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Do You See Money Through the Eyes of the Rich or the Poor?

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rich or poor

The following is a contribution from Jon at Money Smart Guides. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules, consult our guidelines and contact us.

When it comes to money habits, the rich and poor have completely opposite views. These opposing views inherently affect their lives. While the poor tend to focus on today, the rich are more concerned with tomorrow. Note that for the purposes of this post, I am using the terms “rich” and “poor” to describe viewpoints on money and not on social class. You can have money while at the same time have a poor person’s view of money and vice versa.

Focusing on Tomorrow Rather Than Today

The rich for the most part, save their money. They max out their retirement plans and then save more money in taxable accounts. When shopping, they spend money when they perceive an item to be of good value. The poor on the other hand, might save some money in their retirement accounts, but for the most part they spend their money. They don’t necessarily look for good values; they focus more on the accumulation of things as a status symbol. Here, the rich focus on tomorrow, or the future. They want more out of life and are taking action to do so. The poor focus on today and buying things that will make them feel good or give the impression that they have money. They may want more out of life as well, but they focus on today instead.

The Issue with Focusing on Today

When the poor focus on today, and buy things they don’t need, they cost themselves money tomorrow. For every want the poor satisfy, they set themselves that much farther behind. On the other hand, for every dollar the rich save by not buying a want, they put themselves that much farther ahead because their money will compound and grow to an even larger amount. The poor can’t take advantage of compound growth because there is nothing there to compound upon.

An Example: Buying a Car

Buying a new car is a great example of this in real life. Put aside for the moment your feelings on whether or not you should ever buy a brand new car and just focus on the idea of the purchase.

The poor person will walk into a dealership and tell the salesman he is looking for a new car. The first thing the salesman asks is, “How much are you looking to spend for a monthly payment?” The poor person, without hesitation will give an amount. The salesman is now free to pick almost any vehicle on the lot. The overall cost of the vehicle doesn’t even matter. All that matters is getting a long enough loan so that they meet the customer’s monthly payment goal. This is evidenced by car dealerships now offering 72 and 96 month loans (that’s a 6 and 8 year loan respectively.)

I have a friend that falls into this category. The charade has been going on so long, he is underwater on his car. He traded-in his last car but he owed more than it was worth, so the dealer rolled what he owed into his new car payment. Now he is paying interest on his current car AND the car he no longer owns!

Now let’s look at the rich person buying the car. She walks into the dealership and might or might not have a model in mind. When the salesman asks, “How much are you looking at for a monthly payment?” the rich person balks. She isn’t interested in the monthly payment. She is interested in the overall cost of the vehicle. She wants to limit the overall price of the new vehicle, which will help limit the amount of interest she will pay as well.

By focusing on the overall cost of the vehicle, the rich person is looking at tomorrow, making sure that she has her money working for her. The poor person on the other hand, by looking at today is making sure that he has to work for his money.

You Can Change Your Mindset

When I graduated college, I had a hard time landing a full time job. I became depressed and started to focus on the now, the today. I ran up my credit cards, maxing out two of them. I opened a third for the low balance transfer rate, but ended up putting new charges on the old cards after transferring the balances.

If you look closely at that last paragraph you can see the fight that was going on. I was trying to change my mindset to think about tomorrow – I wanted a low interest balance transfer so that I could limit the interest I was going to pay. Unfortunately, the short-term instant gratification won out.

Eventually, I won the battle. I had my “ah-ha” moment when I realized that buying things was only making me feel better for a brief moment. The new item I bought gave me a temporary high but that quickly wore off when I saw my credit card debt.

Once I decided to change my views and began paying off my debt, my depression went away. I became motivated as I saw my balances decrease and I focused more and more on tomorrow and not today.

How to Change Your Mindset in order to Become Rich

Looking at tomorrow versus today is not an easy thing to do. This is why there are more poor people than there are rich. But you can change you mindset. Here are the steps to do so:

Stop and Think: Marketers are great at their jobs. They can get you to buy when you have no need. Heck, they can make you interested in something you initially had no interest in! By taking a moment to stop and think, you can learn to reason with yourself and make better decisions.

Ask Yourself Questions: Before I buy things, I ask myself “will buying this get me closer or further away from my ultimate goal?” In order for this to work, you need to know what your ultimate goal is. Mine is to become financially independent. Therefore, buying a new pair of pants for work because they are 50% off doesn’t make sense when I have eight pairs already. Sure they are half price, but they still cost 100% more than I need to spend.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to completely deprive yourself of buying anything because it doesn’t fit your long-term goal. This is where the next step comes into play.

