The Benefits of Saving Habits that Make You Look Poor

think rich, look poor

Several years ago, my husband paid for a pizza entirely in change. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any money left at the end of the week; on the contrary, he had just deposited his paycheck in the bank that evening. He simply wanted to use his change and save his bills. Had I been along, I might have been a bit embarrassed to see him counting out his quarters and dimes, but the pizza shop clerk didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he expressed sympathy with another young man who appeared to be just barely scraping by.

My embarrassment over counting out so much change comes more from holding up those behind me in line than from appearing cheap. (I don’t worry nearly as much about appearing cheap as many people do.) I am, however, often aware of the reactions of those around me when I act frugally in public. The assumptions others make about my frugality — usually that I have much less money than I actually do — can be a benefit to me.

Even those who are not pinching pennies know that it’s wise to dress down when shopping for a car. Appearing too rich can make the prices go up in a bargaining situation. In fact, appearing poor can help you negotiate as a buyer — if the seller thinks you can’t afford much more than the lowest price he’s willing to give, he is likely to offer you that price rather than lose the deal.

Sometimes, people who observe my family’s frugal habits take pity on us and offer us freebies. I think that might be what happened recently, when a couple at a neighboring table at a fast food restaurant offered us a kids’ meal toy after seeing our family of four share two sandwiches, six pieces of chicken nuggets, and a large cola among us. We had based our order on the typical appetite of our children and a desire not to waste much money on overpriced drinks or kids’ meals, but it probably looked like we had cleared out our wallets to pay for the meal. Others might have been embarrassed to appear unable to afford kids’ meals for their children, but the knowledge that we were saving money to benefit them in the future outweighed any fear of looking poor or cheap.

Occasionally, appearing poor can backfire, with salespeople ignoring you completely. However, it can be very satisfying to see a good salesperson earn a big commission from your purchase right after someone else snubs you. My husband and I chose our realtor at home show because he took the time to talk with us, even though we appeared too young to have saved enough for a down payment on a house. I sometimes wish that the realtor in the neighboring booth, who dismissed our initial questions to talk with a wealthier-looking prospect, could have seen us signing closing papers on a mid-priced house shortly thereafter.

Like my husband getting sympathy from the pizza clerk, I can use my frugal habits to build rapport with others who like to save money, no matter how much they have in the bank. Whether it’s someone behind a counter who offers me a special deal that she knows a frugal person would appreciate or a fellow shopper who is eager to pass on news of other bargains in the area, like-minded savers are good acquaintances to make.

Though I don’t act poor or play up my money saving habits just to get sympathy from others, I am not offended if someone offers me a lower price or a freebie as “charity.” After all, I can never be really sure that the motive was anything other than simple generosity. If I do receive a bargain out of pity, I graciously accept the gift as an act of kindness, and when I am able, I do a favor for someone else, as well.

Image courtesy of gordasm

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69 Responses to The Benefits of Saving Habits that Make You Look Poor

  1. wealthman says:

    This is just a poor excuse for justifying not having the finer things in life. You should be embarrassed to pretend to be poor when you really aren’t and you don’t need to do those things. If you have the money, you need to set standards for yourself or you will always be poor.

  2. gordy says:

    I hate it when I go into a store and the sales person turns up their nose because I happen to be in my yard clothes that day. It’s a sure way to make sure that I never shop at that store again.

  3. Dody says:

    My family and I are frugal by necessity. We often split food, but rather than pity most people look at us in disgust. When we first moved here people were kind enough, but now people act as if they are better. The funny thing is my home is paid off, my car too. When I here about how “poor” they are they can’t make the mortgage, but I see them drinking 5 dollar coffees, I must confess I tend to snub them.

  4. littlemama says:

    Honestly, who cares what people think. As long as you’re taking care of your own, it’s no ones buisness how one spends (or saves)their own money. How someone may view you is just their perception, and looks can be very decieving.

