the B-word, the P-word and the C-word

We’re talking “broke,” “poor” and “choice” here gentle readers. Get your minds out of the gutter now.

Anyhow, I hate the words broke and poor. Unless you’re using the word to describe a lack of funds that is impacting one’s ability to provide food, shelter and safety, I find using those words insulting to people who are truly down on their luck and unable to provide for themselves. Being broke or poor is a serious issue.

I also find that using the word broke or poor to imply a lack of discretionary funds really distances us from the personal responsibility we should all have around our finances.

Because you are not broke. You are not poor. You have made a choice. And there is no reason to hide that.

It’s easy to say “I can’t go [insert thing that costs money here] because I’m broke/poor right now.” But usually what we mean when saying that is “I have allocated all my discretionary funds for this week/month/whatever, and I do not want to change that to [thing that costs money] with you.”

And that is hard.

Because in this world of spend, spend, spend and showing how much you value others by spending money on or with them, it’s easy to feel that by saying “I choose not to spend money on/with you” you are really saying “I do not choose you.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Limiting the funds we’re spending on discretionary things, choosing to spend the majority of our income creating personal fiscal solvency is something we’re proud of. We shouldn’t have to hide behind the words “broke” and “poor” as if they are things that just happened to us one day, that we can’t control. We made choices that got us where we are, and we are making choices that will get us where we want to be.

So one of the challenges I’m working through, that I’ll extend to all of you, is to stop hiding behind the words “broke” and “poor” and start being more honest with yourselves and your loved ones. When someone asks you to join them for an event or activity that doesn’t fit into your budget, be honest with them and yourself and say “sorry, that doesn’t fit into my budget right now” – and if you truly want to spend time with them, offer a free/cheap/delayed alternative.

Instead of a restaurant dinner, suggest a dinner party at home. A night in instead of a night out. Or just say it doesn’t fit into the budget this month, but let’s set a date next month when we’ll be able to plan our budget better around it.

Choose responsiblity. Choose to show your loved ones you value them in ways that aren’t tied to money. Choose to wear your choices proudly!

For as long as you actually have enough resources to be able to make those choices, you are rich.

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10 thoughts on “the B-word, the P-word and the C-word

  1. Chris

    I’m not sure I’m going to switch to this usage.

    A few quick dictionary searches tells me that although “broke” can mean “bankrupt”, it can also mean “lacking funds”. It’s this latter definition that I use when I say broke. To you, broke may imply that that person has no money at all, but that’s not what it means to a lot of people.

    If I knew a person with a good job, decent cash flow, not drowing in debt, etc., and they said to me “Sorry, I can’t go on that ski trip, I’m too broke for that right now”, I wouldn’t be worried about them being able to buy food or anything – the discretionary bit is implied, in my opinion. It’s sort of clunky to have to preface all of your language exactly to prevent any possible misinterpretation.

    That said, I won’t tell YOU I’m broke any time, because I now know you have certain connotations with that word. For other friends who feel (like I do) that using the word “broke” isn’t “hiding”, I’ll keep on using it.

    Disclaimer – I’ve never been of the spend, spend, spend variety (just ask my wife), and I would have no qualms or discomfort with telling people “No, there are other things I would rather spend my limited money on.”

  2. peechie Post author

    Of course, I probably think about this more than most, as someone who makes her living on using precicely the correct language to convey a certain message (and prevent misinterpretation), and I’m also personally trying to recognize how the negative or positive implications of the words I use influence how happy I am, and how my language affects those around me.

    The words we use and whether they are positive/negative or focus on externally attributing or internally attributing things actually have a huge impact on how we perceive the world and how happy we are. Teaching people to re-phrase the way they speak to themselves and others is actually a very well-known and highly regarded form of psychotherapy for depression, self-esteem and anxiety issues.

    But I am a word nerd and find that stuff interesting.

    That said, I also didn’t include this bit in my post, but one pet peeve I have is when people complain about all the things they wish they could do or have, but don’t, because they are “broke” or “poor.” These are not complaints about meeting basic needs, but about being unable to meet a plethora of consumer-driven whims.

    I think that’s just doing a huge disservice to ourselves by discounting the fact that we have all made choices about our financial situations and (at least for most of the people I know) manage to afford the things that are truly important, and further encourages the behaviour that gets a lot of people into debt problems in the first place.

