Want to know a big, juicy secret? We’re not rich. Oh, you already knew that? Crap.
I’ll let you in on another tidbit of personal info. We’re not poor, either. In fact in our minds, we’re pretty far from it. Whether that’s a statistical fact (compared to median household income) or a subjective state of mind is beside the point. We live comfortably and are lucky enough that we never worry about covering our monthly obligations (bills, church tithes, etc.).
Our current financial standing is what it is because we’ve chosen a life of frugality. So what does that mean for us? It means we run a tight budget. It means we share a car (for now). It means that we only travel when we can find killer deals. It means that we put almost all of our extra dough toward killing our Debt Monster in 18 months. Those are a few of the things it means.
There are other things that we do that probably don’t match most folks’ definition of frugality. We pay to have cable. We pay to have smartphones. One of us even pays three figures to get their hair did *coughJOANNAcough*. If I could see you through your monitor right now (which I can… wave hello), I’m sure you’d be giving us a look of “I’m just too disappointed in you guys to even say anything.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: personal finances are personal. Which is awesome. We probably do things different than you do. You might really like eating at restaurants but would never consider paying for cable. Heck, even Joanna and I have polar opposite opinions of a lot of issues, like freaking pillows.
Here’s why I bring all this stuff up. A week or so after Baby Girl was born, some friends and family were kind enough to bring us meals during our zombie “wait, how in the world are we supposed to take care of this thing?” state of parenthood. One person was kind enough to do a grocery run for all the stuff we needed.
“Thanks so so much. How much did it all cost?”
“It was like $30. But don’t worry about it.”
“No no no. Here you go. [$30 handed over]”
“Are you sure you won’t be short on money this month?“
Later that night, Joanna and I revisited that conversation wondering why that person would think $30 would put us out. It was partly funny, partly embarrassing. We realized that the person must have seen how Joanna and I scrutinized every purchase and avoided spending money wherever possible. What for us was normal frugal living was perceived as us not having enough money to make ends meet in the eyes of another.
Before that moment, we never realized how friends and family perceive our financial wellbeing. While our financial standing is better than it was just a couple years ago when we were still in debt, our lifestyle really hasn’t changed much. It just goes to show that “rich” to some is “poor” for others. And we’re just fine living the life we’re living.
Have you ever been misperceived for being rich or poor? Have you ever wrongly assumed someone’s wealth by the way they lived?
We’re pretty sure the neighbors all assume we’re poor because we DIY’d our house rehab (some of this was major projects!) and continue to do our own lawn and home care. That kind of stuff is just not really done around here, and we definitely got funny looks when Mr. PoP would load the lawn mower into the back of his Jeep to drive it across town to mow the lawn at our duplex. We’re pretty sure the neighbors thought he had a weekend gig mowing lawns and was super hard up for cash. =)
Haha, that’s great. I feel like doing all the stuff you mentioned is just so much more rewarding! I’m actually looking forward to having a lawn of my own to mow someday. It was always a good stress reliever when I mowed my parents’ lawn in high school. 🙂
Haha I know exactly what you mean! One of W’s friends thinks that we’re super poor. It’s so bad that right now I can’t even see him because he makes fun of us all the time. He thinks that we want to have an outside wedding because we are too poor to have it inside (yes, he actually said that OUT LOUD). He also thinks that we are too poor and always offers to pay for everything for us, which is funny because he hardly works and still lives at home.
Oh man! Well, you might as well let him pay while he insists on it. More savings for you. 😉
my mother always asks if I need money or if I am going to look for a job anytime soon… I make more than her, but not being in an office every day is weird to her.
I think it’s hard for my parents to comprehend my remote, computer-based career, too. I think if I asked them what I do for a living, they wouldn’t even know for sure!
I’m mistaken for lower middle class all the time. I don’t live in an expensive area or drive an expensive car. I only recently got an expensive phone – because my company is paying. Unfortunately, this is kind of killing my chances of meeting other educated professionals.
You never know… maybe some of those people you’re assuming aren’t educated professionals are actually just people trying to live frugally, too!
