[typography  size=”22″ size_format=”px”]42 million women are living at or below the poverty line, and an additional 28 million children are living alongside them.[/typography]


This is according to the film Paycheck to Paycheck, a documentary produced by Maria Shriver with data from the Shriver Report, showing a year in the life of a struggling single mother.  This film aired on HBO and is now available on HBOGo.  I heard about this movie through an email sent by the National Diaper Bank Network– it was said those who work or volunteer in the diaper bank world should watch.  So, I watched it.


In the film, we see Katrina Gilbert struggle to provide for her three children.  She was married ten years before splitting with her husband due to his painkiller addiction.  She became a CNA (certified nursing assistant) to pay the bills, working long days and even longer consecutive stretches to keep a roof over their heads.  She is paid what some may think is a good wage, higher than minimum even- $9.49 an hour, doing back breaking labor.   She works holidays and misses those moments with her children, probably for the same reason my own sister has to- they pay higher those days so it makes sense when you are broke.

Because her youngest child over the filming period is 3, we don’t see what struggles she would be facing when it comes to affording diapers.  She has trouble affording everything else so it only makes sense if her son were still in diapers that this would be another unwelcome expense.

Here is why this film matters– it shows a family that to anyone, doesn’t look “poor.”  The mom wears scrubs to work and she could easily be mistaken for a registered nurse.  For a while they are even living in a decent sized home with her boyfriend, which from the outside looks nice.  We find out at the end of the film it has suffered water damage and much of their property and clothing were ruined, several rooms weren’t even usable due to mildew, and they didn’t have the money to fix any of it.  I loved this movie because it shows the side of poverty we ignore- the working poor.

Many of us consider those living in poverty to be homeless.  People with homes, they aren’t poor.  They can afford homes so things are fine.  Katrina and her children lived in a trailer park (the same kind that I lived in my entire life) so that one is a little harder to call.  They had a car, the children wore clothing without holes or stains, and everyone looked nice and “normal” from the outside.  Yet, Katrina spent every cent of each check on her bills.  As a check came in, it went out.  The money was spent immediately.  Off and on she has food stamps, so some days she has better chances of getting all the groceries she needs.  She has no health insurance and so she ignores her own health issues because she can’t afford to pay for the medications or doctor visits.

The woman is working every day!  She is employed full time and yet she is living in a small, run down trailer and doesn’t have enough money to survive.  Her story is the story of a lot of Americans, probably even a lot of you who read this blog.  To those who claim over and over that people are poor because they are lazy, or won’t work, this isn’t usually the case.  If she were fairly compensated for the work she was doing her life would be more than ok, yet she isn’t so she has to work more hours to meet the pay that others can make in half the time.  In fact, Forbes just crunched the numbers

[typography  size=”24″ size_format=”px”]67 people are as wealthy as the world’s poorest 3.5 billion.  [/typography]


So many people dismiss cloth diapers as a non-option for those in poverty.  This movie shows a woman who had a home, (presumably) had access to laundry, but was still completely broke.  Other than the extra time commitment on a very busy schedule, there is no reason cloth diapers couldn’t work for a mom like Katrina if she wanted to use them.  No one can force them to, but shouldn’t they understand that they have the option?  The very network that suggested this film to watch is the one often quoted in the media saying cloth diapers won’t work for poor families.  This movie shows the side of poverty it could work for, the working poor, the ones who are just getting by but have a place to call home and have a washing machine.  $60 extra a month, enough to cover a prescription or a lot of staple food items, that is what they would save once they have the diapers in hand.

“But Kim, what about the start-up cost?”  

This is where I leave you with links for families who need help because they can’t afford the $300-$500 that it CAN cost to begin cloth diapering.

$15 DIY Cloth Diaper Stash using XXL t-shirts and fleece for tie-on covers.
Two FREE booklets on cloth diapering solutions for struggling families to read or download
Cloth Diapering on a Budget ideas
Apply to Giving Diapers, Giving Hope (a national cloth diaper lending service) or find a local cloth diaper bank near you.

