I think that its easy to use emotion to measure financial health.
What feels not poor anymore — or what you think that means — might not be the same as the actual, technical truth.
For instance, you might feel not poor anymore if you’ve gotten a windfall of money — a tax return, a one-time payment for a job, an inheritance — but when that money’s gone, you’re poor again.
Or you feel not poor anymore if you’re paying all of your bills on time every month — but you’re not saving or paying down your debt and maybe you’re living on next month’s income.
And maybe when you think about what kind of income you need to not be poor anymore — the arbitrary number you pull out of the air is massive. A million dollars in the bank. A $250,000 income. Nice numbers, but they aren’t grounded in your actual needs.
If you’re going to get un-poor, you need to know exactly what that means.
Here’s my definition:
Not poor means bringing in enough money this month to pay this month’s bills.
Not poor means saving 10 percent of my income.
Not poor means putting 10 percent of my income toward repaying consumer debt, on top of regular monthly payments.
Not poor means having six months of bare-bones income in savings.
It’s important to know where you’re starting from.
That’s my definition of not poor. Yours might be different. You might not have debt, for instance. Or maybe tithing to your church is part of what not poor means to you, instead of part of what comes after your not poor.
Not poor is not the same as rich. But, I’ve talked to so many people who, when I ask what it would take for them to not be poor throw out numbers or situations that would put them in the 1 percent.
To remove emotion from the equation, it’s important to know where we’re starting from.
Figure out exactly what your needs are. Right now, today. In the place where you live, with the bills that you have.
How much do you need each month to make ends meet. Nothing extra.
Think about all of these things:
- Your rent or mortgage
- Your utility bills (including your cell phone)
- Your consumer debt repayment (including student loans)
- Your transportation costs
- Your food costs
- Your health care costs (co-pays, prescriptions, etc.)
- Your personal spending (hair cuts, the gym, etc.)
- Your entertainment costs
- What you spend on things that aren’t monthly, like insurance or gifts or clothes
Try not to judge yourself. You want to know exactly what you’re really spending every month. That’s the only way you can make changes, if you figure out that you need to.
Don’t expect to do this exercise quickly, because guessing won’t help you here. Look over your bank statement, if you mostly use a debt card. If you use cash a lot, you might need to actually track for a month.
You need to know what you’re spending every month, so you have a starting place.
You might actually find that you’re spending more than you’re earning. Either you’re using credit cards or borrowing in some other way, or you’re not paying all of your bills every month, or you’re going into next month’s income and continuously robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Which, of course, leaves you hyper vulnerable to any sort of disaster that makes it so that Peter isn’t around next month to help you pay Paul, you know?
When you have your monthly baseline, add twenty percent. Ten percent for savings, ten percent for a debt repayment booster.
That’s your not-poor number.
Let’s say that you figure out that you need $3000 a month to meet your monthly needs. Add another $600 — $300 for savings, $300 to boost your consumer debt repayment.
So, $3600 a month.
But you’re only bringing in $2500. No wonder you feel poor. Every month you’re either borrowing, going into debt, or using money you haven’t earned yet to pay your bills.
And there’s nothing left to save or use to get you out of debt more quickly.
You can do two things.
You need to bring your outgo in line with your income, and give yourself room to improve your situation, right?
So, if you can bring your monthly baseline need down to $2000, you’ll have $500 left, which is twenty percent. Put $250 in savings and $250 toward debt repayment, and your $2500 is enough.
You might really have to buckle down, right? Get a roommate or move to a cheaper place. Maybe even a cheaper city.
That’s what my family did. We moved from Nevada to Pennsylvania, which brought out housing cost down by almost two thirds.
Maybe you need to get rid of your car or cut your food budget.
If there isn’t anything drastic you can or are willing to do, you might be able to do somethings that are smaller. Look at the monthly budget you worked on line by line and see where you can cut back.
Maybe you don’t want to lower your cost of living enough to put you inline with your not poor number.
Maybe you can’t — you’re just not earning enough, period.
So, after you’ve done what you can with spend less, think about how you can earn more.
I wrote about a few ways you can build in some income streams here:
It’s not necessarily about working more. Start to look at ways you can get paid more for working the same hours.
You might also find ways to combine bringing in more money with reducing how much you spend. Perhaps by bringing in a roommate or bartering with a friend or neighbor for something you might otherwise spend money on.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Knowing what your definition of not poor is and where you stand currently in relationship to that definition is your starting point.
You might not be able to jump right into using 20 percent of your income for debt repayment and savings. I sure couldn’t. It took me a long time to build up to it and it still feels weird to not spend everything I earn, or to pour so much extra money into paying off my car and credit cards.
Right now, I’ve finally got my income to a level where I can meet my monthly bills and have 20 percent left over for repaying consumer debt and building up savings.
We’re still working on the six months of income saved part.
Not being poor takes some getting used to, believe it or not.
I’m excited to get there, though, and I’m glad you’re along for the ride.