People that we work with think we’re poor. There are three different pay groups where we work, and my wife and I fall into the lowest category. Even though we work side-by-side with the other pay groups, they tend to say things like “mo’ money mo’ problems”. Well, we make over $125,000 after taxes a year. I don’t think we’re doing so bad. Plus, we save over half our income. These people think we’re overextended. We have no debt. It’s bizarre.
$100 haircuts? My wife gets her hair cut at Great Clips. $15 max. And she looks ahh-mazing, always.
Way to go on saving so much of your income! People will think what they will, but joke’s on them, amiright?
And, to clarify, my $100 haircuts include highlights, so it’s not quite as frivolous as it sounds. But I knew of a few salons in NYC where *men’s* haircuts were $100! Yikes!
I’ve caught myself saying things like “I’m poor” and “I’m broke” a lot lately even though I’m not, because I’ve just been so focused on my (over-)spending and budgeting. I need to keep in mind that the purpose of frugality is to save money where I can to spend money where I want! And I need to curb that “broke” mentality, because I don’t want other people in my life assuming I’m really poor when I’m using “I’m broke” as an excuse/way to keep myself from spending money.
I think it’s an easy mentality to get into, Rachel! You see other people spending more or living more luxuriously than you are so you think, “Oh, I must be poor.” I used to think that when Johnny and I first started keeping a strict budget, but now I’m getting better at embracing the mentality that it’s not what you spend but what you save that makes the difference!
My husband and I struggle with this concept. We both were fortunate enough to graduate from a great school about a year ago and have no student debts to take with us. FTW! But many of our friends won’t come to visit us at our quadplex because it is in a run down part of downtown. In our eyes, we are able to save about 10-15% of our income right now and we like where we live. A lot of people keep asking us if we need help covering any bills and my parents are often the worst offenders. We struggle with how to explain to people that we are happy where we are because we are saving for something better.
First of all, Emory, way to go to you and your husband on committing to save money. Unless people have the same saving mentality as you, it’s really hard to explain why you live the way you do. I don’t like that people assume things about our finances, but our frugal lifestyle allows us to have financial peace of mind, so we’ll take it! 🙂
Haha. That’s kind of funny. If anything, I’m usually repeating to my parents (mostly my Mom) that “we’re not exactly poor.” Few people know how much we make, but because of where we work, it’s fairly easy for people to have a rough idea of how much we earn, so it doesn’t really come up. Even friends from other cities know enough about our industry to know that we make a decent amount of money. The key is that we don’t spend it all!!
Yes, that’s most definitely the key, Anne! I would say the opposite about my industry and Johnny’s… no one is certain what we earn (except that they’re certain that we’re not rich!). 😉 Like you said, none of that matters… what matters is that whatever you make, you save what you can!
I’m quite certain people who don’t know us well make assumptions about us based on the stuff they can easily see: older vehicles, coffee and lunches from home, 3 TV chanels only and from rabbit ear antenna, groceries based on sale flyers/occasional coupons, virtually never going to a restaurant, etc etc. I’m sure it creates an impression that money is a little tight at our house. Of course, if they actually get to know us they also know we intend to retire in our 50s and we take a major holiday with the kids every year (usually somewhere in Europe, and anywhere from 2-4 weeks). I think people always want to compare your spending to their own. If you don’t indulge in the same things they do, and that many people consider perfectly normal (like the smart phone plans, cable, restaurants etc) then it must be because you can’t. I don’t think it really occurs to them that we simply don’t value those things, so we have chosen not to spend on them. We don’t feel deprived in the least. Those same people would also be completely stunned at the budget we allocate to travel.
I think you’re spot on with how people think. I’ve totally been guilty of it. It’s funny because just earlier today Johnny and I were discussing simplifying our home and possessions and putting more money toward experiences. And it sounds like you and your family are already doing that! Those memories you’re making are priceless!
I don’t think I have ever been perceived as poor, but just a meticulous spender. I have judged people that I thought was poor, but then realized they weren’t. I am trying not to do that anymore.
Yup, I think we’ve all been guilty of it! Way to go on trying not to!
