. Green*

                  Also, even if you are a lawyer (and especially if you’re not) the sentence “It doesn’t raise any legal problems” should probably never come out of your mouth/keyboard.

              2. doreen*

                But you can’t really make that assumption. If the OP said he was underpaid , I’d go with it, because the OP would have reason to know. But I know plenty of people who have trouble with basic expenses ( gas, commuter rail tickets etc ) who are not underpaid . They have trouble for various and different reasons – some their fault and others not their fault. Some spend 25% of their income on lottery tickets and others are single parents with multiple children who can’t manage on an average or above average salary for their field. If you make $30K for a job where the average salary is $30K , you’re not being underpaid even if your personal circumstances are such that you can’t manage on that amount.

                I don’t think the people who are making this assumption are following the logic to its conclusion. Assuming he must be underpaid because he’s having trouble with basic expenses would mean that a former coworker of mine was being underpaid because his money was sometimes very tight – even though he earned the same six figure salary as the rest of those in his title who weren’t trying to support a current spouse and four kids on it.

                Giving him a raise doesn’t necessarily raise any legal problems (although it would probably cause all sorts of other problems- if I were a single parent in that office, I would certainly be wondering why he got a raise and I didn’t when I wasn’t calling out sick once a week and it might turn into a legal problem if I concluded it was because he’s male ) , but that’s a completely different issue from whether he’s being underpaid.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Why does the solution have to be a raise? Odd stuff happens. It could be that the boss’ cousin lives near Coworker and works a block away from Coworker. It could be that Cousin would be happy to give Coworker a ride. In rural areas people are painfully aware of all the commuting issues and can be very willing to help.

      2. MegEB*

        You’re right, normally, and I know Alison has said the same thing on this blog before. And it might be that management says they can’t give said coworker a raise, but this situation is dire enough that they might be willing to slide a bit on that, especially if they’re worried about losing him to a higher-paying company. Even if they can’t/won’t offer a raise, him explaining the situation might still prompt them to change their policy on a compressed work week, or allow him to telecommute, or find another solution I haven’t been able to think of yet. Either way, I think it’s worth a shot.

        1. zora*

          or at least just give him a break on taking days off while he tries to sort out the new normal.

      3. AnotherFed*

        No, but if his only options are get fired for not getting to work or attempt to work out a solution with his boss, he should absolutely attempt to work out a solution.

      4. Marcela*

        In theory this is right, but you can’t pretend that in this country, we all get decent salaries.

  11. Steve G*

    Well, it sounds like he is truly, truly underpaid. If your area is spread out, I am assuming it is rural, which means the cost of living should be low. In some circumstances I would think “well its not the company’s responsibility to pay for his kids, he decided to have them,” however, the job isn’t paying for them apparently because he can’t even afford to feed them.

    I’m pro you pushing him talking to the boss, and if he doesn’t budge, I would if he continued to call out sick (heck, that looks bad anyway, how much worse can he look?!). At the very least, the employer needs to know that its low salaries are bad for employee retention, and I’ve gotten the feeling that quite a few bosses didn’t understand what the peons needed to make in order to afford to work there.

    I wouldn’t be pro-talking-to-boss if you were in the suburbs of a major city or in a major metropolitan area of the NE corridor, because someone there can claim the same thing making close to 6 figured. When I was single, renting, and earning in the $50Ks, my bank account regularly went to $0 when I lived in the NYC suburbs, because $50K = less than $3K to live on most months, which was less than $300 for food, gas, and all incidentals and emergencies after major bills were paid, and with the price of food, most of that $ went to food. A car repair was a huge expense at that salary, even though a salary in the 50s sounds good to a lot of people.

    1. SherryD*

      Without knowing more, I wouldn’t assume he’s underpaid. Some people are dreadful budgeters, or have serious personal issues (debt, health problems, supporting family, addiction…).

      1. Steve G*

        I am against the idea that budgeting is key in this era of rampant underemployment and wage stagnation, and from my experience that most people are generally great living on how little they are bringing in, but I mention that above under “Stranger than Fiction’s” comment.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I don’t know if its key either, Steve, it was just a story i wanted to share, because in her case i think she saw the light.

      2. PlainJane*

        I’d agree with other commenters that budgeting per se probably isn’t the issue (and I really love the compassion in most comments – thank you for not being judgmental or hateful to poor people!). I concur with the person who recommended a referral to EAP. Sometimes people don’t realize that there’s community or other assistance available to reduce costs of certain things (e.g. reduced-cost prescriptions, help with medical bills, free or low-cost support services, loan consolidation). An expert might be able to connect him with resources to stretch his salary further.

        1. KJR*

          Yes!! EAPs are so underutilized I think. I try to get the word out about their extensive services, even (when appropriate) sharing that I have used them a few times, in the hopes of helping to remove any potential stigma that may be attached. Sometimes it’s really hard asking for help.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Being unable to feed your kids and buy enough gas to get to work doesn’t guarantee he’s underpaid, but it’s a really strong possibility. It’s possible that this guy sucks at budgeting or has tons of gambling debt or something, but I’d rather give him the benefit of the doubt.

      Not to be nitpicky, but there are many larger cities that have a relatively high cost of living but are spread out with few public transportation options. Houston and Atlanta come to mind. (Phoenix used to be that way, but I’m not sure if/how that’s changed since the light rail was built.) My guess is that he lives in an outlying suburb for the more affordable housing and has to commute a significant distance to work.

      1. the_scientist*

        It might not even be “bad” debt. He may have sky-high student loan payments. I believe the number 1 cause of bankruptcies in the US is medical debt- he or a family member may have been ill at one point and that could be why his income is not enough to cut it. There are a million different reasons, but I wouldn’t automatically jump to “poor at budgeting”, especially for a seemingly honest person with a good work ethic.

        Also for the person suggesting offering budgeting advice upthread, a). No and b). this is one of those situations where “there but for the grace of God go I” might be a useful phrase to keep in mind.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          Just to echo the student loan thing – student loans (and school related credit card debt) can be the reason why someone with a very successful career is living check to check or with roommates for a decade+ after finishing school. When your student loan payment looks like the rent on a one bedroom, many luxuries will have to wait. I know quite a few people who graduated from law school in the last 5 years slumming it. Making $80k+ and living like they make half that with 2 mouths to feed – Navient and NelNet.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, I pay $900 a month in student loans (thanks, law school!), and that’s by stretching out my payments over 30 years. I am not poor, but I have a roommate, a 10 year old car, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, and I do not live the high life.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          This is a good point—if he has student loans, he can get on an income-based repayment plan. He’ll be paying for longer (and more interest), but it will lower his monthly payments and it’s easy to do.

          1. Natalie*

            Unfortunately those plans only apply to federal loans. Most of the crippling student loan debt is made up of private loans that don’t qualify for any government programs and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

            1. The Strand*

              Private servicers can and do offer income-based repayment plans; I think what you’re talking about is the program that allows you to pay less and get the amount forgiven if you do public service work for ten years.

              1. Turanga Leela*

                Not sure which Natalie was thinking of; I was thinking of Pay As You Earn, Income-Based Repayment, and Income-Contingent Repayment. I think she’s right and these don’t work for private loans.

                It’s confusing, though, because I had Grad Plus loans (eligible!) that came through Citibank.

              2. Natalie*

                Ah, good to know. The PSLF program is fairly new, but for years there’s been income based repayment through the government that forgave anything outstanding after 25 years. For whatever reason I read Turanga Leela as referring to that.

            2. Karyn*

              Just as an FYI, federal loans can’t be discharged either, unless you can prove an extremely difficult to prove situation where you literally-cannot-ever-ever-EVER pay back those loans. Mom’s a BK attorney and half of the debt people have anymore is from their student loans. It pains her every time she has to tell them they’re SOL on those.

            3. Case of the Mondays*

              Private (and federal) loans can be refinanced through SoFi but they are picky about who they will accept and you likely need a good salary and good credit to get their low interest rate. The link attached to my name includes my story doing a refi with them. It was a great deal for me but I was lucky to qualify. There is also a referral link on my site that gives a $100 bonus to someone who signs up using it.

              1. MegEB*

                I also refinanced my loans through Citizens Bank, and ended up saving money as well. I now have a lower monthly payment, a lower interest rate, and I’ll pay off my private loans two years faster than if I had stuck with the original lender. The paperwork can be annoying, but I am so, so glad I did it.

              2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

                I’ll throw in a plug for CommonBond. They have a hybrid 10 year loan option where the first 5 years are at a fixed rate and the last 5 are variable rate. That’s a good choice for someone who’s paying down their debt aggressively, because with the low LIBOR now the lender can offer a lower interest rate for the fixed rate portion of the loan than they would otherwise. So you have fewer years of risking interest rate fluctuation.

                And their customer service is unparalleled. Really a great team.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Which is why financial counseling is important. That includes a budget of course, but it is more than that. A good financial counselor may know of tactics or programs that would eliminate/reduce debt burden. Say, for example, the person was underinsured and had medical bills. As an honest person they are trying to pay them off, usually at a high interest rate. They may not know that many hospitals negotiate bills down to a lower amount. They may not know that there are assistance programs for the bills. Without good financial counsel someone from the working poor may pay more than someone that is either on public assistance or someone that has full insurance! The person really needs to bring the issue forward to the manager for resolution. Otherwise this situation will resolve itself in a manner that is catastrophic to the person (getting fired).

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yes, true financial counseling (not just help establishing a budget) could benefit this coworker, especially if he has some kind of debt.

        4. Ad Astra*

          Yes indeed. My student loan payments are more than my rent. Not more than my half of the rent; more than my entire rent. That debt is why I drive a crappy car, why I don’t own a home, why I can’t afford to attend your destination wedding, why all my shoes are from Target…

          1. Green*

            I had $2500/month in student loan payments (just paid it off in April), but if it came down to it, I’d have defaulted on those in a heartbeat over risking my job. Ain’t no bills getting paid if I don’t have a job.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Hmm, that would be a tough call for me. Defaulting would probably cost you so much in the long run that it wouldn’t be worth it, but it’s hard to know. At least with unemployment insurance you can pay all or some of your loans while you look for a new gig. I’m glad I never had to make that choice.

        5. Green*

          Yeah, but you should almost certainly default on the medical debt (or declare BK) or default on the student loan payment before skipping out on work for lack of gas money. Getting to work should literally come right after “I literally need this to survive” and before “Everything else.”

        6. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          The challenge with deciding if someone is “underpaid” is that is can really vary based on their family situation and a whole host of other factors. All of my employees are at least $4 over living way (many are much higher). That’s plenty of money for fun vacations, and more in addition to the basics if you are single or have a spouse that works, etc. If you’re a single parent with 9 kids, there’s no way you could do anything but the very basics on that. Employers can’t base wages on each person’s family situation, their medical debt, their health status, etc. I make way, way above living wage, but because of my family situation and other needs, there is no way I could make ends meet with substantially less – but that doesn’t mean I’d necessarily be underpaid at a job that paid less.

          1. Green*

            +1. Being compassionate and understanding doesn’t mean that you base wages on individual employees’ expenses, no matter how compelling.

      2. Stephanie*

        I live in the Phoenix area. Light rail is ok, but unless you live and work on the line, it doesn’t supplant having a car. It’s just not extensive enough and doesn’t cover suburb-to-suburb commuting. There are buses (definitely more in the center of the city), but bus coverage is pretty bad or nonexistent in the outlying areas. It’s still a car city and wages can be pretty low, so I could see how gas costs would cost a significant portion of his income out here (I spend a ton on gas myself).

      3. The Strand*

        You are very correct regarding it being widely spread out, but Houston has a very low cost of living compared to most American cities, actually. There’s a lot of data suggesting that only in Houston, and a few other cities, can a cop or a teacher buy a house on their income. Seattle used to be in that group but not anymore.

        Inner loop Houston (the old border for the city) has the most options for public transportation, both a train and bus system. Outer loop Houston, gated by Beltway 8 and the Sam Houston Tollway, also has access to a few stops on the Metro Rail, and bus service. What is horrible and dire is the situation for people who live outside these areas, such as Fort Bend County, Galveston County and especially Brazoria County. There is virtually NOTHING in Pearland, one of Texas’ fastest growing cities, and a major home for people commuting to the Texas Medical Center, unless you are willing to pay $5 each way – and that’s if the little bus has room for you that day. Yet people wonder why Pearland’s roads are completely gridlocked throughout the day.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Houston’s cost of living isn’t ridiculous, but it’s awfully high compared to the outlying areas you mentioned, or most of central Texas (excluding Austin), or almost all of west Texas and south Texas. Certainly it’s higher than most rural areas of the country, which was my real point.

          I have several college friends in Houston and do not envy their commutes one bit. One friend says she can see her apartment from her office, but it takes her 20 minutes to get home.

          1. The Strand*

            Oh, if you were meaning the Inner Loop being relatively high compared to most other parts of Texas, then yes, I’d agree. As far as the outlying areas I mentioned, there are many neighborhoods that are pretty hefty for example in Sugar Land (Fort Bend), Friendswood (Galveston), and Pearland (Brazoria). You can buy a decent Outer Loop house for the same amount in many neighborhoods – there’s a lot of land. Some folks wouldn’t dream of living outside 610, though.

            Compared to the other top 25 cities in size, though, Houston is much less expensive. You could buy two houses in the outer loop for what it costs you to buy one in most American cities.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Hmm, I definitely thought Sugar Land, Friendswood, and Pearland were in Harris County. Just goes to show what I know.

              1. The Strand*

                There is a sliver in Harris County that is considered “Friendswood” for postal reasons, but technically it’s unincorporated Harris County.

        2. Stephanie*

          It may have calmed down since oil is crashing a bit now, but Inner Loop Houston got relatively pricey the last couple of years (at least according to college friends who were stayed in the area after graduation). Admittedly, it’s not as bad as Manhattan or something, but I was amazed at some of the rent amounts I heard about there (compared to just a few years prior when I lived there). I could get why people were out in Fort Bend County.

          1. innerloop*

            Nope, it’s still rising like crazy, and we’re one of the hot spots in TX where most people pay over half their income for housing. It was reasonable 20 years ago, now it is more in line with other major cities.

            1. Stephanie*

              Uggggh. That sucks. I was there from 2004-2008 and it was semi-reasonable. My parents used to own some property in the Med Center and are sort of kicking themselves for selling it.

              1. Stephanie*

                To add: they sold the condo for cash back in 2008 like a week after they listed it. It was insane.

          2. The Strand*

            Besides oil and gas, the other driver seems to have been people buying from California. Pretty much importing the same buying behavior that ran up costs in Portland, OR.

              1. The Strand*

                Blows my mind to think San Diegans, after the snarling aimed at Arizona, might willingly become “Zonies”!

    3. K2015*

      I agree – I think that this person must be very underpaid; I’m surprised by how many comments automatically assume it’s HIS fault (not budgeting well, etc.). Nothing in the original comment suggests that this person is anything BUT responsible… and – regardless – why not offer them the benefit of the doubt?

    4. Letter Writer*

      I don’t know if underpaid is exactly accurate–it’s hard to say–we’re in a very rural area where job opportunities are low, and the jobs that exist all pay about the same–they’re not highly specialized or require technical degrees.

      He and I make about the same and I manage fine on the salary–I pay the bills but don’t have a whole lot left over, but I’m single with no responsibilities. He is a single dad (his wife passed away), so he is carrying a larger burden than most.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, “underpaid” is tough to call, in that there are plenty of low-paying industries and fields where that’s just how the market is; there are definitely wages from my university it’d be tough to raise a couple of kids on. And unless you’ve got other family around, child care costs can be huge.

        And it doesn’t sound like he asked for a loan–he told you what was going on when you asked. So it’s not like he’s hoping somebody will subsidize his gas so he can go out drinking.

        1. Letter Writer*

          God no–he would never–he only confessed when I nagged him about why he was missing so much work

          1. fposte*

            The MIL death is a cruel kicker there, too. I think rural areas probably aren’t as helicoptery about kids being left alone, but you still need childcare for a loooong time.

            If you’re in an area that has 211 (my state doesn’t), I agree that calling might be useful. It’s possible there’s help he doesn’t realize as far as programs for his kids or subsidies on that end; when you’re that stretched you probably don’t have a lot of wherewithal to research, and even relieving some of the burden on that end of the rope could help give him a little more slack with the gas money.

            Question that makes things tougher: do you think the manager would allow a compressed workweek if she knew about his situation?

          2. Natalie*

            It sounds like part of the problem here is that he’s not comfortable telling people what’s going on or reaching out for help. Which is totally understandable – we learn a lot of shitty things about poverty in this country that make it seem incredibly shameful to need assistance – but he’s probably going to need to set that aside if he wants to get through this. He’s going to need to pursue support to get it.

            1. Nancy Drew*

              I was thinking that too. He may not even be aware he can get assistance for stuff like childcare or energy bills. Those all have different qualifying incomes–just because someone isn’t eligible for foodstamps doesn’t mean they can get help with the light bill.

          3. BelindaGomez*

            But surely he can see that not going to work would put him in a worse spot. And if he’s a high performer, can he really not come up with a solution on his own? Does he have a church or other social organization that would help him? I think the LW would be wise to encourage him to come up with a solution, rather than stepping in and saving him. If he was embarrassed to tell you, he’d most likely be humiliated by getting gas cards from total strangers.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        Thank you for this additional context.

        This is heart breaking. I really hope you can convince him to talk to the boss about this. Hopefully there are resources in his area that can assist allowing him to free up funds to pay for gas.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Which is why it’s more important to bring this forward. He may qualify for some programs that you wouldn’t qualify for.