It was very hard to watch this film and see the lifestyle I myself lived through before I moved to college.  It is the life that much of my family still lives, and my hometown is suffering a major increase in the poverty rates, currently at 28.4%.  Katrina’s story is the story of my sister, and one of my best friend’s, and millions of other women I’ve never even met.  I’m reminded of how fortunate I am that I don’t worry about how to feed my children or keep the lights on.  It is unfair that this is way things are and these are the choices families are making.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor keeps getting wider.  It is heartbreaking to see women doing everything they can, working one, two, even three jobs and still not having the money to pay for living expenses.  I can’t fix it but I want these families to know that they can stop lining the pockets of disposable diaper companies if they choose, and keep that money for what they need it for most while having peace of mind because they’ll never have to choose between buying diapers or food.


If you get the chance, please watch the film.  And if you feel that you would like to help a family like Katrina’s get cloth diapers, Giving Diapers, Giving Hope is always accepting good used condition or new cloth diapers.  You can also directly assist families by sponsoring the cost of shipping -this is a cost we can’t yet reduce since we do not yet have the financial support to do so.  You can also email us givingdiapersgivinghope@gmail.com or apply on the website for assistance.

25 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. My family falls into the “working poor” category, the gray area between making little enough to receive public assistance and making enough to afford what we need. We have $75 per week (no food stamps) for groceries for our family of 4 including diapers, laundry soap, paper goods…everything, which was never enough before my youngest potty trained – even cheap disposable diapers were costing $15/week. We do have laundry access, though, so cloth diapers would have been a great help.

  2. This is exactly why I cloth diaper. We are also the working poor. Every time it looks like we might be able to save some money and have a tiny cushion, something comes up and it’s gone just like that. I’m just grateful for my mom who gifted me with cash to buy baby necessities while I was pregnant so I could buy cloth. I have also worked very hard to enter giveaways and have actually won quite a few diapers. I also use something called swagbucks. It takes forever but I’ve earned enough to purchase e-gift cards that I’ve then turned around and used on baby essentials. Unfortunately I realized I may have picked up some viruses from that site but I actually bought my baby a new high chair with what I’d been saving up for over a year. The old high chair we had was about 20 years old- a nasty, dirty hand-me -down from my MIL that was missing half of the safety straps making it useless. We’ve also been gifted lots of cute clothes from friends at church and have had quite a bit of luck with thrift store shopping. Thanks for putting this out there. I think you’re dead on with the fact that people assume you’re okay if you have a place to live. I actually live in a decent neighborhood now. We got lucky to find somewhat affordable rent so we could move out of our old neighborhood where we heard frequent gun fire at night, fights in the street and some pretty scary people wandering around the neighborhood. I pay the same amount for rent here as I did at the last place. I lost a room but we’re okay without it.

    People really need to wake up to the idea of cloth as a money saving option. I have saved thousands cloth diapering my three cloth babies. Would it be easier to use disposables? Sure. But it’d also be easier to use all disposable dishes so I wouldn’t have to wash them either but you don’t see anyone suggesting I do that.

  3. Thanks for posting about this important topic. While I’m not in dire straits financially, we’re not exactly rolling in the dough and saving money is the reason I chose to cloth diaper in the first place. Hand-me-downs have been a huge blessing, and almost 100% of my daughter’s stuff is from consignment stores, but I really think the diapers are what have saved us the most money. I can’t donate any of my stash because I’m pregnant with baby girl #2, but if I have any cloth diapers with some life left in them when my second daughter is finished, I’ll keep this organization in mind. (I’ve also won diapers from giveaways and would love to be able to donate some newer ones in the future!)

  4. I still wish daycare centers and in-home childcare providers were more accepting and knowledgeable about cloth. I feel this is a very huge concern for the working poor that are mentioned in the article. We have our son in cloth right now. He’ll be 3 next month, so he’ll out of diapers soon. I started him in cloth at 6 months and have done a combo of cloth and disposables since. This was in part due to some of his DCP over the years not accepting cloth and sometimes disposables are best for our family for night, regardless. – I still feel that we’ve saved money on diapers overall!

  5. I love this blog post! We often live paycheck to paycheck and I can’t imagine having to add the cost of diapers to our list of things we need. Having a stash of cloth eases my mind that my baby won’t suffer because we were short on money that payday! I wish more people viewed this as an option!

  6. I was a single mom with my first child for years before I met my current husband. I wish I had known then what I know know about cloth diapers. It definitely would of helped with my budget at the time.

