Language of the Perpetual Poor

Do you know someone who is “perpetual poor?” You know the type – constantly complaining, poor-mouthing, griping about the price of everything and jealous of everything others have. I think we all know at least one or two of those types.

I’ve had the displeasure of knowing many, and over time I have heard my share of sob stories related to their personal finances. I recognize that some people are generally down on their luck, or going through a rough patch. Maybe they have faced a debilitating illness, or a job layoff, or some other tragic event that has derailed them from leading successful, productive lives. Those are not the people I am referring to when I attach the label “perpetual poor.”

Perpetual poor people have a language of their own – a way of speaking that almost immediately identifies them as members of this class. When kids are young and they use an inappropriate word parents remind them to “watch their language.” As adults we still need an occasional reminder when we utter a financial expletive. I recognize that the words that follow will likely step on some toes, so put on a pair of steel-toe boots and read on.

“The poor man just can’t get ahead”

Quite possibly my all-time favorite statement of those with a poor attitude. This one is often muttered by someone insecure in their own abilities, and lacking any aspiration to improve their lot in life. They go around knocking “rich” people, minimizing their efforts by insinuating that they are rich because they are lucky, or because their parents were rich.

In some cases, both may be true, but the average millionaire in America started with nothing and built a successful career through hard work, dedication and a never-ending willingness to acquire new knowledge. Remember, there are no financial Cinderellas.

How to identify members of this group:

  • Can recite the last five winners of American Idle (that’s not a typo) from memory
  • Haven’ t picked up a book since high school
  • Never stretched to learn a new skill at work, but complain about being passed over for promotions

“We struggle just to make ends meet”

A close cousin of “poor man” who can’t get ahead, this group thinks it could get ahead if it weren’t for a variety of external forces holding them back. Rising gas prices, a shrinking economy, and the President of the United States all conspire to keep them down. They spend up to their income (and then some), save virtually nothing and frequently splurge on unnecessary items because “they deserve it” (see below).

How to identify members of this group:

  • They can frequently be spotted moving about new car lots on Sunday afternoons leaving a trail of drool in their wake
  • Convenience stores are a hot spot for picking up the weekly supply of beer and cigarettes
  • Several times a year their habitats go dark while they retreat to the nearest beach for a much-deserved break

“Everyone has a car payment – it is a fact of life”

Speaking of new car lots, if you manage to run across a member of the perpetual poor species here and asked them to justify their presence you’ll hear that everyone has to have a car payment. They are too expensive to buy with cash! That may be the smartest thing these types will ever admit. New cars are too expensive to buy with cash, that’s why I choose to buy used cars in good mechanical condition and drive them until the lug nuts fall off.

How to identify members of this group:

  • The easiest way to spot members of this group is to look around parking lots at crowded shopping malls. They usually park at least 100ft from the building and perpendicular to the parking spot’s stripes, making sure to take up three spots. This is to lessen the chances of dings from car doors and shopping carts. After all, they pay nearly as much for this automobile as they do for their homes so it makes sense to protect such an “investment.”
  • Revving engines, sunburned foreheads in convertibles and Mercedes symbol key chains are other common signs

“The only way to get rich in America is to hit the lottery”

Another personal favorite of mine. The lottery is effectively a government sponsored tax on poor people. Don’t believe me? Check out lottery sales by zip code of any participating state and you will discover that the majority of lottery tickets are sold in the poorest sections of town.

It is no secret, really. If you are ever around a gas station on Friday night you see them lined up at the counter forking over $20 of their hard-earned paycheck for their chance at financial glory. And just try telling them that $20 a week in a mutual fund averaging 8% growth for 30 years adds up to $130,000. Who can afford to invest in mutual funds?

How to identify members of this group:

  • Frequently spotted at convenience stores, bingo halls and anywhere video poker is allowed
  • Usually absent one week out of the year for the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas, Biloxi or Atlantic City
  • Excluded from this category: Otherwise financially independent individuals who play the lottery, or bingo as a hobby

“I work hard so I deserve it”

One of the most common statements of the perpetual poor class. These people typically do work hard, but believe their lavish lifestyles are justified because they are such hard workers, as if no one else is out here hustling for a dollar. Perhaps if they “deserved” less they wouldn’t have to work so hard.

The fact is there have been many before you, and many who will come after, who have worked much harder, for much longer periods of time without ever getting a break or a material reward. My great-grandmother raised nine children during the depression era, hand-washing cloth diapers for twenty-two years in a row, preparing meals for eleven people from scratch (and not much scratch to work with), and ironing by candle light late into the night. Sitting in an air conditioned office all day playing with computers would have seemed like a vacation to her.

How to identify members of this group:

  • Often seen double parked in front of a Best Buy store trying to squeeze a 52″ plasma television into their hatchback.
  • Male species frequently spotted driving huge pickup trucks with six tires, dual exhaust, and an ATV loaded in the back.

“You Can’t Take It With You”

A review of the lifetime earnings statement of this class of perpetual poor would reveal lifetime spending well in excess of lifetime earnings, leaving nothing saved for a rainy day or a future retirement. They expect to work late and die young, leaving little reason to save for their golden years. If they should happen to be forced to retire early they will live on social insecurity, complaining about the benefits all the while.

