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How Not to Feel Poor on a Fixed Income

It’s no secret that more and more people — especially seniors on fixed incomes — are sinking deeper into credit card debt. Why is this? I don’t think it’s because we’ve had so many emergencies (the common reason to have credit cards, right?). It’s because we don’t want to feel poor.

At this point, I should define “feeling poor.” It’s not easy, but it’s real. And I’ll bet you’ve felt it from time to time, no matter your season of life.

It’s a sad, sorry feeling of inferiority. It’s that feeling you get when faced with an invitation to join all of your rich friends for a chi-chi lunch and you’ve got $8.43 to your name. It’s that feeling you get when you hear your friends are all taking a Caribbean cruise and you can barely scrape together gas money to visit your grandchildren.

The worst response when feeling poor is to do the very thing that should prove you’re not: spend money. Sure, that might make the feeling go away for a time. But as soon as you realize you’ve just plunged yourself deeper into debt and made your situation worse, you’ll feel even poorer. It’s a vicious cycle that comes to no good end.

I have a better idea: Stop feeling poor in the first place. Here are three surprising steps to follow.


No matter how old, how scratched, how new, how leased or how ugly, if you keep your car sparkling clean inside and out, you won’t feel poor.

Remove every coffee cup, every paper and every item other than the emergency equipment in the trunk every time you leave the car. Wash it weekly. Make sure the windows are always spotless, the tires scrubbed and the chrome shiny. Do this and you’ll feel like a million bucks.


I don’t care how clean your house may be. If you have clutter, it’s pulling you down. Clear your closets, drawers, cupboards, garage and counters of everything that you do not need or doesn’t bring beauty to your life. Clean open spaces, tranquility and simplicity chase away feelings of poverty and open the door to joy. Clutter invites chaos, which leads to depression and feelings of deprivation.


A C-note is a $100 bill. I want you to get one, fold it neatly and tuck it into a secret place in your wallet. Do not tell anyone about this. Just like that, you won’t feel poor. In fact, that C-note is going to make you feel prosperous and quite smart. For sure you will not feel broke.

Here’s the curious thing about this: You are not likely to spend it on a whim. In fact, you are not likely to spend it at all. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because breaking a $100 is a big deal. You wouldn’t do that for a hamburger and fries. That would be ridiculous, right? Not worth breaking a hundred. But if you get caught in a true emergency, you’re covered.

If you can’t do a hundred, start with a five. Soon, trade it for a 10, then a 50. Before you know it, you’ll have Benjamin in your pocket, hidden away where only you know.

Feeling poor is not a financial condition. It is a state of mind, and something you can change starting right now.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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