One refreshing comment I heard from a friend this weekend when we were talking about the fact that I didn’t have a data plan on my smartphone (a Samsung GS3. What?! It was a gift…) was “that’s right…you are always smart with money”. Whether that’s being smart with money or not is besides the point, but that comment led me to believe that my friend understands that I made that decision by choice and not by financial necessity. With that said, I would happily welcome any “you must be poor” snobby stink eyes. That’s much better than the “look at that baller” looks I thought I was getting from getting my shine on.
What a great compliment to get from someone! You probably are smart with your money, so I’m sure they were spot on. 🙂 There should be less people making assumptions and more people trying to understand why people live the way they do!
I know my parents think that we are “poor” just because of the way we prioritize our money. When our baby girl was in the hospital, my mom was there when I asked the check-out nurse to bring me an itemized bill so that I could arrange to pay it prior to checking out (thereby getting a 10-15% discount on the spot!). As we were walking out of the hospital, I was asked if we are ‘doing okay’ money wise. Yes, we are fine.
Just shows the differences in money mentality! You want the freedom, so you make different priorities with your money. I think the questions about how you manage it just naturally occur because some people don’t get it! (Sad to say, my parents are ‘those’ people).
First of all, that’s awesome that the hospital offered that discount. And more awesome that you took them up on that deal!
It’s funny how if my coworker goes out to lunch every day and drops $10-$15, and I bring lunch from home, he assumes that I’m living a lesser, poorer life. Because it’s different. I’m probably guilty of this with assuming others are richer than us. But all that matters is that we’ve got our own priorities straight.
I feel like you wrote this line about me:
You might really like eating at restaurants but would never consider paying for cable.
I think a lot of it has to do with perspective. I bought a big piece of furniture, and someone made a snide, “MUST BE NICE…” comment (implying that it must be nice to have so much disposable income), when the real truth behind it was that I stalked the piece for months, called the company several times inquiring about it, waited until it went on clearance, used a 15% off code, gift cards, and got store credit back. In the end, it averaged out to be the same price as similar furniture from IKEA.
And that’s where I think we run the risk with assumptions.
One more example and then I’ll leave you alone: a guy I know is considered – by most standards – to be very wealthy. A millions-aire. He and his wife live in a modest home and they don’t lease flashy cars. Instead, they put a lot of their money in investments, give a TON of it away to causes they believe in, and use the money to adopt. Most people wouldn’t guess or assume that.
You’re millions-aire is probably a millions-aire because he lives in a modest home and doesn’t lease cars. Ya know? It’s all of those little things over time that make the difference. And after living that sort of life for so long, when the money finally is there to upgrade the house/car/stuff, it’s not really that appealing or tempting.
Wait, you eat out at restaurants? Must be nice…
I don’t think I’m perceived as rich or poor, but those who know me well, have more of a concern about my historical spending decisions with respect to my actual take home pay. With that said, I’ve improved greatly in this respect and I will always need to keep this in check.
I will add something that you touched on here with respect to personal financial choices. Long ago I decided that for myself (I am single) whether I made $20K a year or $200K a year, that I would feel satisfied from a financial perspective when I was financially able to make choices, that while these choices may not be the most frugal/logical, brought me some greater degree of happiness. Something along the lines of paying for cable, paying more than is sometimes prudent for haircuts (not a judgement — I do it too), running the a/c a little colder in the summer, because all of these things make me just a little happier, make me feel just a little more comfortable, feel like little rewards for a hard day’s work. That is where I think finances get to be SO personal. I can also imagine that trying to decide as a couple what are/are not worthwhile (what I call) “happier expenses”, could be touchy, difficult discussions. With that said, it’s one of the things I enjoy reading most about in personal finance blogs interesting — the why/how of budgeting decisions of others.
“Happier expenses” definitely get a little more interesting once you have to run them by a significant other. And while I know that a lot of other PF blogs and folks believe in complete frugality and minimalism, that’s just never going to happen with us. Our quality of life depends on convenience and comfort and we’d rather have both of those things in our lives now, even if it means we might have to retire 5-10 later than them. On that point, it seems like we’re seeing eye-to-eye.