No, we can’t take it with us, but we can be responsible adults and save to support our future selves rather than being a financial burden to our loved ones. We can also use the opportunity to help our loved ones, who will become our legacy, get on solid financial footing and continue the tradition of passing generational wealth to the new branches of our family tree.

How to identify members of this group:

  • Savings account balance: $52.29
  • Retirement Funds: $0.00 (cashed it out after leaving last job to pay off credit card debt)
  • Life insurance coverage: $0.00 – can’t afford the premiums

At various points in my life I have probably been a member of each of the above classes, which inherently qualifies me to make fun of them. However, if you find yourself a member of one of the these perpetual poor classes it doesn’t have to be a permanent diagnosis. It is possible to overcome a perpetual poor mentality, but it involves some heavy-duty lifting on our part to rise above our circumstances. It also takes a complete attitude overhaul, so watch your language!


  1. They don’t realize that the rich people have worked even harder for their money. They think it was just handed to them for some reason. So they can’t understand why the rich don’t just hand out their money to the poor.

  2. Wonderful post! Another one I always hear is ‘it only costs XX more dollars a month’. Very common for Southern California, ha!

  3. Excellent list and so true. I have many of these people in my family and I’m sure I’ve said some of these things myself.

    I’m a hobby lottery player, and you’re right that I see people who can’t possible afford spending $20 a pop (or more) on a single scratch-off ticket. I feel guilty spending more than $3 at a time.

  4. I have known many people like this and it always intrigues me because they are jealous of what we have. We don’t have much, but we are paying for it ourselves and living our life the best we can with our budget. We have made many a financial mistake, but are finally seeing some fruits from our efforts. I hope I never sound like these people again!

  5. These are great! I’m still laughing about “You can’t take it with you”. I’m sure I’ve heard that one in my family. I’m doing my best to change my family tree, but I think some of my relatives are a lost cause when it comes to money!

  6. “The Poor Man Just Can’t Get Ahead”…that one always burns me.

    I grew up in a house where my dad was on welfare (he was lazy and shouldn’t have been) and my mom was on disability (genuine disability that prevented her from getting a job).

    I knew my only way out was education. I worked hard in school (even when my dad and brother told me it was pointless), and went to college. I still have college loans to pay back, but I have a much better job than I would have had I not, so I see it as an investment.

    Because of this job, I’m able to help my mother out so that she’s not living destitute.

    It always kills me when my brother would call to ask me for money to pay his cable bill. I would always tell him that I’m not sending him money to pay for something I didn’t have (he always had to have the biggest cable package with all of the premium channels, while we “splurge” on extended basic).

    The bad part is, there are millions of these people out there who feel they are owed something. The worst part is, our government gives them OUR money to spend without placing any restrictions on how they can and should spend it.

  7. I think there are too many people in this world who don’t take responsibility for their financial situation. They always like to blame someone or something else for their problems.

  8. “I work hard so I deserve it”

    It’s funny that people think they deserve things purely based on effort. We aren’t five-year-olds anymore, so this makes absolutely no sense. And besides, most of these very people exaggerate how “hard” they really tried or worked.

  9. Frugal Dad,

    You hit the nail on the head on many counts. Sounds like we’ve all had dealings with the “perpetual poor”…

  10. Some people find it easier to blame the man for their problems. The problem with that is you’ll never really succeed until you stop blaming the man and start blaming yourself – and look for ways to fix the problems.

  11. Great post!

    Of course, the core issue is attitude and these people are going to have the same problems in all areas of their lives.

    Sad too because I can instantly think of a few people in my family like this and even when I try to offer a little bit of good advice it is instantly discounted because of reason A, B, or C.

    I’ll have to print this out and leave it in a few strategic places. 🙂

  12. “Everyone has a car payment – it is a fact of life”

    Then there’s the folks who justify a car payment as peace of mind.

    When people lament the additional repair bills that an older used car will have (yes, they do require a little more TLC), these people forget that the “unexpected” $300 repair once in a blue moon beats the $400 that you get hit with every month.

  13. I spend $1.00 about 5 or 6 times a year when the super lotto gets big.”Can’t win if you don’t play” syndrome.
    My wife and I do however pay a stupid tax of $460.00.Momma drives it to work. We have 41/2 years left on that. Ouch!!That besides the payment left on our other dumb thing we did 15 years ago.

    A double wide trailer in a park, are the last things we have. No credit car bills left and savings starting to build. Yeah we get to tithe 10% every week. That might bother some people. I’d rather bother some people,who don’t agree, then the one who tells me I should do it. I’m justa saying!

  14. “griping about the price of everything”

    And yet paying it, when it’s not a necessity of life. Slaves to having the “newest” and “best”.

  15. I was raised on “I work hard, so I deserve it”. It took me having to dig myself out from under a mountain of credit card debt for me to understand that I don’t DESERVE to be stressed about money all the time, and that’s what overspending will get you…

  16. Ahahha. This is a great list, and oh, boy, do I have some people I’d love to send it to.

    But I do pay the stupid tax ($221) on a new (used) car. But, I did drive the previous one up until it was 15 years old, oil leaking from every bit of the engine (following more than one repair), a leaking radiator, and–the repair that decided it all– a wrecked transmission. I’m going to look at the increased fuel efficiency as adding some balance to my auto-karma.