      4. Steve G*

        Mmmmmm you’re raising issues on the minimum wage, etc. to me. It makes me sad that the jobs all paying the same in a rural area aren’t enough to pay for a family. As a city dweller in a middle class but not great area paying crazy amounts for taxes, mortgage, electricity, etc., we always assumed one of the main benefits of living in the country is being able to simply afford living because housing and food costs would be ridiculously low.

        I’m still 80% towards telling the boss, 20% not because you say the work isn’t highly technical. This isn’t just about your coworker to me, its about fair wages across the board. There is a general taboo against saying “this wage is too crappy” because we all feel replaceable…but…if a guy is working FT and can’t even afford to get to work or feed his kids a modest dinner? That IS a societal and a company problem, and not just a personal problem for one person.

        1. KT*

          It’s amazing how little the poverty line actual shows about poverty…I know for my state (Florida), 20% lives at or below the poverty line…but to actually rent a home, feed a family of 4, and have access to transportation (public), you would need to make at least $40,000….45% of the populations falls below that level and is one paycheck away from financial ruin or homelessness

        2. Ad Astra*

          In my experience, you’re usually better off living in a lower COL area because the salaries in higher COL areas never seem to be as high as they sound. But that assumes you can find a similarly good job in both areas. It sounds like that’s not the case here.

          1. Anx*


            And it’s not just about the rate of pay, but of unemployment levels and hours available.

            I moved to an area with a low cost of living when I was unemployed. Minimum wage is nearly the same as it was in my high COL hometown, so a dollar goes a lot further. While neither place has a lot of opportunity, there is far more poverty here, so there is just a lot of competition for hours at retailers. I could at least depend on the summer tourism industry at home, but not here. Also, I think it’s easier to start a business IF you can afford back home, because more people have discretionary money.

        3. Green*

          There are lots of jobs that aren’t expected to be sole wage-earning jobs for a family of 8 (or 4, or 3, or 2). But you can’t discriminate based on whether someone has children for jobs, and you can’t give your children as the reason you should be paid more (or given more hours, etc.).

          You can ask for a raise, but it should be based on market wages and performance and not how much your mortgage costs or whether your wife passed away (which is a very sad thing, but shouldn’t impact your wages).

      5. Katie the Fed*

        Oh god, that is so sad. FWIW I’d be willing to send this guy a gas card but I don’t even know how we’d do that, and I doubt he wants charity. But – ackk this breaks my heart.

        He REALLY needs to talk to the boss and look into food stamps too.

      6. Turanga Leela*

        If his kids are young and he’s spending money on childcare, your state might have low-income childcare assistance available. I assume his kids are already signed up for free school meals, but if not, that can be a huge help (many schools have breakfast as well as lunch).

        1. MashaKasha*

          Yes. Back when we had two kids in daycare and lived on one income of 20K/year, we had a Welfare daycare voucher. We only paid $60/month for two kids, instead of the $700/month that it would have been, and welfare covered the rest. Granted, only one day care center in the area accepted it, and it was a pretty crappy one (owner later lost the license for welfare fraud, owner’s son who was the daycare director had multiple sexual harassment lawsuits pending against him), but it provided semi-decent day care and really saved our lives at the time.

          This man needs to look into every financial-aid option available. He’s got to qualify for quite a few of them.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Oh, yes, this. Does he know where to send the kids for free summer meals? Most areas (I think) offer them, through various grants, and they’re typically free to anyone under 18, regardless of whether they qualify. If the coworker was getting by alright until the MIL passed away, he might not be aware of this program.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            And if your local school/YMCA/etc. isn’t offering them, it can! The meals are reimbursed by the federal government, same as school meals. You have to follow their nutrition requirements, and there’s a lot of paperwork, but nothing a school district can’t handle.

          2. Anx*

            This sounds great, but how do the kids get to the free meals? Wouldn’t transportation and childcare be an issue, then? Does these places tend to watch your kids all day?

      7. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh my that IS sad. I wonder if hes receiving social security survivors benefits for the kids? My daughters dad passed when she was 15 and i got quite a nice check for her until she was 18 ( and was blessed enough to be able to save anout half for her for college)

        1. Andrea*

          I’m glad to see this mentioned. A lot of folks are unaware of this program, but if his wife worked when she was alive and paid into Social Security, her children should be eligible for survivors’ benefits until they turn 18. And if he has been struggling financially since her death, it might be because of the loss of her income (or maybe medical bills, which sucks). In most areas, funeral homes contact the local Social Security office with SSNs of the deceased, and the claims reps contact the survivors about potential benefits. But sometimes that doesn’t happen; he may need to contact SSA himself. He may be able to determine eligibility himself on the SSA website.

        2. NYC*

          I am wondering the same thing. He definitely needs to look into this ASAP if he is not receiving them!

      8. Charlotte Collins*

        So, he’s also trying to do on one salary what most people now do on two, and I’m guessing possibly still trying to pay off medical bills from his wife. If either of his children is under 5, he can also look into WIC, since it sounds like he’s having trouble feeding the kids. (He might also be eligible for SNAP benefits.)

        Carpooling has also been mentioned, but it sounds like everyone is all spread out. Maybe you could suggest that the company set up carpooling “stations” where employees can meet up in certain central locations and carpool from there? Not only does this take the focus off him and could stretch his gas money, but it could also benefit other employees for whom money might be tight.

      9. Not So NewReader*

        His wife passed? Were they her kids, also? I believe there is a social security benefit for the kids.. I hope he has looked into that.

      10. nonegiven*

        Are he and his children due social security survivor benefits from his wife’s death? Is he eligible for food stamps, housing or utility assistance?

    5. Gareth Keenan Investigates*

      I recently moved from a large city to a largely a rural area with very poor public transit. I’d assumed cost of living would be lower here but honestly, we pay more for an apartment here that’s half the size of what we had in the city. There are so few good places to live, landlords can charge above market for something that’s safe and in decent condition (I can’t begin to describe how bad some of the properties I looked at were, I mean, condemnation notices on the door while the landlord tried to convince me that the place just needed some TLC). There’s way less competition in terms of groceries, so our food expenses are higher and while I’m lucky enough to walk to work, we have to drive pretty much anywhere in the area whereas in the city we could usually walk, bus, or bike. I know this is one person’s experience, and I wasn’t living in NYC, but I thought I’d be saving some money by moving to this area (fortunately not the reason I did move) and I honestly think our money went farther in the city.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Eh, being rural doesn’t necessarily mean a low cost of living.

      The COL has risen, but wages haven’t, and they tend to be low there because it’s assumed that it’s a lower COL. I live in a fairly low (compared to NYC) COL area and I noticed a definite increase during the recession. And it hasn’t changed. If you’re living in Bumblefudge Missouri, you can still end up pretty cash-poor because prices have gone up but you’re still making a very low salary thanks to that assumption that it costs less where you are. Plus, you’re unlikely to have any other option than driving, so gas prices can affect your budget as well. And we all know what those are like.

  12. BRR*

    If he’s a top performer, is there a chance for a raise? Did something change for him not to be able to afford more gas since it doesn’t sound like it used to be an issue?

    Overall I think it’s an employees responsibility to figure out how to get to work. Is there somebody he can carpool with? You might need to suggest looking for a new job that’s higher paying, has some sort of flexible schedule, or is closer to his home. If he’s going through a tank of gas in 4 days, that sounds like a long commute. Also when you say public transportation is not an option do you mean it’s literally not an option or it’s an inconvenient option? Since it sounds like his job is at stake, it may be more of an option than before.

    In the end, he might have to decide if it’s worth losing his job over not telling management and that’s how you should phrase it to him. Not that telling them is even a guaranteed solution because it doesn’t fix the problem.

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      Sometimes public transportation literally is not an option. Even in the big metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth, public transportation still isn’t everywhere and in the city of Arlington, virtually non-existent except for one bus line that runs between downtown, the college campus and another metroplex transportation station.

    2. anonanonanon*

      Public transportation isn’t available everywhere. I grew up in a town that had absolutely no public transportation aside from school buses. You either needed a car or had to walk everywhere. Forget about even getting to the closest city because without a car, there were no taxis, buses, or trains. It’s 2015 and there’s still no public transportation there.

    3. Letter Writer*

      It’s literally not an option. We do not have a public transportation system near our work.

    4. Nina*

      Co-sign on the lack of public transport. When I moved away from the city to the more rural suburbs, one of the biggest culture shocks I experienced was that the spotty bus schedule. The bus was always late, which meant I would miss the train, and be late for work. After a year, I had no choice but to get a car.

    5. Anyonymous*

      There might be public transportation where he lives and there might be public transportation where he works, but if he’s burning through a tank of gas in four days, I’m gonna go ahead and bet there’s no bus that travels the distance between his home and work.

    6. Sabrina*

      I live in Omaha, and public transportation is jut not an option if you live more than a couple of miles outside the city center. Even if you do live and work on a bus line, it’s not the most reliable. If you live in an outlying town, forget it, the buses just don’t go there.

    7. BRR*

      To everyone, I know there are many places without public transit, that’s why I asked.

    8. simonthegrey*

      Where I live there are public buses, but they run from 7:30am to 4:00pm (last one past my house is at 4:45pm). If you don’t have to be at work until after 8 and can be off by 3:50, that’s fine, but that isn’t the case for a lot of people.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Ugh. Public bus systems with highly restricted hours are so wasteful. If you want people to actually use the public transit system, make it actually useful for their real schedules and real needs.

        The cynical part of me thinks that political types who don’t want to spend money on public transit but are pressured to do so deliberately create crappy systems so they can say “Nobody uses it after all, see?” (Speaking as someone who once lived and worked on a bus line so unreliable I’d walk 3 miles on a road with no sidewalk or shoulder instead of taking the bus because I’d get there quicker. The bus ran every hour and a half, stopped quite early in the evening, and frequently never showed up at all.)

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I think in these cases, the public transportation was really only set up for senior citizens – those are the hours many of them are out and about, but many of them don’t or can’t drive. (Some also are for school kids in areas where the schools can’t afford their own buses.)

  13. JoAnna*

    Depending on where he is located, some metro areas have carpooling programs designed to match carpool partners. For example, the one in Phoenix is called “Share the Ride” and it’s run by the local public transportation utility (Valley Metro). Maybe his area has something similar?

  14. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!*

    This is rather tough because *sigh* my unhappy experience has usually been that if I give someone $20 for gas – they’ll go use it for something else. (Remember that episode of _Breaking Bad_ wear Skyler arranged for her ex-boss Ted to get a surprise “inheritance” so he could pay his tax bill? And he went out and bought a new Mercedes Benz?).

    I think I might get a 5 gallon gas can, fill it, and give it to him on Wednesday. Maybe anonymously, I dunno. When people talk to me about paying me back, I don’t wanna hear it – I usually say “just do something nice for someone else sometime in the future”. Not to mention karma. I need all of the good karma I can get.

      1. Lauren*

        That’s what I would do. If this person was a nice person and I liked them etc (no I’m not going to give money to people I don’t like) and I wanted to give them a gift (not a loan) I’d buy some gas gift cards and give them to him. I’ve been on the receiving end of people being generous for no reason and it’s a nice thing to do. Everybody needs a helping hand every so often. Then I’d probably make a comment about how there is no more reason to call in sick because of not having gas money.

        And maybe he needs to get a raise?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      1) that is a great episode

      2) I love the image of you hauling an actual can of gasoline to work.

      1. Arjay*

        Assuming he has an older model car where the gas cap is accessible, people could actually put the gas in the tank for him. I wish we had a gas genie here!

    2. Letter Writer*

      I could do this every now and again, but I don’t have a ton of money either. It’s so frustrating. I want to help him because he’s awesome and I wish I had more cash to do so!

      But thank you to everyone who suggested different programs who may be able to help–I hadn’t thought anywhere existed who would help with something like gas. The next time he and I talk I will definitely mention them to him.

      1. Xarcady*

        The bus will get me to one of my jobs, but there is no scheduled stop for the office complex. I have to ask the driver to stop there. There’s no regularly scheduled stop for the ride home, either. It’s either walk 2.5 miles to the nearest stop or call the bus company and ask them to stop–they will make a stop at 5:15 and only 5:15 if you call. And the job doesn’t allow me to have a cell phone in the building and there’s only one phone I can access during the day, but only at breaks, when everyone else is trying to get to it, too.

        To get to my other job, the bus does go there, but at wacky hours. If I have an opening shift, I can either get there 2 hours early and stand around outside until the store opens, or get there 15 minutes late. And I can’t afford to buy a cup of coffee in the nearest coffee shop every shift, nor do I really want to walk the mile there and back again when I’m about to be on my feet for 8 or 9 hours.

        This is in a typical small US city that proudly boasts that it has public transportation. It does, but it is mostly designed to get you from one town to another, not get you from one place to another within the same town.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I think the gift of $ would go to gas. If the employee was begging his co-workers for cash and giving a sob story, then I would be concerned. Especially if it went on for weeks.
      In this case, the employee is trying to deal with the problem on his own, although poorly. I think it shows integrity.

      1. Green*

        The employer may not think it shows integrity, though, since employee is faking sick when finances are really the issue.

      2. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!*

        > I think the gift of $ would go to gas.

        *shrug* In this case, maybe it would. But in the general case: I am not the only person who will warn you that giving someone cash to help them in a specific manner is not a good idea. If you gift someone with cash, you really need to accept that you have zero control over how that money will be spent. And there’s nothing wrong with doing this, if you want to.

        But it is quite common for people to want to help out in a specific way (for instance, gasoline) – and for them to become incensed when their money (or whatever) isn’t used they way they intended it to be used. Remember how some years ago the Red Cross was under fire because many people were donating blood to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina[1] – but in reality the RC had more than enough blood for Katrina, and most donations went to build up blood reserves all over the world? People who thought they were donating to help Katrina victims were unhappy to learn that their plasma wasn’t going where they intended it to go.

        Sad but true: there are people who will lie about needing money for X, and once they obtain that money, they’ll go spend it on something that is decidedly not X. And it’s not uncommon for people to not lie about their need for X. But suddenly their priorities change when they’ve got some money in their pocket. I once gave a neighbor $300 so they could pay rent. Did they spend the money on rent? No.

        None of this is intended as judgement against the person in OP’s letter, who may well be the rare individual who’d take your $20 bill and immediately fill up their tank. But I’m attempting to be helpful to those of you out there who lack the *cough* advantage of my *cough**cough* age and experience: when you give someone a cash gift, you are giving them the cash plus control of that cash.

        Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Just: you need to be aware of what you are doing. Here in Austin, we have a fair population of people who hang out at stoplights with cardboard signs, looking for a hand-out. I know that not everyone approves of this, but – a few years ago I got into the habit of giving these people money whenever I see them. I mean – I am at a place in life where I can always spare a buck or two. And these guys with the cardboard signs? There but for the grace of God go I. I never forget this[2]. But I bring it up here because part of this “giving of alms” is understanding that the giftee can spend that money on food, or alcohol, or drugs, or whatever they want. My hope is that in some small way I am helping them out. But I don’t feel that I’m entitled to judge these folks on what they need to make it through the day. We all have our burdens and our crutches.

        [1] I think it was Katrina. I may have that and some details wrong, but the basic point is the story holds true.
        [2] And sometimes it scares the crap out of me, too.

  15. Turanga Leela*

    Could your coworker qualify for public assistance? Many states barely have cash assistance anymore, but SNAP (food stamps) helps a lot of people and could relieve some pressure on his budget. I think TurboTax has a calculator that you can use to calculate what you might qualify for.

    Speaking of taxes, he might be able to shift his tax withholding so that he has more weekly income and a smaller refund when he files.

    Others have mentioned carpooling. Could the coworker stay overnight with someone from work once a week in order to avoid the roundtrip? Is there a local van service for people without vehicles? That’s a long shot, but sometimes it happens.

    Google turned up a gasoline assistance program (Free Gas USA), but I’ve never heard of it before and don’t know if it’s reputable.

    A final thought: are you and/or coworkers in good enough financial circumstances to subsidize this guy’s gas? Could you all, together, give him whatever the additional roundtrip would cost on a weekly basis? Many people wouldn’t want to or be able to, but this would actually be the first thing I would do. There’s no bureaucracy involved, and you could keep him afloat while he figures out a long-term solution.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I agree that changing his tax withholding might provide at least a temporary solution, and it might be something he hasn’t yet considered, unlike the suggestions to create a budget and stick to it.

  16. ginger ale for all*

    Would your company be up for four day work weeks of ten hours each for this guy?

    1. Rose*

      genius! I’m surprised your the first one to think of this.

      I was going to suggest maybe he could work off hours, like 10-6. That’s what I do so I get to avoid rush hour traffic in the morning and at night (by staying late to go to the gym) and it saves a TON of gas bc my commute time is basically cut in half.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Ugh not to shoot down every suggestion–but he did try this (but didn’t mention his financial issues as the rationale)–the manager said he couldn’t agree to it, because then everyone would want to do it.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        ok, so that doesn’t actually mean it wouldn’t work, it just means the manager is being a bit of a chickensh*t.

        You don’t have to treat everyone 100% equally. He can absolutely allow this one person to do it because of a special situation that he doesn’t have to explain to everyone else.

        I think the coworker should explain to him what the issue is and see if that might help.

        1. AVP*

          As a manager, this would be my priority right now – any good manager should be willing to deal with a little “why does he get this and I don’t?” backlash to keep a good employee.

      2. Ad Astra*

        It sounds like your coworker may be able to make a convincing case for this if he’s willing to reveal his transportation problems. I wouldn’t count this option out completely just yet.

