“Poor” is a State of Mind

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This is a FLASHBACK Friday. Can you hear The Beach Boys playing in the background? This post was originally posted on March 13, 2009, back when we had just climbed out of the hole. The lessons still hold true. Whether you are choosing a frugal lifestyle to achieve a certain goal, or you find yourself in dire straights, “poor” is a state of mind.

When I was a child, my parents were very careful in how they spent money. Neither of their families had had a lot of money when they were growing up, and so they knew how to economize. It took a long time for me to appreciate this.

I remember scrunching down in the backseat of the car when my mom would stop at garage sales because I didn’t want anyone to see me. And forget the idea of my actually wearing anything she bought there. For some reason, bargain shopping had a stigma attached to it.

I didn’t want to feel poor.

Throughout high school and college while I worked to earn my way and was very careful with money, I still wanted to acquire “stuff.” And, in the back of my mind, having nice (read: expensive) things was a goal and a symbol of success. This continued into marriage and motherhood until a few years ago when we received a “wake up call.”

My husband was starting a new business, and we went without an income for several weeks. Up until that point we had been living “speculatively,” that is, making our purchases with plastic and then counting on having enough money later to pay off the balances each month. This worked fine – until the month came when there wasn’t enough money to pay it off and still have some cash on hand. We were stuck.

“Coincidentally,” I heard about this guy named Dave Ramsey and started listening to his radio program about money.

Debt free? Are you nuts?

FishPapa and I talked about our options and the “wild idea” of living debt-free. It sounded totally crazy considering our income at the time. We’d been unemployed for several months and this was not the ideal moment to start getting convictions. Though we had little savings, we decided to bite the bullet and stop using our credit cards. We found ourselves in a heap of debt and I felt “poor.”

Listening to Dave answer calls about people in better and worse situations than us was so helpful to my morale. The “good” calls gave me hope to change. The “bad” ones helped me count my blessings and pay close attention to the advice Dave gave. One of the things that he said over and over was about the idea of being poor.

Poor is a State of Mind

He said, “Poor is a state of mind. You’re not poor. You’re broke.”

That helped me so much.

And part and parcel with that idea is the thought that we need to do what we need to do in order to be wise with our money.

  • If we order a la carte at a restaurant and the server raises an eyebrow, that’s okay.
  • If we use coupons religiously in order to stay under budget, that’s okay.
  • If we put on an extra sweater and keep the thermostat set in the low 60s to conserve money and energy, that’s okay.

We need to be okay with the methods we’re choosing in ordeer to be money-wise. We need to be okay with not “keeping up with the Jones.” Chasing status symbols is what gets people into financial troubles in the first place.

June 19, 2007 is a day that will live on in infamy. At least in our bank book.

In switching to cash we began to be much more careful in our shopping. We scaled back in our spending. And we lived on rice and beans that summer. We started “to act our wage.” And since then, praise God, we have climbed out of the hole. But, it was a most valuable education. We learned that there’s a lot of good in life that money can’t buy. And we learned to be okay.

Shake off the bad attitude.

One way to save money and make it more fun in the process is to shake off those attitudes that you need to drive a fancy car, buy name brands, or order a full menu at dinner. Or that you should be embarassed for doing otherwise.

It’s a question of mind over money. Set your mind on the right course and don’t let your ideas about money make you feel “poor” or make you spend what you don’t have.

Thinking rightly about money will help you save it, not be a slave to it.

How do YOU save money?

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  1. Money valuing the worth of a person is total $%^&. When we die, we bring nothing with us… all of what we “owned” is no longer there. It’s just us dead.

    We don’t really OWN anything, so to be so obsessed with getting things is merely society brainwashing us into giving them money.

    Toys is a big one. If parents don’t by the newest hot toy for their kid, they aren’t being good parents, they aren’t PROVIDING for them enough.

    Did you ever think what kids would do without any toys? How much fun would they have?

    Just as much fun if they had all the toys in the world… maybe even more fun than that.

  2. Woohoo! LOVE Dave Ramsey! We busted it for 3 years and became debt free this January. I thought being poor meant staying there, but boy has our paradigm changed (even though our income has decreased and our family size increased during this time). Let me tell ya, God is good, his word is wise on money and relationships, and he is using Dave Ramsey in a mighty way to free families like ours from the bondage of debt and all the stigmas that come with living that life. We’re debt free now, I stay home with the kids, and we’re looking forward to the very bright future. http://www.daveramsey.com if you would like to learn more. Listen to his radio show if you want to learn God’s and grandma’s ways of handling money. Changes EVERYTHING!!! 😀

  3. what a great post. i grew up always wearing hand-me-downs and playing with very used toys. i suppose that has made me who i am today! great post!