  17. Close to the ‘you can’t take it with you’ mentality is it’s cousin: ‘money is the root of all evil’ Isn’t it the love of money…

    Anyway, thanks for this thought-provoking article

  18. I love this post! I’ve been a member of several of those categories in the past, so I can definitely laugh.

    The thing is, when I stopped telling myself I couldn’t get ahead and started asking myself what *I* could do about my own situation, I found that I was a lot more proactive, and my situation improved. I’ve also found that I am a lot more content these days.

  19. “scrambling to make ends meet” is not a sign of the perpetually poor. I hate to break it to you, but with the brisk rise on food costs and car gas, this applies to more than ever.

  20. This is probably the funniest post I’ve ever read!
    Thanks so much for the morning giggles. The sad thing I was one of those people for 7 years.

    Pam at movingonup

  21. The “work hard and deserve it” is the one that gets me too. You’re supposed to work hard.

    Those that deserve “it” are those smart enough not to spend money on “it”.

    Bill Gates works hard and deserves what he has. That guy speant his childhood learning how to build computers. The lady that dropped out of high school to have fun and now has to work 60 hours a week to make ends meet doesn’t.

  22. Thanks for this, just found your website. You are dead-on with this article, I’m tired of these kind of people!

  23. It’s interesting, but I think every one of us has, at one point or another, said these very words in one way, shape or form… I know *I* have over the years (LOL!). However, each and every area is totally within my control, and we as individuals can transcend them. It’ll cost us in time, effort, and maybe a paradigm shift in the way we live and work, but in all cases, if we make the change in ourselves, ultimately our circumstances will change right along with it.

    I distinctly remember harboring feelings of less than pleasant will against a friend that had risen through the ranks of his company to a high executive position, and very quickly. That resentment, however, quickly turned to a bit of pity and then to compassion and understanding when I realized just how much time and effort he put into his job, and what that success ultimately meant for his family (both positive and negative). I decided “no thanks, I’d rather have the life I have now” (LOL!).

    When we recognize the “pity party” we are having and can get beyond it, then we have a great fighting chance to leave the “perpetual poor” mindset behind forever. It’ll take work, determination, awareness and persistence, but it most certainly *can* be done :).

  24. LOL!!! I used to be in a lottery pool at work. Twice a week, twenty of us “perpetually poor” would donate $3 to be put towards our “big winnings”. We never ever won more than $100, and I know we spent much more than that….anyhow, I don’t remember which one it was, but I was reading a personal finance book and it was pointed out that I would have more money if I put my “lottery money” in a jar. And that made sense to me. I did just that. Instead of $3 twice a week (or $6 a week for the math-challenged) going down the drain, I put it into a coffee can, and there is about $400 in there now. I’ll be adding it to my savings account on Monday. Feels really good 🙂

  25. You know the things that we tell ourselves is so important.

    A lot of what we say to ourselves are softeners. Like the debt isn’t that bad. I’m not that fat. I’ll deal with my money situations later.

    What we tell ourselves determines how we act and therefore the decisions that we make.

    You know with one of the statements that you were just talking about the one about you have to hit the lottery to get rich.

    That one really struck me. N you know why? Because when someone says that to themselves …. then they give up their own powerto create that in their own life.

    Its kind of saying. Well I CANT BE RICH and the only way to do it .. if some external thing like the lotto gives it to me.

    I think that if there is any one detrimental thing that is going on there .. that would be it.

    I think people really need to just take self responsibility.

    To really say to themselves. Whatever situation i am in now. I CREATED. It was all done by me.

    While for some of you that may be something heavy to weigh on your shoulders, but at the same time it gives you liberation and freedom to make your future whatever you want it to be.

    Young Investor

    Meaning to say that

  26. I am a former member of the perpetually poor and it’sa no fun. I now use the frugal websites and the simple dollar ro try and save some of my herd earned money every month. I was a spend and use credit cards kind of guy but now have stopped using them and will save more once i get them all paid off.

  27. Great article. I have also made some of these statement, but I have learned and moved on. I tried to help someone by teaching her how to get out of her credit card hole. She did the opposite of what I said, then blamed me for her problems. But its OK, I have other friends!

  28. FD: So, just how well do you know my ex-husband?? Everything you have listed comes out of his mouth on a regular basis. Back when I was young and naive (and still married to him) I used to believe these lies about money and life. Thank the gods I got away (and reality smacked me upside the head a few times LOL) and also that I managed to move my son down here with me, so he can see that he doesn’t need to be one of the perpetually poor when he grows up!

  29. A friend of mine put it this way…”They sit around trying to get on a check” meaning welfare, or disability. I know many of these people, who assume that because I wear nice clothes, have a college degree and work in an office that I make tons of money. The fact is, I’m a single mom who paid cash for a well-running 12 year old car, for the past 5 years invested 6% of my less than $20k per year in a 401(k)(we live in a low cost-of-living area), don’t have cable, don’t drink, don’t go out, and don’t buy anything (including furniture, expensive computers, flat screen tvs, ipods) “on time.” These people seem to be crippled by the least little problem, and in a sense they are, with no education, and no basic survival skills.

