A man sitting in a car

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 reason to have credit cards, right?). It’s because we don’t want to feel poor.

A man wearing a suit and tie

At this point, I should define this term, “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.

A man sitting in a car

Commit to a clean car

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

Related: How to Spring-Clean (Wash and Detail) a Car

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. 

Curb the clutter

I don’t care how clean your house maybe, 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. 

Tuck a C-Note

A “C-note’ is a one-hundred-dollar 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 are not going to 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 Hundred Dollar Bill 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 ten, then a fifty. 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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  1. JudiR says:

    I eat a light meal before joining friends for lunch. Then I order a salad or appetizer and I’m able to leave a generous tip for the waiter (25%) to compensate them for my small billing. Wait staff need our support too!

  2. Ed says:

    Mindset is everything – people who label themselves poor are usually pretty miserable and often in debt trying to compete with people they think are better off.
    Don’t wait until retirement to start good spending and budgeting habits. A paycheck you can’t dramatically increase is a fixed income too. When you do get a raise or windfall of some sort don’t rush out and spend the “extra”. Put it in the bank. Living below your means is easier when you can maintain the lifestyle you’re already used to. I find the buzz from immediate gratification fades quickly. The good feeling from waiting til you can pay cash lasts a lot longer. In addition, you aren’t you aren’t committing your future income to a bill. That leaves a lot of options open. That fat emergency fund you’ll have tucked away can make a sudden unexpected expense a lot less painful as well.

    • teresa says:

      I have never competed with anyone – my credit cards are way over the limits bc for years i have had to help family members, there was no other way! i have done without so they could have food, etc. not everyone is in debt bc they are extravagant

  3. Maryalice Rael says:

    Thank you Mary for the tips for people on a fixed income. I am newly retired ( 9 months) and even though I thought I was frugal in the past, I have really tightened my belt!! I will go through the recommendations you suggested above. I’m sure I will feel better about my lack of income soon. I love reading your daily tips, God bless you!

  4. Lynda (New Zealand) says:

    I love the empowering nature of this article and the strength of people evident in the comments. I acknowledge that some circumstances are incredibly hard, and holding up the worth and dignity of ourselves and others through small and larger actions is beautiful. We are always more than our circumstances. Hold your heads up high. God bless you, Mary and your readers.

  5. Shannon Robbins says:

    That C-note tip is true. I got one for Christmas from my parents 5 or 6 years ago. I folded it, placed it in a gift card holder and hid it in my wallet. I pretty much forgot about it unless I was stressed out trying to figure out how I was going to make it to the next payday. A peace would come over me as I remembered that I had it and while calm, I could figure out the solution without touching the C-note. Oddly enough, the emergency that took it wasn’t even my emergency. It was a friend’s. She paid me back in 3 days and I still have that C-note tucked away.

  6. Betty Thomas says:

    Mary these are excellent tips. Growing up we were poor, lived in a shack (think plastic on the windows instead of glass) and rarely did anything other than pay bills (hopefully) and get groceries. For some reason even as a young teenager I instinctually knew that to keep things looking clean and uncluttered resulted in a better state of mind for me. I worked hard on the yard (the school bus stopped right in front of our home) and kept the house clean. It was a huge task since everything was broken down and many fixtures unfixable. Our one bathroom in the house had a sink that was broken and never had running water. We brushed our teeth in the kitchen or at the tub. Keeping things in order not only improved my feeling about myself but made me feel like in some way I was helping my family even if I couldn’t change our financial situation. Thanks for all you do for us Mary.

  7. Beth says:

    These are good suggestions, I would add one that I struggle with, when really worried about money, I have trouble Paying bills, even when I do have the money, My default is to hold on to every cent, but I know when the bills are paid I avoid extra charges, and know that at least we have power and a roof over our heads, that alone knocks some of the stress down. Other things I know help me are making use of all the free activities I can find around town, I hit the library at least once a week, for books and craft club they also have video’s, music, some free magazines and super nice staff. . My town has a free picnic in the summer, and a free night at the rodeo for seniors. While I find it somewhat embarrassing I use the local mobile food bank when they have their once a month delivery, while they give what they have a surplus of it does often give us some free treats we wouldn’t have otherwise. Goodwill has frequent half price days, where craft materiels for projects to keep my hands busy are often available, if you are creative enough to use what they have rather than expecting perfect new pricey materials. Currently I am learning to quilt, I started with a one dollar sheet, and a big bag of someone’s donated fabric scraps. My first quilt top is almost ready to start quilting, and I will use an old worn out quilt I already had for batting. Instead of over a hundred dollars for a quilt kit from a store, I will have my first quilt finished for less than 10 dollars.

    • Pat says:

      Check if you have a goodwill outlet by you. Everything is charged by weight (except furniture and other heavy items and electronics (even flat screen tv’s) have separate prices too). I have gotten lots of things there like shelf brackets and then used old wood I collected from the side of the road etc. Microwaves are $3 and they work, they even let you try them to make sure yourself.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Very inspiring, Beth! Sound like you don’t have time to feel poor. I applaud your creativity. Keep it up and never give up.

    • Elvira says:

      Beth….I love it that you are quilting. It is truly an art where creativity is the most important element, the one with the least amount of money often wins!!! I have spent my entire life making something out of nothing and have dozens of beautiful quilts that make my home comfortable and beautiful. And when you “upcycle” fabric, like I do, too, no one will EVER have a quilt just like yours. Keep up the good work!!!!

  8. Pat says:

    I am on a fixed income and poor. How to pay the bills and save money for a new roof is really stressful. I have started keeping the air off until late afternoon or evening. We use the ceiling fans and the hundreds of tress around the house help to keep it cooler too. I will be so glad when my daughter and kids can finally move out. She just started a new job today so hopefully in a few months she can leave. Supporting 7 people on one income isn’t easy. LOL

  9. Pat says:

    I don’t understand the amazon thing where it isn’t allowed to open an amazon link. All the other blogs have links that you click on and it takes you automatically to Amazon with the product listed. That is how I do all my subscribe and save (I use survey money to pay for them). I guess that means they are not involved in the Amazon deal that you are in.

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