Smart SpendingSmart Spending

How 'acting poor' can give you choices

One blogger says the way to spend less money is to pretend you don't have much of it. It's a good chance to decide what's most important to you.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 3, 2013 9:21AM
Logo: Piggy bank ( year a Seattle blogger wrote about "acting poor." Comfortably middle-class, Sarah used the word poor to mean "living well below one's means." That's because some people consider her life choices to be things that only poor folks do.

Sarah and her husband scavenged materials for their vegetable garden and chicken house. They harvest free wild blackberries, barter, make their own laundry soap, preserve food, and shop yard sales and thrift stores.

Each month she removes money from their budget by paying extra on their car and funding retirement, a flexible spending account and savings. She does this both to build a someday fund (with an eye toward starting her own business) and to develop creative money management tactics.

"Knowing you can live on less and actually doing it, turns out they're two different things," she wrote in a post on her site, Dogs or Dollars.

The blogger and her husband learned to "question each expense" in terms of what it means both to their everyday budget and their long-term goals. They also learned that you can do everything right, only to find that life has other plans.

In this case the curve ball was a delightful surprise: a son, born earlier this month. While a baby was not in the short-term plan, their preparations gave them tremendous flexibility. Sarah negotiated extra time off and can stay home for six months. Then her husband, a welder, will take a half-year leave of absence.

Plenty of people in their income bracket wouldn't be able to take so much time off, "because they didn't make the choices we did," says Sarah, who works in information technology.

"Since we knew we could live on significantly less income than we were currently making and we had a healthy chunk of savings to back us up, this was doable."

Directing your dollars

Their attitude is similar to my own mantra: I save where I can so I can spend where I want.

Thrift-store shopping, fruit gleaning, bulk buying, home cooking, Dumpster wading and other frugal hacks got me through some lean times. But I keep doing them because I see no reason to pay more than I have to in order to meet basic needs.

I also believe a little self-denial is good for us. That doesn't mean always going without. It means asking yourself why -- or whether -- you should spend.
How much cash slips mindlessly through your fingers in a day, or a month? Track your spending for just one week. What you find may surprise you: Did I really spend $11 in vending machines? That's $575 a year for soda and candy bars!

Money in, money out

Reining in your spending will lead to freedom. That might sound counterintuitive, since some people equate "budget" with "prison." But when you've got money in place for all of your needs and at least some of your wants, you sleep really well at night.

If it takes "acting poor" to get control of your cash, then go ahead. Don't look at it as hoarding every dime in case something awful happens. Think of it as directing your dollars so that something good can happen -- a vacation, a home of your own, a baby.

Decide what really matters to you and then set out to achieve it. Ignore what other people say about your "poor" behavior or, worse, your "cheapskate" habits. This is the money you work hard to earn. When it comes in, you should be absolutely aware of how it goes back out.

More on MSN Money

Jul 3, 2013 12:00PM
Being frugal does not mean being poor.  I applaud Sarah and others like her that make the best of what they have and don't have a 'keep up with the Jones' lifestyle.  Now if we can only get the Federal, State and Local Government practice what Sarah and her husband have learned - ah but alas the Government does not care since it is not their money they are spending...
Jul 3, 2013 1:07PM
I love and live this philosophy! When I cut fast food and pre-packaged foods out of my diet I found that while prepping your own meals doesn't necessarily save money the quality of the food you eat increases and was immediately reflected in my health. Then I stopped smoking cigarettes... I felt like I had gotten a raise at work. Then I cancelled my cable, stopped buying dvd's and I had money to burn. Now that I have quit smoking pot I feel almost rich. I have money in my savings. If I go out I don't have to worry about what I spend (within reason). When I go out to dinner now, if I want the lobster, I get the friggin lobster!
Jul 3, 2013 11:33AM
Old Benny Franklin had it right..."A penny saved is a penny earned."
Jul 3, 2013 1:57PM
We used to call this thrifty or frugal.  I grew up in a ranching environment and all of the ranchers and farmers looked "POOR".  Worn down boots, faded worn jeans, frazzled threadbare shirts and old hats...most looked like they couldn't afford a cup of coffee.   Just when you felt sorry for them they would pay the feed bill of $9,000 in cash from their pocket and drive away in a new dually truck.   These men knew when and where to spend...and also when and where to save.  They never spent to impress..thats why they have this kind of cash to begin with....
Jul 3, 2013 12:55PM
If you look poor to con-men you are less apt to be a target.
Jul 3, 2013 1:41PM
Just because you have the money to pay for it doesn't necessarily mean you can afford it.
Just because you can afford it doesn't necessarily mean you should buy it.



Jul 3, 2013 1:06PM
I do the same things as Sarah.  I grow vegetables using free materials and seeds from the previous year that are sold for .10 per pack.  I invest as little as possible and try to get the biggest reward. I get my books from the library for free.  I shop thrift stores and grocery sales and markdowns, and I pick up rewards and discounts whenever I can.  The savings I get from my frugal habits allow me to take vacations and save for retirement on my small income.  The thing to keep in mind, I believe, is that the difference between frugality and being cheap is that by being frugal, you can be generous even though you don't have much money.  Being cheap is an attitude that is resentful about spending money and leads to negativity and  a lack of generosity.  So I reat frugality as a game, and I find it challenging and fun. 
Jul 3, 2013 1:42PM

Sadly enough, most of us are not "acting" we are living paycheck to paycheck, with nothing left to save.

