Updated on 07.28.08

Class Warfare and The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm

Marjorie wrote in recently:

I used to enjoy The Simple Dollar until I read about your recovery from credit card debt. You paid off $17,000 in credit card debt in a little over a year? You’re not a poor person, you’re a rich person. You don’t have financial problems and you can’t relate to my situation. I will have to find another website to read.

I receive a comment like this once a week or so. Usually, I brush off the negativity and move on with life, but Marjorie’s comments really struck a chord with me, so I thought I’d address them.

The Simple Dollar has very little to do with “rich” or “poor.” It’s all about spending less than you earn, regardless of how much you earn.

Whether a person makes $20,000 a year or $200,000 a year, a person can save money by following the same basic frugal steps. The high-income person saves just as much at the store clipping coupons as the low-income person does. The low-income person puts just as much cash in their pocket from turning off light switches as a high-income person does. For both, it’s a struggle to overcome the temptation of spending money unnecessarily. For both, it’s a challenge to put away money for the long term when there are so many potential uses in the short term.

Naturally, there are some opportunities available at each income level that aren’t available at other ones. Families with $20,000 a year in income are going to be eligible for certain types of aid. Families with $200,000 a year in income are likely going to be choosing among purchases that aren’t available to the lower-income family.

But the principles don’t change a bit. Both families should seek to spend less than they earn. Both families should always strive to get the most value from their dollar. Both families should always seek to improve themselves using every opportunity available to them.

Here’s another truth: if you don’t understand the basics of managing your money, it doesn’t matter how much you make – you’ll wind up deep in debt. If you don’t manage your money well, it’s very easy to spend significantly more than you earn, no matter your income level.

People at every income level have difficulties managing their money. Simply having a strong income doesn’t mean you suddenly have the ability to manage that income well. I’ve had people write to me earning minimum wage and wondering how they’ll ever pay off a $6,000 car loan. I’ve had others write to me making $500,000 a year but having more than a million dollars in total debt. Both of those people are going to have a difficult road ahead and both are going to have to make some very difficult choices in the coming months.

To say that people at other income levels don’t have financial problems is a class-based insult. People at all income levels have financial problems. Similarly, to say that people at other income levels don’t understand the “plight” of your income level implies that a person at a certain income level has never experienced anything else, which is nonsense. I grew up near the poverty line – I know what it means to not have a lot of money and to have to really stretch to make ends meet. Luckily, I now earn more.

But if there’s one truth I’ve found from writing The Simple Dollar, it’s this: almost every good money-saving idea I have I can easily share with my parents. They’re in a completely different financial state than I am with a much lower income, but we constantly apply the same tactics. We clip coupons. We garden. We read because it’s fun and cheap. We drive late model used cars until they’re about to fall apart. And on and on and on.

What are the differences? My mortgage was almost ten times more than the one they took out in the late 1970s. I had more credit card debt than they ever had by a factor of at least five. I had $40K in student loan debt – neither of them ever had a dime of it. I may earn more, but my debt situation was far worse.

What’s the message here? It doesn’t matter how much you earn or how much debt you have, the basic principles of getting your financial life in shape are the same. Spend less than you earn. Resist temptations. Learn how to cut your spending. Create a debt reduction plan and execute it.

We’re all doing this, together. It’s not about rich or about poor – it’s about getting our financial lives back on track, and we all use the same tools to get there. That’s something everyone can strive for.

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  1. Movingonup! says:

    I totally disagree. When I was $15,000 in debt, I found your website and one year later I’ve paid off over $7000 in credit cards. I will still continue to read your blog because you always give me something to think about. Thank you for inspiring me to get my butt in gear!

  2. That is a strange sentiment…while those of us with a lower income won’t be able to pay off debt as fast as you did, the way to better finances is pretty much the same across the board.

    I don’t know what type of financial website will meet this person’s needs better…a lot of the things I post on my site are things similar to what you do, even though I don’t make as much as you do. Frugality is frugality, regardless of how much money you have.

  3. It’s sad you have to face these attacks, Trent. I’ve even read posts where people define you as self-righteous. I don’t get it. You provide an honest and insightful site for helping us. You detail, with complete transparency, about how poor choices and pride put you in a very scary spot. To me, you are to be congratulated for the toughness you displayed in getting rid of $17K worth of credit card debt. I’m sure it was an exhausting struggle. It probably still gives you anxiety.