  5. Karen says:

    I’m not bothered by “looking cheap”, but it does bother me when that imposes on others. The pizza guy may have been sympathetic to a (supposedly) poor guy who could only pay in change, but it was probably very inconvenient and time consuming for him to deal with $10 or $20 in coins. It probably took time out of his shift, and maybe money out of his pocket, if he had to make fewer deliveries because he had to wait around for your husband to count out all those pennies and nickels. I hope you gave him a good tip.

  6. Christina says:

    A stranger paid for my meal once, because I had been caught recording my expenses and savings goals in my budget book in a restaurant.

  7. tentoes says:

    I don’t know about this. There is still a lot of stigma and people that look down on those that are poor. I think this could have negative effects like not being able to socialize with those that are wealthy so you can better increase your own wealth. I don’t think it is a positive thing to want to portray that you are poor even if you aren’t.

  8. davidz says:

    I notice that you don’t get treated nearly as well if people think you are poor. People can be obnoxiously rude. I think it’s a lot harder to ignore than this article makes it out to be, especially if you really are poor and not just looking it. I don’t think it should be anyone’s goal to “look poor” but I understand that doing the financially correct actions sometimes will make you look poorer than you really are.

  9. Heidi says:

    I sometimes feel less embarrassed using a lot of change than using a credit card. This shows the cashier that I do have the money to pay. (If I use credit I’m costing them money in fees and they may also think I’m irresponsibly running up my CC debt.)
    Many times cashiers will thank me for coinage because they tend to give more away than they receive. It saves them time from having to open new coin rolls.

  10. justme says:

    it is more important to be financialy stable than it is for others to think you are

    pretending to have more money than you do is far worse than living at or below your means

    I would never consider someone who is eating out poor it is the most expensive way to eat

  11. Julie says:

    My husband is a builder and wears work clothes. Several times he has gone to a car dealership to buy a new car and can not get any service because of the way he dresses. Last month, he wanted to buy a new van. After getting snubbed, he called the dealership and asked for a different salesman. He got the new van two days later.

  12. A Marino says:

    I would think that the ideal solution in not to give any impression at all. Keep them guessing. I don’t know if I want to give the appearance of being poor. That’s a mindset that you have to be careful of and especially for children. I have a family member that has that mentality and she never seems to get out of her financial ruts. I want for my children to have goals and know that they can reach them. But I also want them to know that there are ways of reaching your goals that won’t bankrupt your finances. There’s a fine line in there somewhere.

  13. princessperky says:

    I would rather give the impression of being poor than rich.. I dislike the current impression some have of my family in that we can afford to float a loan for 200 to the scouts, makes us truth it is money we can spare, but only because we act so poor in so many other ways. (I would rather that money was sitting in the ‘baby fund’)

    We often get free kids toys or free kids deserts, because our kids eat more than a kids meal, and we don’t need 3 identical toys…but folks assume it is a cost thing, and if the kids are behaving we end up with free stuff.

  14. Debbie M says:

    Interesting. When I saw the title, I was thinking of how I’m less afraid driving through marginal parts of town in my fifteen-year-old car than I might be in something newer.

  15. cris says:

    It’s legal tender which is all that matters. Personally, I find I spend less when using change for some of my purchases.

  16. This happened to me about a year or two ago: A well-dressed shopper, ahead of me in line at a grocery store, was snarling at the fact that a family who was at the check-out was having to put back groceries.

    She looked at me, saw my “office clothes” and my briefcase, and said “Can you believe it? They bought more than they had money for.”

    “Well, I’ve been there, done that,” I said.

    And I went back to sorting my coupons.

    While I didn’t have any money to spare for the family in need, I made it very clear that it wasn’t nice to speak ill of them.

  17. I live in Studio City, a land where some people who dress like they have no money; actually have more than enough money for themselves and several generations to come. I’ve noticed that the really rich people here don’t always flaunt it, in fact it’s the opposite, and they too are dressed in their yard clothes. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover.

  18. vsjhoc says:

    When I see someone driving an expensive car, I *almost* feel sorry for them. Too bad the bank owns their car. I own my VW.

