I Feel Rich; I Feel Poor: Our Bifurcated Relationship with Money

Many of us have an almost bipolar connection to money. One minute we think, “I saved half of my typical heating bill last month by lowering the temperature, so I feel kind of rich today and will splurge by buying that expensive nighttime moisturizer or the pretty handmade silver and turquoise earrings I’ve been eying.”

Or, you get your tax bill and owe money. Suddenly, you feel poor. “I can’t believe I owe this much; what am I going to do?” Your mind races more to think of ways to cut back for the next few weeks as you write a substantial check to the government or governments—federal and state. No more lattes! No more pedicures! And definitely no more pricey tuna burgers with a side of great fries at that fab New York City restaurant you dream about! You learn to make them yourself, even though they never could be as good.

Every day we make dozens of decisions that involve how and where to spend our hard-earned funds. Plastic bags that we must now purchase or reusable totes? Good European butter or a cheaper store brand? Fancy baking chocolate or generic? Fast food with a coupon or the sports bar on the corner? A Canadian down coat or a knockoff? Costly fancy Frette sheets or ones with a high thread count from Bed Bath & Beyond with a 20 percent off coupon? (We save these in piles.) These choices may be small, but they have real consequences for our healthy mindset and bottom line.

If you think this way, you are not alone. It’s a statistical near certainty that, if you save money one day, you’ll spend it another.

Chances are you have saved during the pandemic, not spending on concerts, movies, sporting events, clothes (where are you going), eating out and the big one of travel. Even those with cars found that their car insurance was trimmed due to so many scaling back on driving and insurance companies reacting with lower rates. The list goes on. If you feel flush with cash, why not indulge and buy that kitschy contemporary hanging light fixture that is now 30 percent off?

However, before hitting that money eject button, make sure you have examined the short- and long-term effects of spending or cutting back to the extent that you are depriving yourself. Life is short, as we all know, and you shouldn’t have regrets when it comes to modest purchases. Happiness counts big.

The other day when Margaret thought she lost her iPhone, she already was computing the amount she’d have to withdraw from her savings to buy a new one. She’d feel poor after such an expenditure and would have to cut back. Rather than taking her quilt to the dry cleaners, she would wash it herself in the large industrial machines in the basement of her building. Forget purchasing a good bottle of sparkling wine for a friend’s birthday or taking an expensive weekly online class. Fortunately, this thinking was for naught. A good Samaritan found her phone and returned it. That day she felt rich and splurged on a new purse.  

Barbara thought she had lost her wallet. And many times she’s also thought she has lost her phone. One reason is that the phone is in a gray case, which makes it often hard to see. She usually retraces her steps; the last time she found it on a sofa. She had simply removed it from her purse to organize its contents. In her case, she didn’t go out and splurge but heaved a big sigh of relief at not having to call all the credit card companies and her bank. Time, as we know, is money. Maybe, losing stuff is part of the aging process.

We have wondered: Is feeling rich or poor only related to spending and how much money you have in the bank? We decided “No.” According to author Roy T. Bennett, “You are not rich until you have a rich heart,” from The Light in the Heart.

Feeling rich or poor can also be an emotional state of mind. It’s more than having the latest gadgets, the best fitness equipment, fanciest cars or impressive art collection. And being poor doesn’t mean a lack of things. If you are dissatisfied with your job, your marriage sucks, your life in general is off kilter for whatever reason, it may lead you to feel poor and even make poor choices with time and money. You may feel inner poverty and a big dark hole if you are trying to have children and cannot or don’t have a close circle of friends or one good one in whom you can confide.

When Barbara feels rich, perhaps she saved money by making her lattes at home rather than going to the corner coffee shop daily, she will go out and buy a lipstick. Then she applies a new color before going on a Zoom call with her childhood friends. Most notice and say how nice she looks. Isn’t that worth a million dollars? Well, maybe, not a million but at least rich in the moment.

Barbara also feels rich when she finishes one of her watercolor or acrylic paintings. If she sells them, she knows that it will double her “richness quotient” when it brings joy into someone else’s life. She also counts her blessings rather than money when spending time with her two grandsons whether reading to them, cooking with them or putting together a jigsaw puzzle, all things they love to do together. These are rich experiences that—pardon the cliché-- money can’t buy.

At the same time, Barbara admits that she feels poor when she window shops on New York City’s Madison Avenue and sees the high price tags on clothing, shoes and jewelry. But those feelings pass quickly since there are few material objects she wants at this stage in life. Worse is when she doesn’t receive a good medical report from a doctor or dentist and knows she has to change some part of her routine—maybe eat less, work out more, floss more. She feels fabulously wealthy, however, when an editor raves about one of her articles.