I assume some people think I’m poor because I have had the same car for six years, even though it has been through quite a few major fender benders (lots of dents and crap). Someone also stole my hubcaps and antenna, so suffice it to say my car is less than pristine. This is fine with me as no one will ever try to break in it.
My ex used to try to get me to buy a new one (I think it embarrassed him), but I refused. I have to admit, I got a little joy out of making him squirm in it sometimes.
“This is fine with me as no one will ever try to break in it.” Hahaha. That’s the best attitude ever. And who needs hubcaps anyway. So long that thing you gets you from point A to B, keep that dough in your pocket and keep people guessing.
From most outside people I must look poor. Or at least financially irresponsible. When asked to do certain things (like go to the bar) I usually respond with, “I’m broke!” even though I am not broke. Most of money goes straight to savings so I judge what I do or don’t have with what is in my checking.
I know a guy who acts like he makes minumum wage. Then he went and bought a house with cash. Never judge a book…
Never judge a book indeed. That minimum wage method that your friend did is awesome. We do something similar to what you do with feeding money into savings and never having a ton in checking available. I’ve gotten pretty good at thinking up excuses for why I can’t eat out or go to the bar with coworkers. I’m also running out of them, though, so maybe I’ll just switch to your “I’m broke.”
my MIL thinks I’m too stingy with money and that yes we’re poor. She’ll make comments all the time about it, and it’s really strained my relationship with her. But I like being frugal and not wasting my money. I don’t think I’m poor, I’m just very selective with the way I spend money.
That’s a shame. There’s no reason to change your financial habits and beliefs because someone else doesn’t approve. Even if it’s the M.I.L. Keep on frugalling on.
We don’t get those kinds of comments – not because we don’t deserve them based on our lifestyle, or maybe I’m just too open about our retirement savings rate. 🙂 We don’t live near family so they can’t see our spending habits. Our local friends basically all make the same amount of money as us (grad students). I’m the only one who’s impolite enough to discuss money and I don’t make judgey comments.
Hahaha. Ain’t nothing wrong with flaunting your retirement savings rate. We’ve talked about our money goals with a few close friends who were in similar situations as us, but that’s about it. Maybe if were a bit more open with our financial goals, maybe the judginess would cease.
After Sopapilla (baby #3, and that’s not her real name it’s just what I call her online) was born I had like two weeks of meal delivery and my husband was getting tiiiired of it. (He even turned down one of the church ladies when she called and offered to bring us frozen meals. Whhhaaaat!?? We had a sit-down-talk-to about that one.) He wanted me to cook him his normal food again, but after reminding him that this was two weeks where we weren’t shelling out cash for groceries he totally came around. I never did get those church lady meals, and I’m 99% sure it’s one of those issues that will creep it’s ugly head into our marriage therapy sessions 20 years from now.
Haha. I remember those first couple weeks like they happened… eight weeks ago. 🙂
What’s funny is we were both super worried about bleeding money the first few weeks after Baby Girl was born. But those two or three weeks were probably the cheapest we’ve had since our college days. Free meals, no time to go out and spend, and plenty of initial baby supplies from showers. Minus the sleep deprivation, those were good times.
My husband and I have been married for less than a week, so everyone knows we’re poor college kids. However, something funny came up when we were opening wedding cards. My husband found that one of our guests gave us a card inside a reused envelope. The envelope looked as if it had been re-taped several times. The card contained $100, which was double or triple what we got from other family and friends. My husband said that the guy that gave us the generous gift is the only man he knows that is more frugal than us! I bet a lot of people underestimate his financial situation. Just goes to show that frugality eventually cultivates wealth. Never underestimate a guy in a thrift store suite who drives a 1998 Saturn!
Woah! Congrats on the marriage! And you’re already blogging together? Check that out. That’s awesome.
This is an awesome comment. What a perfect example. The guy reuses envelopes but is more generous than the rest. So freaking cool. Thanks for sharing.
I would assume most people think I am “poor” or broke, which is pretty true right now. My friends all know I’m pretty frugal and hate spending money if I don’t have to. I would also say that people have underestimated my ability to save and what my savings/debt payoff actually looks like. Although, I am pretty broke, I don’t meet the standard narrative of ‘starving artist’ or ‘overeducated gal buried in student loans’. I am paying off quite a bit given my dismal salary at the moment.
