Food or Tattoos

I don't consider myself to be rich so there are times when my wife and I have to budget our money.  I've also served eight plus years on the Merrimack budget committee where as party of my responsibilities there, I've also had to budget money.  Prior to that I also served in leadership roles, including National President, of an Italian American fraternal organization during which time I was involved not only with the national organization's budget but worked with the local chapters running leadership seminars in which we trained them on budgeting.

My point?  I feel fairly comfortable in giving budgeting advice when needed.

That brings us to the article I read today discussing the hardships of a low income family living on government assistance.

In the article they point out the families income as follows:

She made $8 an hour, and he earned $9. She worked days in produce, and he worked nights as a stocker. Their combined monthly income of $1,700 was still near the poverty line, and they still qualified for SNAP.

This already tells me that they aren't working full time because $8 an hour x 40 hour work week x 4 weeks plus $9 an hour x 40 hour work week x 4 weeks is $2,720 a month, that's more then the $1,700 the article sites as their total income.
They had filled out a one-page application for SNAP and been accepted on Oct. 11, 2011, awarded $518 for a family of four, to be delivered on the first of every month.
So take home each month is $2,218.
This breaks out to just $26,616 a month so I don't think anyone would argue this is a family well off by any means.
Now the article doesn't mention any additional assistance coming in but at that income level it can be assumed they qualify for housing assistance, earned income tax credit, heating assistance and more.  But for sake of discussion let's assume that the $2218 a month is it.
The article also points out that they owe their landlord $600, it will need to be assumed that this is their monthly rent.
That leaves $1,100 take home from pay after rent plus the $518 food subsidy they collect from the government.
The article also points out they owe the electric company $840.  I have a hard time believing that a family renting an apartment would spend that in electric per month since I'm spending less then that on a 3,000+ square foot house running AC and a pool filter during the summer.  For a worse case scenario though let's assume that somehow they do require this much electrical usage per month.
Take home drops to $260 and they still have the $518 for food.
Now this is where the article gets interesting.  Here's the exact quote summing up their expenses:
Was it better to pay down the $600 they owed the landlord, or the $110 they owed for their cell phones, or the $75 they owed the tattoo parlor, or the $840 they owed the electric company?
When a family is crying poverty to the point of requiring the government to put a gun to other peoples heads and demand their money to subsidize your own family, does anyone feel going out and getting a tattoo is responsible?
Suddenly their entire argument for needing more of other people's money just feel apart.
And moving past that, do you notice the "S" on the end of cell phones.  I can understand having a single cell phone acting as your families main phone because if you apply for a better job you need a way to be contacted by the possible employer but getting multiple cell phones when you claim you can't afford to pay for the food to feed your children?
But let's use these ridiculous expenses and continue on with their budget.
After the cell phones and tattoos we're down to $75 plus the $518 food subsidy, totalling $593.
That's a total of $148.25 a week for meal expenses.  The USDA has the average food cost by age broken down into 4 groupings, ranging from thrifty to liberal in 2012 costs.  For argument let's assume that food costs haven't changed much since December.
The children in the article are ages 1 and 3.  We'll round them both into the ages 2-3 group which ranges from $100.70 a month for thrifty to $188.10 a month for liberal.  Notice, that's a month, not per week.
The male age 19-50 range is $163.30 for thrifty to $337.70 for liberal
For females age 19-50 range is $161.00 to $320.70
The high end totals to $1034.60 a month which would blow their remaining $593 out of the water and they still wouldn't have enough minus the $75 they spent on tattoos and the $110 if they cut their cell phones.
Using the lower end it totals to $525.70 a month which leaves them $67.30 even after their tattoos and cell phones.
$67.30 is more then enough for a family of four to take in some form of entertainment each month or some other 'luxury'.
I know what you are all thinking, even though the USDA claims that you can eat each month on just $525.70 for a family of four but can it be done in reality?
Local writer Wendy Thomas did just that.  She feed her family of eight on a budget of $140 a week.

I allow a fixed amount of money for food each week: $140 for our family of eight. Some weeks, I come in short and there is a little extra. When that happens, I might buy something as a treat, like ice cream, or most often then not, I tuck it away for another week, such as when meat is on sale, and then I load up. If I had wanted to, since January, I could have applied about $200 toward a bill.

Watching portion control is another one of my greatest weapons in keeping our food budget intact. You are not going to see any of my kids sit in front of the TV with a large bag of chips. Instead, you’ll see each person occasionally get a handful of chips on their plate with lunch.

Snacks in our house consist of fruit, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and any leftovers from other meals.
I don't doubt for a minute that it is hard to live on just $26,000 a year for a family of four.  But I also don't think it's as impossible as some pushing for more government spending make it sound.
Also does anyone even question how people had gotten themselves into situations like this any more?  From the original story...
They had been living together since Rebecka became pregnant during their senior year of high school, long enough to experience Woonsocket’s version of recession and recovery. Jourie had lost his job at a pharmacy late in 2010 because of downsizing, and Rebecka had lost hers in fast food for the same reason a few months later.
Keep in mind that the story said they had a 1 year old and a 3 year old.  Ok, so she gets pregnant and they do the right thing by keeping the baby and moving in together.  I'm good with that.  But then times turn hard and he loses his job due to downsizing and then she loses her job months later.  They had a second baby AFTER that (the 1 year old).  If you and your spouse are both out of work, don't you think it's a good idea to practice safe sex and avoid another unwanted pregnancy?
Let's sum up everything wrong in this story...
1) Neither is apparently working full time
2) After getting pregnant in high school and losing their jobs in 2010 they have a 2nd child while already struggling with the first
3) While struggling to feed themselves they choose to go out and get a tattoo
4) While struggling to feed themselves they get multiple cell phones
Here's my suggestion, stop having any more children you can't afford.  Stop spending money on frivolous expenses like 2nd cell phones and tattoos until you get your lives in order and can live on your own without relying on taking money from others.  Look for full time work, preferably something paying more then $8 and $9 an hour or at the very least try to pick up more hours at your current job or find a 2nd part time job.
I know it sounds callous but should those of us who are responsible, who do live within our means and live on budgets be expected to have more of our money taken from us to subsidize families like this one who put tattoos before feeding their children?  If they lived in my neighborhood, I would be more then happy to supply them with a few warm fresh meals a day but I'm not going to take food off my own table because they choose to get tattooed.