How Long Do I Have to Act Poor Until I’m Rich?

by Ryan

Increasing your net worth is fairly straight forward. Lower your expenses and/or increase your earnings. There’s only two ways to accomplish it. Although increasing your earnings has a much higher potential, the easiest way to start saving money is going to be through decreasing your expenses. For me, that means living like a poor person. Well, at least from the perspective of most people I talk to, but I don’t think I’m poor. As a young bachelor this isn’t much of a problem for me, in fact I find it exciting as it’s a challenge to see where I can cut costs and find ways to save more money. However, if you’re not all about decreasing your expenses for your entire life, you may be wondering… how long do I have to live like a poor person, until I become rich?

You’re Already Rich

I say this a lot, but if you’re living in America, Europe, or any other modern country you are most likely considered to be in the top percentage of the worlds inhabitants. You have a roof over your head, food on the table, and can afford your cable television (most of us). As a result, you’re not poor, you just don’t have as much stuff as you’d like. If you want more stuff you’re going to have to increase your revenue, but how long will that take?

It’s Not Going to Happen Overnight

Following the basic model of punching a clock 9-5 and getting paid bi-weekly you’re not going to get rich anytime soon. Of course it’s a predictable, easy path without many obstacles because time is on your side along with conservative investing. This is slow because everyone else is doing it and everyone else can’t make 20% on their investments this year either. If you continue to just punch a clock, you’re not going to get rich overnight.

The Double Sided Coin

I think of becoming wealthy as a two sided coin. On one side is your potential to make money and on the other is your ability to decrease your expenses, thus increasing your savings rate and/or free time.

The potential to make money has unlimited potential whereas the ability to decrease expenses is limited by your current situation and may be a relatively small number. It should come as no surprise that the downside is easier to work on (some may argue otherwise), because most of us don’t know how to easily increase our earnings in the short run. It’s much easier to simply not buy something than to create another income stream.

If you’re able to lower your expenses you’ll give yourself some wiggle room to play with financially. This is done through frugal living, which frugal living which gives you time to focus on the upside. If your lifestyle wipes out all your time and money, you won’t have any time or money to focus on making more money. Once you’ve appropriately accepted that you’re going to live like a “poor person” until your earnings begin to grow either by investment income, real estate, or through creating a business, you’ll remain relatively poor.

So the answer to the question of “how long do I have to act poor til I’m rich?” in my opinion, is based mostly on your ability to create additional streams of revenue that fulfill your own definition of becoming rich. This can be done more easily through frugal living which allows you the time and excess money to work on businesses that will allow those revenue streams to blossom. Learn how to create businesses and value for others and you won’t remain poor for long.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma July 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

I really think that people don’t realize that they could have a lot more money if they just spent less of it or just spent money wisely. You don’t always need to make tons more money, maybe you just need to stop buying junk.

Tanja Wanderlust July 22, 2010 at 10:21 am

Hey well said. It is the same with loosing weight. Eat less or move more. True, some people just spend too much money because they are so used to it. And they cannot understand how you can live like such a “poor” guy… ha ha

myfinancialobjectives July 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Great post! Just last night I took a HUGE step towards creating additional streams of income in that I applied for a second job! Yup, I’m probably going to be a part time car salesmen 3-4 times a week. I hear there is really good money in it, and I think after years of working in the restaurant industry, I should be good at it:)

As far as cutting costs, I did this BIG TIME about a year ago. I went from paying about $700 a month for living expenses down to $200. I don’t exactly live as nicely now, but since then I have been able to pay off thousands and thousands of debt. And I will stay here till I’m debt free!

Financial Samurai July 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Hey Ryan, good to hear from you man.

I lived poor for about 3 years before I started to see some momentum and wealth creation. Hang in there, you’ll get to that richer feeling stage soon enough.

Hope all is well.

Best, Sam
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..Buying Blogs- Selling Blogs- How I Built My Blogging Business =-.