And I feel pretty rich most of the time, which is what I think matters most.
That definitely matters most. I think the misperceptions (at least for us) probably stem from the fact that people only see the avoidance of spending money, but don’t understand the “why.” When my coworkers see me bring lunch to work or turn down an invite to join them for a meal, they don’t know my motives. And it’s a lot easier to assume that I just don’t have much money. But whatever. No big deal.
I don’t think our friends or family think we’re poor (they know what we make), but they do sometimes tease us because we’re careful with our money. i.e. “But you don’t have a coupon to that restaurant, are you sure we can eat there?”. I suspect when I was in HS working at a fancy schmancy yacht club the patrons thought I was poor because I was a “local”. I didn’t take it personally. Compared to them I totally was, “poor”. They didn’t treat me poorly because of it, but I’m sure they made assumptions about me based on where I lived.
Haha. I like the coupon comment. They can tease all they want, but you’ll have the last laugh. And I’d imagine 99% of the country would feel poor among yacht owners — because we are poorer. 🙂
At the end of the day, one of the biggest money mistakes you can make is letting others influence your “money values”. Talking you into buying a new car, eating out all the time, or shopping, just because that is what they do when they get bored. I’d much rather spend my time at home with my family, or going on a vacation than having to worry about paying for something that I only purchased because of someone else’s influence. Been there, got the crappy t-shirt, not going back!
“Been there, got the crappy t-shirt, not going back!”
If you put that on a shirt, I’d buy it. 🙂 The Joneses can be tough to ignore sometimes, but we’re all better off for it.
This is a really interesting topic. My husband and I are pretty frugal, and I’m sure some of our friends wonder if we’re doing okay financially. We work in industries that don’t typically pay well, but we were lucky in that we both found well-paying jobs. When I was promoted someone actually said to me, “Mow you wont have to shop at thrift stores anymore. I was perplexed. We love shopping at thrift stores…not because we can’t afford new clothing, but because we love finding good deals. In fact, my husband wore a $15 thrift store tux to our wedding and he looked like a million bucks. Seriously. He took the pants to an Italian tailor to hem, and the tailor couldnt believe that we had found the tux in a thrift store (it apparently was a custom suit). Who would have known?
I’ve been guilty of judging people unfairly. I even judged my husband when we first started dating. I was spending a spring break with his family and he picked me up in his parents’
Volvo. It was at least fifteen years old, it didn’t have AC, the windows didn’t roll down, one of the doors didnt open, and it was missing a
bumper. I was NOT impressed. Im ashamed to admit that I was embarasses to get in the car. But then he pulled up to a gorgeous, beautifully decorated home in a very affluent
area. A gorgeous home that his parents had nearly paid off. I felt like an idiot (by the way, their snooty neighbors really hated that car,
My husband keep driving that far until he totaled it over this summer (so he drove the car for six more years)
These stories are fantastic. If someone told me I could stop shopping at thrift stores because of a promotion, I’d slap them — and then go celebrate my promotion with a trip to the thrift store. 🙂
P.S. I love those old Volvos. My brother recently bough an 80’s wagon and he gets compliments all the time. Maybe you can help your husband find a new old one.
Sorry for all the sloppy typos! Meant to say that my husband drove that “car” for six more years until he totaled it (which isn’t hard to do when a car is 20+ years old and worth about $600)
Haha, no worries. I’ve actually been meaning to add an edit functionality to comments, so thanks for the reminder.
You guys are the classic “Millionaire Next Door”. 30 years from now, when you’re still being frugal, you’ll be loaded big time and be able to afford whatever you want. Keep up the good work!
And in 30 years, we’ll find a nice plot of land near your farm and learn how to live the good life. 🙂 Thanks, Laurie.
I would say that most of my friends know that I have money but just choose not to spend it. Thankfully they call me “thrifty” rather than calling me a “miser.” I just fear how this perspective might change as I get older!