  19. Fern says:

    It’s one thing to get a bargain from a salesperson, but it’s entirely another to allow other families to offer you a “freebie” based on a mistaken assumption that you really need a handout. I feel that’s deceptive and takes advantage of others’ generosity, which might otherwise go to someone who really could use it.

  20. Nancy says:

    I prefer to look “wealthy” on a “poor” income, by purchasing expensive clothing at Goodwill!
    I don’t want to have anyone feeling sorry for me.

  21. Susan says:

    I love this post and I applaud the author. My man and I split entrees not only to save money but because we don’t need that much food, we save calories as well as cash. And I agree, who cares what others think? It makes sense to enjoy eating out and trying new foods if you don’t break the bank in the process.

  22. Hilary says:

    I agree with Fern. Some of you seem proud that you get free things from people who obviously think you are financially strapped, which is not very nice or honest. It’s good that the author passes this generosity on, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

  23. Debra says:

    Good for you! So many people are in debt now because they buy what they can not afford. What a Simple Happy way to live. In my mind there is no “Standard” for living, except to be kind and help others, if you can. In Peace, Debra

  24. Gail says:

    This reminds me so much of when I was remodeling my kitchen. I stopped at a big name home improvement store and asked the lady at the kichen cabinet department to quote me some prices. She wouldn’t even get off her bottom to speak to me and waved her hand off in a direction ans told me “the stock cabinets are over there” I asked her yet again to quote me some prices and she did the same thing. I walked out of the the store in disgust that she was too lazy to even speak to someone who wasn’t dressed as if they could afford the custom cabinetry. Needless to say another store willing to talk to me got the order for my custom kitchen cabinet. Oh yes, that store a national one, was out of business by the end of the year.

    I see nothing wrong with graciously receiving freebies if offered. Some kids are taken to fast food restaurants daily–just how many kids meal toys do they need? As long as you aren’t asking for a discount, freebie, etc. there is no reason not be gracious and accept a gift that blesses the giver.

  25. Spoodles says:

    LOL! I’d never thought of it that way before. Do you think people are really feeling sorry for my kids when I make them share a cheeseburger and fries? Never thought of it that way. Just don’t see the point in buying more food than two under-5’s can eat. And we do NOT need more toys.

    I can definitely relate to the salesperson snub, too. I don’t dress poor, but I don’t look like I have a lot of money to spend, either. This means salespeople leave me alone so I can enjoy my shopping in peace. And I do always enjoy the occasional salesperson who is down-to-earth enough to be nice to me even though I haven’t had my hair highlighted in 10 years and my jeans come from Goodwill.

    Wealthman, get over yourself. For some people, money is a key to security and enjoyment, not social status. Sounds like you’re a fairly insecure little man if you’d be embarrassed for people you don’t even know to think you don’t have a lot of money. Go ahead and feed your ego. Hope your money doesn’t run out too soon. The rest of us will be ok without your shallow advice. The folks who look down on me because I’m “poor” are usually a lot poorer than I am. Joke’s on them, not me.

  26. MACTOONS says:


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  28. Cynth says:

    I worked as a brokerage assistant for several years and learned a valuable lesson while there. The clients with millions of dollars in their accounts often dressed like “bums” while the ones who barely had two nickels to rub together dressed in expensive clothes and drove cars they could barely afford. I was forced to admit to myself that my initial impression of “wealth” was incorrect. Wealthy people do not need to flaunt their wealth. They KNOW they are rich. So, I now emulate them by pinching pennies, investing in stocks, and dressing for comfort, not to impress others.

  29. Cefwyn says:

    ‘The quality of a man can be seen in the way he treats those who are of no possible value to him.’
    I do not act or try to look poor, but my wife and I live on about 20k a year and make about a 100k. Simply because as our wealth grew we did not increase our lifestyle. In fact we found ways to be more frugal. I will not associate with people that look down on people for having less money. They are Rude self centered people with poor morals. Those that do take the time or are sympathetic to those who are of a perceived lower station deserve to be richly rewarded and as soon as my house is paid off (after 5 years, the 100k is a new thing it was much less 5 years ago) I fully intend to spread some money around to those who are nice to ‘poor people’ like myself.