  17. Chrissi*

    Even if there’s not someone at the company that lives nearby that he could carpool w/, maybe he could ask his neighbors if anyone heads to that part of the town or city and could drop him w/in a mile or something. I can understand why he doesn’t necessarily want to tell management – if he feels (or knows) a raise is out of the question, he won’t ask, and them knowing he has trouble getting to work could make him feel dispensable (and might make him). That said, of course he needs to clear this up somehow or he will be dispensable.

    1. Andrea*

      Yeah, I was thinking about this, too. Also, with two kids, I bet he drives them around a fair amount. Maybe he has a friend or neighbor or someone who could help get his kids from point A to point B, so he’s driving around less. In rural areas like that, people often have to drive around quite a bit.

  18. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Unless he does something himself, there’s not much you can do, right?  A good chunk of this is moot, but I have two thoughts.

    1) You don’t know for sure what the problem is.  Poor budgeting?  Paying off a legal/credit card/education/housing/gambling debt(s)?  Spousal support?  Lottery tickets?  It could be anything ranging from not his fault to totally his fault.  Please don’t overestimate what you know.  The less you know, the messier it’ll be if you step into his personal business.

    2)  I don’t know what his pay is, but it could be a factor.  When I worked on Capitol Hill, I knew several staffers who qualified for food stamps, and their bosses were content with that.  Does this guy have a liveable wage?  (Note I did not say minimum because the minimum isn’t liveable in some parts of the country.)

    But overall, this isn’t your responsibility.  However good he may be, he still the only one who can help himself.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Minimum wage isn’t livable in any parts of the country, according to most stats. To afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Arkansas, you’d need to earn $12.95/hour, and that number is higher in the other 49 states.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Good gravy. That would be quite a nice salary where I live, especially for DINKs.

  19. Ann Furthermore*

    Oh, what a tough situation. Thankfully the days when I was down to my last few cents by payday are behind me, but I remember them well. They were awful, and I didn’t even have kids to worry about.

    Maybe, if he also has a good relationship with the other co-workers in the group, you could all work out a rotating carpool schedule? I sure wouldn’t mind helping out a colleague in need, especially one who’s a good worker, an asset to the team, and is trying to support a family. I couldn’t do it every day, because I do sometimes have weeknight commitments and I need to get straight home, but I could make it work once every week or 2.

  20. Alison Read*

    The main issue sounds like his ability to manage his money. How very sad. Someone should donate Financial Peace University to him! IMO he needs to formulate a plan for how he’s going to get out of his hole. He needs to assess his life and make his basics (housing, food, transportation) his priority spending. Number 1 priority is getting to work to ensure the income. I really suspect he’s been robbing Peter to pay Paul and some crisis has thrown a wrench into the cog … Re-do the budget; debts come after food, housing, transportation. Perhaps the team could pull together and carpool for the next month, taking turns giving him a ride to ease up that pressure? He needs to definitely go to his manager and explain what’s been going on with a plan that demonstrates the transportation/budget issue has been resolved. The biggest problem is dealing with the main issue, money management, which is very personal.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t think we have nearly enough information to suggest he doesn’t know how to manage his money. Sometimes there just isn’t enough money and all the budgeting in the world isn’t going to fix that.

      1. Ad Astra*

        For a couple of years I completely avoided budgeting because every budget I devised had me coming up a few hundred short each month, and it was maddening. So I just bought what I needed, paid stuff when I could, and spent what I had.

        Obviously I wouldn’t recommend this method of money management, and I may have sometimes made things worse by not planning better, but the root of my problem wasn’t budgeting. The only thing that fixed the issue was making more money.

        1. KT*

          I did this too–I bought what I needed, paid what I could, and ate the debt until I made more cash. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, but it was all I could do.

    2. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

      You can’t assume it’s budgeting because you don’t know his whole story. Not everyone’s financial problems can be fixed with a simple wave of the budget wand. Sometimes there really isn’t enough money to cover everything.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Um, it’s not money management. His wife died. His mother-in-law was providing childcare for his 2 young children, and she died as well. The guy is trying his best and slowly sinking.

      I know I didn’t mention that in the letter so it’s easy to jump to conclusions, but please give people some benefit of the doubt.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Two things I see:
        * Possible medical debts – He may qualify for assistance
        * Lost free child care and now has to pay for it. There may be a program for that too.

      2. The Strand*

        The more you tell us, the more awful I feel for your coworker. He is lucky to have you to talk to.

      3. Natalie*


        What about neighbors or people he goes to church with? Maybe some of them are SAH parents and could help watch the kids. He could even pay them, and it would still probably be cheaper than an official daycare.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If he does go to church, maybe there is someone there that he would be comfortable talking this over with?
          The idea here is that you are not trying to find the solution but rather help him find someone who will look for solutions with him.

      4. Ad Astra*

        Every piece of context you add to this letter makes my heart sink a little more. It’s not supposed to be this hard, you know?

        1. Andrea*


          This is heartbreaking. I have to believe that there are some resources out there for this hardworking, grieving father and his family. I hope that’s the case.

          OP, you are kind to want to help. Please update us.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Grief can take away one’s ability to concentrate. When I first lost my spouse there was no point in even writing a budget because I could not concentrate enough to write one or stick to a budget once it got written.

            OP, I would be willing to bet with two kids and no spouse your coworker probably qualifies for some government sponsored programs.

      5. PontoonPirate*

        A couple suggestions: depending on what state you’re in, whichever is your closest United Way may offer a list of resources and/or counselors who can advise him on good assistance programs. Second, I’d tell him to google “child care assistance in _____.” A quick search of just “child care assistance” pulled up something from a terribly-named site called Single Mother Guide that lists different state-sponsored programs. As Turanga Leela mentioned above, any assistance that can ease the burden on another part of his budget can help offset transportation costs. Ditto SNAP benefits, etc.

      6. the_scientist*

        This is utterly heartbreaking. Most of my suggestions relate to childcare, because depending on how old the kids are (and especially over the summer) childcare costs could be eating him alive. Not to mention the additional food costs, if the kids get a school lunch. An additional 1-2 meals per day for 2 kids can totally throw a wrench in a budget.

        So. United Way and YMCA organizations usually offer reduced-cost or income-based payment summer camps, as do churches. Is that something he’s looked into?

        Another possible option. Where I am, we have a variety of charity camps (Tim Horton’s camps, camps affiliated with the Fresh Air Fund) that are specifically meant to give a summer camp experience to kids who could not otherwise afford it. Parents have to apply to get their children into these camps, and the 1-2 week sessions at an overnight camp cost the family $0. You might do some research on charities like this in your area for him. His kids have lost their mom and their grandmother in what sounds like a fairly short period; a couple of weeks to just act like kids and not have to worry might be incredibly helpful for them right now, and would relieve their dad of 1-2 weeks of childcare and food costs.

        Finally, surely, as he’s a single parents and doesn’t make very much, he would qualify for some kind of social assistance- SNAP, maybe? Something? My whole bleeding liberal heart hopes that there is *something* out there to make this poor guy’s life just a little bit easier.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Many communities offer free summer meals at schools, parks, etc., although if he’s in a rural area there might not be anything close by.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          He probably has no time to check all this stuff because of all the other things going on in his life plus his kids.

      7. JoAnna*

        Oh geez, that’s awful. :( Poor guy.

        PSA to all working parents out there – if you can afford it, PLEASE ensure that both you and your spouse have decent life insurance policies. My husband and I have private policies in addition to our respective work policies, so that if God forbid something happened to one of us, the other would have enough money to pay off our house and not work for a year, in addition to enough money for funeral expenses. (And if, God forbid, both of us die at the same time, our kids will have a decent inheritance.) Yes, it takes a bite out of our budget, but it is worth it for the peace of mind.

        1. MashaKasha*

          First thing I did after getting divorced was get a term life insurance policy, that will run out when the kids are 27 and 24. I thought it was really important for them to have something to fall back on if anything happened to me, now that I was a single income provider. I 100% agree with “if you can afford it” though. I was in perfect health when I got it, found a great deal on it, and it’s still a pain in the arse to come up with the premium every year on top of all other expenses, and I have a decent income. There’s no way someone like, say, LW’s coworker would ever be able to afford one.

          The kids are to pay off all my debts (currently just the house and the car) and split the rest in half. The money was supposed to go towards their college education, but one’s already out of college and the other one got an honor scholarship that covers 100% of his tuition. So I guess if I die, they’ll have a lot of spare cash to tide them over.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Amen. Anyone reading here, please, please. If you have someone dependent on your income, especially. The rule of thumb I heard was to get 8 times your annual gross pay in life insurance. My husband had 1.5 times… whoops. We really screwed up. Half the life insurance went to pay the out of pocket medical right away. Double whoops.

          My husband went from working 60-70 hours per week down to navigating with a walker inside of three weeks. At week number 13 he was gone. Life does come at you fast. If this could happen to us, it could happen to anyone.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            oh god, I’m so sorry. What a horrible turn of events.

            My husband is ridiculously practical sometimes – I thought it was so ridiculous (and romantic) that he got himself a life insurance policy right after he proposed. Swoon.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              He’s definitely is a keeper! ;) He understands that someone is now counting on him and his responsibilities have grown. He’s a thinking person.

      8. Diddly*

        Is your employer aware of this? I’d like to think under these circumstances that the employer would try and be more accommodating… So sorry for your co-worker.

    4. Shannon*

      There is NO information about this guy’s ability to manage his money. He could be blowing all his money on dope or he could be a widower who is trying to climb his way out from a pile of medical bills.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        We know that OP just makes ends meet with a little tiny bit left over. She does not have children.
        Coworker has two children. It’s safe to bet that he is not making a lot more than OP.
        He probably has medical debt, you usually do if you lose your spouse.
        Now he has to pay for child care because his MIL, who was taking care of the children, died.

        No, he is not blowing his money on weed, etc. I feel very confident saying that. And we also know that he is a very strong person, because he is doing excellent work in spite of all the rain in his life. His personal setting is absolutely crushing and he seems to be standing up to the challenge. I am impressed.

        1. Shannon*

          You’d be surprised. A relative had severe alcohol and drug addictions, yet managed to function very well in the work place (awards, promotions, etc.) Functional addicts are rare, but they do happen.

  21. MT*

    You would think that a small gift would set them straight. If they are missing a day, then not having enough money for gas the next week. What is causing the issue would be missing 20% of his paycheck the previous week.

    1. Karen*

      That’s only if he is an hourly employee. I assumed that he is salaried therefore gets paid for the sick days, but the OP doesn’t explicitly say.

  22. Kelly O*

    This guy so has my sympathies. We are in a difficult place due to my husband being out of work, and things get tight. It’s hard to see people offer budgets, because he may be like us. He’s done the budget and even with “just” the bills, it’s stretching to get those ends to meet.

    Some churches have assistance programs, and while it’s hard to ask, that’s what it’s there for. Also, check with your company. Sometimes they have hardship assistance, and this may very well fall in that category. It might be worth discreetly talking to the boss, especially if you have good bosses.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yes, this. It’s very easy for people to say “oh, he just needs to do a better job managing money” but there’s sometimes just not enough money to make ends meet, period. I am currently paying $300 a month in medical co-pays for physical therapy and prescriptions – that’s enough to put some people in serious poverty.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right on, Katie! You cannot write a budget for medical debt and now he has child care bills on top of that. He is in crisis. Budgets presume some stability. There is not a lot of stability right now.

    2. Steve G*

      I think for budgeting to come into play, you need to be making above the minimum living wage (and I don’t mean the extremely low government set ones) in order for it to help. For example, my sister living in the NYC suburbs making in the low $40ks barely exists. Eating out at TGIF’s is like a big deal for her. She has cheap rent, cheap insurance, doesn’t eat very much good (expensive) foods…there is like nothing to cut out. Actually if you offered to help budget, you’d probably end up looking dumb when the exercise was done. Here, you would need to make at least $65K for a budget to actually help, because then you’d have enough disposable income where waste could actually occur.

    3. KT*

      This. I remember when I was dead broke, and I budgeted and managed every penny like it was my very last, and it still wasn’t enough. It can be so frustrating/humiliating when you ask for help, and people show you spreadsheets, like you fritter away your cash on designer clothes rather than desperately trying to keep the electric on.

      1. the_scientist*

        Seriously, budgeting down to the penny is all well and good, but it won’t change the fact that there aren’t enough pennies!

        1. Another HRPro*

          Very true. But it can point out where you need the most help. In this case it is probably child care and gas. Then you can look to find assistance (government sponsored or charitable organizations) for those specific needs as many programs are focused on specific needs – not just “I need more money”. As others have posted above, there are programs for help with gas and for help with child care. If the individual has medical debt that is taking a large portion of his income, there are specific programs for that as well. Budgeting doesn’t solve the problem if you really don’t have money. But it does help you identify where you need to focus on finding possible solutions – other than missing work.

          1. Kelly O*

            The only thing I will add about government assistance is that for us, we still make “too much” to qualify.

            If I had another child we could. If I made less, we could. And don’t get me started on places that want to see your tax returns from the prior year. We had two full time incomes last year. We no longer have that. One admin salary and a spouse working two part time jobs is just not the same. Never mind we’re run ragged because my husband is getting precariously close to 50, and staying up until midnight to close the pizza delivery place is not the same as it was when you’re 20.

            I guess I just really, REALLY sympathize with this guy. I live far away from my family. I have to do all the child care, all the other stuff… there is no one to ask. It is just not as simple as people would like to make it. It really does take a village sometimes.

    4. Ad Astra*

      This reminds me of all the times I googled “How to reduce your spending” and came up with advice like “Stop spending $5 a day at Starbucks” or “get rid of cable.” Gee thanks, I hadn’t considered that.

      1. Dana*

        I have a hard time with this stereotypical advice because it not only impacts quality of life like someone upthread mentioned, but sometimes cutting one thing just ups your expense in other area. Just in my experience, I have cable that came with a bundle. The introductory deal is over and it’s quite expensive. I called to get rid of the phone aspect to see if it would drop my bill because I didn’t even have the phone line installed and they said my rate would increase because just having the bundle gave me a price break. If someone looked at my budget they’d probably advise me to get rid of Amazon Prime too, but some of my necessities come from there because it’s cheaper than the store, and all that free shipping saves me a lot. Budgets are very nuanced things and there are often costs associated with any cuts so it isn’t really so simple as some people make it out to be.

      2. Rock*

        Right? So many of those blogs (and I admit I used to enjoy reading them!) are designed for people who are suddenly and inexplicably dropped into the land of consumer debt, where their over-spending has come back to bite them. And they are surprised about it. And for that issue, those blogs are good.
        But it doesn’t solve actual poverty, or even folks making “living” wages who hit hurtles in life.

        1. Nina*

          So many of those blogs (and I admit I used to enjoy reading them!) are designed for people who are suddenly and inexplicably dropped into the land of consumer debt, where their over-spending has come back to bite them.

          Nailed it. This advice is still being thrown out there despite making the rounds time and time again. The working poor have already utilized these tactics: no frivolous spending, sell what you can, don’t go to the movies, downsize…etc. It doesn’t consider people scraping by on less than a living wage, or those who don’t have any wage at all. Eventually there’s nothing left to sell, no side hustles to try, and any money you have goes to a necessary expense. And if an emergency comes up, you’re deeper in debt than before.

        2. Kelly O*


          And never mind that you can be “rent poor” – which is what I have said more than once lately. If we could get the money saved for a down payment, we could just buy a house and save $300 – $400 a month. Our apartment rent is going up AGAIN in September. And I can’t do much about it, because the savings is gone, trying to keep bills paid the last few months. But the kiddo is starting school next year. We have to make sure we’re in an area with a decent school, and I have to feel safe wherever we are at night with just her and me while the husband is away.

          It just makes a person sick to their stomach trying to figure it out. I have seriously considered just saying “screw it” and moving back in with my mom, but that would mean quitting a job that would, under other circumstances, put us in the best position we’ve ever been. Never mind finally having friends somewhere, and all the other stuff.

          But every time someone says “well just move back in with your parents” I want to ask “have you ever been in your late 30s with a spouse and a kid and move back in with your folks?”

    5. Cleopatra Jones*

      That’s what we always called, ‘trying to make a dollar out of .99 cents’.
      No matter how hard you try it’s just not enough to cover the necessities.

  23. NicoleK*

    I would suggest directing colleague to local social service agencies for assistance.

  24. Retail4Life*

    There are carpooling recourses across the country. Try googling “511” or “ridesharing”. Also you say that public transportation is poor and not really an option but maybe it can be part of an option. If someone in the office doesn’t live near him maybe he could take public transit closer to work and be picked up at a central bus station or closer to work.

    Another option may be getting a side gig of some sort. Sell Avon, mow lawns, answer surveys online, Amazon Turk, something, anything to make that extra $20 a week for gas. I understand that a lot of options won’t work for him but there are plenty of choices out there that I really believe something will work.

  25. Lacking pity*

    This is going to come across rough, but I’m having a hard time pitying this guy. I guess I’m assuming that he’s spending money on other things when he could be saving for gas. Netflix/Hulu? Eating out? When a job isn’t providing enough salary that you can’t even get to work, it might be time to search for better, closer opportunities.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yes, that’s probably it. Food pantries by day and luxury dinners at Hooters by night.

    2. KT*

      Where on earth do you get that impression from? A dad on food stamps with a full-time job…and you assume he’s running amuck spending?

    3. Bend & Snap*

      Oh good, internet judgment based on no facts whatsoever!

