Poor Vs. Broke

poor vs broke

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the question: “What’s the difference between being poor and being broke?”

To me, being poor means there’s no money to begin with while being broke means there was some money and it is no longer there.

They both completely suck.

And while being “broke” and being “poor” are two different things (that both suck) there are some certain similarities.

No matter how much money you make if you don’t manage it well it doesn’t really matter how much you have to begin with. You’ll go back to being poor or go back to being broke if the habits and thoughts associated with the money doesn’t grow and morph too.

Are those that are born poor and raised poor destined to continue to be poor?

Are those that are born into a broke family and raised broke destined to remain broke?

How many of our thoughts about money are inherited by those who raised us? Seeing money being spent a certain way and saved (or not saved) a certain way and it’s easy to follow suit.

Money wasn’t talked about in our house (at least not with the kids). I knew when we had money and things were “okay” because I got to hear “yes” a little more often then the word “no”. How were my thoughts about money shaped by money being a “closed door” topic? Should money matters be discussed with kids? Or is that an adult conversation? What about with teenagers? I not saying parents should bust out with some financial chit-chat and jargon to a couple of 5 year olds but I have to wonder if a conversation or continued conversations about responsible spending and money might be a good idea? My parents told me “no” when it was their money I wanted to spend but when it came to my money, it was my money. Also, my parents probably talked to me about money more than I realized. That’s totally possible. And, maybe I’m hard-headed and had to learn about money by messing up with money. That’s totally possible too.

I learned how to write a check in 7th grade by a teacher with big, curly blonde hair. She had a New York accent and said I was Norwegian once (I’m not). It was exciting to see this sneak into adult life by writing pretend checks in a 3rd floor middle school classroom.

This is what I knew about checkbooks at the time: the checkbook lived in my moms purse, it enabled them to buy groceries, and a maybe a Jaclyn Smith t-shirt from K-mart for the start of school, if I was lucky. I remember wracking my brain trying to figure out how people paid for places to live and food and clothes and cars and everything else. Were they secret millionaires??!! I figured they must be because it just didn’t add up. Money was a complete mystery.

So, how much of it is our responsibility to break free from the financial comfort level we grew up with? What’s the key to changing camps? My classic American thinking tells me that if I can be better I should be better and if I can have more I should have more and bigger and the best because something is wrong if I don’t have that or don’t want that. Not wanting the bigger and the best isn’t even considered as an option by most.

If we’re poor does that mean debt is inevitable? Can we go from being poor to being debt-free? I think so. Can we go from being broke to being debt-free? I know so.

What do you think? What is the difference between being broke and being poor? And, do you think you’re destined to be a certain way financially based on your upbringing?

P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp! SpendingFastBootcamp.com


11 thoughts on “Poor Vs. Broke

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  1. Amanda

    I think you're right in your distinction- being broke is from spending outside of your means. Being poor is just not having the means, period.

    I really like that you brought up the point of having to have the bigger & the best is the american standard. I'm very at odds with this idea. I don't know ANYONE who doesn't feel this way. (Although others MUST be out there, right?) My family made the decision for me to be a stay at home mom. This is a role seemingly reserved for higher income families. We are NOT a higher income family, we are able to do it by the skin of our teeth. This creates an odd scenario for relating to many other families socially (where lifestyle is considered)

    I found it really refreshing that someone else would suggest the mere thought of there being another option beside having to have bigger & best.

  2. clutteredmoney

    I totally agree with you on that being poor means there is no money to begin with and being broke means you aren't managing the money you do have.

    Right now, I would consider hubby and I broke. We make good salaries but we're just not managing it as well as we should be. We go out too eat far too often; socialize with our friends too much and just waste money on this and that, almost without thought.

    I struggle with our society (and me) wanting to get bigger and better instead of just making do with what we have. The funny thing is if something happened, like job loss, having bigger and better is the least of our worries. I'm trying to change my mindset by being more aware of my finances and really trying to to talk to our kids about money – where it comes from, why we work why we save, why we should avoid debt, and why we should live within our means. I just hope I'm doing a good job for them so that when they are adults they don't make the same mistakes as I did.

  3. Chelle


    Our local school system is creating a financial information class that all high school students will have to take before they can graduate. I think it's a fantastic idea. They are making it required beginning this year, which will be my second son's freshman year of high school. I am so glad he will be exposed to this.

    I do talk to my kids about money and about how I messed up. I have told my middle son that we had to declare bankruptcy because he asked. I don't think it's a good idea to keep this information from your children and if they have questions, you should answer them honestly. Otherwise, how will they learn from our mistakes?

    We are now broke, because we have paid off so much credit card debt. I would distinguish that completely from being poor, which would mean there would not be any money coming in to improve our situation. Luckily and by the grace of God, we are not in that position. So many are from the numerous job losses and limited opportunities with the economy. I want to arm my children with as much knowledge as possible and help them to learn from my huge money mistakes so that they never have to experience what we have.