James July 23, 2010 at 10:04 am

i love that you point out if you live in the US, have a roof over your head and food that you are privileged. i feel this way every morning that i can take a warm shower, eat something and head off to my job.

i absolutely love that you make this point as so many people forget this every so often.

Monterey Marketing Lab (Neal) July 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Hey Ryan,
Good article. I’m about to cut back on spending myself in the time I need to develop my own business. Thought more about the details of it today.
Just spent a month in Sri Lanka. People have a lot fewer possessions over there. Made me think about all the extra stuff I have but don’t use.
.-= Monterey Marketing Lab (Neal)´s last blog ..Really Bad Powerpoint =-.

MakingAMillionDollars July 24, 2010 at 11:59 am

I think both have to happen in regards to cutting expenses and increasing income. Passive income streams via the internet sounds easy, but is much more difficult than most realize. But, it is something worth putting the time into. I have significantly reduced our expenses since downsizing out home. But also over the last years have increased my income on top of my job using the internet. It was the most significant thing that has left me debt free except for my small mortgage. Now I am at the point I have a big enough emergency fund to start investing. As a matter of fact I just performed my first purchase of stock and will be highlighting my portfolio online over our blog. Thanks for the article! Steve
.-= MakingAMillionDollars´s last blog ..My Stock Portfolio โ€“ Just Bought 50 Shares of F Ford Motor Co =-.

Little House July 24, 2010 at 8:43 am

Very good points you made. Cutting back on expenses is easier to do, but you can only cut back so far. As for bringing in additional streams of income, it’s more challenging, but I think it’s easier to do now a days via the internet. You can sell things, post your services online (like mowing lawns, tutoring, building web sites), increase your revenue through affiliate links. As for living like a “poor man”, I think all of us have been there. Especially when we’re trying to save for a goal or just don’t have a lot of income to play with.

Good to hear from you again!
.-= Little House´s last blog ..Making the Most of Online Deals =-.

Greg McFarlane July 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Lowering your expenses and increasing your earnings are ways to increase your income, not your net worth.
You can draw a parallel: the ways to increase your net worth are to buy assets and sell liabilities.
“If you continue to just punch a clock, youโ€™re not going to get rich overnight.”
You won’t get rich in 40 years, either. Ryan’s right: finding passive income streams is the only way to build lasting wealth- well, that or inheriting. And even that’s a passive income stream.
“Passive income stream” doesn’t mean working from home like the chick in the pajamas on the TV commercial who does something unclear to earn money. It means investing in a REIT. Or saving up enough money to buy a second home, renting it out for a price equivalent to the mortgage payments, and letting the renter build your equity for you. Or buying underpriced stocks and holding them (people occasionally forget that latter part.)

ermine July 24, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I think that the experience of acting poor also helps you separate out what part of spending matters to you and coincides with your values and what doesn’t. Comsumerism is insidious and it’s easy to end up with an alsmost automatic spending pattern. Although I never took on consumer debt and viewed my mortgage as something to be paid off, I did suffer from lifestyle inflation, until an unpleasant event forced me to look and retiring early. I discovered that my income far exceeds what I need to live a meaningful and enjoyable life, but I was frittering it away on rubbish and transient highs.

So though you’re technically right that increasing your income has far more upside, if you don’t learn to spend in a thinking manner by ‘acting poor’ as you call it, then you’ll never get rich either, even if you do pump up your income. Look at the lifestyles of sports celebs or lottery winners, who have a short time of making zillions. They sometimes fail to hold it due to lifestyle inflation, yachts, etc etc, and end up broke
.-= ermine´s last blog ..Post Retirement Needs &amp Wants are Hard to Envision in Debt Slavery =-.

Evan July 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The bursar office at law school used to say,

“Live like a lawyer during law school and when you get out you’ll live like how a law student should”
.-= Evan´s last blog ..Why You Should Try To Get the Smallest Tax Refund Possible =-.