  30. While this article is spot on, I find it hard to believe that no one (frugaldad or comment providers) thinks a cell-phone is a luxury anymore. At least some comments have mentioned cable as the optional luxury it is. I’m not sure any phone is a necessity, but let’s say it is, the cell-phone is still going to easily cost 2-3 times more, and it’s yet another way that our tax money is spent by those who don’t really need welfare but don’t want to work. I’m a 25 year old, too, so this isn’t a rant about “when I was a kid.” I refuse to have a cell phone for a number of reasons, including their unfair contracts and ridiculous pricing, yet I see people who don’t work carrying them all the time (along with people who fit the categories above, of course, even though they may have jobs).

  31. I totally agree with frugal Dad. The power to get out of Debt is in the mind firstly and each individual must make that decision to free their mind of that negative thinking that ” it’s too difficult “. A little financial planning and a lot of budgeting goes a long way. The road to prosperity is narrow and bumpy in the beginning but smoothens in the end but the road to financial ruin is broad and smooth in the beginning but comes to a crashing stop at a dead end called failure and a cliff called bankruptcy. Choose your road carefully. It literally may be the difference between life and death.

  32. You missed one of the indentifing comments made by the frugal poor. When talking to someone more sucessful they say “You’re Lucky. You…..”

    This one was driven home to me one day many years ago when my retired mother (worked as a lunch lady at school for 20 years, and she and Dad did everything they could to build up a retirement fund) told me about a conversation she had with an aquaintance. This lady comments to my Mom “You’re lucky. You have money to use for you retirement” This lady spent her money as fast as she got it, and of course had zero saved. Mom bit her tongue, but vented on me. “What does she mean lucky?!! We sacrificed and did without for years!” “Lucky!”

  33. Ha! Ha! Ha!

    I’m sending this article to an ex-housemate who laughed at me for my 12 (now 25) year old car. He earned less than me but yet leased 5 new cars in his lifetime.

    When he saw how much salary I was earning he decided to pursue my career. However he shortly gave up saying it took too much work.

  34. “I’m a pompous unfunny elitist”
    How to identify members of this group:
    They write articles like this one.

    • I think that some of this might be true of some people whom are lazy, but there is a difference between being lazy and being impoverished. For instance, a lack of education is touted as being the driving force behind poverty. I have a B.S. and I’m getting an M.A. and I don’t have any job prospects. I was working-class poor.

      I worked as a secretary, a good profession, an honorable profession, for minimum wage for 20 years. I spent years trying to build up work experience so that my pay would go up as my skills grew, but by the time I surrendered and was admitted to college, I was making $8.00 an hour or $320 a week. That was before taxes. So, with almost 20% removed for the IRS, SSA and Medicare, I was left with about $256 a week. That was 2004. If you figure $285 for rent, $100 for electricity, $150 for 6 months worth of car insurance and then gasoline $40 a month, food $100 a month and other necessities, eyeglasses, cold medicines, doctor’s visit without insurance etc… On average I was left with about $150 a month, sometimes. That didn’t leave much for real emergencies and it wasn’t enough to purchase my own health insurance or life insurance. Needless to say, I wanted out of the bottom of the rung, pay check to pay check existence and I began looking for something better.

      I found college. I had always wanted to go but couldn’t afford it. This time I decided to give in and just get the loans. Now, when I finish I will be so in debt that I will be living in poverty. The economy isn’t growing fast enough and jobs are difficult at best to find. I don’t mind going back and doing the secretarial work from my past, just to get by, but now I’m too educated and can’t get hired. I can work retail at minimum wage but this will not help me pay off my loans.

      The education, that everyone said would help me better my situation and was once needed for all the jobs I desired, is now a myth.

      I’m still poor, and still trying. I will work doing whatever I must to try to make things better but as of now…I am still poor. Sometimes, things are beyond your means to fix. I can’t control the government. I can’t fix the economy. I can’t make employers back up and stop taking advantage of the flood of employees on the market by paying working-class poor wages that won’t support us. I can’t make employers whom are laying off the high paying workers and hiring entry level workers to save money stop and think about their choice. I can’t change any of that.

      To label all of the poor as being that way because they aren’t working hard enough or long enough or because they don’t have education or even because they want to have cable because it is their only splurge is just cruel. Some people have given up, even they deserve some compassion. Why did they give up? Were they trying before? We can’t know that unless we’ve lived their lives. Some poor people just don’t care. They don’t want to do the work to try to get ahead and yes they get back what they put into it.

      There is a difference between being a freeloader and being poor, being lazy and trying so hard but not quite getting there, between being a part of the problem or being a part of the solution.

      People who sit around and just complain, on either side, are not part of the solution! Yes, I’m a complainer, and so are all of you. We need to change attitudes to change our world. If all of you are so tired of poor people, what have you done to make a change? Most of you sound like you ignore the problem because you worked hard and got ahead and now the poor are just an inconvenience of success.

      I’m curious about how many of you are still working in those jobs you think so highly of, and how many still can say things are good because you worked hard to make it so. The economy had done much to level the playing field, sadly, this does nothing to help either side.