    It seems like some people enjoy hearing others recount their mistakes, stupidity, and shortcomings, but they do not want to see them succeed through grit, sacrifice, or sticking to a plan.

    Just know you provide a valuable resource and you do it in a humble way. Don’t change your approach, buddy. You have too much to offer your readers.

  4. liv says:

    I don’t make much and I know people who make a LOT…but everyone likes to save money regardless of income levels.

    I relate to some posts and others not-so-much, but the bottom line is saving money.

  5. Excellent points all ’round. Marjorie seems a little confused, to say the least. You never presented yourself as a poor person, nor did you ever say that your blog was about poverty. Your blog is about frugality, and frugality may be practiced, as you rightly point out, by anyone, regardless of income or debt level.

    Maybe Marjorie only wants to hear from poor people. I hope she’ll find her impoverished guru to show her the way. I’d rather hear from someone who has pulled themselves out of debt through discipline, creativity, hard work, self-motivation, and perseverance, regardless of income level. That person, whatever their net worth, would not be “poor” in my eyes.

  6. Marcin says:

    I think Trent work’s a lot harder the most people reading this post including me.

  7. Kevin says:

    Wow, instead of congratulating you for being disciplined and paying off debt instead of blowing it only the latest and greatest widget, she assumes none of the principles you write about can apply to others. Pretty closed minded if you ask me.

  8. Todd says:

    I agree with everything you say here, Trent, and I love reading your blog. Maybe Marjorie is just frustrated by all of the many things that are indeed harder when you are truly poor. I might save a lot of money buying a used car, but what if someone couldn’t afford ANY kind of car at all? I save money by charging fewer restaurant meals on my credit cards, but what if they have to shop at a nearby convenience store? What if the only kind of housing someone can afford is unsafe or even terribly dangerous? These are hard things to overcome, and they might require a different kind of advice than TSD is designed for.

    I know I can always have the things I want if I just whip out my credit cards, but I am choosing not to do so. Most of us are dealing with many, many such financial choices. Some have fewer choices, so we should probably deal with Marjorie’s frustration sympathetically, even if she isn’t sympathetic in return. On the other hand, you are absolutely correct that anyone can save some money, even if it’s just a little. And your blog become all the more valuable the more money someone makes.

  9. Kay says:

    Maybe Majorie would come back if you told her that you only make about $50,000, had bankruptcy and cleared $17000 in 5 years?
    It doesn’t matter where you start or how much you have. I have friends that make twice as much and I still save more than they do!
    Don’t get me wrong, I always felt that those that made more had it easy and I also used to think that all bloggers had alot of money. I have learned that this too is not true.
    However it goes, the more money you have, likely the more bills you have.
    I think Trent does an excellent job keeping us all informed of ways to save money and we ALL benefit!

  10. jes says:

    I find very inspiring the story of how you got out of debt through tough choices and determination — because I have access to those qualities, too. If you did it,I can do it. That’s what makes your blog so inspiring and relevant to me.

  11. April says:

    I had this conversation with a friend from a well-to-do background (parents had advanced degrees and summer homes, he went to prep school and Harvard), and I was ribbing him about class privilege. My friend countered with the same thing Trent said: everyone struggles dealing with money. Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president, was born into Southern aristocracy, but he died deeply in debt.

  12. Jim says:

    One might also add that a poor person following Trent’s suggestions might save a much higher percentage of their total income (i.e. since as Trent points out, the value of coupons is the same, etc.) This seems to make the suggestions even more pertinent.

    But Marjorie’s sentiment is nothing new. The poor often blame society, rich folks, or government for their problems, rather than taking a hard look at themselves, and accepting responsibility for their own actions.

    In reading Trent’s bio, you can see that as he transformed his life, he did it by taking full responsibility for his situation first.

  13. mike c says:

    I read this blog because I think that most of the stuff that Trent says is reasonable, even though I do not think that everything applies to me.

    Marjorie says that she stopped reading the blog after she found out that Trent may be on a different “income class”. What she should mention, IMO, is which one is the piece of advice that was good before she found this out, and that has stopped being good after…

  14. writer dad says:

    Living below your means has nothing to do with what those means actually are.

