Broke vs. Poor

by Katy on June 27, 2009 · 13 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published piece. Enjoy!

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.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

lowmagnet June 27, 2009 at 7:51 am

I think broke is something you call yourself and poor is something others label you as. Poor is a sad word that means you are not of a good ‘quality’ or class. Broke, like you mentioned, is a transitory state.


Sandy June 27, 2009 at 10:52 am

I’ve struggled with this all my life and all my life I have pretty much been broke. I’ve even been poor at certain points. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Right now, I have a home a car and food, family and friends but no money, so I’m broke, not poor. Money isn’t all that important, in the grand scheme of things.


Meadowlark June 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm

“Broke” is what we were when we were young marrieds in the Marine Corps. All our needs were met, but we hadn’t learned financial responsibility and thus never really had enough for anything “extra”.

Poor would be what my BabyGirl is gonna be if she marries that unemployed guy with two kids. (do I sound bitter and scared? hmmmm)

But yeah… broke is what we call ourselves and sometimes just means we’re irresponsible and poor is usually what we call others who are consistently in that position.

just my two cents.


Cheapchick June 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm

I used to say that I was dirt-poor when I was young, for instance getting the heat cut-off in winter. Now with your article I realize that in fact we were just broke. Very interesting take. It definitely was a temporary situation and gives hope to those who are currently “broke”. Things are much better for me and for my mother who is now a senior. Thanks for keeping up the great articles.


Meg from FruWiki June 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Hmmm… interesting topic!

I think there is a real difference between being poor or being broke.

I like to say “Poor is an income problem. Broke is a spending problem.” By income problem, I mean that your income simply does not cover your basic needs. By spending problem, I mean that you’ve spent the money you had and now you’re out. Of course, it’s not always quite that simple, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Also, and somewhat implied in that, being poor is a relatively long term problem. You aren’t poor for just a day or even a month. Broke is somewhat temporary — hopefully. That’s what happens when you run out of money before the next payday — but hopefully payday comes and you’re fine. Of course, there are the chronically broke who may also be poor, or may just be broke.

Of course, there are the social connotations of being “poor” — that it is somewhat equivalent to being “lower class”. While the two are probably very well correlated, I think there are differences. I see poor as being more strictly financial, whereas class is socio-economic — with an emphasis on the “socio-“.

But whatever you call it, giving up on yourself isn’t doing yourself any favors. And no matter what your income, that’s no excuse to not have “class” — i.e. good manners, respect for yourself and others, etc. I think that’s more important than just looking rich by wearing designer duds or driving a fancy car. There are plenty of millionaires with absolutely no class!

But while I’d hate to be seen as someone with no class, there are few things that I wouldn’t do just so as to not seem poor. Most of the time I can just tell people I’m doing XYZ to be green if I feel awkward — but generally I really don’t have any problem telling people that I’m trying to save money or why. Nor do I try to make it appear that I’m wealthy, just that I have good taste. While I do like looking nice and put together, I don’t mind letting people know that I didn’t spend a bundle on my outfit.


Cheryl June 28, 2009 at 4:44 am

My family has always had a saying after a good meal, “I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight.” We have never considered ourselves poor, although we never had much money. To be “poor” is a state of mind….a sense of not having enough….and a person can feel “poor” with any amount of income.

Being “broke” is a more quantifiable thing. “Broke”, for me, is no money at all. Probably a temporary situation and interestingly, I think, a person could be broke today and still not feel poor.

I just remembered something my Dad used to say, “Today we’re rich and someday we might even have money.” Haven’t thought of that in years!! Thanks for jogging my memory.


Jenn Baron June 28, 2009 at 7:20 am

This has been good food for thought. For me, the word poor has a depressing feel and it’s like a permanent label with no hope. Where as broke describes a temporary money situation but is not a label of the person or family.

It’s like distinguishing between not liking a person’s behavior but still liking the person.


Kitty June 28, 2009 at 8:06 am

When my children were samll, they would ask if we were poor. And why we couldn’t afford such and such. I tussled with that for quite awhile. Finally, I realized what I spent my money on was choices. I think it boils now to ones feeling of having choice. So I began telling my kids it wasn’t in the budget. If they felt they really needed it, we could talk about putting it into the budget, at home of course, not in the store. They needed to think about it. Generally, I never heard about it again.

Choices, about how we feel about our situations and how we spend what money does or does not come out way.

Personally, I don’t use either word.


Kristie-ND June 28, 2009 at 5:57 pm

I lived in Turkey for 2 years. There is American poor and there is the “real” poor. When you see a woman who’s home is made of cardboard moving boxes in an alley, you realize that poor is a word that is tossed around too freely when it comes to 99.9% of the population in this country. Re-ordered my priorities for sure.

My grandfather grew up POOR in West Virginia, but they never really felt that way becuase everybody else was just as

I have never been poor. When my husband and I married, we had no money, but because he was in the military, we had a home and healthcare, etc, so while there were times that were incredibly tight, we were never poor.

I like thinking about Brooke being the better choice for most of us…a temporary situation.


Sarah Williamson June 29, 2009 at 4:49 pm

The way I learned it was this:

I may be Out Of Money but I am not Poor. I like the phrase “out of money”. I like it better than the word broke. What do you think?


moulina June 30, 2009 at 7:56 am

“Have you ever refused to take money saving measures because you didn’t want to be perceived as poor?” This is a good question and it caught my attention because…yes, I have opted to spend money, either on myself or on someone else, to avoid being perceived like I don’t have money.

I’m 28-years-old, but I’m left feeling childish and immature if I admit or show that I can’t afford something.

I feel that people judge and determine that I don’t manage money well–“why doesn’t she have money?! Did she blow it all?” Especially at work, where people have some idea of my salary (they know I’m *not* making $10 an hour).

Does anybody have a similar anxiety?

Also: I see it as “not having money” and I don’t use the other two words.


al July 10, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Broke means you spent your money or you have a job or some kind of income and put it towards essential things and at the time cant buy something you want.

Poor is welfare or a person who has no confidence at all and cant work or make money.

Usually poor is a state of mind, broke is just a temporary condition.


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