Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Think you're broke? You probably aren't

Take a look at spending habits before crying 'poor me.'

By Donna_Freedman Dec 6, 2010 11:37AM

When I read Laura Rowley's excellent column, "Why the rich don't feel rich" -- in which she wrote about a University of Chicago law professor's struggle to survive on a combined family income of more than $250,000 -- I thought the column was a stark contrast to something that happened while I was in New Jersey to visit a terminally ill relative.

I frequently stopped by to see another relative, my Aunt Dot, who's 87 and very frail due to several medical issues. She and her son live on Social Security and disability plus her small pension. One evening I discovered that they had exactly one dollar in the house. Her check was due the next day and she planned to walk to the bank to cash it.

The bank is at least a mile from where Dot lives. And did I mention that she's on oxygen?

If she'd had $2 more, she could have taken a cab. But she didn't have it.

This is the face of 'broke'

Some days it's all Dot can do to move from the couch to the kitchen, or from the couch to the toilet chair now permanently ensconced in the living room. (Bathroom's upstairs.) Yet she was going to walk a mile, with her 69-year-old son carrying the oxygen tank, to cash her check.

Every time I get paid, I send Dot some money. In fact, I'd just given it to her the week before -- but it had gone for doctor co-pays.

When I heard about the lack of cab fare, I gently insisted on giving her some extra funds.

At first she refused, saying it had already cost me too much to fly to Jersey. I kept insisting, gently. Finally she took the four $1 bills I had in my wallet, still fretting that I would "run short."

Which brings me to that law professor and all the other complainers out there.

Whiners: Stop whining

If I hear one more person grousing about being "broke" while drinking a latte and sending and receiving texts, I may pour the coffee over that person's head.

When you're sick as a dog and have just $1 in the house ... well, go ahead and complain. Aunt Dot didn't, by the way. She just shrugged and said, "I'm usually not that broke."

So all you folks who are hale and hearty and careless with your funds: Please be quiet.

Please stop complaining about how "poor" you are before payday ... while eating nachos and drinking beer at a sports bar.

Please stop whining about how you couldn't afford a "real" vacation. This presupposes that you have a job to get a vacation from. Do you know how many people would kill to have a job, any job at all, let alone be paid to take a week off from it?

Please don't sign up for satellite television even as you are robbing Peter to pay Paul each month. Maybe you should think about dropping pay TV altogether until you get your finances in order.

Please don't e-mail me tales of financial woe that end with the postscript, "Sent from my iPhone."

(These are all real-life examples, by the way.)

None of you people are broke. You are simply not using your money wisely.

And you need to find another way to live before you end up on Social Security, and oxygen, with a single greenback to your name. Then you'll know what "broke" really feels like.

Donna Freedman is the MSN Money Living With Less columnist and also blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

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Dec 7, 2010 11:18AM
see if you can persuade your Aunt to sign up for direct deposit.
Dec 6, 2010 8:02PM
Yeah, I have to agree.  Many of us don't realize how good we have it.  I must ask though.... why in the world is your Aunt not using direct deposit?
Dec 6, 2010 2:56PM
I'm totally with you all the way on the smartphone thing. I have friends who have mountains of debt and crappy part time jobs.

But they absolutely have to have that smartphone.

I've already gotten used to the idea that if they end up eating cat food when they are old and can no longer work, that it will be their own fault.

Apr 1, 2011 2:40PM
Dec 15, 2010 8:43PM

I got to know my Dad really well before he died a few years ago.  He grew up the youngest child of a subsistence farming family in the depression.  I had a hard time with Dad because he never wanted to throw anything away, though he had tons of stuff.


Now I am older, have made myself debt-free, and will never take for granted the stuff that I own.  And it is less stuff than I had when I borrowed.


Thanks for all you do, Donna.  Wish your blogs were mandatory reading for people....

Dec 8, 2010 11:23AM
Amen, Donna!  I understand completely what you're talking about.  I remember the days when after paying all of my bills and buying a few groceries, having a quarter left in my checking account.  All I could do was say a prayer that no unexpected expenses happened before the next paycheck arrived.  Those days taught me that I really could be okay doing without a lot of stuff that most think are necessities.  Now that I make more, I still live like I'm broke.  I'm able to save more and give more to people who don't have much.  I don't want to go back to the time of lost sleep over the lack of money, but I most certainly appreciate and learned from the experience.
Dec 6, 2010 5:10PM
Dec 6, 2010 12:09PM
I totally agree with you.  You are not broke until you have to tell your kids we don't have money to buy food.  My husband and I thankfully have jobs but have been unemployed ad been broke.  Some don't know the meaning of the word broke. 
Dec 6, 2010 9:16PM

Personally, suffering from an untreatable and permanent illness takes its toll emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Seeking solace with a little spending is a fix so many people participate in. Little splurges lead to more splurges. Little expenses add up quickly to a huge total. 


There are the malicious spenders and the entitle spenders too. There are also the money controllers/abusers. Having another person around is sometimes torture itself.

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