  35. I once had neighbors who were some of the most astoundingly lazy people in the world. They were more than capable of getting jobs, but who preferred to watch TV and babysit for rent money. They ate fast food nearly every day (and had the physiques to show for it), went to the movies once or twice a week, and had five TVs, two VCRs, a DVD player, and a video game system in a 3-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile I was working 60-hour weeks, getting my ducks in a row to go to graduate school part-time, not driving (to save money), and going without “essentials” like TV, a cell phone, an iPod, and other things that my neighbors enjoyed regularly.

    I was tutoring the teenagers in this family (for free… stupid me) so I often had to endure cheap shots about how “rich” people “ought” to share more. One day the head of the family treated me to a long diatribe about how everybody who was wealthier “ought” to just share everything.

    “Carol,” I said (yes, that is her real name), “you’re absolutely right. I wish I’d thought of that myself. So starting right here, today, I’m going to share everything I’ve got with you and your family.” The lazy-butt teenagers (high-school dropouts all) perked up with interest.

    I continued: “I’m going to start by sharing my schedule. Starting now, everyone in this room is going to get a full-time job and either work at least 20 hours of overtime or put those hours into some kind of training or education. The time you spend at home is going to be reserved for cooking, cleaning, exercising, and doing things that improve you. Reading is OK, provided it’s about history, finance, current events, the classics, or in other words something that improves your ability to speak, write, or understand what’s going on around you. No romance, no fiction, no bio-trash. Absolutely no television. You may play card games that improve your math skills but only once a week. Oh, and you’ll need to learn to get by on six hours of sleep a night.”

    You’d have thought I dropped a bomb on them. They turned me down. A couple of the teens protested that they needed ten hours of sleep a night, and that they didn’t want to work that hard. It’s kind of a pity, because that schedule has been the key to everything.

  36. I grew up with a single mom and two siblings. we lived way below the poverty line, but my mom was just excellent at budgeting. When I was in college I shared a room with someone whose family income was about five times what my family’s was (I know because she lamented how little it was) and often told me how easy I had it and how she wished she had my life. I guess she never noticed my side of the room didn’t have the hundred beenie babies, posters and other unnecessary trinkets.

  37. “I’m going to start by sharing my schedule. Starting now, everyone in this room is going to get a full-time job and either work at least 20 hours of overtime or put those hours into some kind of training or education. The time you spend at home is going to be reserved for cooking, cleaning, exercising, and doing things that improve you. Reading is OK, provided it’s about history, finance, current events, the classics, or in other words something that improves your ability to speak, write, or understand what’s going on around you. No romance, no fiction, no bio-trash. Absolutely no television. You may play card games that improve your math skills but only once a week. Oh, and you’ll need to learn to get by on six hours of sleep a night.”

    I agree with what you are saying, but I find that sleeping only 6 hours a day, and working 20 hours overtime with a fulltime job, are not healthy. I understand it gets you the money, but more importantly, I believe that you should also think about the large amounts of stress this schedule can give you… I understand that some of the biggest CEOs went on a minimal 3-4 hours of sleep a night, at one point in their lives, didn’t spend time with friends, and were only home for sleeping, and greatly succeeded. But at what point does wealth become more important then well being, and happiness?

  38. I love this! Everything is so true, and I’m glad someone finally wrote it all down in one place!

  39. Very good, and I agree. I’ve noticed another characteristic of the Perpetual Poor. They cash out their paychecks every week, and put nothing into the bank. Worse, when they’ve blown all of their money before the next check comes, they go to those cash advance places and pay terrible interest rates. I’ve talked about putting paychecks in the bank to a perpetually poor friend of mine, and he agrees with me in principle, but still cashes (and blows) every check. Oh well, you can’t help anybody who doesn’t really want to help themselves.

  40. I have never seen this site before. I have to send accolades to the writer and the bloggers. Everyone had great comments. I have had several personal issues that have affected my financial situation. A divorce after over 20 years, loss of a job after 13 years, a brother who passed last year, on and on. I fortunately was raised to keep it simple. I own an older Corolla, but it runs great. My house is old, but who cares? I don’t live in the best neighborhood, on and on. My 2 grown children are college grads, and accept responsibility for their actions, unlike many of their peers and people my age. I have a job. It is nothing I chose, to replace the one I lost. It was all that was available after sending out 125 resumes, but it is a job. In Michigan, I guess that is the way it goes. I am a college grad, put myself through, years of manangement experience, etc. I am working for a bank. I have no interest in what I do, but I have to do it just to survive. I have started playing the stock market a bit. No losses, but have not made that much money. Oh well. Anyway, I really like this site. Thank you to all the good blogs.

  41. My favorite lottery player:

    As soon as they win any amount less than $100, immediately “reinvest it” by buying more lottery tix. They continue the process until they hit $0 (or hit the big one, I suppose).

  42. Sometimes I fall into the “I work hard, I deserve it” trap. The way out of this is to determine what you REALLY want – or what feeling you want.

    When I pass a salon and want to get a haircut, massage, and full spa treatment, I tell myself “Come on! I deserve it!” Then I ask myself what I REALLY deserve? Is it a $200 spa day? Or is it relaxation, fun, and feeling good about myself?

    I can get that with $5 worth of candles and bubble bath from the dollar store, picking out a good book, and bartering a haircut from my friend the stylist. It was something of a revelation for me when I realized I could get the same positive feelings from much less expensive options. Watching a movie at the dollar theater is as fulfilling as watching one at the $12.50 theater.

