You’ve lost your job. You’ve lost your house. You’re down to your last $1,000. Can you make it through the month?
Jenny Nicholson is tired of hearing how the poor are poor because they make poor choices. Let’s see what kind of choices you make when it’s your turn to be flattened by the economy.
That’s the idea behind Spent, an online game Nicholson created to challenge popular misconceptions about poverty. Play it at www.playspent.org.
So far, it’s been played more than a million times by people from around the world. And Nicholson is challenging every member of Congress to play it, too. She’s got a petition going at www.petition2congress.com/5008 .
Jenny Nicholson, creator of Spent.
Nicholson, 32, is a copywriter for McKinney, a national advertising agency in Durham, N.C., whose clients include Nationwide Insurance, Sherwin-Williams, Gold’s Gym, Coldwell Banker and the phone company CenturyLink. Another client is Urban Ministries of Durham, which advertises “food, clothing and a future.”
Nicholson created Spent to raise donations for Urban Ministries, and she based it on the limited options she’s faced in her own life. She grew up the daughter of a single mother who struggled to find work as a waitress and often collected welfare in a rural part of California’s San Diego County.
Her mom couldn’t afford a monthly gas bill, which meant no heat, cold showers, and learning to cook ramen noodles in a coffeepot because the gas stove didn’t work.
“My mom always went through the grocery store with a calculator,” Nicholson recalls. “We didn’t have a checking account. She had $50 in her pocket, and if the food was $51 we were screwed. Sometimes my mom wouldn’t calculate the tax right and … we’d have to decide what we were going to put back.”
They lived in a tiny rural town because they couldn’t afford the sprawling city. That meant more driving, but her mom could never quite seem to scratch together more than $500 to buy a car, sometimes taping plastic over broken windows and frequently replacing the leaking oil. And when the car broke down, she missed work.
“I’m sure if you added up all those $500 cars she bought in her lifetime, she probably could have bought one new car that would have lasted a really long time,” Nicholson said. “But when you’re poor, you’ve got $500. You’re not stupid. You’re not like, ‘Wow this $500 car is a great deal.’ ”
Good choices require good options, and those are in shorter supply these days. The U.S. Census Bureau last week enumerated America’s declining median household income and its rising poverty rate. Economic Report: Record poverty last year as household income dips .