  15. Bonzo says:

    So Marjorie wants to get advice on how to manage money from poor people? That’s like getting advice on real estate from the homeless.

  16. BradM says:

    I am shocked at how people would respond like that. Everything is RELATIVE. 17000 to you may be the same as 1700 to her/us. It’s all relative. Stop passing blame/anger and be responsible.

  17. I used to enjoy the care I received from my physician Dr. Smith – and then one day he sneezed in in front of me – now I need a new doctor!

    Trent, your patience is remarkable, and your indulgence of a weird and nonsensical comment is kind beyond words. I wouldn’t sweat this one.

    Keep up the good work. And no matter what you do, PLEASE don’t demonstrate that these principles actually work by paying off your debt!!!



  18. Linda says:

    No offense, but I can hear what Marjorie is saying. I just don’t understand why she feels compelled to yell at you about it. If she is not making enough to live on, she has to figure out how to increase her income or cut her expenses.

    This might be reverse snobbery, but I don’t think it is appropriate to put a $20K income up against a $200K income. They have little in common just based on the percentages spent on food, shelter, clothing. Heck, at the $200K level there is probably a company gas card so even that wouldn’t need to be budgeted.

    I’m sorry, is this snarky?

  19. Mandy Lloyd says:


    I read your articles every day as well as the ones you often recommend.

    My husband and I have a situation that I don’t see described too often. Our family was “growing up and out” and we felt compelled to get a larger home. The size home we wanted (3,000+ sq ft) put us in a different neighborhood in our small town. Wow! Have we felt the shock. While we only went up 33% in square footage our bills have doubled.

    For example, EVERYTHING in this house seems to be supersized.
    What used to work for the front porch flower pot at the old house now looks dwarfed in this neighborhood. New flower pot $100. Flowers to fit in it $40. Old house – $25 new pot each spring. (Is there a tax deduction for all these flowers- HA!)

    The yard – We now have a $4,000 sprinkler that waters our 3/4 acre each night. Sending our water bill up to $95/month. Old house – $30/month and a garden hose.

    The dog – We also have installed an underground electric fence to keep our house dog from running all over the neighborhood. Cost – $200. Old house – free – we kept him on a chain (unheard of in this neighborhood.)

    Holiday decorations – Don’t even want to go there.

    Car – We look hilarious driving our fully owned, old model cars in this neighborhood. I just keep telling myself they’re paid for.

    The last example is the biggest kicker – even though there are many more.

    EVERYONE (Family, friends, co-workers, workers, contractors) think we have oodles of money (because you know we live in such & such neighborhood). This is not the case, but we are constantly told this.

    We are financially frugal. The only debt we have is the mortgage. I’m not worried about keeping up with the Jones’ but I have been blown away with how pricey the extra square footage has turned out to be. We did not begin to think about the Total Cost of Ownership when we began building. We only thought of the house payment and maybe a hint of higher utilites.

    We have some hilarious stories and we truly look like the Clampets sometimes next to the neighbors. I just wish I had been forewarned. Your thoughts…

    Sorry for the length.

  20. Amanda says:

    Marjorie seems to be deeply, deeply confused. If her misplaced notions about “class” lead her to throw simple and useful advice back in the faces of those who give it (advice that, before she knew you were of a higher “class,” she seemed to find valuable) then it really isn’t so surprising that she finds herself still in financial trouble.

    The idea is to move UP, not stay where you are. If you’re only taking financial advice from people who started out and have always remained poor, then… well, doesn’t it make sense that you’d always stay poor yourself? Lord.

  21. Andie says:

    Heh. I started reading this site when I suddenly moved from $15K to $150K/yr. I don’t read this or other financial sites because someone has my life story. I read because it’s like being part of a community that cares about life and living life freely instead of being slaves to debt and marketing. I actually didn’t feel I needed much financial advice when I was making $15K–pretty much spent less than I earned and tried to sock away a few dollars here and there. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

  22. j says:

    i started reading TSD right out of college after moving to a new city (LA!) and buying a car (yes, brand new). let’s just say that since reading the TSD buying a brand new car is the last major financial mistake i will make (i hope, no one’s perfect)

    this is what i love best about TSD – it is helping me learn what i need to know to AVOID debt. my generation has grown up with costco, suvs, and the explosion of web-based technology (spend more, spend more).

    with my family it has always been “spend your money b/c you deserve it”. the TSD has helped me take responsibility for my finances b/c it presents advice that comes from a helpful and frugal place.

    i am now learning that saving that money is an even better way to pat myself on the back.