Jul 3, 2013 1:49PM
She's acting "poor" while really being "rich" while everyone else acts "rich" and is really "poor".
("" are used because these terms are ALWAYS subjective)
Jul 3, 2013 1:01PM
Sarah sounds like she'd be a good match for being my friend. I'm a minimalist and live below my means and am much happier and content than those who choose to have the best and biggest of everything and yet have to worry how they'll ever get all of the stuff paid for.
Jul 3, 2013 1:27PM
b b b but  the commercial says I REALLY NEED all of those things. 
What is described in this article is nothing new!  I was part of the huge counterculture movement in the late '60s and early' 70s that was a reaction to America's rampant consumerism of the time.  I learned a lot about household economies - I still bake my own bread and cakes, cook from scratch,  hang laundry outside on the line, and have "freecycled" most of my belongings.  I often barter my time and skills to others who in turn fix things around my house, take care of my dogs when I have to be gone, etc.  This is a vastly different "poor"  than actual poverty, as it is a lifestyle choice that requires knowledge and planning, and active choices, rather than ignorance and the few or no choices afforded the "real" poor of this nation.
They are doing it properly not like most of the people in the U.S. Most  spend their paycheck plus and then when they loose a job or something else happens to the government help they run. When I got married even though my wife had a full time job we lived off only one income. I always wanted to be prepared in case something happened and only one income was available.  We had two kids because that is what we could afford and put them thru college. So if people planned ahead like these two are doing we wouldn't have the mess we do today.
Jul 3, 2013 2:32PM

I cut the pre-packaged food out of my diet, & there was an immediately reduction in our grocery bill.  Not a lot, but noticeable.  More important, my chloresteral plummetted, as did my blood pressure.  We soon realized that a 12 oz bag of chips on sale for $2.99 came out to $3.99/lb.  Almost every fruit & vegetable in season over at the produce bins cost less.  Chicken cost less, & some loaves of bread, so we've started baking our own.

Those 1 lb packages of cookies cost $3.49 or more.  A 2 oz candy bar for $1.00 comes out to $8.00/lb.


Jul 3, 2013 2:38PM
I know a handful of millionaires.  Every one of them "acts" like they are middle class.     Of course, I know many more middle and lower class folks.   Far too many of them act(spend) like they are millionaires.
Jul 3, 2013 1:21PM

... and all we have to do is, act naturally.

Jul 3, 2013 1:25PM

Been to the discount variety under-a-buck store lately?  One near my place sells anything

(well almost) that can be imagined.  Would you believe pre-worn and NEW dresses, shirts,

pants, etc? French and African lingerie, four-pound vegetables bundles, fresh raspberries,

oodles of prepared frozen foods, and as a last example, eighteen large eggs for under-a-buck?

And yes, much too much carbohydrated snacks, soft drinks, etc. 


I sew: a 16" zipper costs about $3 if bought from the crafts store, but at the  discount variety,

a DURABLE, attractive pillow case cover can be purchased for less than a dollar (one would

have to strip the pillow case however to re-use the zipper).  That store doesn't offer sanitary

wipe-its as you enter the premises as do some of the pricier more high-end discounters. It's no

wonder their stocks do well; 2+ pounds of broccoli for under a dollar is smart economics!


So here's the challenge:  try not to buy anything for a WEEK. (If you succeed, go a few weeks

without buying.) By rearranging your life, we don't have to spend almost every other day.

(Vacations an exception though - where spending is usually every half-hour.) Spending daily REINFORCES our urge to spend and can lead to CHRONIC spending which can be

HABITUATING and leads to bankruptcy, old-age impoverishment and depression. 


If you can CONTROL spending, you can grasp also (somewhat) government wasteful

spending and attitudes if you put your mind to it.  Now, that's where waste adds up that's

truly amazing and in need of reform.


When you can and do read label ingredients, can question Congresses analyses and decisions,

read, reject or substitute materials in schematic, or substitute over-the-counter generics for

brand name products you'll be a wise budgeter. When you WILL negotiate for better terms you can

get more for each and every quarter, dollar and interest percent.



some medicines offered knockouts for potential savings; yet common tap water was, as always, America's first frugal  star.}

Jul 3, 2013 3:27PM
I've preached the same thing, particularly to a young single mother I work with, who always seems to have money for tattoos and piercings, but who struggles to buy food and day care. I call it "the paradox of money", but it's the same thing: in order not to be broke, you have to pretend you are. Unfortunately, it's hard for some people to swallow. Their response is often, "then why don't I just spend the money and be broke and at least enjoy it?"
Jul 3, 2013 3:39PM

only 2 ways to make money: 1) earn more and/or 2) spend less.   want to retire with money? spend less than you make...they call that rich.  If you spend more that you make...they call that poor.  no way around it.  period.  hasn't changed since the stone age.  don't really need anymore articles about it. 

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