Roman Soluk July 27, 2010 at 3:27 am

Thanks for this nice post, Ryan! Pleasure to read you!

Darren July 27, 2010 at 9:51 am

“This can be done more easily through frugal living which allows you the time and excess money to work on businesses that will allow those revenue streams to blossom.”

This is great advice. Create more wealth by spending less time on activities that drain your wealth, and more time on activities that enhance it.
.-= Darren´s last blog ..Save Money And Electricity โ€“ How To Build A Solar Oven =-.

Kristine August 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Sometimes we like to make it harder than it is. Live within your means. Find a way to create value for others to pay you for it. Discover the solutions that people are looking for to solve their problems, and they will pay you. ๐Ÿ™‚
.-= Kristine´s last blog ..Free Budgeting Tools to Track Your Finances =-.

Doug Warshauer August 13, 2010 at 3:11 am

There are a couple of ways to approach this question. If it’s about living within your means until you can build up your income enough to be ‘rich’, than the answer depends on how long it will take to build up your income. This is the approach I prefer.

If it’s instead about living BELOW your means now so you can live richly later, even if your income hasn’t necessarily grown much, than the answer (for most people) is probably not to try. It makes more sense to balance your spending over your lifetime than to back-load the majority of it. That doesn’t mean don’t save – there are plenty of things in life that require significant saving – but it does mean that living poor now to live rich later isn’t something that makes sense for most people.

Jim August 13, 2010 at 9:09 am

it is not easy to lower your expenses drastically but if you do some small things like car pool or make dinner a few times a week, it can have a positive mental and economic impact.

Early Retirement Extreme August 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Well..uh … living rich is not about how much one spends as much as it is about how one spends.

Also, in terms of peace of mind, it’s a lot better to be wealthy, that is, have a lot of assets compared to one’s expenses, than being rich, that is, having enough income to cover one’s expenses—as opposed to being broke which is the opposite of rich.

Rich and broke and two sides of the same coin.

The sides of the other coin are wealthy and poor.

Hence, if you live poor, you’ll become wealthy.

If you life rich … well, there’s a chance … which a lot of people learned in this recession. I question whether it’s worth it.
.-= Early Retirement Extreme´s last blog ..The last pair of boots Iโ€™ll ever buy =-.

Ryan Where Are You? August 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Hey Ryan,

what is going on? There’s no word from you for more than a month. Are you on vacation? Or maybe you became financially free but did not have time to share it with us yet ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Anyways, you have a wonderful way of thinking and I would like to read more of you.

Van Living Larry August 29, 2010 at 8:54 am

If you really want to cut your expenses to the bare minimum, consider van living. It may not sound like the ideal lifestyle, but if someone is determined, they could do it for at least a year or so, and save a ton of money on rent, utilities, gas. Think about it.


Mandeep August 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

I like your comparison of different countries, Most people of the middle class in developed countries are “rich”, compared to middle class folks in other parts of the world.
.-= Mandeep´s last blog ..4 Tips- How are Meta Tags Used by Search Engines =-.

Tracy August 31, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I completely disagree with that statement at the beginning. We are not all rich. People struggle everyday just to make ends meet. Plus the economy is down so its even harder for the average person to make ends meet, no less having a luxurious item such as cable. People are in tough times right now.

Andrew September 9, 2010 at 6:18 am

I would say to even act poor once you do achieve a level of wealth. The worst would be to fall back into debt and bad habits. Look at some of these famous athlete. Granted they didn’t act poor to get wealthy, but it’s so easy to go from rich to poor again.

innocriss September 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Hey Ryan,
i believe frugal living is the best option. Frugal living don’t necessarily mean; living like a poor man. it’s just a matter of not spending foolishly.
.-= innocriss´s last blog ..Avoid impulse spending =-.

Jeremy Johnson October 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Ryan, are you coming back to this website?

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