  23. Bill Davis says:

    I agree with Linda. First off, if you don’t like something, leave it. It was good that Marjorie got it “off her chest” but I disagree with her method. It’s certainly not Trent’s fault that she is frustrated.

    He simply writes from the heart and personal experience. I have never found him to be condescending, which is what I infer Marjorie thinks from her comments.

    However, I suggest that she find somebody to follow. It’s always easier to follow somebody with your personal tastes, philosophy, and inclinations.

    Marjorie, find somebody to follow.

    It’s really that simple.

    Another thing: Earn more than you spend.

    We get it backwards all the time. There’s far more earning potential than cost-cutting potential. Here’s the exercise: Live in a box. Eat stuff people throw away. Quit your job. You’re no better off than when you had stuff.

    Now, go get a job. See? When earnings > expenses, you have a personal profit. When expenses > earnings, you have what the government calls a deficit.

    You can earn your way out of any situation. However, you cannot reduce your spending to less than zero (unless you count paying down debt and saving as negative spending), as a practical matter. We all need food, shelter, and clothing, at the very least.

  24. D.B. says:

    You write an excellent blog. The skills you teach and demonstrate in your own life are applicable to EVERYONE, regardless of income. I wish that more people, particularly teenagers and young adults would learn the financial tenets you present in this blog, as the knowledge would help them in the long run to start on a sound financial path and avoid the pitfalls of debt.

    As for information sources, I read all kinds of books and blogs and learn something of value from each and every one. I have ZERO debt and still read this blog and other blogs dedicated to personal finance, frugal living, and other subjects. I may not agree with all of the opinions and ideas presented, but each blog makes me THINK and evaluate my own situation, prompting me to ask myself in what ways I can improve my life.

    I think that is the true value of education – to be able to process information, evaluate it rationally, and then apply it to one’s own situation in the world at large.

    Thank you, Trent, for keeping the faith and continuing your mission to provide sound financial information to the blogosphere.

  25. wally says:

    I read this website every week and wish that I would have known about it when my wife and I ran up 18k in debt. We were serious about paying it off and it took us 10 months to do so. Although we both have jobs, we still had to use the same principles that are advocated on this site to decrease our debt. We overpaid on the monthly payment, we saved money through coupons, eating out less, basically spending below our means. I have this problem with students that I teach all the time. They have lifestyle inflation and think that they can afford something because they make a certain amount. I tell them all the time, it’s not the amount that you spend, but the amount that you save. Keep up the good work Trent, anyone who feels this way is not ready to begin to get rich slowly.

  26. George says:

    Some people respond better to advice coming from those struggling with the same battles. This is why many addiction counselors have to be ex-addicts rather than non-addicts. However, the advice might still be the same, so the validity is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

  27. Suzanne says:

    People at all income levels have financial problems….That statement is very accurate. I’m fairly new to your blog but so much of what I’ve read has helped me to start working on my own financial problems.

  28. Craig Klein says:

    “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. I wish someone had given me a copy of that book 20 years ago. I get the same thing from your blog – the things my peers aren’t telling me.

  29. kim says:

    I think the gap between low income and middle income is much smaller than people realize. I have three kids and so does a good friend. We make 95K a year, she and her husband make about 30K. She receives food assistance in both the form of food stamps and free school lunches for her kids. She qualifies for heating assistance and a rebate on her property taxes each year through a state program. They qualify for the state run health insurance with very small copays and no monthly insurance payments they pay almost nothing for prescriptions. We belong to the same gym. She is on a scholarship and pays only 1/3 of the monthly family fee. She is returning to school and receives about 10K in grants to cover tuition. Here two preschool children attend school for free. I estimate those benefits are worth at least 40K per year. We pay significantly out of pocket for all those same expenses and are in a much higher tax bracket to boot! That doesn’t make our incomes equal, but there is not nearly the discrepancy that there seems to be. What do we have that she does not? Choice. I don’t have to live within the parameters that she does.