    I think another tendency of the perpetually poor is to mentally devalue the money they have – they won’t even take another ten seconds to think about a less expensive alternative to what they want. Will a store brand be just as good as a brand name? Can I get a better deal by walking down the street and checking out the price at another store? How much value will I REALLY get out of this purchase? It seems to me that many perpetually poor folks don’t ask themselves these types of questions, but it is a very simple way to save money without sacrifice!

    • I don’t think you know anyone that is poor and proud. Granted when you’re poor economics is not always your strong suit but most of the poor I know, including myself, do shop around. We all shop at Dollar Tree, Dollar General etc. We choose WalMart over the high priced big grocery chain that sells things we don’t need like wine and expensive cheese selections. We buy no-name, or supermarket brands. We recycle, we are the real recyclers of the world!, everything we can. Almost anything has more than one use or can be used again. We don’t spend money on fancy eyeglasses, we buy $8 readers at the pharmacy counter and we don’t buy things that are not necessary like new sandals or a new clothes. We buy at the Goodwill, the Salvation Army and the all time favorite yard sale. We save all of our loose change and must save for new large purchase items like washers and stoves. We hand down clothes amongst siblings and even cousins. We wash clothes in bathtubs and sinks and you can find them strewn across furniture or outside on lines because we can’t afford a laundry mat quarter.

      I think you are speaking of the working-class, the middle class that spends beyond their means because they can with credit cards and second mortgages. None of the poor people I know even have a credit card, by choice because we think and plan ahead. If we can’t afford it now how will we afford it later is our motto!

      I understand the friction between those who think hard work and determination can provide you with a better life. I want to believe that as I approach graduation with my M.A. but I didn’t see it happen in 2008 when I received my B.S. with honors. I had publication rights, on the job experience through an internship and the pride of being the first in my family to go to college not to mention graduation at 44 years of age with honors, but I couldn’t find a job except working retail during the holiday season. I’m working hard, doing everything I can to get ahead, but still I am poor. I have a job now making $300 a month. It pays rent but nothing else. Most of us work hard and want something better. We look to those whom have succeeded not with jealousy but with hope and wanting advice. We try to emulate and try to achieve too but it doesn’t always work out.

      You can’t say that poor people don’t think about money. Money consumes us. How will we earn enough money to keep a roof overhead? How will we pay for little Cindy’s allergy medicine so she doesn’t get sick so often? What will happen if our car breaks down and we don’t have the money to fix it? How will we pay for our burials is a real biggie? What will happen if we lose our low paying, dead end job?

      Saying that either all of us are lazy or irresponsible with money is an unfair generalization.

  43. Wow. What a judgemental and mean-spirited attack on poor people. Even worse, almost every single commenter was only too happy to pile on and help heap more scorn and contempt upon people in poverty. Sad.

    • I agree. If you’re not part of the problem be part of the solution and these people just want to be part of the problem. Attitudes affect the ability of the poor to better their lives. We can work hard, get the education and still find ourselves without, because of the attitudes of others. I for one, am proud to be poor, hoping that my situation will get better and confident in the knowledge that I can out survive any of the mean spirited people here!

  44. First, let me thank you all for your thoughtful comments, even those who referred to me as a mean-spirited, pompous, unfunny elitist. I can only agree with one of those–at times I am most unfunny! Seriously, I think this article has sparked a timely dialogue considering the current state of our economy, and I appreciate all who have contributed.

    I think much was lost in this post and I felt compelled to comment on it here. The article above was by no means an “attack on the poor.” As I mentioned in the article, my grandfather (who has been like a father to me) was born and raised in the depression era. He has known poor like none of us will ever have to experience (God-willing). I grew up listening to stories from his childhood – one can of soup feeding nine kids and two adults, no running water or electricity, no money for medicines, and entire families forced out on the streets because of widespread unemployment. Those stories, and his frugal mentorship, have shaped who I am today. Much of my motivation to become debt free and financially independent is so that I can give back to others — not by simply giving, but by equipping others to help themselves.

    So don’t think for a minute that I am anti-poor people. Quite the opposite. I hope to inspire those who are really struggling to dig deep down and pull themselves up for the good of their family, and themselves. Too many people have risen from difficult circumstances to say it is impossible. The possibilities are only limited by an unwillingness to learn, to work hard, and to believe in your own future success.

  45. What I find most interesting are the poeple who think they are in this poor part of the population and are makiing $100,000. We are a military family and live on a military salary only. This is not a lot of money, but we have done it with me at home with our 4 kids. We own our own home, and have all the luxuries we need. I don’t understand how someone making almost twice as much can say they can’t afford a house. It boggles the mind. Then again, I look at the kinds of cars they drive and the big screen tv in every room, and I realize why they can’t afford it. The other stuff, the status symbols of desiner cars and clothes, are more important than a true investment. I think you hit it right on the head when you said people are not willing to look at what they are spending on lottery tickets and put it in just a normal savings account. Glad to know others see what I see in the world.

  46. “stocks are for rich people”

    My Dad told me this in 1975 or 76, and talked me out of investing ~$5,000 in the early days of Microsoft.