      You don’t know what he buys or doesn’t, how far away his job is, what the job market where he is/in his field is like and a host of other info it would take to credibly arrive at either of your assumptions (that he’s blowing his money or that there are better, closer job opportunities).


        1. Natalie*

          Fun fact, the phrase “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” used to be a humorous way to illustrate that a particular course of action was utterly impossible. Somehow it ended up being taken as a serious suggestion by some more foolish people.

          1. jmkenrick*

            That makes so much sense! That phrase has always confused me.

            Blood is thicker than water is another proverb that’s been appropriated from its original meaning.

          2. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!*

            The computer industry is to blame: early on someone noticed that when you turn a computer on, it needs to load a tiny program that will go out and load a somewhat larger, more complicated program, and etc, and this process bears a metaphorical resemblance to “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps”.

            1. Natalie*

              I think the phrase is older than that, but I’m not sure when it started to be misunderstood as something that one could/should actually do.

            2. Kara*

              Um. No. The phrase was used way before there were computers. The computer use was taken from the earlier use as a lot of computer related phrases are.

    4. Vex*

      It’s one thing to speak hard truths and it’s another to just entirely make up facts. Netflix/Hulu and eating out aren’t mentioned anywhere in the letter.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Ignoring for a moment that Netflix costs $8 a month, which would be $2 a week, which would be less than one gallon of extra gas per week….

      Why on earth would you assume this man is wasting his money? Sure, it’s possible but the fact that you jumped immediately to that conclusion makes me wonder if you assume that all poor people are poor because they mismanage their money. Or do you assume that all full-time jobs pay enough for rent, gas, and all the expenses that come with having two children? Both assumptions would be absolutely false and unwarranted, so I hope that’s not where you’re coming from.

    6. Steve G*

      Maybe, but as I’ve commented enough on above, I err towards believing people when they say they can’t make ends meet because housing costs are through the roof and salaries are stagnated in the USA, and not being able to make ends meet is going to be the immediate, direct result of that.

      And pardon my ignorance, but isn’t Netflix and Hulu just other words for TV? I hardly consider TV a luxury in 2015 unless the person has a really expensive cable plan (IDK I pay “only” a little over a $100 for TV and internet in NYC, which is NOT a lot of money), and the guy literally can’t cancel the internet if he is going to be job hunting.

      If the boss underpays and isn’t aware of how bad that pay is, he may be helped by hearing about this. IMHE a lot of older people or people in higher income brackets aren’t aware of how hard it is to make ends meet on salaries that sound good to them. In my area in the 90s a $50K salary was great and $70K was a ticket to the middle class and home ownership and 2 cars, etc. Now, you need about $110K for the same thing. A lot of people are “stuck in the 90s” thinking things haven’t changed a lot, but they have, and they are still paying $50K thinking its a good salary, even though it now means you might not even be able to afford renting alone.

        1. Steve G*

          I guess I’m right then, it is just TV right? I am seriously confused because I keep seeing in articles people saying “I spent the weekend binging on Netflix” – it is just TV, right? Its not anything more elaborate?

          Another one of those terms I see all over the internet but never in real life.

          1. Natalie*

            Pretty much – it’s a streaming service with TV and movies on it. They have a disc rental service too (actually started that way) but the streaming service is more popular. I think it’s $8-10 a month.

            1. fposte*

              I also think a lot of people watch TV via Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and don’t have cable TV at all, and that was what I thought Steve was talking about.

              “TV” is kind of a complicated concept these days.

          2. anonanonanon*

            It’s just TV. Netflix doesn’t have the current seasons of shows (so, if an episode aired last night, I probably won’t see it until it gets on Netflix sometime next year), but Hulu shows currently airing shows within a day or two of them airing. It’s pretty much an online streaming source for TV. Between the both of them for $8 a month apiece, it’s much cheaper for most people than cable.

            1. MegEB*

              I do Netflix and Hulu instead of cable, because I can’t afford cable. Technically, I only do Netflix, as I’m still on my ex-boyfriend’s Hulu Plus account (I have conveniently forgotten to tell him this whenever we run into each other). It’s WAY cheaper and IMO provides more variety than basic cable, especially because I don’t give a flying fig about sports.

          3. MashaKasha*

            It’s pretty much TV these days. I cut cable a couple years ago (money issues here as well) and now there’s so much available on Netflix, including their own shows, for 10% of what we used to pay for cable. Aside from not having news, live sports, and commercials, it’s pretty much TV now.

          4. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

            It’s online internet streaming from your computer/internet connected devices, so TV shows and movies but not tied to show schedules or cable boxes or anything like that.

          5. Elsajeni*

            Netflix does have a subscription fee — theoretically, if you want to save the absolute most money possible and still keep some TV/movie options, you could drop Netflix (along with Hulu, cable, etc.) and only watch whatever you can get on a broadcast antenna. But the Netflix fee is about $8/month for unlimited streaming, which, if you’re planning to keep your internet connection anyway, is about as cheap as you can get for home entertainment.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I realize you live in a place with far higher COL than I do, but every time you mention salaries you consider low or manageable, I think “YES PLEASE GIMME GIMME.” :)

        1. Steve G*

          And when travel to PA, upstate NY, Ohio, etc. I always love to look at real estate brochure and apartment rental booklets (which we don’t have in NYC) and I always go “OMG I wish I lived here everything is sooooo cheap!” I was recently looking through Cincinnati area listings and OMG we would live like royalty there if salaries were the same.

          1. Ad Astra*

            The crazy thing is, I find most parts of PA, upstate NY, and Ohio to be too expensive for me. :)

            1. MashaKasha*

              I’m in Ohio. Yeah my house is cheap and is 1/3 paid off, and will be paid off in ten years. Being a bit familiar with NYC’s RE prices, I’m not gonna argue, it’s a huge advantage. And I’m in a large city – I have friends living out in the sticks whose houses are WAY cheaper. Everything else, food, vet bills, utility bills etc. adds up just like it would anywhere else. And the salaries are lower because we’re a cheap state.

            2. Steve G*

              OMG where are you that you find those states expensive?! I didn’t know it could be cheaper. Whenever I’m in ruraler areas of the NE, I think I tip like 40% in restaurants because the bills are so obscenely low that I’m afraid the waitress/waiter wouldn’t get more than $20/tips per shift if everyone only tipped the 20%

            3. Anon for this one*

              I live in south-central Pennsylvania. After my spouse died, I looked into moving back to the college town in the Finger Lakes area where we’d met, the Philadelphia area closer to other relatives, central Ohio close to yet another set of relatives, or staying put. It turns out staying put was much the cheapest. The amenities in this area are fairly good and if I want a taste of city life, the drive isn’t far to Philadelphia or D.C. If you like the shore, it’s not a long drive to get there.

              The academic town has high housing costs because of steady student demand. Central Ohio would be the next-best place. The rural area in New York state where I grew up would be even cheaper, but the amenities are almost nonexistent — you have to leave the county to find a Friendly’s, a Panera, or any of the cheaper chain restaurants such as Denny’s. Groceries are high due to lack of competition and medical care isn’t that great. There’s only one movie theater for the entire county.

              The Cincinnati area has good medical care and the Columbus area has pockets that are pretty affordable and convenient, and grocery stores have fairly competitive pricing. Plus, Graeter’s ice cream. Cincinnati also has some very nice employers, such as Proctor & Gamble. Areas of Kentucky within commuting distance of Cincinnati are even cheaper, but the quality of schools is variable.

              I know a lot of people would not be enthusiastic about living in the Harrisburg area, but south-central PA also has York and Lancaster. Grocery stores are good and there’s a lot of excellent locally grown fruit and vegetables. If you’re looking for a moderately priced area to live in with a range of job possibilities, it’s worth considering. The school districts serving suburban areas are usually good to better than average. The job market isn’t wonderful, but it’s not awful either. There is some public transportation and Amtrack service to Philadelphia, and some areas have buses that serve state workers commuting into Harrisburg. The area is far enough inland so that when D.C. and Philly get sleet and freezing rain, we either get snow, rain, or nothing. Medical care is good and includes Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. There are lots of local professionals, so getting a good contractor, a good lawyer, a good accountant and so on is not difficult and prices are reasonable.

          2. Anx*

            Of course, there are still plenty of people stuck making under 30K in the most expensive parts of the country, getting slammed with low wages and high costs of living.

      2. simonthegrey*

        Also, the LW has said a couple of places that he has kids; I don’t know how old they are but many kids need Internet access for school and that may not be something this guy can give up.

    7. Natalie*

      I guess I’m assuming that he’s spending money on other things when he could be saving for gas.

      He should probably dump those freeloading kids, huh? Or I guess Johnathon Swift had another solution…

    8. Shannon*

      Could your disdain for poor people be more palpable? It must be nice not to have to worry about money.

    9. Kathlynn*

      netflix is 10 a month, cutting that out will not make a difference. And people do need stress relief activities, which TV is often one of. Netflix is also cheaper then having satellite or cable.

      What I think this employee needs is a 25-50c raise (25c is $10/w before tax)

      1. Andrea*

        Right, plus Netflix has a lot of kids’ and family programming. This is cheap entertainment for this man and his children. And sheesh, maybe a couple of hours watching a family movie together will help take their minds off of their recent tragedies. I would not begrudge them that.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I have a toddler and I literally could not live without Netflix. As a single parent, sometimes I have to get shit done, and Netflix calms her down and keeps her still long enough for me to take care of dinner or whatever.

          It’s worth every penny and then some. I’ve had to cut back since my divorce started, and Netflix was NOT on the list of options to cut.

        2. Kathlynn*

          yupe, there is a reason I have a subcription to netflix and a book app. Saves me a lot of money. And, when I was babysitting I was able to read the kids some books off the app. So nice. (the book app also saves me three times what it costs me in books read per year).

    10. Kelly L.*

      Why does this keep coming up? We know absolutely nothing about this guy’s budget.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Poor people HAVE to be poor as a result of their own terrible choices. Because otherwise, it could happen to any of us and that’s a very hard thing to accept. Better to just assume they fritter all those fat paychecks away because they’re stupid and lazy.

        1. KT*

          Yes-make them out to be the stupid, selfish, careless “other” and it makes us feel so much more smug and secure in our right-ness.

        2. AVP*

          I don’t know if you all have been reading Gawker’s “Life on the Dole” series but it is so heartbreaking and will disabuse almost anyone of this notion. Whether we want to believe it or not, many of us are a few crises away from being the subject of today’s letter.

          1. KT*

            I think a recent study came out that showed 7 out 0f 10 Americans were one missed paycheck from being completely destitute. I think that’s why people are so quick to judge–it makes them feel like they are one of the secure 3!

        3. MashaKasha*

          Oh, but bad things cannot ever happen to good people. So all the trouble this guy is in must somehow be his fault. He should’ve planned for this. And also this can’t happen to any of us, cuz we’re good.
          Gawd, I hate Protestant ethics with a burning passion.

    11. The Strand*

      When you do read through the comments by the OP about her coworker being a single dad whose wife and mother-in-law both recently died, I hope you’ll come back to admit that you made the wrong assumptions.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Hey i never made any assumptions. I simply pointed out that sometimes if we put all out spending on paper, it’s surprising what we can cut back on. It helped me years ago and it helped my coworker last year. Now that i know what happened to this guy, it’s obviously not the case. People are taking my original comment way too seriously and literally

        1. Amalie*

          how strange that people would read what you wrote and think you meant it? who on earth would DO such a thing?

        2. Natalie*

          I think you read the threading wrong – the comment you replied to isn’t directed at you, unless you made two similar comments with different names.

        3. The Strand*

          I was responding to the comment that suggested the guy needed to cut back on Netflix, Hulu and eating out. If that was yours (it was marked as “lacking pity”), then yes.

          The comment started: “This is going to come across rough, but I’m having a hard time pitying this guy. I guess I’m assuming that he’s spending money on other things when he could be saving for gas. Netflix/Hulu? Eating out?”

    12. Beancounter in Texas*

      Sometimes the standard of living that we, as Americans, enjoy really costs those on the bottom end of the socioeconomic ladder, because the cost of the standard we set is beyond their reach.

      For example, disposable diapers are the norm, easily accessible at many stores and expensive, if ever on sale. Cloth diapers still exist and have made a modern come back, but because they’re not mainstream, they’re mostly accessible from online stores. The few brick and mortar stores that may carry them don’t typically carry the affordable flats and covers, but the more expensive pockets and all-in-ones. So even though cloth diapers are more affordable in the long run compared to disposables, they’re primarily used by middle- to upper-class parents who have the time and accessibility to tap the online world of cloth diapering.

    13. BananaPants*

      What a sad and pathetic response. If you read other posts by the letter writer, the employee is a widower with two young children, and the family member who provided his child care has passed away. There was no evidence in the original letter that he spends recklessly. It’s a nightmare scenario for any parent.

    14. S*

      The OP said, upthread, that they live in a rural area and that their coworker is a single father already struggling to provide for his family even without the gas problems. All your comment shows is an extreme lack of empathy.

    15. Not So NewReader*

      Let’s see. His wife died. (medical/funeral expense) His MIL who was taking care of the kids probably for free or near free, also died. (increased child care costs) And he lives in a rural area with not many job opportunities. (there probably are no other opportunities)

      You know, if he did not have all these factors to consider, I would probably agree with you.

      Hopefully, nothing like this will happen to any of us here. But in all likelihood, some of us will fall into this pit.

  26. Beancounter in Texas*

    This is probably a harder solution for him to reach, but what about obtaining a more fuel efficient vehicle? If he’s already driving the Honda Civic with a light foot, then the point is moot, but if he’s driving a Ford F150 with a crew cab for the kids, then that could be a piece of the puzzle that could make a difference. If he has a big vehicle (with a car payment too), trading down to a smaller, more efficient vehicle may help.

    The OP said “lately he’s been calling out sick about once a week,” so this is a recent development. Did his spouse/SO lose income? Are medical bills hitting them hard? It’s hard to tell without these kinds of details. But someone earlier made a really good point: he’s the only one who can help himself.

  27. KT*

    Not to toot my own organization’s horn (sorry!), but seriously, suggest gently to your coworker that he call 2-1-1 for his local United Way. They can put him in contact with a wide range of services, from gas subsidies to car sharing to subsidized childcare.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      My local United Way is amazing. They have programs for parents that I had no idea existed.

  28. Dana*

    I think there are a few things to consider:
    1. If this is a new situation, will it be temporary? Temporary solutions are probably easier to implement and having an “end in sight” can appease a boss/friend.
    2. Is this bad budgeting? Getting financial counselling might be good to have him agree to if he’s going to get any kind of assistance/special accommodations from the boss. Don’t want to just “enable” further.
    3. Does he have grounds to ask for a raise? Obviously the focus is on his performance and market value, but his need may necessitate having this conversation sooner rather than later.
    4. How embarrassed by this situation is he? If he’s very embarrassed and would be uncomfortable with handouts, is there something he can do for other co-workers (or friends/family/neighbors) that they could pay him for? Some skill within his industry? Cutting lawns?

    Bottom line, I think he needs to tell the boss, even if it’s just for future references if he can’t find a way to keep this job. “Joffrey was a great employee but he had an attendance problem” is different than “Joffrey was a great employee that had some difficult life circumstances and had to take a different job closer to home”.

  29. Dawn88*

    I also suggest adjusting his tax witholding for an extra $10 a week…that would cover it.

    If he goes to food banks already, he may easily qualify for a SNAP (Food Stamp) card. With 2 kids, that could be $200+ food credit a month. A MAJOR HELP!

    1. The Strand*

      This could actually be a great solution for him. If he’s getting a tax refund at the end of the year, he can arrange to get a little more in income during the year.

      1. Natalie*

        It doesn’t help in the immediate term, but I hope he’s filing for EITC every year.

        1. fposte*

          That’s a good point–if he can get some free tax advice to make sure he’s getting the most he’s entitled to, that might be useful.

    2. AVP*

      Also, I have no idea how old his kids are or if he would qualify, but I would absolutely recommend he call his local WIC office as well. They can help with food necessities for kids under 5, among other things.

  30. Bee*

    If this keep ups, let’s be honest, the colleague is going to get fired. And then they really have a problem. So bring it up with the manager, and hopefully, things will work out!

  31. Bend & Snap*

    Actually he should look at all his benefits–I’m mid divorce and things are tight, so I looked at my pay stub and realized I’m contributing quite a bit to an employee stock program and a couple of other things that aren’t going to immediately put food on the table. Cutting those things put a couple of hundred bucks per paycheck back in my pocket.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Oh, good point. I have a monthly small donation that comes out of mine, and it’s small enough that I pretty much don’t think about it–but it could buy some gas if it had to.

  32. Student*

    The poverty line for a family of four is about $24k per year. You should be able to make an educated guess about what your co-worker gets paid based on your own salary; whether it is poverty-level or not. You can probably make an educated guess about whether his wife works or not. If you know her field of employment, you can probably figure out roughly what she makes. If you don’t know, assume conservatively that she makes half of what your co-worker probably makes.

    If you think their family income is at least $48k (2x poverty), I suggest that you leave your co-worker to his own devices. At that point, his problems are of his own making, and he’ll need to find his own way out unless he specifically asks for advice. If you think his family income is near or below poverty, then it might be compassionate to direct him towards any poverty resources he might be eligible for.