Take a Break: If you’ve stopped and thought about it and asked yourself questions and you still want it, just leave the store. Take a week to let the air clear. In most cases, after that week, you won’t be thinking about the item any longer, which means you didn’t really need it in the first place.

If on the other hand you still want it, then you can decide if you will buy it or not. If you decide to buy it, don’t feel guilty, since you took the necessary steps. You’ll find that the majority of times, you won’t buy the item. For the other times, you can feel good knowing that you are being smart with your spending.

Final Thoughts

In order to take control of your financial life, you need to focus more on tomorrow as opposed to today. You need to think about how spending money affects your life in the long-term. It’s easy to get lost in the now and while it is important to live in the present and enjoy life, we can’t focus solely on the present and expect the future to take care of itself. It doesn’t work that way. We need to make an effort to focus on the future as much as we can while still being present. If you can accomplish this, then you will have taken control of your financial life.

Jon writes for MoneySmartGuides, a personal finance blog that helps educate people on personal finance so that they can reach their financial dreams. He focuses mainly on investing and paying off debt since those are the two of the most challenging personal finance topics we face.

 

Editor’s note: I LOVE Jon’s thoughts here. He’s spot on, in my opinion, in regards to how we view our money. I think you can tell a lot about a person through their view on money. Someone making $50,000 but is managing their money well is much more rich than the person making three times as much but throwing it all away.

 

Photo courtesy of: Svadifari

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

41 Comments

  • Definitely some great points here. If you don’t have the right mindset, you don’t have a chance of accumulating (or keeping) wealth.

  • Great definition of rich and poor! That’s a wonderful way to look at it. It puts less value on consumption and more value on financial responsibility.

  • “The new item I bought gave me a temporary high but that quickly wore off when I saw my credit card debt.” LOVE this line, Jon! This exact line is why I think so many people fight so fervently with their spending habits. Your line about waiting before purchases, that’s the ticket. We’ve learned to do that now, and 95% of the time we never go back for the purchase. I know we’ve saved thousands this year that way.

    • That’s the devil with credit cards. You buy something and feel good about it. You don’t see the consequence of that purchase or in my case, many purchases, until the credit card bill comes due and you get depressed seeing your balance skyrocket.

  • This is a great article! The analogy about buying a car is perfect – it’s so true that we sometimes focus on the monthly cost of paying something off, rather than the overall costs. That’s why those Rent-to-Buy business are doing so well! The amount you end up paying is 3x the cost of buying outright, but they are popular because the advertise such as low monthly cost.

  • Interesting perspective and great tips! I like to think that I “think rich” and more about long-term goals than short-term wants.

  • I’m in awe reading this because I was having a conversation with my wife this morning about a friend of ours. I said, I have to write about this. My exact words to my wife was that she lives for today and not tomorrow. She has no problem spending x amount on something, justifying it today until the bill comes in and she can’t pay it. Her mindset is stuck in today mode because it’s hard to focus on a future when you hate your job, you don’t make enough money to make end meet so you focus on what does make you happy and that is what’s happening right now. It’s certainly not the way to be and I hope she can get past her wanting to live for the now and whatever happens in the future will happen. We do have some form of control over what is ahead and we do have the ability to say, NO. Great post.

    • That describes me perfectly. I felt like crap, so I spent because it made me “feel” like I had money. The sad thing is, is that I was just putting myself further and further behind. When I was able to get that great job with good pay, instead of saving and moving closer to financial independence, I was playing catchup, paying back all of my debt for when I pretended to have money.

  • Jon made great examples there about buying a car from a rich point of view and a poor man’s point of view. I think Jon made great points throughout the post and that is to think before you buy and think of your future plans. Great post!

  • Kostas says:

    Good perspective and good insights as well, plenty of people forgetting that while it is certainly important to live in today and to enjoy whatever comes, we should not forget that tomorrow will soon become today as well, with all those problems and difficulties!

  • Great post Jon. Really interesting. I agree the buying things only makes you feel better momentarily. Also, planning for tomorrow is definitely key!

  • Great post! I like that example of the car as is it so close to home with many people. They are always buying new cars and looking at them as just something they have to always pay for. And its not the people who make less money that do this. I have known people who make 350$ waste it as fast as they get it. Some lost there jobs and you would think you should be okay for a few months with all they were making. Sadly nothing saved and all that was bought on payments are now gone. Change your mindset!