    You know what … my Dad was right — just not in the sense he intended it.

  47. You have described my ex-husband perfectly, as well as most of his family. It’s not about the money.

  48. I didn’t grow up with money, but my mom taught me form the beginning to not spend more than you have.

    When it came time for me to get a new car, I wanted to go new but I went used. The car was $8k but I only had $5k in savings, so I had to take out a loan. I only needed $3k from the bank, however their “policy” is to give whatever % of what the car is worth. Thus, forcing me to take out a loan that was a little over $6k. BUT I got them! I paid the rest of my $5k, plus some on my FIRST payment (thus not getting interest tacked onto that $5k I wanted to put down in the first place) dropping the loan to about $2,500. I then worked OT and side jobs to make extra payments. With a lot of hard work I was able to pay off my car loan and ALL of my student loans this last year. It took a lot of dedication to stick with it, but thanks to all of the hard work I have started to save money for a down payment for a house.

    I am in my mid 20’s and most of my friends have nicer stuff than I do. I do get jealous and want to buy those same material things, but I try to fight the urge. I try to save money however I can. I am the only one of my friends who uses coupons. My friends get embarrassed by me when I use that 40 cents off coupon at dinner. But you know what, by the end of the year I probably saved $20.

    The lesson I wanted to share: Just because the bank will give you more money than you need, doesn’t mean you should spend it!

  49. I loved this post!!!! I got a kick out of this line: “New cars are too expensive to buy with cash, that’s why I choose to buy used cars in good mechanical condition and drive them until the lug nuts fall off.” LMAO!!


    Of course I loved the whole thing but that part had me hollering. I came here from Oh My Aching Debts and I am definately subscribing.

  50. Y’know there is some value to purchasing a new car, given the sometimes-dramatic increases in fuel efficiency and considerable safety improvements (like side-curtain airbags).

    In the 12 years we’ve been married, my wife & I have ONLY purchased new cars. But… we’ve also only purchased 3 new cars and we still own 2 of those. And… we purchased all 3 with cash. Flat out. No payments.

    I drove my old Nissan pickup for 14 years before finally deciding to trade up to my Honda Element which is now a bit more than 5-years old. I have no plans – or need – to trade up anytime soon.

    You CAN buy a new car AND not have payments. It’s just a matter of budgeting in advance and holding tight until you actually have the money to buy the car outright.

    Also, it’s well worth remembering that bigger vehicles are not by any means safer than small ones. The perceived added safety of SUVs is seriously misguided. They’re just much more expensive to purchase and operate. Smaller is better!

  51. Really interesting and amusing article. Love some of the comments too, especially the one about the guy’s dad saying “stocks are for rich people”. I think there is a lot to be said about how parents can warp
    their child’s perspective on wealthy people. My mom’s
    off handed remarks about the rich really made me feel like I or we would never be a part of that inner circle, or there was perhaps something wrong with the fact that someone was rich. I believe it impacted me significantly and is as bad as the polar opposite, which would be an unhealthy obsession with wealth.

    Negativity can have a tremendous impact on children, and young adults.

    And to the readers that believe the content of this article is making fun of poor people, you need a course in reading comprehension. I would argue the reader is saying it’s a state of mind, which fuels bad decisions/behaviors, and thus leads to an unbreakable circle. I tend to agree. It’s also a commentary on warped senses of entitlement.

  52. Yes, some people make choices that others might consider financially irresponsible. Do not forget the context in which those decisions are made. We live in a culture that promotes consumerism, and promotes debt – just look at our national debt.

    Perhaps instead of making fun of people who are struggling financially, we should talk about how to make sure people have the tools to make smarter choices. Rich or poor, most people in our country spend money on things they absolutely do not need.

  53. Maybe there needs to be more of a focus on teaching young adults how to do some basic budgeting and financial planning during high school. It doesn’t seem like we’re doing enough to prep kids for when they get out on their own and become easy prey for credit card companies and loads of other “easy money” sharks.

  54. wow, this is amazing because i work at a convenience store and im alway amazed at how much money people spend on lottery tickets looking to make it big. But then I tell em the odds of winning which is you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning 5 times than winning the lottery, sorry but to me thats a losers game, and I try to explain to them to save and invest a portion of all their income, but they only say why should I you cant take it with you when you die. Which I reply well what’s gonna happen when you get old and social security isn’t enough, are u gonna go back to work at 65, no thanks im cool with that. And what about their children I ask, dont you want to see your children prosperous in the future and leave a legacy and its like talking to a wall. A little bit saved and invested every paycheck with an interest bearing account equals a hefty sum over time. Plus if you manage to save enough to start a buis, the money saved will accelerate and so will your net worth. Its really simple to become wealthy, you just need a plan first and stick to it every time you get money, and try to hold onto every penny possibly, and try not to spend on stupid things you want, but rather things you need, but always pay yourself first. Thats my 2 cents on that.