    I can understand your desire to help him, but there isn’t much you can realistically do for a co-worker who is struggling like this. If you know of resources he’s eligible for, that’s about all you can do. I’d say that you should provide a sympathetic ear and pass along leads to better-paying jobs he might be eligible for if he wasn’t your co-worker. Since he’s your co-worker, though, you should be trying for those better-paying jobs yourself. It’s good to be compassionate in this kind of situation, but it’s self-defeating to bail out your co-worker at your own expense. If you’re working the same job at similar pay, you should be trying to ensure you don’t end up in his shoes, because tomorrow that could be you.

    1. KT*

      Just want to throw out there–there are a lot of families out there who are above the poverty line, but still don’t have enough for the basic essentials (shelter, transportation, childcare, food, education). In my organization, we call those folks ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed). They’re people who DO work, and work hard, but just can’t get ahead. They are one emergency away from complete disaster.

      While many programs are geared too those who are under the poverty line,t here are assistance programs for the ALICE population or people who just suddenly hit a major setback (like a spouse passing away). So don’t hesitate to reach out. If an organization cant help you, they’ll usually refer you to someone who can.

      1. PontoonPirate*

        Exactly. KT, I gather from the link in your name we’re in the same geographic area, and it can be a hard, hard place for the ALICEs of the world to get by.

      2. Anx*

        Since you seem pretty knowledgeable on the subject, is there a term for people with many assets but no income?

        I don’t mean people who choose not to work, but I’m thinking people in their 50s and 60s who can’t find work and are being pushed into an early retirement. They own (or almost) their homes, have a car from better days, etc?

        1. PontoonPirate*

          Late to the party, but try the site called benefitscheckup. It helps direct older Americans to different types of federal and state services depending on their need.

        2. Natalie*

          I’ve always just heard that referred to as “cash poor” (with “land rich” implied). It used to be not-uncommon among the upper classes.

        3. KT*

          Yup, that’s usually called house-poor or cash-poor to refer to someone who has worked their whole lives, has some tangible assets, but not enough ongoing income to be comfortable

    2. Basiorana*

      “The poverty line for a family of four is about $24k per year.”

      That’s the federal poverty line. That’s not the actual poverty line, which varies drastically by city and is typically $30K/year for a person with one kid.

      “You can probably make an educated guess about whether his wife works or not.”

      Wife recently died, so, no, she doesn’t work.

      My combined income with my spouse is about $60K. In my area, this is a struggle. Every penny is in use every month. We have very high medical expenses– I put the max into my HSA and then additional set aside. About half of my income (like a third of our combined income) goes into current health expenses or paying down debts on past health expenses. My budget is a complicated spreadsheet and we don’t have TV, don’t eat out, nothing. We get by mostly because I get travel reimbursements but my mom pays for my car repairs and insurance, so I pocket the difference.

      In my entire life I have met hundreds of people who are struggling to make ends meet. I know exactly ONE person who was entirely responsible for their situation. I also know a man who makes six figures and is about to lose his home– he has a wife who can’t work due to medical issues, skyrocketing debts from years of unemployment and medical bills, has to pay for private insurance as a contractor, and his ex takes half his income (yes, they’re in court over it– so he is paying legal fees too).

      It’s very safe to assume that if someone is struggling, it’s probably not their fault, and very, very unlikely to be 100% their fault. If the man I know can make 6 figures and be unable to make ends meet, despite living more frugally than I, then salary means NOTHING.

      1. Student*

        I see absolutely nothing in what you’re saying that might actually help anyone out. I also don’t see you offering up any solutions that you’ve come up with to get out of your own problems, either.

        I don’t blame you for struggling. I have a lot of sympathy. I grew up in a family of four, with a working father and stay-at-home (no income) mother, at poverty-line income. It sucked horribly. You know what? Neither of my parents ever did a single thing to try to get us out of that situation. They had no plan to fix it either, but a lot of complaints about how terrible it was.

        If you make a plan to get out of poverty, there’s a high likelihood it’ll fail. It’s really hard to get out of poverty. You need luck. You need skill. You need to leave other people behind. If you make no plan, you’ll never get out of poverty. If you are at the edge of poverty, like this OP probably is, then you can’t afford to bail out your worse-off friends and co-workers. You’re only making it harder to fix your own situation.

        If I were this guy, given the additional info, the first thing I’d do is try to ditch the kids on someone else. Heartbreaking? Yes. Much easier to climb out of poverty? Also yes.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          “the first thing I’d do is try to ditch the kids on someone else”

          Wow, what heartwarming compassion. You sure do “have a lot of sympathy.” Sure would teach those freeloading kids a lesson if, right after their mom and grandma died, their dad abandoned them for his “plan to get out of poverty” that meant he had to “leave other people behind.”

          Some problems don’t have easy solutions, a simple “plan to fix it.”

        2. Zelkova*

          I’m not sure why you are accusing others of not offering up solutions. Basiorana was simply offering another perspective and showing how you can do everything you possibly can in a tough situation and still come up short.

          Look, the OP’s coworker is a widow and the family member (his MIL) who was taking care of his two kids has also passed away. I agree that it would be helpful to direct the coworker to resources that might be helpful. It might also help for all of us to keep in mind that we never know another person’s situation and can’t always make accurate judgments about their living and spending habits.

        3. Basiorana*

          Everyone here has already covered the bases.

          1.) Increase income as reasonable. Ask for a raise if you’ve earned it, look for a better job if one is availiable, and/or take on another part time job if the childcare works out and you won’t be too tired to maintain your performance at the day job.

          2.) Use social services, including government and private charitable sources, to help make ends meet to pull yourself out of the situation.

          3.) When possible, use other resources to reduce costs, like carpooling.

          That is the only plan that has ever worked or will ever work to get someone out of poverty. Everyone here has agreed that the guy needs to do #1 if he hasn’t already, but it’s a new situation; they’ve shared the resources for #2, and confirmed that #3 is not feasible.

          And of course, he’s not going to “ditch” his kids. That’s absurd. The kids lost a mother and a grandmother, now you want them to lose a dad? Why would he ruin his kids lives, causing permanent stress on the relationship and putting them in a shitty foster care situation where they may be abused or neglected, to help himself? That’s like the opposite of the rational thing to do. Your children are more important than you are.

        4. Charlotte Collins*

          Perhaps put them on an Orphan Train…?

          Talk to someone who was a child during the Great Depression. Trust me, they’d rather be with their parent(s) than sent elsewhere. (This happened to some people in my family – the situation was temporary due to their mother’s illness & father not having work. But it affected them for the rest of their lives. And when I lived in the Northwest, I knew many people whose grandparents had heartbreaking stories about orphan trains.)

        5. The Strand*

          I’m really shocked to hear that. And I grew up in poverty with one crazy parent and another who was deeply depressed. I am thankful every day that my father didn’t abandon us. Yes, he could have done more back then to get us out of our poverty, but he didn’t know everything.

          What do you think this man is living for, with his wife gone? While you assume the children are a burden to him, the reality is that they are probably the only thing he really has left of his late wife. The reality is that like many parents, he loves them with every fiber of his being, and would probably move into a car or go on public assistance rather than “ditch” them.

          You know the old Biblical quote about the man who gained the whole world only to lose his soul?

        6. MashaKasha*

          Because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, here’s a story – my great-grandparents lived in a shtetl, great-grandpa was a village schoolteacher and great-grandma did not work. They had a ridiculously large number of kids, seven daughters I think – don’t recall the exact number. You can imagine how broke they were. They did however have a wealthy cousin who lived in the city with his wife, had his own successful business, and no kids. So they sent my grandmother to live with them and that couple raised my grandmother as their own. They were also going to include her in their will and all around make sure that she never wanted her anything. But then an economic reform hit that banned all private business ownership, and I don’t know what happened to them after that – hope they made it out alive.

          My point is that maybe Student meant something like that when he or she said “ditch the kids”. It’s still unrealistic, bad advice, that I’d have never listened to as a parent, but at least it wouldn’t be as cold if that’s what they had in mind.

          To Student: nope, you don’t do it. a) these kids are the closest people you’ll ever have, and may one day be the only people you can count on, and b) you’ll have to live with yourself for lord knows how many years after you do this. Long-term consequences of this action for yourself (not even for the kids – that one is obvious…) are not worth the meager short-term financial gain. I’m just being logical here and the logical answer to your suggestion is NOPE.

  33. Malissa*

    Me personally, I would drop a pre-paid gas card on the guys desk. I’d also send him in to talk to the boss. This is a case where a small raise could make a big difference.

    1. Basiorana*

      Or really, just have an Employee Assistance Program for people in need. My company offers $500 one-time payments if you’re really struggling due to a sudden situation, like, oh, the death of a spouse and a childcare provider.

  34. Well*

    OP, a few questions:

    To what extent do you think this is the result of your co-worker making ongoing poor financial choices? If your co-worker eats out for lunch every day, drives a Hummer, and talks about his Apple Watch at lunch, he’s literally choosing to prioritize luxuries over getting to work five days a week, and nobody will have much sympathy for that.

    If, OTOH, his job just doesn’t pay well and he’s got two kids, that will (by most reasonable people) be viewed differently. Even if it’s the result of past poor choices (e.g. maybe he’s got a mountain of debt) as long as he’s conducting himself in a financially responsible manner now, people will likely have sympathy.

    If it’s the former I wouldn’t say anything — it sounds like you like your co-worker and you won’t be doing him any favors. If it’s the latter, I would tell your co-worker “Bob, if people knew why you were taking a sick day once a week they’d feel very differently about it. Right now it doesn’t reflect well on you. I can’t tell you what to do, but as your friend I’m really worried about you. I think you should say something to our boss about this and see if you can come up with a solution together.”

    1. Well*

      For clarity, I should say that of course not all mountains of debt are the result of poor personal choices. Re-read that and realized it sounded wrong — my point is just that even if he’s made bad decisions in the past and that’s why it’s so hard for him to make ends meet, as long as he’s being fiscally responsible now, most people would cut the guy some slack.

    2. Well*

      Saw you addressed most of this upthread. Given the additional info, I’d definitely encourage your co-worker to talk to the boss. I’m assuming it’s mostly his pride keeping him from doing that — it feels really, really bad to tell other people that you’re struggling financially. But it sounds like he’s someone who probably takes pride in being a good professional. If you cast it in that light — this is his professional pride at stake — maybe it’ll break through to him?

    3. Willow Sunstar*

      I agree. Plus there are ride-sharing services, all he needs to do is Google. If it’s a question of giving up cable TV to pay for gas, or give up junk food for a while, sometimes we need to give up the cable and junk food.

  35. Yep, me again*

    Wow…sorry that’s not anymore than a statement but wow. However, I’ve been there before so I know how hard it can be and with an SUV no less (yes I was an idiot)).
    What I did, and it may not help, is I didn’t fill up my tank once a week. I spread it out so I’d get 5, maybe $10 worth of gas at a time and it helped some. It meant coasting on fumes sometimes but it helped. I also had someone whose car blew up and they asked me for rides home but they shared in the cost of gas so that could help too.

  36. Wilton Businessman*

    There’s only two solutions to this problem; more money or less expenses.

    In the “more money” column, yes, he could ask for a raise. Or see if there is overtime opportunities. Or he could get a second job.

    On the “less expenses” side, he could get a roommate or ride-share. Hard to say without knowing the specifics.

    But one thing is clear, it’s not the OP’s place to interfere unless he is asking for help. And certainly it’s not the OP’s place to talk to management.

    1. puddin*

      Spot on to all points.

      I would be very very leery of spilling the beans to anyone, even management. A better approach is to take the co-worker out to lunch and try to convince them to talk to management himself.

      Betraying someone’s confidence ‘for the right reasons’ always seems to work out (eventually) on the sitcoms, but not so much in RL.

      And unless the co-worker approaches you with a request for help, any that you offer is kind of butting in. If it were a close friend or relative – sure through a cash card, budget template, or gas coupon their way. But this is a co-worker, the boundaries are tighter.

  37. NickelandDime*

    I would not go to the guy’s manager, but I would talk to him about the consequences of what could happen if he himself doesn’t let his manager know what’s going on, and work with management to find a solution. I’ve seen situations like this, where a person for whatever reason won’t let the Powers That Be know there are serious personal things going on that’s affecting their work performance. It usually ended with the person getting themselves fired. I’d hate to see that happen to this guy, because he really doesn’t need THAT PROBLEM right now. I really like the suggestions above about informing him about assistance available to help. But I’d really encourage him to talk to someone. Who knows? He may be up for some pay raise or promotion in the future, and letting his manager know could help turn things around. They might also work with him on his schedule, or find someone that lives near him that could help carpool.

    1. The IT Manager*

      +1 The LW’s instinct’s are right on. The co-worker should be advised and heavily encouraged to let his boss’s know what’s happening. The LW shouldn’t inform management himself, but the co-worker needs to understand that people including higher-ups and the leadership team have noticed, suspect he’s lying, and are speculating on it. It doesn’t sound like anyone has any clue about what is really up, but calling out sick weekly especially on the same day every week is highly suspicious.

      Yes in addition to being an embarrassing situation to be in, he’ll have people being noisy and offering mostly unwelcome advice about his personal finances, but he needs to understand that he’ll be in a much worse situation if he loses his job because of absenteeism (fired from last job, bad references, and searching while unemployed) and he won’t have money for gas making job hunting near impossible.

      That said, I am not sure how much the boss could do. If his money situation is not because he’s woefully underpaid (spouse lost job, medical bills, etc) then it’s not really the job of the business to increase his pay because of personal troubles, but it sounds like as little as $5 extra dollars a week would cover the cost of the commute and could be worth it to keep a good employee But at least the boss will understand what’s causing his absences and not imagining that he’s going out drinking every Thursday night and is too hungover to come to work on Friday. That is what I’d expect when someone suspiciously starts calling in sick the same day every week – that they’re doing something the night before that makes them unable to come in.

    2. zora*

      I agree. I know it’s got to be so hard for him, but the OP’s coworker is going to *have* to talk to his manager at some point, because otherwise he could get fired. And that would be so much worse. I don’t know what the exact solution is, but at the very least he needs to tell his manager something. Maybe he can tell the manager why he has been calling out, and that he is working on a plan and hopes to have things under control in X amount of time. I guess it depends on the manager and how reasonable he is and how he might react, but I am worried it’s going to be worse if he tries to stay quiet and pretend this isn’t a problem. :o(

      It is so sad though, I really feel for this guy.

  38. Helen*

    Car pooling, uber, car share clubs, apps / websites which tell you the cheapest petrol, such as I would also suggest emptying the boot, getting his tires reinflated, and trying super-unleaded. But also, yes, if the company is not paying him enough to fill his tank, a raise could be a good idea.

    1. Editor*

      Since the information has been posted upthread that the man is a widower whose mother-in-law was providing free child care but has now died, the likelihood of a second job being a solution isn’t good — any additional hours of work would be offset by the cost of more childcare and probably much less time with kids who are bereaved. Given the situation, I think help from county social services, income from Social Security if obtainable, or additional assistance from nonprofits would be the most practical. Finding someone to guide him through that would probably be the biggest favor anyone could do for him.

  39. kirsten*

    I would honestly advise him (as a friend) to look for a new job that pays a higher salary. Even if he gets some type of social service, he is obviously not making enough money at this job to afford the basics for his life if he is relying on the food pantry to make ends meet. Maybe social services would be a good interim solution until he finds something that pays higher.

  40. azvlr*

    Chiming in here because I have been in this situation before. I’m frankly dismayed at the judgmental comments being made, and also cheered to know there are far more resources out there than I knew.

    My money issues were not from bad money management, or wanting to indulge myself once in a while. I took a huge pay cut in order to move out of an abusive relationship and towards opportunity. Payday was on Thursday, and I called out sick on many Wednesdays. The saddest part was that my boss never asked me if there was a reason for my attendance issue, and this had an even deeper impact on my morale. It was a very dark time for me, and the fact that he took zero interest in me as a person made it that much worse. If you have any influence on this situation while preserving this man’s dignity, it would likely be appreciated beyond the financial support.

  41. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    This may have been mentioned already (didn’t read every comment), but what if he just got a job one more day a week like on a Saturday morning? If he got min wage (he’s prob worth more) and worked 8 hours like, 6 am to 2 pm, he’d make about $50 extra dollars for gas and still have time with his family on the weekends. I paid my way through college delivering pizza, though it seems counter productive to the gas cost, you make really good many and anyone will hire you.

    1. Nina*

      A second job sounds great, but I don’t know if that would work for him because he would probably need someone to watch his kids while was gone.

      1. SystemsLady*

        That and it sounds like this isn’t the type of community where it’s easy to find more than one job. Jobs in rural communities are often as hard to find.

      2. Partly Cloudy*

        This, plus he’d use even more gas to get to his second job.

        A part-time work-from-home job might be a possibility, depending on the ages of the kids (meaning, are they okay to fend for themselves if he’s home, or are they so little that they require basically nonstop attention?). A couple of my former co-workers did reservations for Disney part-time from home when the economy went in the toilet in 2008. In fact, one was a single dad with two kids. I wish I could remember the name of the umbrella company (Disney is just one of the companies they work with)… just tried a quick Google search but didn’t see it.

        1. simonthegrey*

          Amazon Turk, ChaCha, and other places pay small amounts for people to take online surveys. It isn’t a ton, but it could conceivably help out in at least easing grocery burdens so that he might have money for gas. I doubt he could work out of the home if he has young kids, but online work might work.

            1. simonthegrey*

              Very true. I was responding though with the idea of if he had to have it, either for Netflix or for his kids or for whatever reason. A lot of times people will say “just cut internet” but it isn’t that easy. I’m finally down to being able to only work two jobs and make enough with my husband’s income, but for a while I was working 5 and since one was online tutoring and two were teaching positions, I had to have online access at home

          1. Today's Satan*

            I don’t know the name of the company, but I’ve earned $100 in about 5-6 weeks doing online surveys. I usually fill them out in the evenings when watching TV.