  30. Jody says:

    I personally don’t try to dress down in order for people feel sorry for me. I could really care less. If they don’t want to give me a deal on a car because of what I am wearing – I am sure there are plenty of car lots around that will give me the deal I want. I can’t stand it when people judge me cause of what I am wearing or what I am spending or not spending. Therefore, it would be a double standard if I tried to mislead them as being something/someone I am not.

    I have found just being myself (and my family being myself) we have had many blessings come our way. There was a time we went out to eat (everyone had their own meals) and the waitress came to us and told us a man wanted to pay for our meal just because we looked like a nice family. There was another time an old lady came by our table and gave us $20 to get the kids desert after dinner. We weren’t being cheap and we certainly weren’t begging for anything.

    My point is – more blessings come your way if you just be yourself rather than try and mislead everyone.

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  33. rebecca says:

    It seems to me that the basic point is to be polite and respectful to everyone, not only when it seems “worth your while.” It is always worth your while to treat others with respect. A little generosity towards others is also never amiss.

    After all, the inherent dignity of the human spirit matters far more than the cost of the trappings that accompany it.

  34. Maria says:

    I’d rather look poor but enjoy a peaceful life without financial problems rather than look rich but cannot rest well because of financial stress.

    I would say I am a good bargain hunter who may wear an originally expensive clothing or shoes which I bought on sale…example 34.99 blouse, on clearance sale for 4.99…if I like the style, I buy several in different colors. I shop at Macy’s and Payless shoe Source and will drive my 1990 Honda Civic as long as I can to pay off my mortgage in 10 years. I don’t care about other people’s perception, my self-esteem is more important.

  35. CC says:

    Once I went into a mom-and-pop type taqueria, ordered my lunch, and had my change counted correctly and was ready to pay with them – the cashier, whom I assumed was the owner, refused to accept my payment because they were in coins! Unbelievable. The last time I checked coins are still legal tender. Needless to say, I will never patronize this eatery again – not even with bills.

  36. SHOO says:

    As You Can See From My Name-Brand Clothing, I Am Not Poor

  37. AJ says:

    Here’s the fudamental problem. We buy more than we eat; our houses are bigger than we need (cut me slack…I’m in AZ…OUR houses are too big); we buy SUV’s so we have room for all of our camping stuff twice a year; Our problem is consumption. So when you speak of being frugal, my heart sings. I come from a family that was poor, but I never knew it. That’s because even with 6 brothers and sisters, we had all the pb&j we could eat, a couple pairs of jeans, a car with 4 wheels and a motor, parents who chose to care about US rather than their image, and passed on their values to boot. Do you think most of the rest of the world would have viewed us as poor? Are you kidding? In our arrogance, we act like we deserve so much, simply because we live in a wealthy society. We treat indulgence as a right of passage. I’m rich – REALLY rich. And when we go out to dinner we split a meal – our kids split meals and we have consequences for ordering more than you are willing to eat. If we would teach our kids to appreciate what they have, to help others, and to use the wealth God has given us for better things than waste…well, I think (or at least hope) you get my point.

  38. TxFrugal says:

    I think ‘wealthman’ is an idiot. I bet he’s got more debt than 3 other ppl combined, because he’s so concerned about appearances. Why should I have to dress and act according to HIS opinion? He’s the reason the US is in the state that it is right now, keeping up with the Joneses. I’m going to be debt free in 5 years, and he’ll be passing his on to his kids. Poor kids. ‘the finer things in life’? What’s finer than a beautiful mountain meadow, or watching my son playing with our chickens? (We live in a million+ city) Jerks like that deserve to lose their houses because they’ve wasted all their $$ on crap.

  39. wealthman says:


    If it makes you feel better thinking that, feel free to do so, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m debt free including a fully paid for house and a nice savings account. I earned my money and enjoy the finer things and just because I can doesn’t mean I’m in debt. That’s the problem – you justify you looking poor with a false assumtion.