  55. I think we SHOULD remind others that living within their means is what they should be striving for. It is easy to forget that, when you don’t have enough for basics. One of my parents was very frugal, so much so it turned me off from scrimping. As an adult, ny health went bad on me in my 20s, my husband of 15 years chose drug abuse in my 30s so I divorced, and a big health problem emerged in my 40’s. Each time my financial life was decimated. For years I’ve struggled back to physical and financial health. Today I’m doing well. But through all the problems I forgot the concept of living within my means. I honestly forgot that should be a goal. I never had enough to afford the basics. Any budget I made on paper never allowed for clothes or medical care, yet somehow I did manage those things. We need to remind poor people they should have hope for enough. Without the hope, they will never try. The rules of money aren’t obvious when you’re poor. The things-that-work-for-you-when-you’re-poor don’t work when you have enough or more than enough. Becoming prosperous requires a major paradigm change. We need to let poor people know that. They face disappointment every day but many will come around if they hear it often.

    • To Alison H.

      You are part of the solution! We do need reminders that it can be done because there are often so many setbacks and walls to climb over and the attitudes of others is a huge, intimidating wall!

  56. This post is directed at the few of you who have suggested that the article was meant to make fun of people who don’t have money. I think you are taking this a little too personally. I’m not going to get anecdotal about the topic: We can all cite stories that support our beliefs. However, I will tell you that having kids is, in fact, a luxury. I am not going to get into a philosophical or religious debate with anyone regarding that statement, but if you decide to have kids, you damn well better be able to provide for them. Above and beyond that, you have no room to complain. If you don’t have “enough” money, you shouldn’t have had the children. Yes, there are situations in which there was no choice; rape, for example. That is a very difficult personal choice to make for some, and if they decide to keep the child, that is what government assistance was meant for in the first place. No one is pointing a finger at those people and telling them they made a bad decision. It is the people who have opportunity and spurn it that this article is discussing.

    I have too many “rich” friends who have some guilty feeling for having money and feel compelled to defend anyone without it (as several of you have). Well, I have money and I worked extremely hard for it and made a lot of sacrifices – like not having children right now. My wife and I are finally in a financial position to have children AND be able to provide the kind of life we want them to have. That is a decision we made. If you made a different one, that is fine. But don’t think the system is unjust simply because it doesn’t suit your choices.

  57. Your examples remind me of several people I know.
    1) He and his wife earn less than me and my wife, but they have a bigger house, three cars, ATV, and a boat. Most of it must be on credit because he could not get his house refinanced recently to take advantage of the super low rates.
    2) She is going through a bankruptcy on $60K in various non-mortgage debt, My wife ran into her and she mentioned the $300 doll house she bought her 3yo for Christmas and the new coat she had that only cost $200. I really don’t think that this lady has any real chance over building any wealth despite a good salary that even allows her to work from home.

    By the way, when anyone uses one of these lines on your, you should send them to this video of a counselor helping someone with their issues. 🙂

  58. Excellent post & comments!!! Awhile back, I saw a money program in which a high school Math teacher was short of money & used the cash-advance high interest place…TWICE! This fellow had major debt from this place as well as his previous poor financial decisions. I don’t know about you, but didn’t we go to school to learn practical things that we’d use when we grew up, like critical thinking & commonsensible ways to create a good adult life for us & our families? For crying out loud, this guy is teaching our children! Also, when I was a kid, my parents mismanaged their money & then argued who was at fault when they had too much month at the end of their money…that taught me that I did not want to be like that. I learned through trial & error…I’m not wealthy, but I’m not poor & stressed either. I’m no rocket surgeon…so if I can do it, others can too! Sorry about the “when I was a kid…” but it is my history. Thanx again for the website & the post.

  59. “Rocket surgeon”–very funny!

    Alison Hicks has a good point: “We need to remind poor people they should have hope for enough. Without the hope, they will never try. The rules of money aren’t obvious when you’re poor. The things-that-work-for-you-when-you’re-poor don’t work when you have enough or more than enough. Becoming prosperous requires a major paradigm change. We need to let poor people know that. They face disappointment every day but many will come around if they hear it often.”

    Actually there is an excellent book called Understanding Poverty (or Understanding the Framework of Poverty) by Ruby Payne. This is presented as a PD workshop for teachers, which I think is excellent. The rules of surviving as a poor person are different than as a middle class person. So what’s the interior logic for the poor person? Payne explains this…and how it affects so many areas of life.

    It’s important for schoolteachers to know, to not write of poor kids as trash from a trashy family (I’ve witnessed teachers saying this about children!)–but to learn how to teach the kids to see the two systems of thinking and operation, and if they want to ascend to the middle class, it takes an overhaul in thoughts and behaviors, and the teachers can help them with that.

    I work at a community college and try to help people with this paradigm shift. A college degree is not going to change your life and deliver a high paying job on a silver platter…if you don’t quit thinking and acting poor. No employer would hire that if they could avoid it…because it causes problems in the workplace and is underproductive.

    There are those who choose to be poor because they are afraid of taking risks, and their family and friends might not love them any more if they “git above their raisin’.”

  60. Classist leanings aside (boot strap comments, etc.) a pretty reliable catalog of financial advice. Until I hit, “Excluded from this category: Otherwise financially independent individuals who play the lottery.”

    I don’t understand how someone so obsessed with financial responsibility deems it okay to throw one’s money away for fun. The last time I looked up the lottery, you had a better chance getting stuck by lightning than winning. So those $20 bills would be better spent in your aforementioned mutual funds.