  4. My nephew visited for a couple of weeks ago and wanted to play “cops & robbers”. Being a ‘girl house’ we didn’t have any guns, so the kids made up and exhaustive game called ‘Paper Wars’. They drew out weapons and all kinds of stuff. They made an enormous list of rules for the game. They all seemed to understand and be on the same page. It was the funniest thing to watch. The game went on for the better part of a week (until he went home) and he stored them in his treasure box @ my house for when he returns next year!

  5. Poor is a state of mind. In the US we have such little comprehension of what it means to be poor. When my husband came here from the Caribbean as a teenager he kept hearing about all these poor neighborhoods. Imagine his surprise when he went to these places and saw people wearing designer clothes, no worries about food and living the life of luxury compared to what he knew in his country of origin.

    A while back we started a tradition of my saying what we’re thankful for in the evening. It helped my children keep in mind all the luxuries we take for granted – food on the table each night, a safe place to sleep, together with our family, warmth, good health, a school with books and paper.

    Because they aren’t flooded with toys (no Christmas gifts and just a few carefully chosen birthday gifts), these guys have developed imagination and they really really really enjoy their toys. (My son also loves cool sticks he finds in the woods!)

    Poor is absolutely a state of mind. It’s amazing how we rob ourselves and our children of the true pleasures of life by our perception of what makes life good. When you leave the rat race behind you can truly savor the good things in life. And I can tell you straight – it is such a relief to leave that stress for others and enjoy life for what it is.

    Great resource to consider, the book: Your Money Or Your Life.

    Here’s my post that describes some of this in more depth with regards to running a home business:


  6. I totally agree. It’s all about perspective! After my mom left(my brother and I were both under 4 years), my dad would shop at second hand stores for our clothes. He taught me from a young age to find awesome deals. I wasn’t always happy about it then, but when you train a child in the way, the child will go that way. Today, I am a magnet to thrift stores and clearance racks. 😉

  7. I also love Dave Ramsey. ALthough while we believe in his techniques we (hubs and I) only just really following his advice with money. Recently we started the cash system which I believe is one of the best ways to get a handle on your money.

    One of the ways I have found to save money and ironically lose weight is with freezer cooking. I buy and cook in bulk and this has helped us with our budget immensely.

    1. I don’t agree with Dave on all points, but the Baby Steps proved themselves for us.

  8. I can so appreciate the garage sale shopping scenario (scrunching down in the back seat so as to not be seen). I remember shopping in the aisles of Kmart and stores the like thinking oh my gosh I hope my friends don’t see me buying clothes here.
    As a mom of three and a changed mentality I love a good bargain and I try and pass my knowledge along to my little ones. I have a 12 yr old girl and she seems to have no qualms going into a bargain store. And the other day, we were shopping for backpacks and my 7 yr old son found this one that he “had to have” and I had him scan it to see what the price would be: it rang up $44
    (It was a Tony Hawk brand).
    I asked my son, do you think $44 is a fair price for a backpack?
    Son: No way! When I get older and be a dad and I have to buy a backpack for my kids, well I’m not gonna pay more than $20 for a backpack!
    Excellent my child! I love the way you’re thinking! I guess something’s gettin thru to them!
    I can also appreciate the dining guilt. I always feel I have to order full entrees in order to help the server’s tip. (the bigger the order the bigger the 20% tip will increase to) That is so backwards thinking as I write that out. Gonna work on that one in the future!
    BTW, I LOVE your blog, I subscribe via RSS and am a frequent reader.

  9. Just noticed that my link on #12 is broken. I reposted the correct link if you don’t mind deleting #12. Thanks!

  10. We treat our credit card like a debit card – we don’t use it to buy things when we know there isn’t money in our savings account to pay for what it is we would like to buy. I pay off the credit card in full every month. The reason we have a credit card is it has SAVED us money through the accrual of points which we use to purchase airline tickets so we can visit our families. I have a budget that I use as a guideline so I know when we are starting to spend outside our means and dip too far into our Savings.

  11. We save money by having envelopes stocked with cash for any budgeted category that can fluctuate. For instance, groceries, eating out, entertainment, cosmetics, hair cuts, and fun/blow money. It has helped both my husband and I “see” when the budgeted dollar amount has been spent.

    It is sometimes inconvenient to go to the bank and get out all of the cash, but it sure has helped us stay on track! Thanks for sharing your story. I love reading about the financial success of others. It encourages and inspires me to stay the course.

  12. We save money by having envelopes stocked with cash for any budgeted category that can fluctuate. For instance, groceries, eating out, entertainment, cosmetics, hair cuts, and fun/blow money. It has helped both my husband and me “see” when the budgeted dollar amount has been spent.