Margaret might feel rich when she finishes a tough assignment and is complimented on the finished product. That’s when she might make a beeline for the nearest bakery where she’ll treat herself to an obscenely expensive just-out-of-the-oven Levain chocolate chip cookie with walnuts. Then, she’ll grab a coffee and find the nearest bench where she can sit and nibble on the cookie and scan the landscape of New York City. Recently, while enjoying her cookie and coffee at Riverside Boulevard and 83rd Street, she spotted Amy Schumer filming for a new series, she later learned, that will appear on Hulu. How rich is that? Priceless!

On the other hand, she feels poor when she realizes she hasn’t seen her youngest son for more than 19 months who lives in Montreal, when she owed a big chunk of change to New York state on her taxes or was unable to be at the side of a good friend in St. Louis who lost her father.

The feelings of rich and poor are within each of us. Here are some tips to make yourself feel richer and ease feeling poor whether it is--or isn’t--only about money in the bank.

Think cheap chic. You’re walking by a favorite coffee house and give yourself permission to buy a $5 large latte made with whole milk. Hey, you just got paid for a gig and you feel rich enough to deserve this minor splurge. Just don’t do it daily is our advice.

Live smaller and better but not grander. You see something grand in an apartment. It’s gorgeous, a fully renovated prewar, doorman building with a balcony and 2½ baths. It’s out of your price range. Why not consider the cute smaller one that’s the right price range, has great light, updated appliances, a small bathroom and an open and large kitchen? Less space to furnish and clean. There are always trade-offs.

Turn off social media. Perhaps, you feel poor when you compare your life with others on social media who are raving about their gorgeous brilliant grandchildren, traveling the world (or part of it with Covid-19), buying fancy cars and second homes and have so many more FB friends than you do. It makes us feel an insufficiency we didn’t know we had. We suggest it’s time to be grateful for what we have—family, friends, healthcare insurance, a stack of books. Don’t do any FB comparisons or any kind of comparison. That’s detrimental.

Set goals. Instead of spending money at every opportunity, do something healthy that’s free like take a long walk through the park or in your neighborhood with all those cute houses. Photograph the foliage. It will make you feel richer that you were able to take in the air, trees, flowers, songs of the birds, hustle and bustle of other flaneurs, bikers and runners. You are part of something greater than your finances that really do not define who you are.


Read a book. It’s free and enriches your mind. A book can take you to faraway places where you won’t catch Covid-19 or have to spend a dime. With the right books, you can go back in time or leapfrog to centuries ahead without hopping a plane and wearing a mask and face shield.

Do a good deed. Help someone who might be having trouble crossing the street, provide directions to the person with the quizzical look, give half of the chocolate chip cookies you baked to your doorman or neighbor. Be kind. Hold the door open for an elderly person or give up your seat on a bench or on the subway. Barbara recently let a young graduate of her college park her new car in her driveway until she secured the license plates. She didn’t know her but knew it would be fine. The young woman was so appreciative that Barbara felt she had shared with her a goldmine. Making someone’s day a bit better because you cared is the richest feeling in the world.

Match a gift. It’s easy to give money and feel richer having done so. How? You donate to feed starving children or to fund research to conquer a terrible disease. Even $5 to $10 can help since many organizations care about the percentage of givers for matching gifts. Small amounts won’t deplete your cash flow big time, and the bigger reward is that the brain sends you a blast of feel-good chemicals. If you really don’t have money to spare, give of your time. Walk a dog for a homebound senior. Pack up meals and deliver them to the elderly. The ROI is a surfeit of rich feelings.

Pare down to a few tchotchkes of value. Why leave stuff behind for your heirs to clean up and have to sell or donate. Keep just enough good and practical items so that you feel rich enough and add love to your home, especially sentimental value. It doesn’t take a lot. Then sell and make a few bucks or donate the rest to make someone else’s life richer and more interesting.

Keep enough for emergencies. You will feel far richer if you know you have enough to pay the rent, insurance, buy food, afford doctors, insurance and other essentials. The rest is the proverbial icing on the cake!

Make a new friend or more. Nothing makes you feel better or richer. To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life really valuable and will help promote good mental health and longevity. Barbara feels she’s gotten through the pandemic so well because of two different Zoom groups of childhood friends some of whom she didn’t know well, some of whom were pals from kindergarten, daily calls with Margaret for work and pleasure and lots of laughs, and certain other friends and family members. Margaret says, “Ditto.”

Count your blessings and think positive. Instead of making assumptions, which we’ve written about, be realistic. A dress that doesn’t measure up to exactly what you wanted but is more than good enough is great. A cake that tastes good but wasn’t exactly what you thought is okay. These are minor nuisances. Your family, friends and health are what really matter.    


1 comment

  • Phyllis Evan

    How we go from feelings of being rich or poor – well done

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published