    I dunno. Other readers – what say you? Mountain? Molehill? Something else entirely?

  3. Chris

    I agree with your pet peeve – that bugs me too. That said, I don’t consider it complaining when someone asks me something and I say that I’m broke. I’m just trying to be informative.

    I agree that some people distance themselves from their financial situations and shy away from responsibility with respect to spending and saving.

    That said, I still think it has to do with the meaning that you are attaching to the words you use. I don’t use broke in a negative way, and I’m well aware that I’m doing fine financially. I don’t have any (known) depression, anxiety, or self-esteem issues. I’m aware of the power of words, but the power comes from the attached meaning, which can vary for many words.

  4. Hannah

    I agree with you on the use of the words “broke” and “poor”. I’ve stopped saying I’m broke when I decide not to spend money on something, because it confuses people.

    It used to drive me nuts that if I’d say I didn’t want to go to an expensive restaurant because I was broke, someone would offer to spot me and I could pay them back later. No, no, that’s not what I meant – I meant that I was unwilling to spend that kind of money on dinner, not that I didn’t have the cash on me to pay for it at the moment. Now I say that it’s not in the budget. It reassures people that I’m not suffering from a cash flow problem, I’ve just allocated my funds for different things.

    I’ve come across a few people who get really offended that I won’t spend money on whatever it is they have in mind. These are people who want to drop $200 each on an afternoon of skiing, because we’ll need to rent a car, go out for an expensive lunch, go skiing, stop for an overpriced coffee at the chalet at the top of the hill, ski a little more, have dinner at the nicest place in town, and take a taxi home from the rental car office. These are the same people who offer to loan you the money for their entertainment, and are quite affronted when you decline the invitation. When I started budgeting my discretionary income better, I ended up doing away with a couple of those friendships, since the people in question were pretty mad that I would no longer spend money at the drop of a hat every time they felt like going out.

  5. Darren

    That’s an astute observation about discretionary spending. When I was in university, I hardly ever felt broke. It’s not because I had a lot of money–I didn’t. But I spent responsibly within my limited means.

    Plus, I didn’t have a lot of the cost centres that my peers had. I didn’t smoke, drink, travel anywhere or do drugs (plus textbook costs are nearly nil in theatre and creative writing).

    In any case, I don’t remember feeling woefully poor like so many of my friends seemed to feel in university. It’s not because I had more money, I think. It’s because I spent less of it.

  6. Brook

    I’ve always thought of “broke” as temporarily out (not short) of cash, discretionary or otherwise. For example: “I’m broke until I get paid.” or “I’ve spent my entertainment budget for this month so I’m broke.” I guess in that interpretation, you could have a high net worth but still be “broke”.

    In my mind “poor” is being broke on an ongoing basis. This is the category of not being able to put food on the table or a roof over one’s head.

    If you’ve ever watched “‘Til Debt Do Us Part” you’ve seen those couples that make 10 grand a month and spend double that. I would call them broke but not poor.

  7. peechie Post author

    Hannah: yah, I think the less ambiguous about these things people can be, the better.

    Darren: It seems to be all about one’s mindset – focusing on what you’ve got, rather than what you don’t.

    Brook: I think that’s a mostly fair use of broke, since you’re using qualifiers to mean “I’ve chosen to spend my money on different things, and can’t spend any more” as opposed to general laments of being out of funds (which is what I really object to).

    Luke: It kicked my dog and called my momma fat.

  8. filmgoerjuan

    I have a pet peeve with the term “gentle readers”. It makes the assumption that one’s readers are gentle despite the fact that many of them are hardened, bitter souls — this *is* the Internet after all. Alternately I’m sure some readers fall midway between gentle and rough, while other readers may even be gentle 99% of the time, but yet there’s still that 1% of the time when they are not gentle. What of them?

    Much preferable would be to address “readers both gentle and unrefined, and of all manners in between”. It’s wordier and perhaps a bit unwieldy, but as we all know: words matter. Let’s make them count.

  9. peechie Post author

    filmgoerjuan: oh but I want to believe that inside everyone is at least a tiny fragment of a gentle soul. Besides which, to imply that anyone but myself is anything but gentle (and good looking and successful and intelligent), whether or not they may or may not be, is just poor manners.

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