Welcome to Pretend to Be Poor


Why would anyone pretend to be poor? The idea sounds no fun, miserly, and decidedly un-American. But I would ask, “Why pretend to be rich?” if in fact you are not. This is the lifestyle of many today, and it’s making them poor.

An ancient proverb addressed two common financial paths:

“There is one who pretends to be rich, but has nothing; Another pretends to be poor, and has great wealth” (Proverbs 13:7).

In our culture the standard of living has risen to an expensive lifestyle that just two generations ago would’ve been considered lavish. People aren’t setting out to be extravagant, but the new “normal” calls people to live beyond their means. Meanwhile the burden of debt and the never-enough nature of materialism have left people stressed, depressed, and confused. We want to dismantle some of the lies we’ve been sold and help people return to a path of reasonable living and real wealth (which of course isn’t just about money).

One way to explain the idea is to introduce ourselves. We are Neil and Kalie, an engineer and a stay-at-home mom with two young children. Right now we are easily and comfortably allocating over 60% of our income to:

1. Saving/investing
2. Paying down our debts (all we have is a mortgage)
3. Charitable giving

Here’s why.

Vision. A decade after graduating from college, we are seeing the “American dream” for the nightmare it really is. Many of our friends are swimming in student loans and consumer debt, and our parents’ generation isn’t doing much better. We’re not sure many people can see their financial situation for what it is. Almost everyone feels stuck in their circumstances, running like a rat on a wheel to keep up but never getting anywhere. Our peers often ask us for financial advice, wanting to know how but not understanding why. In this blog we hope to share both with a wider audience.

Action. We genuinely enjoy our lifestyle of pretending to be poor. In fact, it feels wrong to call it that, because we aren’t suffering or deprived at all. We realize we are rich by any standard. But Proverbs uses the phrase, so we will, too. Practically, it means we buy used cars (and clothes), shop at discount grocery stores, and favor fixing things over replacing them. Simple steps like these can propel you from financial bondage to flexibility. More on these in future posts.

Flexibility. Many people are writing and talking about financial freedom or security, but these concepts are at best misnomers and at worst myths. We’ll never be completely in control of the cost of living or our circumstances. So instead we’re seeking financial flexibility, or an ability to make life choices without being so limited by expenses (and therefore income). Financial flexibility is an accounting term that describes “a company’s ability to react to unexpected expenses and investment opportunities.”[1] We find this concept useful for personal finance as well. What options would open up if you could live on half your current income? If this sounds unrealistic, know that financial flexibility is actually a bit relative–picture a continuum ranging from “I have no options because of my overwhelming debt” to, at the other extreme, “I can choose how to spend my time & money because of my low cost of living.”

Purpose. One way of understanding this proverb is to suggest that those pretending to be poor are the rich trying to get out of paying their share. That’s not what we’re talking about. This pursuit isn’t whiny like Occupy, miserly like Scrooge, or self-focused like the early-retirement scene. Our goal of flexibility has a clear and better purpose of helping others with our time and money. Can you imagine how much good you could do if over half your income (or time) went to support your church, missionaries, your favorite charities, or other noble causes? Of course we believe in being generous along the way, too. More on that soon.

And here’s our dirty little secret: we don’t even follow a monthly budget. Join us as we share many more secrets and journey toward financial flexibility.

[1] “Financial Flexibility.” Money-Zine. http://www.money-zine.com/definitions/investing-dictionary/financial-flexibility/

34 Responses to “Welcome to Pretend to Be Poor”

  1. Mrs. Hugs says :

    Whoo hoo! Glad to see you are starting these blogs. Can’t wait to read more!

  2. Joel says :

    Great site! Looking forward to reading your blogs.

  3. Free Money Minute says :

    Great article. You described the way we live to a tee as well. We appear poor to many of our indebted friends/family, but we are really rich in family unity, spiritual growth and net worth.

  4. Zambian Lady says :

    I do not pretend to be poor, but I just live frugally though comfortably. I had a friend back in the States that I went to lunch with usually. The first time she said she would pay my bill because “you are from Africa and so are poor.” I found this a very silly assumption because at that moment I had quite a substantial amount of money saved up for a project back home. I said I could afford this particular bill because it was small. Interestingly, my friend called a couple of days later to ask for 100 dollars as her father, who would have given it to her, had traveled. She repaid me using her father’s cheque and I realized that girlfriend was as broke as could be.

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for visiting our site. By saying “pretend to be poor” we really mean a way of thinking about money, possessions, and what we actually need. Our lifestyle is far from that of a truly poor person and we certainly don’t want to purport otherwise. We also live “frugally though comfortably” as you said.

      Your story perfectly encapsulates the difference between the two perspectives about money in Proverbs 13:7. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. ThriftyHamster says :

    I like the word “flexibility”. While it’s important to be firmly rooted in place, when the wind blows it’s just as important to be able to bend so you don’t snap in two. Once the turmoil subsides you’ll spring back straight and carry on growing.

  6. Wise Uncle Bob says :

    That’s an interesting idea, pretending to be poor 🙂 I have plenty of friends pretending to be rich. Who doesn’t? Some of them even look down on me assuming I have less than them. In most of the cases I have much more than them but I hate to show off, so a lot of people assume I am poor. That is the prevailing behavior in our society today, but we need to do our best to financially educate our friends, relatives and colleagues and that is the reason why I have recently started my blog.

  7. Emily says :

    Wow! So great to meet you! Stumbled across your blog when Frugalwoods linked to you this week! Sounds like we share a lot of the same beliefs regarding personal finance, hospitality, giving, and faith. So excited to follow you on your journey!

  8. Ryan Robinson says :

    Big fan of this so far. I’ve been very drawn to a lot of what I’ve seen in the early retirement/financial independence world, but as a Catholic, I’m concerned that much of what I’ve seen comes from, ironically, a similar worldview as the heavy consumers – namely, we save and invest, and then we’ll have all of this financial security and freedom, which will truly make us happy.

    Although those folks are likely a bit closer to the mark than those who assume that money is going to make them happy, the FI/early retirement movement still tends to be very self-focused and under the same assumption that the things of this world will provide them true contentment. It’s been interesting to see a few blog posts from various folks who have achieved financial independence, and have essentially recognized that they had been pursuing some level of a mirage.

    What’s fascinating about happiness, though, is that it seems to not be something you achieve by aiming at it directly. Rather, you achieve it as a natural outcome of living a life of virtue, being others-focused, and, ultimately, in God.

    Anyway, great stuff, and looking forward to diving in further!

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, Ryan. Your comment expresses so much of our philosophy & why we started this blog! I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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