    • I deal with high net worth people all of the time. There are many that make mid-six figures but can’t afford to retire because they spend it all plus some. I mean, how many memberships to various country clubs to you really need?

  • Alicia says:

    I really love the overall message of this post. I can see so much of both myself and my parents in this. My parents always bought demo cars outright. Not quite new, but not severely used.

    I am currently in the switching mentality. Trying to pay down debt fresh out of nine years of school, and fighting with savings and myself. I know I want the debt to shrink and the savings o grow but sometimes it is hard to go nearly cold turkey from a whole lot of consumption to none.

  • I can’t remember where I’d read this but one guy tapes a small list of his goals to his credit card so he has to see it every time that he pulls out the credit cards to pay for something. If you’re struggling with the battle between now and tomorrow then that can be a great way to at least slow down the temptation of those impulse buys. As long as you are practicing conscious spending I don’t really think there’s any problems because you’re well aware of the fact that by purchasing whatever item it is you have less to save so it’ll take longer to reach any financial goals/retirement.

  • Thinking about the future instead of impulse buying is a daily battle for me. I tend to be a saver anyway but sometimes I see something that I NEED and I’ll buy it and have buyer’s remorse later. Buying with just cash really helps me cut down on the extra impulse buying and just focus on what I actually do need.

  • Great Insight on focusing on tomorrow rather than today and the difference between the rich and poor mindset. It reminds me of the study where they tested children’s ability to delay gratification…those who could were found to be more successful in the future. People need to realize that focusing on today is short-sighted and that they’ll be worse off when tomorrow comes.

  • No Waste says:

    This really cuts to the core, thanks for the post.

    Reminds of me of The Millionaire Next Door.

  • It took me years to figure that out. When you base your life on monthly payments, you will always owe someone money. You can pretty much finance anything you want, but do you want things or freedom?

  • Carpe Diem, right? Except “seize the day” should mean use it to learn to focus on your future. It should NOT be interpreted to mean live it up today and not care about your tomorrow!

  • Focusing on the future is a great way to get ahead. I always had that vision of a better tomorrow so I’ve always saved. I’m sure we lost out on some luxury stuff along the way, but it’s no big deal.
    I like the Carpe Diem comment. 🙂

  • I would never buy a car that I couldn’t pay off in 1-2 years–to look at it as what you can afford per month is bad news!

  • It is so easy to focus on what you want to own to fill your home versus your actual goal of where you want to be in your life in 10 years.

    I live in an apartment where we really need a lot of furniture, especially quality storage furniture like tall shelves, an armoire, and a kitchen island. But then I think to myself, if I buy these things, will I only feel obligated to fill them with even more junk, creating a vicious cycle?

    it’s best to wait purchases through like you suggest and consider the true need. Yes, I’d love to have more kitchen surface to cook on, but then am I only saying that because I want to have more kitchen gadgets?

    • So true Tara. Most people buy a bigger home and then they have all of these empty rooms. Since no one wants a room to go to waste, they fill it with stuff and then never use the room! A complete waste of money.

  • Matt Becker says:

    I think you’re spot on here. The trick is to find the right balance between keeping your eyes on tomorrow but also allowing yourself to enjoy today. But in terms of building financial security, keeping a future-based outlook is priceless.

    • Right on Matt. If you focus too much on today, you won’t have any money for tomorrow. But focus only on tomorrow and you are going to resent not being able to do anything today. It’s a balance you need and you figure that out by trial and error and making adjustments until you find what works for you.

  • Mary says:

    I didn’t realized that I see money through the eyes of the rich! We need to enjoy life but we also have to think about tomorrow. That’s why I am trying to convince my husband to wait a little before buying a new car! LOL!

  • krantcents says:

    Without arrogance, I always had a rich man’s view. I always looked beyond today. I always started with the outcome and worked backwards.

  • Peter says:

    Definitely through the rich. Great post.

  • I focus mostly on the future, because you are buying freedom. Paying interest on something you don’t own anymore, or have eaten or consumed, means you have to work extra, for nothing but paying for your lack of patience. It pays to wait.

  • Alexa says:

    Fantastic post! I don’t have much money right now but I do have the right view point. And, I know that will benefit me and my kids in the future. I only wish it would rub off on some of my family members!

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