  7. I work at a rural school where many of the kids live in this situation. Some of us wash clothes for a few kids or bring in frozen meals for dinners because families go through hard times. It’s heartbreaking. My first few years with my husband were like this- most times could afford basics but not health insurance, and then husband ended up in the ER with a $13k bill right after he got laid off and I was part-time cashiering at a grocery store while finishing my degree. That makes money even tighter. I’m glad we went with cloth when we had our baby.

  8. I will have to look up this movie, pretty sure it would resonate with my life. Being a single mom is not easy.

  9. We are the working poor in my home as well, well, we would like to be working, anyway. My husband is disabled and while he is looking for work he can do with his limitations and I tend to the kids, money is super tight. Like other readers it seems like every time we get a little bit caught up something else hits hard. My son has some serious health issues and took forever to potty train, and even that is a day to day thing, so when my daughter came along we knew we had to do something to reduce our bills and waste, so cloth diapering and pumping breastmilk (she wouldn’t latch in the NICU) was one way we could do that. Unfortunately I have to turn in my pump to WIC next month because my daughter will be a year old; she has some allergies to dairy and we will need time to test what she can handle, but we cannot have that time.

    Cloth diapering, though, is something that has saved us a lot of time and money. Over the past year, we have saved almost $800 once we were able to put her into cloth (she was a super preemie). My in laws love that we do it and are helping us by picking up cute covers here and there when they see something fun.

  10. It’s a shame so many families are struggling while working so hard to make a living. Cloth diapering has definitely helped our family save money.

  11. I am hoping I can find this movie on Hulu/Netflix or somewhere. I can totally relate. We are the working poor as well. I was a single mom for 4 1/2 years after I left a controlling and mentally abusive marriage (got married at 19) then my boyfriend came along. I worked 2 jobs at the time just to make ends meet. I also got my CNA certificate and started nursing school when our finances were stable as he was working. Then I got pregnant…..with twins. I have not worked since November (they were born in december3 weeks premature) but a friend gifted us some Pocket diapers to try as her daughter was potty trained. OMG I am so greatful that she did. I cannot image how much money I would have spent on disposables for twin boys. I coupon to help streatch our food budget as much as possible and for their Premie/NB diapers I couponed them out too but still it was a huge chunck of our budget for the first month until they were big enough for our cloth diapers.
    Once the twins are potty trained I will be looking at donating some of them of you local Young Parents Network where young moms like myself can take classes and earn YPN bucks to spend at their store of donated items (clothes, books toys etc) in hopes to help some other young mom save money as well.

  12. This is amazing. It is so hard to get by, and I am so glad we bought our cloth stash when we were making more money. Very interesting post.

  13. Started cloth diapering mostly for environmental reasons, but also to save money, and love it. While, we’re still having kinds, I’ll be lending out whatever we’re not using to friends who want to give cloth a try- a friend has all my small stuff right now, as our little guy fits in one-size now. After we’re done, everything useable will be donated to someone who could use a hand

  14. I could kick myself now that I know just how easy cloth diapering is; I am on my fourth (and presumably last) baby, but this is the first in cloth. We could have saved so much money, and we were really pinching pennies through our first child’s diapering years. I hope to pass my stash on to someone who needs it when I am done.

  15. I know exactly what this is like only we are military and live paycheck to paycheck. Cloth diapering has saved us so much.

  16. This is why I really want to cloth Diaper!! It’s better for the envoirment and is way less out of my pocket!

  17. I’m married and our bank account is often $0 or negative by the second week before the next check. My husband makes a decent amount, so we don’t qualify for any aid. So I don’t have health insurance. No one would know if I didn’t tell them. I have a college degree and 10yrs experience but haven’t been able to find work the past 2yrs despite 175+ applications.

    1. Goodness, that’s a long time. I hope there is a break soon for you.

      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

  18. Things like this remind me of growing up, and how hard my mom worked. I’m blessed that my husband and I are able to afford do cloth and help other families who are in need with donations of cloth diapers and supplies with the money we have saved.

  19. This is why i would love to cloth diaper. Trying to start up economically…I love the idea of being able to save so much money in the long run, and I totally understand living paycheck to paycheck which is why i would like to do it so much more with baby #2 Disposables are okay but add up so quickly with cost. Trying to figure out how to save any way we can! Hoping to make it work!

  20. I absolutely love this! We are a part of the “working poor” which is one of the many reason we are choosing to cloth diaper our baby #2 . I wish we would had done it with our first, but I’m beyond excited for all the great benefits including saving lots of money!

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