        2. Sue D. O'Nym*

          I believe Arise is one of the reputable work from home call center agencies (possibly even the one used by Disney), but their startup requirements can be pretty stiff … dedicated landline phone, quiet workspace, tax forms, etc

  42. EmilyG*

    LW mentioned in one comment thread above that he has lost both his wife and his mother-in-law (who was providing childcare). First off, to me, that removes all the questions about Starbucks and Netflix and other ways he could supposedly economize. If he suddenly has to find and pay for childcare, and I assume drive the kids some distance to get wherever too, no wonder he’s in dire straits. How recently did his relatives pass away? I wonder if this is a situation where all the offers of support and help dried up after a while, or he’s become isolated, and he’s not sure how to ask for help later on. I think it speaks well of LW that he turned to her!

    The best idea I’ve seen is the gas cards. It doesn’t sound like he’s hundreds of dollars short or anything, so maybe a $10 gas card here or there would be enough to get him through the next few weeks.

  43. Bend & Snap*

    This letter made me sad, but I love how committed most of the commenters are to providing helpful suggestions. And to the Letter Writer, you’re sweet to be looking out for him. I hope he’s able to find a solution soon.

  44. YandO*

    I think he deserves to know that his job is in jeopardy. He will be much worse off if he has no income and no benefits. Missing work is not an option for him, so he needs to figure out what he wants to do.

    He can talk to the boss, move closer, seek outside help, second job….I have no idea and I know it won’t be easy, but what other option does he have?

    If I were you, I’d offer to commute to work. He can drive to my place every day and then drive together or meet up half way to his house or whatever. That may solve/help the problem temporarily but this is not a sustainable fix, so something has got to give and he needs to know that.

  45. Bend & Snap*

    Also how old are the kids? Is childcare a temporary thing or is he having to pay for daycare year-round? Because daycare costs are asinine, but summer childcare when kids are going to school in September may be something that’s easier to work with financially.

  46. some1*

    Some of the mistaken assumptions in the comments are pretty sad. These kind of attitudes are what make some people who really, actually need public assistance of some kind not ask for it because they don’t want to subject themselves to judgements from people who have no idea what they are talking about.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      There is a general very poor view of poor people in America. For many years investigative news reports would expose welfare fraud and ruffling feathers. People drive by housing projects and see Benzes, see people buying lobster tails and crab legs on food stamps and the perception of people on any kind of assistance is just very negative. The truth is many people are on some form of assistance because it is tough out here. The abusers on the system are only the ones highlighted. There are people on forms of assistance who work 40+ hours a week. I know someone who gets housing assistance and has 2 kids and makes almost $60k. Our city’s market rent 3 bedroom apartments are a mortgage in a quality suburb.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yup. The “welfare queen” legend is mostly based on one woman, whose welfare scamming was the least of the things wrong with her. She was an all-around con artist and probable murderer with decades of shenanigans. There was a really interesting article a few years ago. Hardly a typical example of anyone or anything.

        1. sam*

          Yeah – On the Media on WNYC/NPR actually just did a re-review of the story about her last weekend in the context of media narratives. Welfare fraud was so far down her list of crimes it was kind of amazing. She was alleged to have been a murderer and serial kidnapper, amongst many other things.

      2. Natalie*

        Ugh, the steak and lobster on food stamps thing. Drives me crazy.

        People who use SNAP are LESS likely to buy any seafood, fresh meat, or fresh or frozen veggies. Forwarded emails from the Cranky Old Man Internet notwithstanding.

        That said, when my former partner was on food stamps while doing Americorps, we did buy steak. But I’m sure we never ended up in anyone’s email forwards because we don’t look like one of “those people”.

        1. KT*

          Please thank your partner for me. Americorps is a pretty thankless job, and they do amazing work for next to nothing

        2. Charlotte Collins*

          I always figure that I’m not one to judge what someone else buys with their benefits – for all I know there’s a sale on or someone might have gotten an unexpected gift of other food from a friend or relative (not uncommon, as we are an urban area surrounded by farmland) and now they want something special to go with it. Where I live, SNAP benefits can be used at farmers’ markets, and they can be doubled at certain markets, which is great as far as I’m concerned – helps both the farmers and those in need. And the farmers are great about donating to the food pantry people at the end of each market.

          Ironically, our state legislature is considering some of those changes to limit what they can be spent on – and if it passes, it will affect what people can buy at a local farmers’ market… Because poor people shouldn’t buy herbs or tomato sauce (I guess they only deserve bland food?).

          1. Natalie*

            Ugh, yes, my neighboring state is considering a proposal like that… and they’re going to limit or eliminate bulk rice and bean purchases? What the what? Apparently Snidely Whiplash is in government now.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              That doesn’t even make sense based on all the “arguments” I’ve heard for these kinds of proposals… Bland, cheap starch and protein is all they want people to eat. (For the record, I love rice and beans, but I feel for anyone who has to make it the mainstay of their diet…)

            2. I'm a Little Teapot*

              What the hell?? Why?

              I suppose the answer is the same reason as why Arizona wasted tax money on making SNAP cards bright orange: because they just really hate poor people to the point of doing completely counterproductive and petty things just to harm them. Something is seriously wrong with this country.

              1. JoAnna*

                FYI, I’m in Arizona and we were on SNAP last year after my husband lost his job. Our card isn’t bright orange; it looks like a credit card and has a picture of the Grand Canyon on it.

            3. Katie the Fed*

              This must be Wisconsin! They also wanted to prohibit spices, sharp cheddar (mild cheddar is fine), shellfish, and more. Eat a plain steamed potato, poors!

                1. Anx*

                  In seriousness, I think it has something to do with transforming the SNAP programming to expand WIC, so that most of what you buy with SNAP has to be WIC-approved. Which is a shame, because while WIC can be a great program overall, its restrictions are the worst part of it for most families.

                  I’d be annoyed. Organic milk is cheaper because it’s usually UHT pasteurized, so we can actually buy a gallon instead of those this skimpy little cartons. You can buy Kraft singles, I think, but not sharp cheddar.

                2. DaisyG*

                  I buy “sharp” cheddar (which in the UK is ‘mature’) because I spend less than buying mild – they’re the same price, but the stronger flavour means I can use less.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                One of the state legislators argued against this with the visual aid of a cheese board.

                Also, cheese is kind of a big deal in WI (as some of you might have heard), and it also seems counter-productive to do something that hurts the dairy farmers and cheese makers. Because all politicians love farmers when it’s time to garner votes.

        3. Ad Astra*

          I had a friend who did Americorps and, with a little help from her parents and a very tight budget, could afford to use her SNAP card at Whole Foods instead of Kroger or whatever. Boy did she get some looks.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Who even knows what a SNAP card looks like? It looks like a credit card unless you look realllly closely

            1. Natalie*

              Not in some states. Arizona spent a bunch of precious tax money making them bright fucking orange so everyone will know you’re one of the poors.

              1. JoAnna*

                I mentioned this above but this isn’t true (anymore), unless it was changed very recently. We’re in AZ and were on SNAP last year; the card does look like a credit card and it has a picture of the Grand Canyon on it. It’s not orange.

        4. Helka*

          When I was on SNAP, I bought plenty of beef — because I was fighting anemia and buying red meat on SNAP was easier and cheaper than getting an iron prescription with a copay coming out of my pocket. People have different health needs, amazing! I’m sure there were a few people at the grocery store side-eying me when I pulled out that incriminating bright orange card (thanks, Maryland!) but it helped me keep my health on track.

          1. Anx*

            I find that a few mussels or clams a month really makes a difference in my mood and ability to concentrate. Might be psychological, but it’s really effective. I wouldn’t skip those because some people thought they were too fancy.

      3. SystemsLady*

        Yup. And they go on and on about how much debt those poor people must be in…while failing to realize that poverty can often be the result of a nasty spiral of strictly necessary debt from “barely enough” downwards.

        First you don’t make enough to get health insurance, then you get sick = medical debt and suddenly have trouble buying food, then your car breaks down and you try out one of those payday loans (you can’t go to work if you don’t fix the car, because there’s no public transportation, after all), etc…

        1. Relosa*

          This is exactly what happened to me, starting my graduating semester in college. It’s awful.

  47. Colorado*

    I feel really bad for this guy based on the info the LW provided (wife passed, MIL childcare passed). I would talk with my manager and explain what’s going on, it’s better than getting fired over this. Maybe carpool (tho hard with little kiddos in daycare), contacting United Way was a great suggestion. Hell, I’d give him gas cards if I could. Can we (anyone interested) pool in $20 for him and at least get him through a couple months? My heart is breaking over this.

    1. Gareth Keenan Investigates*

      (Reply to Colorado) I would totally chip in to buy gas cards. LW can determine if this an ok plan but if a gift would make him feel awkward he doesn’t ever have to know where they came from. Is there a way to buy online or have the cards waiting for him at a local gas station? If someone sets something up, please let me know!

      1. Sparky*

        Yes, I’d be willing to send $20 to LW to pass on to the coworker, if someone sets something like this up. I don’t use PayPal, however.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I emailed the OP about this question and while she was appreciative, she’s not comfortable doing it — she says that knowing how private and proud he is, he’d be hurt, ashamed, and very angry with her. However, she’s going to take many of the suggestions that people here made and talk with him this week. And she promises to update!

  48. _ism_*

    Wow. I lost so many jobs because of situations like this, in my past. I’d call out sick because I couldn’t afford to drive to work or because I had no food for lunch. I didn’t qualify for assistance because I did have an income. I wish I’d trusted people more to be concerned and generous instead of assuming I was screwed either way.

    1. Knit Pixie*

      I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. I’ve been kicked when I’ve been down, so I know the fear is legitimate.

      It can be a crap shoot. Sometimes you get: “Of course you can ride with me, I wish you would have told me sooner!” Other times it’s: “I don’t even know where you get off even taking this job, when your car was going to get hit on your way to work this morning and you couldn’t get here without asking for a ride.”

      Sucks that it is always a gamble.

  49. Kyrielle*

    Also, he may want to check out Modest Needs. I’m not sure they can really address this, unless he has a one-time bill/cost that, if paid off, would get him out of this mess; on the other hand, even if they can’t help here, they might be a good resource for him if an emergency bill *does* come up, given that he has no leeway in his budget.

  50. madge*

    OP, I’m so sorry, especially with your update that his wife passed, and his mother-in-law who was watching the two children passed away. I can’t imagine the emotional pain, let alone the insane expense of suddenly needing to pay someone to care for two kids (and I’m assuming possible medical bills from his wife’s death).

    I agree with the posters about calling United Way or another local organization. You mentioned you’re in a rural area so google or your state’s assistance website might be the best ways to find help. You/he might also try calling local churches to see what type of assistance programs they offer. Many are small and aren’t publicized so you’ll only know if you specifically ask. I work in various rural areas and I’m amazed by the help small churches (I’m not even religious) give to anyone in need. They could possibly also help with low-cost childcare.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      County social services also probably has a list of independent groups that will help out in a pinch.

  51. Emma the Strange*

    I’m trying to figure out what this guy’s long term plan is re: telling the boss. I assume he’s either ashamed about it or is worried that the boss will react badly. But surely he must realize that calling in sick once a week without explaining circumstances makes him look even worse? And that if he does it long enough he’ll probably get fired?

    The only explanation I can think of is that this he’s had some crisis hit his family recently that he’s hoping can be resolved before the higher ups get too fed up with him and fire him (e.g.: his spouse lost their job recently, or some family member is having a costly-but-temporary medical issue). After all, it sounds like he’s been at this company for a while and the calling in sick only started recently.

    One thing for the OP to consider then: does the co-worker know that other people (particularly higher ups) have noticed his chronic absenteeism, and are talking about it behind his back? It’s possible that this is the kind of office where the higher ups won’t say anything to him until they get fed up and fire him (or at least until the issue has done so much damage to his reputation there that it’s difficult-to-impossible to fix). It’s also possible that the co-worker has convinced himself that no one saying anything = no one’s noticed/it’s not a big deal. If that’s the case, then the OP should tell him that other co-workers and the higher ups have noticed, and that he’s more likely to lose his job if he doesn’t explain himself than if he does (unless the boss is wildly unreasonable, in which case the co-worker might be screwed no matter what he does).

    1. Natalie*

      He might not have a plan, per se. The human brain under stress tends to get a wicked case of tunnel vision (figuratively, not literally), and the stress of poverty is no exception.

      1. Emma the Strange*

        That would make sense. Especially if I’m right and no one else has said anything to him directly and he’s convincing himself that that means everything’s hunky dory.

    2. Emma the Strange*

      Posted this before seeing the letter writer’s responses, I now see that his spouse has died, he doesn’t have a good source of child care, and jobs are scarce in his area (so he can’t just get a higher paying job in the area).

      I still want to know what his long term plan is. He must know he can’t keep calling in sick without explanation forever- he’ll get fired. Is he hoping things will somehow improve before that? Given what the letter writer has said, it’s not obvious to me what could change in that time frame that could actually fix things.

      And my main advice still stands: if the co-worker is not aware of the extent to which other people (especially the higher ups) have noticed/are talking about his absenteeism, then the OP should definitely make that clear to him.

      1. KT*

        Grief, desperation, and survival mode can really wreck people’s frames of mind–they can only focus on getting through the next hour–there is no long term plan

        1. Emma the Strange*

          Yeah, I’m increasingly convinced of this. Although, OP, if you want to convince him to explain things to his boss, then “you can’t do this forever, what’s your long term plan re: telling the boss” might be a helpful line of questioning.

        2. Dawn88*

          As a widow myself, grief and desperation are what I lived for tears. I did my best to be strong and carry on, and not make it anyone’s problem but mine. I had no family backup, no long term plan, nor could even conceive one.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The fake it until you make it school of thought. You are using past tense here, so I am hoping things are a tiny bit better now? Not my business, though. But you raise a valuable point for our cynics here that think he should budget better and everything would be fine.

            Something for OP to consider, losing a spouse is something that takes YEARS to find your footing again. If he has no family support or community support, he is in a bad, bad, bad place. It could take a decade or longer for him to recoup.

      2. Ad Astra*

        When you’re poor, sometimes all you’re concerned with is getting through the day. I doubt he has a longterm plan, unless he’s considering relocating for a better-paying job.

        I do agree that the OP should make it clear that people have noticed his absence, and urge him to talk to the boss.

    3. Another HRPro*

      I’ve been in a similar financial situation in the past I never shared my difficulties with anyone. It was because I felt it was my issue to figure out. I also didn’t want charity – which was a mistake.

  52. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I’ve been in this guy’s situation before, where I could walk 2+ hours to work, call in sick, or borrow some money. It’s so stressful. He’s lucky to have you in his corner trying to help him come up with a solution.

    While I think it’s problematic for him to approach his boss to ask for any kind of a raise (his attendance issues will not allow this to be merit-based right now), I would 100% encourage him to talk to his boss to ask for some understanding and indicate his “personal problems”. Maybe he could work from home one day a week to help? There are a lot of great ideas in the comments already, so I hope this will help him out.

    It’s so important to remember that this could happen to any one at any time, even if you’re well-employed and well-paid (whatever that means). I hope life gets better for him soon!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think the key is not to ask for a raise, but to ask the boss if he knows of any solutions or helpful ideas. I agree he has to tell the boss that he has no gas money, otherwise he is going to look like someone who does not want to work.

      Does the boss know the home situation on this story, OP?

  53. Nina*

    This is a really sad situation, and probably a lot more common than it seems. Especially in the summer, when parents have to scramble to find daycare for their kids.

    If carpooling isn’t an option, then I would research some of the programs suggested. The gas cards are a great idea, but unless you and your coworkers are putting up the $$$ every week, that well will eventually run dry. I don’t see that working in the long term.

    Another problem with this is that he’s using up all his sick days and when he (or the kids) actually get sick, he won’t have any more sick time.

  54. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the responses, but I’m betting that I’m going to overlap…

    If you are close enough to really give him advice I would tell him to look at three things. Present all of them – you don’t know which, if any, of these things will help, but they are all possible avenues for relief.

    1. Budget / financial counseling – Don’t just hand him a template. That’s condescending and makes a lot of assumptions. But many people in a bad financial place really can find a way to cut costs, that they either didn’t realize could be done or could be so significant. But, that’s not always so easy to do, and help can be very useful there.

    2. Benefits and Entitlement assistance. He should take advantage of whatever is out there, whether it’s government or private sector programs. Gas cards, food stamps (SNAP), rent assistance, loan forgiveness, whatever it may be. If the problem is really primarily that he’s being paid too little to live on reasonably, he may very well be eligible for quite a bit of assistance. But, even if it’s not a LOT, it could still make a difference.

    3. Job search. He clearly needs more money. So, looking for a second job, or a better paying job makes sense. It won’t help in the short term, till he finds something, but in the long term that could be the key solution. And, also, it might make some economies more doable – it’s one thing to NEVER get your kid a candy bar, but it’s a bit different when you know there is a sunset clause.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Yes to a second job. Sometimes people who are having trouble making ends meet actually have a very small gap. They might need, say, an extra $100/month. That could be two nights a week for a few hours.

    2. Basiorana*

      If LW can get him a free consultation with a financial planner, maybe. They can look at things like refinancing and debt repayment plans. Actual budgeting advice, like “don’t go out to eat,” is not relevant at the using-a-food-pantry stage. It’s insulting.

