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Making Ends Meet

Issues in this session

poverty, poverty awareness, budgets, working poor, the federal poverty level, self-sufficiency standards, food budget,

The Message

Even families with two full-time incomes can find themselves unable to make ends meet. This family does not live below the official poverty line, but just try to make their budget work!

The Process

This is the first of two poverty simulations in Just Neighbors. For the other, look at What Would You Choose.

Participants are invited to step into the shoes of James and Alexis, and working with a partner, take their bills and their paychecks and come up with a plan of how to cover their monthly expenses from their earnings. How much of the phone bill can we pay? When will we be able to afford sneakers for the kids? “We have to pay the rent!”

This poverty simulation exercise is intense but lasts only an hour. Participants are left with a real sense of the difficulties and frustrations of low-wage working families trying to make ends meet.

After struggling to pay the bills, participants realize that the Bond family earns too much to be considered as “living in poverty.” What an eye opening revelation!

Participants are left with an understanding not only of the difficulty families face, but of the inadequacy of our current measurements of poverty.

The session handouts include “Eight Things You Can Do” along with “Three Organizations to Contact and Three Books to Read.” The latter are intended for those who want to look further into the issues discussed in the session.


A local business owner participating in Just Neighbors for the first time shared:

“I always assumed that if a family was working and poor they didn’t know how to manage their money. I never thought that there may not be enough money to manage!”

A Tip

Just Neighbors is designed for adults. However it is highly effective with middle school and older students as well. In the budget exercise, some youth (as well as some adults) are unaware of how much their family spends on food monthly, or what diapers for a baby might cost, or how much it costs to run a load through the washer and dryer in the local laundromat. Estimates of these costs will be important to complete the budget exercise.

Facilitators may want to have some general figures available for their area. As an example, the USDA suggests that the ‘Thrifty Plan’ for feeding a family of four for a month is $629.10. The Bond family is a family of seven.