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  41. MJ888 says:

    I really don’t care what people think about me! You mean to tell me that by looking at me in 15 seconds someone can draw a conclusion about my finances??? How stupid can people be? I very often like to wear dirty looking ripped jeans because they are my favorite. I also like to use the loose change in my pocket to pay for coffee and small items because I simply do not like the change weighing in my pockets! So does that make people think I am poor? How shallow! I often have at least $500 in cash on me and am able to buy anything that I want.

  42. Emily says:

    I never thought of myself as frugal, but reading the posts, I must be. My husband and I make over $100K/year together, but we live on far less. We put away about 12% for our retirement and are paying for most of our son’s college. We had one kid, partly because that’s what God gave us and partly because we are literally putting all our eggs in one basket. We live in a small condo instead of a much more expensive house we could afford and drive used vehicles. We started spliting meals and eating at home because we were tired of being fat. With gas prices spiking and only going to go higher, our frugal habits are paying off.

    What’s interesting to me in these posts is the assumption that unlimited capitalism is a good thing. The TV would have you believe we should all live like kings. I’ve found much more happiness in a mindful life that gives me time to play and learn rather than acquire and then worry about how best to display or store my mountains of useless stuff.

  43. apennysaves says:

    wealthman: “personal finance” is PERSONAL. Some people believe that the finer things in life aren’t for sale and can’t be bought. Living frugally is not synonymous with “pretending to be poor,” which is obvious to those of us less materialistic than you sound as though you may be.
    “If you have the money, you need to set standards for yourself or you will always be poor.” – This doesn’t actually make sense, but I know what you mean. Standards are relative, so if someone chooses to live below his or her means, why does this bother you?

  44. joker says:

    As wealthman said, his stuff is paid for and he choses to afford the “finer things”. If that is what he values and can afford it, more power to him. How he chooses to percieve others’ motives for dressing down or not making the same choices he has made is his business.

    As long as you aren’t trying to deceive people, dress however you want and pay however you want.

  45. Bill Michael says:

    I know for a fact that the doors open wide when people know you have money. But by the same token, character is revealed in volumes by how people treat you when they think you are poor. I prefer to look poor.

  46. headstrong says:

    The attitude expressed by wealthman is sooo old-fashioned. Get with the times, man! Conspicuous consumption was de-frocked over 100 years ago. I’m the one with the finer things – a great collection of music, pictures from a dozen trips to Europe, Asia, and Africa, a glob of close friends, healthful food, and because I gave away all my cars and walk to work everyday and take the bus to school, a really satisfying relationship with Mother Earth.

  47. stacey says:

    I’d rather be practical (frugal habits) than typical any way I can $$$

  48. chris says:

    I’ve become the frugal, cheapskate of my and my husband’s marriage.

    I was the recipient, when in high school shopping for my junior prom dress, of a coupon. It saved me over $50 on my dress. I wasn’t poor, I didn’t act poor…but I was a 17y/o female, shopping on my own for formalware, and I suppose that the woman ahead of me felt that I shouldn’t have to spend quite so much of my own money (it was Mom’s, but I never told her that). It was one of the best Random Acts of Kindness.

    My husband and I are in debt — yea, sure it will take a few years to get out, but we have a gameplan on how to get rid of it. And my frugality winds up being the answer. My shopping the grocery store ads, my paying in change (I’m at the airport 1-2x per month to get him from work so parking adds up), my rolling change and then turning it in for the green stuff….and while I do like my Starbucks, it has become a treat, maybe once a month if that often, and normally only when I am meeting someone.

    You do what you need to in order to be frugal, in order to save. Who cares as to others opinions of you. 🙂

  49. Deb says:

    With gas prices and ARM rates and groceries at sky high prices, I am now not just frugal, I AM poor. My middle class income just won’t take the pinch.

  50. speedwell says:

    Wealthman, it may amaze you to hear that I don’t give a flip about you or how you dress or how much money you make. My friends and I (artists, geeks, and Quakers) think success is based on your giftedness and creativity, not on the number of government trade points you own. Hooray that you have made enough to look the way other shallow people think you should look.

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