Broke vs. Poor

by Katy on October 19, 2008 · 10 comments


When I was growing up, my next-door-neighbor was a single mom who supported herself with her writing. Needless to say, she did not have issues of where to invest all that excess income.

One thing she used to say, which stuck in my mind was:

“I’m not poor, I’m just always broke.”

I remember being a little confused with this. Weren’t poor and broke the same thing? I just didn’t get it.

Now that I’m a certified grown-up, I think I understand what she was getting at.

To describe oneself as poor is to accept a place in a lower strata. To believe that there is a distinction between the classes, and you’re simply stuck at the bottom. It’s who you are, and there’s no way out. The long term view.

To be broke, means you have no money, but it’s a temporary situation. You’re just one good writing assignment away from financial stability. You may have an empty bank account now, but flush times are just around the corner.

Is there a real difference between poor and broke?

Of course not.

I’m not suggesting that poverty isn’t a valid and real existence for millions of people the world over.

But it sure is more satisfying to be frugal because you’re broke, rather than because you’re poor.

And I’ve certainly been broke in my life, but I sure as hell have never been poor.

Have you ever refused to take money saving measures because you didn’t want to be perceived as poor? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Meadowlark October 20, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I wanted to say, interesting thought on the words. When we were young marrieds and living in Hawaii, I would mention to my mom on the phone “gosh we’re so broke this month”. She thought we were living “hand to mouth”. What I MEANT by broke was “we’ve spent what is budgeted to spend, and the rest doesn’t get touched.” So if we decided to buy something or repair a vehicle, then the rest of the month we tightened our belts. So the WORDS themselves are incredibly powerful.

And no, I usually won’t adjust based upon others’ opinions. I’m always the one in our group who opts out of the “weekend getaways” because I just don’t want to spend that much. Heck, the coast is a $400 trip, easy. I could do a lot with $400, and a hectic weekend is not on my list! Of course, usually they say “You can’t take it with you”. This from (some no longer) friends who declared bankruptcy 6 months ago. 🙁


Meg October 20, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Hmmm…. I think there’s also another possible distinction to being poor or broke.

When I think of poor, I think of people who just don’t have a lot of stuff because they don’t have the money and other resources to obtain things. There are poor people who don’t have clothes to wear, food to eat, or a safe place to stay. They’re pretty broke, too, but they’re poor because their income just isn’t enough to cover basic needs.

However, I think you can be broke and have a lot of things. Someone driving a luxury car and living in a huge house can be broke but far from poor. Sometimes you’re broke because of temporary circumstances, like losing your job. And of course, sometimes you’re broke because you bought a lot of things that you couldn’t afford in the first place.

Either way, I do think that too many people who are just broke think they’re poor when in reality they have a lot — and could probably still give up a lot of luxuries and improve their finances if only they were willing.


Brittany October 21, 2008 at 9:24 am

Hello again. It’s funny how small the world of non-consumerism is..I just keep running into your blog.
This photo is my favorite. I posted it on my blog a few weeks back. There are actually six kids I believe surrounding this woman, who is a new widow on the streets during the Depression. Breathtaking.
On the semantics of poor vs. broke.. It’s a great point you make but I ask- why entertain the thought?
Poor is term usually directed at someone else. Broke is used to describe a perceived temporary situation. The difference seems to be- one is a flag of defeat.
Which is exactly what you point out. 🙂


BreeANna McManus December 6, 2015 at 10:35 pm

and it is in Nipomo, California where I am from. 🙂


thenonconsumeradvocate October 21, 2008 at 10:16 am

The photo is by Walker Evans. He worked the Farm Administration documenting the affects of the dust bowl during the great depression of the 1930’s.

This iconic photo is so moving, and I’ve always loved it.


Tracy December 6, 2015 at 8:51 pm

No it’s not! It’s Dorthea Lange!


Peggy October 21, 2008 at 10:36 am

Hi there, this was a thought provoking post. I have something to share that applies, in that both “poor” and “broke” are relative terms. The son of a friend of ours is a college senior, planning to go to med school and practice medicine in Bangaldesh. He has begun a project there, in which he secures one room and a chest of drawers and thus provides a home for a woman who lives on the streets and her children, followed up by medical care and job training. Thus far he has secured such homes for 15 women, and hope to continue. Whe I hear about our economic situation with all the dire adjectives, and I think about Richie’s project, I realize that “doing without” means different things to different people. Thank you for this site. I visit daily and always come away encouraged to be thrifty, frugal and less consuming. Blessings to you, Peggy


esther October 22, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I actually have had moment,s that I had a lot of money, but thought it a sport to have my aunt sew me evening gowns with fabric I had bought for a few bucks, and then tell everyone that asked ma where the hell I bought such a great gown, that it had only cost me 5 dollars! For me it was worth even more, if I had it almost for free!


BethD December 6, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Six years ago I left an abusive marriage with a suitcase of clothing. Stayed with friends, lived at a cheap but clean hotel, lived with family, got a cheap apartment finally. Remarried, found a house with a mortgage cheaper than my apartment. Became disabled. Lost my job. Became a one income household. Applied for disability. Was denied. Poor? NEVER. Just broke.


Jane in Seattle December 6, 2015 at 9:25 pm

UBethD. Don’t gov up applying for disability. They always deny the first time, especially if you don’t have a lawyer. My sister had to go to a lawyer and try again.


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