    It is sometimes inconvenient to go to the bank and get out all of the cash, but it sure has helped us stay on track! Thanks for sharing your story. It is encouraging to hear the success of your family; it helps inspire me to stay the course!

  13. Thanks for the post. It made me really think. You see we were those people trying to keep up with the other family members. Until Jan 09 my hubby came home to say he was laid off. He’s in construction and that news really wasn’t that big of a deal.Cause the most he ever has been off was 6 months.Well in the last yrs,hes worked on and off (mostly off)We have made 1/4 of what we did. The only thing that has saved us we had no debt except our house.We had taken out all our equity the yr before and paid off everything and DID have money in the bank.Now we budget shop,most of my kids clothes come from thrift stores,discount stores and yard sales.No one can tell I didn’t pay 25.00 for pants for my 15 and 13 dds.Yesterday at Target I got Converse shoes for $7.49. My boys shoes were 4.98.Those are for next school yr.I already have started on summer clothes for my 4 kids. So yes WE HAVE learned our lesson. I hope never to go back to spending money like we did.

  14. What a great post! My Dh and I have paid so much “stupid tax” that it would be scary to get a grand total! We haven’t used credit cards in almost 3 years now! Next spring we’ll be completely out of debt and I can’t wait!!! I used to be a yard sale/goodwill snob, but fast forward to 4 kids and I stay home with them, I LOVE finding great deals from there! After the tag is cut no one can tell where your clothes came from! Recently my MIL bought the kids a couple outfits at the mall and although I was more than thankful, I kept thinking I could’ve clothed all the kids for the whole school year from the consignment shop for what she paid for 6 outfits 🙂

  15. You said Beach Boys and “Little Deuce Coupe” started playing in my head…thanks! lol.

    We don’t live like anyone else around us, just as Dave Ramsey says. We put 40% of our money to savings for various things! We will be making our very last debt payment (not including the mortgage) in a matter of weeks. We use cash most of the time. While people around us are buying new cars, new clothes, and multiple nice vacations…we are not. We’ve never taken a ‘real vacation’ as a family. Frankly investing our money now is more important. There will be time for travel later, and at that time we will enjoy it!

    I sometimes get frustrated that it seems like everyone around me (especially people whom I know don’t make as much money as we do) have nicer cars and houses and take vacations and get new ipads and whatever else…. But I remind myself that we’re working towards a truly secure future, and that if, in a few years, my husband were to lose his job or something else fell apart, we would be okay! With a huge emergency fund and no debt we would have no trouble at all. Knowing that I’ll have that security and not have to wonder how I’ll feed my family or keep my house is very satisfying and worth giving up all those big ‘extras.’

  16. I love that its a state of mind…not a condition. Even if you’re not broke..living frugally can lead to so many financial benefits. And it doesn’t have to consume your life. You can still live all of life’s amazing moments.

  17. I save money by making a serious plan before shopping…and I don’t go overboard on recipes with a lot of exotic ingredients that won’t be used. We buy what we’ll eat within the next 2 weeks.

  18. This is a really great reminder. After our share of tough financial years we are slowly recovering. We lost money on the sale of our house and our savings balance is nowhere near where we’d like it but we are debt free. Sometimes I find the desire to be able to own a home again creeping in and stealing my joy over what I do have and making me feel “poor.” I know with time we’ll get to be homeowners again and that not owning does not make me “poor.” Keeping my attitude in check and my focus where it needs to be helps me realize just how “rich” I really am.

  19. We were very, very lucky or “blessed” is a better choice of words to discover Dave Ramsey months after our wedding…after we were already on the road to developing bad spending habits and I had like seven different credit cards. My husband called the radio show asking a question about whether we should sell our car. Mr Ramsey ended up giving us free tickets to his financial peace seminar that was coming to our town. Needles to say his principles guided us (and saved lots of fights and arguments in our marriage). The things I am the most proud of (among many others) was paying for my husband’s four years of seminary in cash (no loans) and two vehicles over the past ten years also in cash. It works if you stick with it!

  20. Thank you for this post Jessica. It’s easy to live large and spend the way we want to live rather that how we actually live.
    I’m new to your blog and look forward reading more tips, and even more implementing them!

  21. thanks for sharing. I felt the same way growing up but my attitude has changed, thankfully!
    Getting married, having kids, college… We go by the rule- only spend what you literally have in hand, so we have never had any debt and hopefully never will.

  22. Great for me to hear again and again. I have an entitlement complex where I think I “deserve” certain nice things. Mostly, I “deserve” a break to the coffee shop, or a night off from cooking to a fast food restaurant with the family, or a nice meal when I’m traveling. You can guess where I need to “cut the fat” (figuratively and literally) in our budget.