  55. Observer*

    One other thing. I did read the first few comments, and some people mentioned talking to management, or his boss. Do NOT do that. He’s not a child, and this is his battle to fight. Going to his boss is, at best, not useful and could just make things much worse.

  56. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Putting on my social worker brain here: Sometimes it’s hard to get money for exactly the thing that you need, but you can offset that need by finding assistance with another expense. For example, if he can get $100 a month in food stamps, then that would free up $100 he has been spending on food for gas. Same with heating assistance, free lunch for the kids at school, etc. You look at all the things the person is spending money on, and see if you can find assistance for ANY of them. Your goal is to increase the total income to make ends meet in whatever way is possible. Someone at your department of social services can probably help with this – they will know ALL of the resources that are available. Also, many departments of social services have the ability to offer one-time financial assistance to families for whatever. Here, it’s up to $300 once a year, in cash. That might go a long way toward buying gas one more day per week.

    Because some people are scared of DSS/CPS be aware that the income division is normally separate form child protection – totally different thing.

    So encourage him to look for gas help, but also to look bigger picture for help with any and all other expenses.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I’m glad that was helpful. I also want to put in a plug for 211. Not every community has it, but a surprising number do (even rural areas). It is a telephone service that has a very complete and up-to-date listing of community resources and the criteria to use them. At least here, the people who answer the phone are social workers – not regular call center workers, and they are extremely helpful and kind. You dial it on the phone like you would dial 411 or 911. The 211 people where I live will even call the person back in a few days to see if they got what they needed, and then provide additional resources if not. If they are dealing with someone who is very upset, or seems to have limited capacity, they will even patch calls through to the local programs and stay on the phone to be sure the person doesn’t get lost before they talk to someone.

    1. simonthegrey*

      Around here, the food bank will give you a one-time supply of groceries, no questions asked, no proof of income needed. If he could get something like that once, it might help him get caught back up. Is there a similar program in your area?

  57. Erin*

    If it were me and it was feasible I would give him rides myself. (Cue my husband lecturing me about how I’m too nice and forgiving of other people.) Obviously that may not be possible, you are not obligated to do so, and you’d admittedly be opening yourself up to additional favors.

    If you can’t convince him to be up front with your boss, I don’t think you’re in a position to do so yourself, but I would make it super clear to him that this may very well cost him his job.

    Try suggesting a meeting with the three of you.

  58. A. D. Kay*

    Damn. I know we AIMers can’t help everyone in dire financial straits, but I for one would happily contribute to a Youcaring fund for this guy. Even a lousy hundred bucks could make all the difference! Who else is with me? Letter Writer, would you feel comfortable setting one up?

    1. Letter Writer*

      I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am with everyone’s help, kind words, and generosity. You guys are so awesome and I’m so glad I found this site.

      I really hesitate with setting up a fund–he’s such a private person, he’d kill me if he knew I posted, and he would probably try to return the money (yes, he’s that guy).

      I will though absolutely share the resources you all mentioned and the different programs/tax benefits he may be eligible for.

      1. Kristine*

        You don’t have to set up a fund for him – you only have to set up a fund for everyone, and have him be the first recipient. When he is in a better place, he can contribute his share. He won’t be the last in this position!

        1. fposte*

          I like this thought. Is it really better for the kids for him to stay private about this and lose the job?

      2. Dawn88*

        At my desperation stage, I was also a “private and too proud person” to accept money from people. I just did without. A GF of mine caught on, and would take one or two $20 bills, and stuff them in my jacket pocket when she came by….or stuff them in a purse pocket when I wasn’t looking….

        One day I put my jean jacket on, and found $40 wadded in the pocket. I felt like I won the Lotto. I had no idea how it got there, but was so thrilled. Every few months some cash would magically appear….in my dryer, my kitchen drawer, washing machine… After a year, she finally confessed. What a big hearted, wonderful person.

        Now that I got a job at last, she is in my Will, since I have no family, but I still own a house. In California, no less. Guess who will get it? She has no idea, either. I love it!

        1. Another HRPro*

          This actually made me tear up. I used to do this for my mom. Just stuff a $20 in her pockets/purse/book/etc. She needed the money and wouldn’t ask for it.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Some people are pick pockets and some people are PUT pockets.

          What a cool friend.

      3. Ad Astra*

        Please let us know if you change your mind (or he changes his).

        We don’t know anything about this guy except for the basics of his situation. We all realize he works hard and hasn’t asked us for anything, but we want to help because we’re moved by his story. Many of us have struggled in the same ways. It would make me feel better to know he’s getting to work so his kiddos can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

      4. Another HRPro*

        You could set it up so that he doesn’t know. Honestly if we collected a couple hundred you can get a few gas cards and leave them on his desk for him.

        1. Today's Satan*

          Of course the problem with that is that LW is probably the only person he’s talked to about this, and certainly the only person at work. It would take him a fraction of a nanosecond to figure out who put the gas cards on his desk.

          LW could, though, hand him gas / VISA cards with the explanation of, “I belong to an internet community and asked them if they had any ideas to help out someone with two small children who’d lost his wife and MIL — I promise I was just looking for resources to tell you about — and in addition to great ideas they all sent me money, completely unasked for.”

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Or, she won them in a raffle. No one has to know it was the AAM raffle.

  59. BadPlanning*

    Random ideas that I haven’t seen yet

    Has he burned through his vacation yet? Maybe now would be a good time for him to just take a series of Fridays or Mondays off instead of having to call in sick? It’s tricky with kids through — he’d probably want to save vacation days for kid sick days, kid vacation days, etc, depending on the ages.

    Are there any gas station coupons for gas stations around your area? Since it sounds more rural, perhaps not. It’s become popular around my parts to have a grocery store card that adds up for money off at certain gas stations. Not sure if access to coupons would give the OPs coworker enough room to buy enough gas for Friday.

  60. Sigrid*

    I know I’m echoing a lot of comments, but please encourage him to talk to a social worker. Social workers will know all the forms of help available in their area, and like Ashley said above, the goal is to lower *some* expenses so that he has enough money for gas, even if the gas money itself is not what he is able to get help on.

    And thank you for being such a good friend. He is lucky to have you in his corner.

  61. Dasha*

    Hm, I had a co-worker who was going through some tough financial times and I would leave $10 in her desk at night when everyone left (err, sounds kind of creepy when I type it). She was the type of person who didn’t want to accept any help and I know it was the only way she’d take the money because there’s no way she’d go around the office asking who left this money in my desk?!

    And on that note, I think you really need to talk to your co-worker and let him know he needs help and he can’t do this on his own. Two kids, then both his wife and mother-in-law passed away? Yeah, anyone in that situation would be scrambling. Some of the other commenters left some links to resources you could check out and present to him, and even if he isn’t religious, a lot of churches/religious organizations offer all kinds of help.

    Could he shift down to (kind of) part-time? If he consistently can’t afford the gas maybe it would at least prevent him from getting fired? I don’t know if that would work if he’s getting benefits/insurance/whatever but it was a thought that ran through my head.

    And OP, what a caring person you are!! I admire you for trying to help :) I hope you will write back in a few weeks with and update.

  62. Anon369*

    Another idea that’s less direct – can you all (or better yet, your company) do an office /breakfast/lunch 1-2x a week that he can partake in? It might free up a few dollars for him that might go toward his gasoline needs.

  63. Charlotte Collins*

    This just occurred to me. If he or his late wife is a veteran, there might be benefits that he could look into. I used to do TRICARE work, and a lot of people don’t realize that there are benefits that they can claim. (It’s a long shot, but every bit helps.) I think a gift of a gas card is a great idea, too.

    Also, if you cook, it’s a small help, but maybe you can once in a while “make too much” and give him a casserole or other dish to take home for the kids. (Not only can this save him some money on food, but it would give him more time to spend on childcare – I can only imagine that a lot of what he’s trying to do is make things as “normal” for his poor kids as possible and just be a good dad.)

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you-that’s a great idea.

      I’ve caught him eating the stale bagels after a board meeting for days, so I’m sure food would be appreciated. I’m smaccking myself for not thinking of it before–I batch cook sometimes, so I’ll make extra soups and casseroles for him and his kids.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Ok, seriously, can we do something for this guy? This is breaking my heart

        1. madge*


          If something is organized, is there a way to pin the post or? I’ll keep checking in, just don’t want to miss the post if there is some way we can help. I can’t imagine being able to function after everything that’s happened to this guy.

          Letter Writer, the time and effort you’re putting into helping him is amazing. Thank you for brightening the day of this cynical, generally anti-people person.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I mentioned this upthread, but am saying it again here. Did he check to see if there are social security benefits for his kids because their mother died?

        1. just me*

          He absolutely should be getting social security for the kids based on their mother’s death.

    2. Anon for this discussion*

      I used to do this for the neighbor who I knew was overstretched in the money department and caring for an elderly parent with very little left over for herself. Even if you don’t have a lot yourself, it doesn’t take much to double a batch of goulash and bring it in with the words…I thought you might like this…the husband just won’t eat leftovers and I’d hate to see it go to waste.

  64. Faith*

    Please have him call his nearest Catholic Church and ask if they have a St. Vincent de Paul conference there (conference = chapter). We help out in a variety of ways – actual donated food, utility help, gas cards, grocery store cards, etc. Every group is independent and has their own ways of helping along with their own limits.

    For example, my conference has all of the above, but with a $500/cash limit per year. Cash = utility/rent money + gift cards. My role in the group is putting away donated food (I have given myself the title Put-Away Princess, and I’ve only shared it in this blog). I toss everything expired (with the deacon’s blessing) and we get some pretty decent food in – but I suppose it varies.

    You don’t need to be Catholic – you can be an atheist for all we care. We might offer to pray with you but you can decline. If the local parish doesn’t have SVDP, then they can refer you to another Catholic church that does, or perhaps even other denominations offering assistance. We’ve helped restock other denominations’ food pantries if they are low.

    Can I put out a PSA? Please consider SVDP when donating. They (national org) gives things to people in need for free, and the money after paying the fixed costs for the store and labor actually goes to the local groups to help with their assistance programs. For whatever reason, we do not apply for such money although we are in a lower income area.

    1. Basiorana*

      Since I know others will use this as reference in the future– be careful relying on religious charities. SVP seems okay but always google them, some of them will not help you if you are LGBT or living in sin.

  65. Charlotte Collins*

    Alison – Please post an update on this one in the future. I really feel for this poor man.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Second the request. Plus a number of people on this thread want to contribute financially. Please let us know when/if there’s anything set up.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yes please! I would very much like to send this guy a gas and grocery card

  66. Darcy*

    At a former company where I used to work we had a payroll deduction collection (through our foundation) for hardship loans for employees who were experiencing financial issues due to illness, fire, etc. There was a committee that would vet the applications and provide the limited funds to the neediest people. There was one woman who applied for the loan several times. By the third time I recommended that we provide her resources to see someone who could help her with budgeting. While people certainly can experience financial difficulties due to unforeseen circumstances, sometimes it’s because they’ve never learned how to create and live within a realistic budget.

    1. Darcy*

      And I just realized that the letter writer listed the hardships above. So while it may help long-term to work with someone on budgets, he clearly needs other solutions now.

  67. The Expendable Redshirt*

    Is public transportation even slightly an option? It would be less expensive than driving. Park the car (cancel the insurance) and buy a book of tickets or a monthly pass. Maybe they are able to get a low income bus pass. If you can’t afford to drive….you can’t afford to drive.* I know it isn’t a great option, but using inconvenient/spotty transportation is better than loosing your job.

    Does this person have a budget? Transportation is very high on the This Must Be Paid List. I help people with budgets for a living. When I see the words ..

    “He can pay for his tank to be filled once a week, but he runs out by Thursday and can’t afford to refill. He means this literally, in that his bank account is actually at $0 and he’s relying on food pantries to fill the gap. He has 2 kids and there’s not enough money.”

    I think “This person needs a budget assessment.” Can they cancel their cable? Reduce their phone plan? Be part of a debt repayment plan? What needs to be restructured so that they can keep driving?

    In an emergency situation, focus only what keeps Body and Soul united (rent/food/basic utilities/child care) and what keeps you employed and able to earn an income (transportation/basic communication). Cut what is unnecessary.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      I think that’s what he’s doing. No public transport and his childcare provider died in addition to his wife.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      This is good advice. OP said above that there is literally no public transportation.

      1. The Expendable Redshirt*

        I haven’t read all the comments or updates. When I read “poor public transportation” that means (In my mind) that it at least exists and COULD have been an option. Since public transportation isn’t realistic, move to Keep Car Running Any Way Possible. Others have made a lot of good suggestions.

          1. zora*

            You can park a car without insurance in most states, but you also have to change it’s registration with the state to one that says you are not going to drive it. I forget what it’s called. But I have done it.

            1. zora*

              Non Operational Vehicle or something? then you can change all of that back if you want to drive it again.

              1. Expendable Redshirt*

                I’m in Canada. It’s legal to park your car in your driveway without insurance. If the Employee can get to work Some Other Way, this saves the cost of gas/repairs/insurance.

                Do not drive without insurance. That is terribad.

                1. Expendable Redshirt*

                  Terribad. For when terrible and bad just don’t describe how unwise an action would be.

            2. Elizabeth*

              At least in Kansas, doing this and then trying to re-tag & re-insure the vehicle means that you have to catch up on the length of time you didn’t have it in legal drivable condition. Which means coming up with a big lump sum. My husband’s aunt & uncle had a pickup & RV they were trying to sell, and they found this out the hard way.

  68. Sunshine Brite*

    Based on his wife’s death, the children may be eligible for Social Security benefits to supplement their care. Social services may be able to point him to resources or if there’s a legal aid office in the state to point him in the right direction. Also, if he goes into check on food stamps, if either child is under 5 there may be WIC resources for the child’s nutrition, child care resources, etc.

  69. BananaPants*

    Others have said all of this already, but here’s a list of ideas (assuming the letter writer lives in the US). In a crisis, being able to get benefits/reduce expenses in one area of the budget will free up money for other areas.
    1) If either of the children are under the age of 5, they are quite likely to be eligible for WIC for that child. From what I hear it can be a pain the neck to use the vouchers but it could help.
    2) If the children are in daycare, check to see if they participate in the USDA’s child care food program. If they’re in school, he should make sure to apply for free or reduced cost lunches (and breakfasts, if offered). ANY child can receive free summer meals at absolutely no cost and without needing to meet any income requirements through the USDA’s summer food service program – they are typically served at community centers, schools, libraries, camps, etc.
    3) The kids should be receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits due to his wife’s death, if she worked and paid into Social Security. They may already be getting it, but if not then tell him to run – not walk – to the nearest Social Security office.
    4) He should apply for state child care assistance. He may be eligible and not know it – in my state for a family of three the income cutoff is nearly $45K/year, and once a family is receiving child care assistance they can earn a higher amount and still keep the benefit.
    5) He should at least apply for SNAP benefits (food stamps). He may not get them, but it’s worth a try.
    6) Many religious groups/churches offer assistance for anyone in need regardless of religious affiliation. The mainline Protestants and the Catholics should not pressure him into any sort of religious practice in order to receive help from their organizations.
    7) Review his W4 and adjust withholding if necessary to put a little more money in his paycheck each week. The goal is NOT to get a big refund next April if he can get more money in his paychecks now.

    This can all be overwhelming. I’d slip him a $10-20 gas card to help in the short term and offer to help him call the United Way so that someone skilled in navigating all of these programs can advise him on the first steps to take. I’m no fan of the United Way’s fundraising practices but they will know where he can get help!

    If he keeps calling out sick eventually it will negatively impact his job or could cost him his job entirely and then he and his kids will be in even more dire straits. He doesn’t have to tell his boss if you don’t think the manager will be supportive and helpful (in some workplaces, admitting this will lead to termination) but he does have to figure out how to stop needing to call out so much.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      I know in my state WIC is underused because many people think they make too much to qualify, but the income threshhold is higher than anyone thinks. Great sugestion.

    2. Ineloquent*

      Hey, the Mormons will help out as well. Go to and look for the nearest meeting house. Call up the bishop and see what he can do. I’ve known of several who have arranged for housing, transportation, food, etc for non-LDS folks. I guarentee you, we’d love to help.

      1. Ineloquent*

        Oh, yes, and if you have a Quaker meeting anywhere nearby, please contact them. I have never known a more selfless or generous group of people in my life, and they expect not a thing in return.

    3. Xarcady*

      There’s a single mom where I work who gets the following:

      Reduced child care for her 1 year old at $60/week, including lunches and snacks.
      Free lunches and breakfasts for her 7 year old.
      $10/month internet–because her child is on free lunch, this is a benefit our state offers to help with schoolwork
      Free health insurance for the children. She pays a small co-pay for office visits and medications.

      Any of these would probably free up enough money in this man’s budget to afford that extra day of gas per week.

  70. BuildMeUp*

    LW, does he know that higher-ups are talking about his absences? If not, please sit him down and tell him. You’ve mentioned that he’s a very private person, but he definitely needs to be aware that if things don’t change, he could lose his job and be in an even worse situation. Hopefully he will talk to his manager about it or find other community resources that can help him.

    Please give us an update if/when you have one!

  71. MsChanandlerBong*

    I can see both sides here (people who say the guy could be trying as hard as he can, and people who think he may need help budgeting). I was in this exact same position about seven years ago. Gas was $4.05 a gallon then, and although my car only had a 10-gallon tank, I didn’t get great mileage because it was an old clunker with 122,000 miles on it. I had absolutely nothing, and I did nothing extra. There were days the free bagels we got for our work meeting would be the only thing I ate all day. Worst of all, my company was in the middle of a hiring freeze, so I worked full-time, but I had no benefits and didn’t get any holiday pay. When we were off for Labor Day, all of my coworkers got paid, and I lost 8 hours of pay. They kept extending my full-time temp contract, but I couldn’t afford to keep working there.

