The Almighty Dollar

Restoring some fiscal sanity in our -- negative savings rate -- lives

3.31.2006

Trust me, we are not poor

Lately a number of bloggers have written about feeling poor. My Open Wallet's post garnered dozens of comments, and NYC Money described a recent conversation she had with her husband about this topic. Boston Gal's Open Wallet drew our attention to a site that calculates how rich you are based on salary compared to the rest of the world.

Some people wrote that not being able to pay the bills or being unable to afford a house made them feel poor. Others described feeling poor as a child growing up in a financially tight household, but less so once they were working and became independent. I was struck by the honesty and emotion behind these words.

But the comments also showed me how our perception of being poor is relative to the environment and people around us. And, boy, what a small world it is that we live in.

My family has always struggled financially, as do countless other lower and middle income households across the country. It's pretty easy to come up with instances that make you feel poorer than the next person. Someone has a nicer or newer shirt than you. The latest basketball shoes. A walkman when you only had a radio. Even the rich could probably come up with an example.

I still resent my parents for always pointing out ways they were unable to provide for me. Things like clothes, books, tapes, and cars that all of my peers had, but I didn't. I know it was partly because they felt guilty. They wanted me to have the best of everything. Since they couldn't give me that, it made them feel inadequate as parents.

Growing up, I believed I was extremely poor -- until I travelled to a third world country for the first time. Then I realized that I was rich. I apologize for the cliche, but that trip changed my life.

A salary calculator can compute how much wealthier you are in numbers, but there's nothing better than first-hand experience. Expand your world. Widen your vision. See how others survive on much less, but are easily the most generous people you will ever meet.

I think it's unhealthy to dwell too much on being poor. Some people can use these feelings to create better lives, but most are left feeling hard, unsatisfied, and especially bitter. It's natural for us to feel unfulfilled in some way or another, but I guarantee there is someone in this world who would love to have what you have.