  4. highheeledtraders

    Dear Anna, girl, this is deeeeeppppp. Right there with my memories of being poor — in American standards, that is. Well when I read this piece I felt rich. From wearing shoes that would fall apart in 6 months (3 if it's rainy season) to giving up wearing shoes before they give up on me, to have the sweet pleasure of not paying for shoes because someone sponsored me, Girl, my answer is it is entirely possible to be Poor and get to a better station in life. You invest in your self, your Education rather than having "things". It's not just me, many of my friends, we came from the "Third World" (Im from the Philippines) had done truly well, because of education, skills, faith and tenacity. Working and living overseas or even in our home country, things got better.

    And by the way, I personally love the American spirit of "bigger and better", I think the the world is a better place because of it.

    So I think the way forward is to invest in education. Be bigger and better.
    Thanks much Ana. You and your posts are wonderful.

  5. Amber

    I think that how we view money is directly associated with how our parents communicate to us about money, not necessarily how they act, but what they actively teach you. I remember being little, the first thing that I purchased with my own money. After I had picked out the toy and was getting ready to pay for it, my mom asked me if I really truly wanted it because if I spent the money on that toy, I wouldn't have money to buy anything else. I think it's important to make kids realize how money works and really pause to think about their purchases. To this day, before going to the checkout counter I ask myself "Do I really want/need this?" Because if I spend the money, I won't have it for other things…

  6. Katie

    Yes, "I'm poor" often seems an offhand way of saying "I'm broke." There's a big difference.

    I think you're right: our financial upbringing has ramifications that last for years and years. If we don't come to terms with it, we'll never be able to address our own destructive patterns.

    I'm reading Kate Levinson's "Emotional Currency" right now (Frances McDormand and Robert Reich recommend it; that's good enough for me!), and I'm working on the book's big project: my own money memoir. I can't wait to bust through some psychological barriers to a happy financial life.

  7. Beth

    I really enjoyed this post! My boyfriend's son was staying with us recently and one day we said that we didn't have enough money to buy something expensive that he wanted. He said "Don't you have a credit card?"

    I was shocked!! He's 12!!
    I quickly explained to him how credit cards work and how they are TERRIBLE THINGS – but it scared me that he's already in the mindset that buying things on credit will solve problems.


    I think the most valuable lesson I wish I would have learned before college is that credit cards are NOT MONEY. If you don't have the money for something, you shouldn't be spending it on a credit card. I didn't understand that at first, and I wish my parents would have ground it into my brain as a child! But there's probably only so much you can do – you can lead a horse to water… ;)

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Faye

    I don’t know. My family was poor, and it wasn’t for lack of budgeting. Both my parents worked, but at the end of the month, there wouldn’t be enough money left in the bank to buy food, let alone pay the bills. By the time I was in college, I was taking full courses and working six nights a week to make sure my family had enough to eat. Most of my student loan money went towards paying the rent, or buying my parents new tabs on their car, because one more ticket for it would have cost them their license and therefore their job.

    I never finished college, since my grades suffered, and now I’m in a large amount of debt, and have a hard time finding a job. I don’t own a car of my own, and I’m doing enough odd jobs here and there to squeak by with couch-surfing. Food stamps help a lot, and since I’m essentially homeless (I don’t have a stable address) I get a little bit of cash from the state too.

    So no, I’m not sure if it’s possible to better your life if you were born poor. I’ve been trying, and the only thing that’s happened is that I’ve gotten deeper in debt.

  9. sasha

    Being broke is someone spending above their means or close to their limit. Being poor is someone trying to get ahead but not being able to do that. I find its incredibly hard not to be drawn into our consumerism culture; for instance, I have debts but mainly because of a work accident I couldn’t make the money I was previously making. I went from paying for my car with cash outright and paying my bills while saving to currently hemming and hawing trying to stretch 20 for food. I don’t consider myself poor; it’s a mentality as well as a physical state. I walk when I can and try to get anything and everything for free, less money, or expensive but worth it. I make 260 a week, pay my car bills, food, and attend college. It’s very hard but possible.0

  10. Mark

    I understand thats very true ive had good paying jobs in my past but just ended in bad dept when each job came to an end.My whole life being without a girlfriend and not saving has ruined me.Now Im 50 years old and own nothing but my cloths living at my sisters house wished I could go back to beng a teenager and start again.I feel terrible for not looking after myself im so unhappy and depressed that im 50 all my friends and family don’t really care and I don’t expect any help iether.It really shows that if I was taught how to manage financial matters at high school I reckon I would be very wealthy by now.So all kids should learn all aspects of money matters.Funny thing is My experience for work as an industrial Blaster / Painter was somthing I never learnt at school iether.So maybe for the start of high school I reckon money matters and work matters should be highly priortised Then maybe there would be more young people doing better in the future.Any thoughts please let me know.


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