“Poor” is such a wretched word, and most of us tend to get offended when it’s applied to us — that’s why we like the term, “middle class,” because even “lower middle class” is better than poor.
But who, or what, determines whether we are poor? And quite honestly, many of us who are worker bees frequently feel poor when the auto insurance premium arrives, or the property taxes are due, or the car breaks down. No matter how much we make, there never seems to be enough.
And the reason this matters is because we tend to judge ourselves, and others, by how much money comes in each year, with successful people bringing in a lot, and losers dribbling by on a little. There’s a reason why we don’t discuss personal finances at cocktail parties.
Depending upon where we live, we can be poor or rich with the same amount of money, in relation to how much money the people around us have. In our younger years, the Norwegian Artist and I lived in the broom closet of some friends in Colombia, South America; the house itself was a closed-off alleyway topped with a hybridized tin and clay tile roof. As Americans, we were automatically considered rich, and even though we lived extremely conservatively off of savings that we had worked years to put together, we were indeed wealthier than many of our neighbors, because we never worried about having enough to eat.
It galled us, however, to be compared to other Americans in the city, whose wealth was much more ostentatious than ours, and who skimped nothing when it came to buying clothes, eating out, and hiring servants. I washed our own clothes, by hand, in a cement cistern out back.
Several years ago, a chance acquaintance commented, “Americans spend so much more than people in third world countries — imagine what people could do with the amount of money that we get each month!”
While I agreed that a larger chunk of our society than it thinks has more money than it realizes, I pointed out that, in many third world countries, obligations that we have are not obligations that they have: every type of insurance imaginable, many — like auto insurance in our state — required by law. Onerous property, sales, and state/federal income taxes. Endless fees tacked onto utility statements. Auto expenses, because in very few locales do we have decent and affordable public transportation.
And the little things you don’t notice: we change, and frequently wash, our clothes every day. We keep our houses up to a certain expected societal standard. We are embarrassed by a car more than 15 years old. We have less patience and tolerance for anything that is old, used up, worn out, or distressed, passing almost moral judgment upon others when they, or their stuff, looks ratty.
Most of us will always wish we had more money, at least to the point that an unexpected broken arm (is something like this ever planned?) won’t drain the little bit of reserves we had set aside for a vacation. But in dealing with the stress of making what we have stretch as far as it can, let’s not add to our angst by comparing our lot with our neighbor’s, finding ourselves wanting, and putting ourselves down.
You are more than the amount you cash your paycheck for. Your value is not linked to the numbers in your bank account. By virtue of simply being a human being, you are an amazing, unique creation, and there is nobody else like you in the world.
You have places to go, things to do, and people to impact. Do not stop yourself, or let anyone else stop you, because you’re “poor.”
If finances are a concern for you (and they are for most of us), I encourage you to look at my book, Live Happily on Less (paperback, $12.99, digital, $5.99 at Amazon.com) which is a commonsense approach to dealing with your individual and family finances.
This article was originally published at ThoughtfulWomen.org