    On the other hand, an acquaintance of mine was evicted from her apartment two years ago, and she had a big sob story about it. I told her she could stay with me for free on the condition that she saved all the money she earned (we are both freelance writers, and we both work for a lot of the same companies, so I know how much most of her projects paid) for a deposit on a new place. After three months, I found out she had only $100 saved (but of course she could walk to the gas station and buy a coffee and a pack of cigarettes every day). I asked her to start paying $275 per month toward utilities and household expenses. She paid late the first month and didn’t pay at all the second month. After 7 months, I finally got rid of her.

    If the guy is a top performer, it probably wouldn’t hurt to see if you can set up a carpool or have him talk to the boss about an alternate schedule, but I probably wouldn’t go so far as to give him gas cards every week (maybe for one week, until he works something else out).

  72. Been There*

    I’ve been there where money was just non-existent. It stinks when you are doing everything right (which I am assuming is happening here) and still don’t have money for gas. Here are some ideas (some easy, some not):

    1) Ask for gas money from a local religious organization. They might require financial counseling which would probably be warranted. (humbling and uncomfortable but totally doable)
    2) Sell some stuff on Craigslist and use funds JUST for gas money. It is amazing what people will buy. We all have too much stuff anyways. (I sold all my books, a bunch of furniture and other crap to make bills at various times)
    3) Do a side gig online such as online admin work or something that can be done from home outside of office hours. (I critiqued resumes for $40 each — gas money right there).
    4) move closer to work. Rural areas are not the best for single dads with kids. (We lived rural, it’s the worst when you’re financially strapped)
    5) advertise in his local area for carpooling. There has to be someone who goes his way who would love to cut gas money down. Doesn’t necessarily have to be from your work.
    6) get a more fuel efficient car.

    1. fposte*

      There are good ideas here, but I particularly want to highlight the Craigslist one, which I don’t think had been mentioned. If he hasn’t cleared out, he may have things that belonged to his wife. It might be a wrench to part with them, but if I had been his wife, I would be cheering on the sale of my unneeded things to keep our household from ruin.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, any of the kids’ stuff that they’ve outgrown, which can get a few dollars. Which reminds me of something else that my mom and her co-workers did when I was a kid (as far as I ever knew, this was done throughout the small company). When their kids outgrew clothing, they would collect it and hand off a bag of clothes to someone with kids a little younger/smaller than theirs. The person would go through and pick out what they wanted (we were allowed to choose ourselves, so we never had to wear clothes we didn’t like), add to it, then hand it off to the next person. The bags would eventually make it to kids in the workers’ neighborhoods/social groups and then to local charities. Since I’ve heard kids have a habit of growing out of their clothing, I’m sure it saved a significant amount of money for the parents. Do you have enough people with kids where you work to institute something like this?

    2. Basiorana*

      LW– be careful recommending religious charities. Those donations tend to come with moral strings– like you can’t be LGBT, or you can’t live with someone unmarried, or you have to attend church.

      1. MissLibby*

        I don’t understand why you keep making this comment….what is he to be careful of? He could be turned down for by any organization regardless of religious affiliation for any number of reasons. Not sure why you would leave this option off the table because they *might* ask if he is LGBT or living in sin. And I only have person experience with a few faith based organizations, but I would say that being denied benefits for these reasons is highly unlikely in any case.

  73. Kira*

    I agree that 1) the boss should be told what’s actually going on, and 2) it’s not your place to make that happen. This guy is going to get fired if he keeps “getting sick” each week, right?

  74. LawBee*

    raising money for this coworker isn’t a long-term solution, it’s a quick fix. I’ve been sleep-in-my-car broke before, and while the occasional money gift was nice, it solved nothing in the long run.

    Coworker is at risk of losing his job over something that could possibly be helped if his management knew about it. He really really REALLY needs to talk to them asap; if he’s struggling now, he’s never going to make it on unemployment.

  75. Letter Writer*


    Thanks so much for all of your comments and ideas…when I sent this question to Alison, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. When I was brainstorming on my own, it just seemed very hopeless. But you all had great ideas, things he can do differently, places he can get help, ways to frame conversations with his boss–I really think it will help.

    I am beyond grateful for your tremendous generosity and offers of financial assistance–I never in a million years expected that. He is deeply private and extremely proud–I’m afraid he would be ashamed and furious at me if I did collect anything on his behalf.

    I’m going to talk to him tomorrow and give him your ideas/suggestions and see how things are going–I’ll try and feel him out to see how receptive he’d be to any of it. (And I made a crockpot full of food for him to take home!)

    Thank you, thank you a million times. I will certainly keep you updated.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Thank you for writing in and looking after this guy. He’s lucky to have you in his corner.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Also – even if he’s too proud to accept help, he might be willing to for the kids. So if you organized something at work or even suggested food stamps or emergency assistance – I’d frame it as for the kids, not for him. Even the proudest parent won’t let their kids suffer.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Just something to keep in the back of your mind:

      When my husband passed, my aunt gave me a stern talking to. She said, “You are not in a spot where you can turn down help. There have been too many times you have helped others. Now you need help, you do not have the luxury of saying no. In order to get out of the spot you are in you need to say yes to help. It will not always be this way, it will change. But for the time being you need to start saying “yes”.

      She was right. Sometimes things happen to us in life that are so extraordinary that we must say yes to help if we ever want our lives to get back on a good track. This is where he is at. You can impress on him that it is only for awhile and when he finds himself on sure-footing he won’t have to have help any more. But it is this very type of situation that these programs exist for.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Thanks. It does get better but it can take a massive amount of time. My aunt’s advice about saying yes, was very valuable. Our family is the fiercely independent, suck-it-down type. I can honestly say, if I had not accepted help from others, I would not be in as good a spot as I am today.

  76. Jillyan*

    I wouldn’t tell the boss directly but would encourage him to do so. Any boss with an ounce of compassion would understand and could help him in a way that wouldn’t feel like charity. Good employees are hard to find and it would be horrible to lose one because of something that can be easily fixed. Even if they couldn’t afford to pay him more they might arrange car pool or something.

  77. TootsNYC*

    Can he bike to some place that’s between you and your office? Biking to you and then riding in would eat up a lot of time, esp. for a guy who’s got primary kid duties.

    And maybe he needs to transport them, so maybe that wouldn’t work.

    I’m liking the idea of encouraging him to reach out to EAP or any other agency he can think of to see what other sources of funding he can come up with.

    (Since you’re so rural and spread out, it probably wouldn’t work to take in a boarder…. I have fantasies of my dad renting out the big bedroom to a grad student when he can’t be employed anymore.)

  78. JJ*

    If he’s not getting paid enough to even pay for gas, then the solution is simple: quit and stay home to save the money AND time.

    If the wages can pay for the gas but not all of his bills, then he needs to budget better, cut back, look for a higher paying job, or look for a job closer to home.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      I don’t make a ton of money at my job, but because I take public transportation (not an option with the OP’s collegue) and I don’t have kids (unlike the collegue), so I make out just fine when others in my position have struggled. The guy might also be dealing with medical bills or student loan debt. Don’t be so quick to judge. And I’m sure this person IS looking for a higher paying job, but those don’t exactly grow on trees.

  79. GeekChic*

    OP: You’ve gotten a lot of comments. There is a charity in the U.S. that may be able to help your colleague with his expenses and his grief:

    The Liz Logelin Foundation

    They provide assistance and support for widows and widowers with dependent children. The founder lost his wife during the birth of their first child.

    I am so sorry for your colleague’s losses.

  80. Susan*

    This happened to me. I worked for the State of Floridaand we were only paid once a month. There are resources to help. I found out about a program in my area in which the county would send a special bus to your home or closeby and take you to work. If you didn’t live in a neighborhood in which others were eligible for and or using the service, they would literally send a cab to take you to wor. Seems to me it would have been much more cost effective for the county to provide gas cards; nevertheless, it got me to work in a pinch. I would also encourage this person to apply for food assistance, WIC or other public assistance that might help him free up some of his budget for gas. No shame in asking for help if you’re working hard but it isn’t working. These programs are there to help you get on your feet. Now I make a great living. Just needed a little help for a little while.

  81. Kassy*

    As a state worker for an assistance agency in Missouri, +1 to this.

    When people are embarrassed to come in and apply for benefits (which happens often), I try to use this reasoning with them: you’ve worked your whole life, and you’ve paid taxes on those earnings. Some of those taxes have gone to fund programs like this for people that needed help. So why in the world shouldn’t you have a right to utilize our programs when you need them?

    Often, it’s the ones who are embarrassed to be in here that need us the most. The ones who are abusing the system (and it does happen) usually have no shame at all.

  82. Kat*

    I’m not saying this is the case with this situation but I’ve had co-workers who complained about living from paycheck to paycheck and that they used food banks and their children were part of the school lunch program. But these same co-workers all had the latest I-phones and I-pads and macs as well as the x-box etc.. 60 inch tvs etc etc.. If that’s how they wish to spend their money that’s their prerogative, however, I think there’s a lot of frustration from taxpayers who are subsidizing or bailing out people who are not living within their means.

    1. JoAnna*

      And how do you know the gadgets weren’t gifts? Or holdovers from a more prosperous time? When my husband lost his job last year, we had iPhones that we’d purchased two years previously when we had better salaries plus an employee discount (my husband used to work for Apple). Same with the iPad. Our Android tablet was a gift from my FIL (who also helped us pay our mortgage during that time, and bought us tons of groceries). Our flatscreen 42″ TV was several years old, purchased when we were in better circumstances. Don’t make assumptions unless you know all the circumstances.

    2. Aunt Betty*

      My Kindle Fire was a gift from a former boss. I couldn’t have afforded to buy one at the time. My best friend has an iPad she won as a prize. She can’t afford to buy one. Please don’t make assumptions when you don’t have all the facts.

    3. sam*

      During the two years I was unemployed, I somehow didn’t need to sell all of my worldly possessions to survive, so I still had my apartment, TV, computer and my iphone, which were all purchased when I had a job.

      And I even got a new iphone during that time. Because my dad bought it for me, as “payment” for helping him with his new business that he wasn’t otherwise paying me for. Given that I was doing about 20 hours a week worth of work for him, he got a pretty good bargain.

    4. Kara*

      Because apparently when you lose a job or get socked with medical bills or otherwise fall on hard times, you’re expected to get rid of any possessions that other people think you shouldn’t have, even if it would cause you a financial loss in the long term.

      Yes. That’s exactly how it should be.

      Cheesuz Pleasus.

      1. Green*

        This probably comes from a place of frustration for someone who is denying some of their “wants” in order to meet financial needs (or goals, or whatever), and the sentiment probably comes in part from people who do make bad financial decisions. (We all have the in-laws who get new luxury cars every year but have zero in the hopper for retirement, right? And, yes, you [taxpayer] are going to be bailing them out in their old age because I sure as heck ain’t doing it alone.) It IS frustrating to see people have things we want but deny ourselves.

        That doesn’t make it fair to assume where someone got any particular item, and as long as someone doesn’t try to make their financial woes your problem, then you should probably remain neutral and keep any judgments to yourself. And the less you know about them, the more likely you should hold off on making judgments. I’d probably ask my coworkers to help me with that, though, by asking that we not talk about finances.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This presumes that medical expenses are reasonable to pay. I don’t think there are many people here who could shovel 20K out of pocket every three months. Yep, 80K per year in extra expenses. We are not even talking about shelter/food/clothing. That would be additional. A friend was on a pill that cost $147K per year and insurance did not cover the pill.

      3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah, I was unemployed once. During my period of unemployment – I went to a play in a nearby town. A manager from the place I was laid off from was also there and saw me.

        He came over, we had some small talk. He asked “What are you doing?” Advised, “still looking, intently.”

        Him ” No – What are you doing HERE?”

        Me = “attending a play, enduring it, actually, it’s not very good.”

        Then it got me – his attitude was “since you’re laid off you have no business coming to a play…”

        I terminated the conversation. Vile. Stinky. But for the record – I won the tickets in a radio station drawing, before I was let go.

        And the play STILL sucked.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      “I’m not saying this is the case with this situation ”

      Then you probably didn’t need to say it at all.

  83. Kathie*

    Part of being an adult is making decisions about how to live your life! I imagine he is an adult since he has three kids, OP doesn’t seem to be his mother, so I suggest she stay out of it!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’d hate to see a world where everyone just ignored people in time of need. I think that OP can offer some little helps here and there until her coworker says to point blank to butt out. Once he says to stop, then she must.

      1. madge*

        +1. There are times to butt out but Kathie, if you read the updates by Letter Writer, you can see that she prodded him until he told her about the gas issue. It appears to have started following the death of his mother-in-law, who was the babysitter for his children following the death of his wife. If there is an instance where people should try to help, this is it.

  84. Retail Lifer*

    Thinking back to my broke college days, can you suggest he give blood twice a week?

    1. JoAnna*

      I think you mean giving plasma. You aren’t compensated for giving blood, but you may be compensated for giving plasma.

  85. Ellen N.*

    Your colleague might want to consider becoming an Uber driver on the way home from work which would provide a little extra money to pay for gas. Also, although the OP stated that there is nobody in the office with whom it would work to carpool he could put an ad in Craigslist to find people who have a similar commute and would like to carpool.

    1. Kara*

      Uber won’t take you if your car doesn’t meet certain standards (size, condition, model year). Also you don’t get paid immediately from the client, you get paid from Uber, so there would be a significant delay period between having to drive MORE and spend more money on gas (and presumably on child care) and actually getting the money from your drives.

      That really does not sound like a great option for this person right at the moment.

  86. KMS1025*

    I am really surprised at the number of assumptions being made…does anyone really know the person’s financial situation (the one that needs gas money)? He really does need to talk with his boss from an attendance issue aspect. As far as his budgeting skills, or lack thereof, he is an adult. Ask for help, or figure it out. Seems like no one should really involve the self unless he specifically asks for that involvement. Did he really even ask for gas money or,just mention that he runs out by the end of the week???

  87. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    As KMS1025 said, we’re already making too many assumptions.

    The number one thing you should be budgeting for when you’re working, is the ability to keep working.

    When I was in dire straits – we prioritized.

    Number 1 priority = pay the mortgage, no matter what. Any way shape or form, the mortgage will be paid. If you don’t have a mortgage, this applies to rent.

    Number 2 priority = a working , dependable vehicle. If it came down to a choice between two new tires to replace the bald ones, and paying the phone bill, the tires would win. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go to work to (eventually) pay the other bills. THIS INCLUDES GASOLINE.

    Number 3 = (today) I’d say health insurance. Back in the 70s I had major medical and a family member was our doctor, so it wasn’t a concern, today it is.

    Number 4 = anything else.

  88. Editor*

    If his rural area doesn’t have consignment shops that take things he actually wants to get rid of, maybe people in his neighborhood could organize a neighborhood yard sale, so he could just put his stuff out without having to do the organizing and advertising — and maybe the neighbors could do the pricing and sorting if he doesn’t have the time or the ability to do so. I wouldn’t recommend selling things that might be keepsakes for the children, or selling clothes that an older child wore that can be handed down, or selling necessities that would have to be replaced later, such as electronics or furniture, but there might be some things that would bring in enough for a month’s gas or some extra groceries.

    Someone mentioned renting a room, so maybe he could exchange a room for a preset number of hours of free childcare or cooking or cleaning, plus some modest rent. If he got a day of babysitting and a minimal amount of cash for a room, it might be a big help.

    A grocery store manager I used to know said he really knew how to squeeze every penny and could load up a cart and have more food in it than shoppers who had fallen on hard times. He would ask how much they had to spend and the other information needed (ages of kids and so on), and take the shopper around the store to fill the cart. He said he always managed to get more in the cart than the shoppers had been doing on their own — not just because of store brand products or substituting Spam for ham and knowing what was on sale, but because store personnel know where you get the most weight/nutritional value/bulk for the least price in produce and meat and so on. If the widower doesn’t have to deal with food allergies or other issues that make shopping difficult, then he might ask the grocery store manager or assistant manager if there would be a time he could come by the store and get some guidance, either from a manager or a knowledgeable employee.

    He also might call his local Cooperative Extension office and find out if there is help with meal planning or recipes he might be able to make that don’t cost as much as frozen foods, boxed dinners, and stuff like that. He might not have much time to cook or even any cooking skills, but someone from extension might be able to give him a couple of cheap crockpot recipes or something to make life easier. Extension offices are one service that do tend to be stronger in rural areas. If he has the time and interest, growing a few vegetables might also help with the food budget, even at this late date in the summer, and extension can help help him choose low-maintenance stuff to grow. My region’s extension office has a family and consumer science person that provides help with parenting, nutrition, health, household management and what used to be called home economics.

    If people at the office are gardeners, could they bring in fresh produce that’s extra and set the food out for anyone to take, including him? (If somehow he got first refusal, he might have a better selection.) Plus, sharing recipes can help when there’s a zucchini glut or a cucumber oversupply. Heck, we used to give away cantaloupes during peak season because so many came on at once, and we were grateful to the people who took them off our hands.

    Can people who need inexpensive childcare in the widower’s area form a co-op to provide childcare? I was a member of one when my kids were little, and people paid on a sliding scale and also contributed hours of work on a sliding scale. Work included shifts of looking after children if you were free (I was unemployed at the time, so I did a lot of care),