“Thrifty” has a much more pleasant ring to it than “miser.” I’m not a huge fan of “cheap” either, but I’ve been called that once or twice, too. That’s great that your friends know your spending/savings habits. Admittedly, this is one area Joanna and I could do a better job on.
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[…] Wait, Are We Poor? […]
[…] Wait, Are We Poor? […]
ALL … THE .. TIME. We live in a city that has older homes from being “country” living and now there are newer more well off areas. In the area that I go to church at, we have home ranged from 100K to 350K. We happen to live in a 100K home. Around Christmas time, our family always gets the donated money for a family. One year when my husband lost his job, we didn’t get any donated money. (Not that I cared.) We made 45K once and got the money and again this year we got money (we make 70K now.). I love the people in my church, they are great people. But I just don’t see where we would seem poor and need it. Yeah, we’ve frugal. We don’t have brand new stuff when we can do fine with used or great sales.
I don’t expect my kids to look spotless and if they don’t want me to sit and do their hair for 20 mins, I don’t make them. We have plenty of money (even when my husband lost his job) to survive just fine. We’re really smart with our money and have been paying down our house and could have it paid off next year sometime. I guess the people just see what they see (which is an older house, not brand new clothes all the time, older cars.) And they must make a TON of money if they think we need money. Maybe they all make 100+ and aren’t sure how we live off less??
Anyway, struck a nerve with me today as we really don’t need this money. I am thinking and deciding what to do with the money. I’m thinking I’ll find someone or someplace that could use the money to help out those who really do need the help. I’ve never been beneath taking when needed. We did use some of the Christmas money one year to lessen the financial burden. But there is no burden now and would rather someone else have it.
How crazy! And even crazier is that some of those folks who are so generously giving are probably further behind in paying off their homes than you and others who choose to live frugal. It’s all about choices.
I love your idea of paying it forward. Good for you for sticking by your budget and goals. Thanks so much for sharing, Ann.
I just always assume people have more money than they say they do. I don’t know if it’s just my area, but I have friends who CONSTANTLY talk about how poor they are. But their idea of “poor” is having to dip into inheritance, investment accounts, or massive savings. They say they’re poor while buying McMansions, New cars, & extravagant trips. Whereas when I say I’m “poor” or don’t have the money for something, it means I have to decide: should I pay for heat or food this week? They don’t get it. It’s like the post said, if you’ve never worried about paying the bills, you are in a GOOD place. You aren’t poor.
Agreed, KC. Sometimes it’s hard to hear people complain who don’t know what it’s like to worry about making ends meet. You’re learning a lot more about life and being responsible with money, though! And in the end, that will serve you very well.
Just now reading this in 2017 as my boyfriend and I are saving up for a house (our goal is to put down enough of a down payment to keep our cost of living expenses the same as what it’s costing us now while living in an apartment that pays for heat and water/sewer. Makes no sense for us to ratchet up our monthly expenditures just to say that we kept up with the Jonses’ and bought a house “like everyone else”). We are certainly not poor as our “household” income is to the tune of 150k, but we live like we make a lot less. We keep our finances separate, but we have combined savings goal and a goal date on which we need to be done saving. For myself, I am saving at least $2,000 a month toward our down payment, in addition to my $350/month new car payment (RIP my 1990 Oldsmobile). We hope to be house hunting by early 2018, so it’s getting close and I’m getting excited!!
But saving that much means that it “shows” in other places. I probably have roughly 5-6 outfits that I cycle through every week and I have not shopped for clothing in at least two years. I have no “extra” monthly subscriptions like gym memberships, etc…, I grocery shop for “meals” only; no snack or novelty foods, and I have to say “no” to things like my friend’s overnight winery bachelorette party excursion which would have cost me at least $500. But a secret that you probably already know? Saying “No” gets easier the longer you do it, and you feel put out less and less. I keep a spreadsheet to watch my savings grow and imputting a savings amount that meets or exceeds my goal gives me way more long-lasting satisfaction than an overpriced dinner out. 🙂
Love this! Congrats on your monthly savings. That’s no small feat and requires lots of sacrifices like you referenced. But boy does it pay off in the end. Achieving goals and maintaining a solid financial standing is way more gratifying than any stuff — ever. 👊