  30. Shanel Yang says:

    I got similar backlash from my post “How I Paid off $50,000 of Debt in One Year” ( http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/23/how-i-paid-off-50000-of-debt-in-one-year/ ) . I don’t get it. The more we pay off in a shorter time — even as a result of hard work and personal sacrifices and lifestyle changes — the less meaningful it is to others in debt?

  31. Thea says:

    Being in debt is not an earning problem, per se. It’s a spending problem. If your debts are out-of-hand, living paycheck to paycheck is the same no matter in the income level. Looks like Marjorie is just looking for someone else to blame instead of taking a good look at her own habits. Perhaps she is in a more dire hole than you were, but it takes the same dicipline to get out of it.

    Ms. Marjorie: are you using free internet at the library? If not, that’s ~$20/month for an ISP. There’s always room to trim, honey. You should start with the sour grapes.

  32. kim says:

    I meant to say that “her two children attend preschool” not “here two children”.

    I also wanted to add that the most frightening thing on her financial radar is not a layoff or illness, but a small to moderate raise in pay. They are only a few thousand dollars away from losing most of their benefits. If that happens BEFORE she finishes her degree (which will raise the family income significantly), they will be in complete financial ruin as they will lose most of their benefits.

  33. Chiara says:

    Trent, you may want to link back to a book review you did a while back that addressed this very issue. Sadly, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was that drill-sargeant-type guy who wrote in his book about the difference between “poor” and “broke” and I thought it was great. He addressed himself to “broke” people (presumably middle-class debtors, although that covers a wide range) and said solutions to actual poverty are complicated and outside the scope of his book.

    I’m of the mind that “the poor with always be with us” for many reasons and will always need support one way or the other. But those of us born with enough privileges to not be/stay poor shouldn’t voluntarily become part of the problem. I think that’s what this site is all about.

  34. Cindy says:

    I think that people attack someone out of frustration, because they just are not yet at the same level of learning and understanding. The simple dollar blog hits a nerve and like an injured animal, they lash out from instinct. Anyone that takes the time to read the “plethora” of material on this website is truly looking to change their life. Keep up the “fantastic work” and when people are not ready for the information, they will “weed” themselves out of the garden of knowledge.

  35. Pchan says:

    Trent, I like your blog a lot, and find it useful, even though you are way out of my league income wise (I’d never be able to pay off $17K in the short amount of time you did).

    I wrote a really long-winded post but I think I’ll just give the nutshell version of my reaction to her email: This sounds like frustration on her part (and having been there myself, I can totally understand this frustration). When you’re making next to nothing, already do everything the PF bloggers and big-name pundits advise, and are still not getting ahead, it’s, well, frustrating. I remember when I was broke and underpaid–I wanted to throttle the folks who told me not to eat out and not to buy lattes. (Oh, hey! Thanks! Guess what–I already refrain from eating out and sucking down lattes, kthxbai. And it was really insulting to me, because these folks just assumed that I was blowing my money on Starbucks and Manolos for Heaven’s sake.)

    I don’t think she’s declaring war on you or anything–I think she’s hurting and very frustrated and angry.

  36. Katy McKenna says:

    I have a young friend in the $20,000 income range, and my husband and I are closer to the $200,000 range. She is divorced, with three little kids. She is in school to become an RN, so her situation will improve dramatically in the next two years. However, she currently qualifies for WIC and food stamps. She takes her kids to our city’s fine Children’s Hospital whenever needed, at no charge. She pays no health insurance premiums. She is eligible, I’m sure, for one of those subsidized apartments in the nice part of town–I know families who have literally paid $1/month to live there–but she does live in a modest home with a reasonable mortgage. I believe it would be accurate to say she has no tax liability whatsoever. She is receiving grants for her education.

    We make ten times the income. Two of us in the family, both self-employed. Our kids are grown. Our health insurance, before we switched to HSAs, was $15,000/year. We paid for our kids college outright, and of course, qualified for no assistance. We are eaten alive by taxation. I AM NOT COMPLAINING. But I will say this: A year ago, we found ourselves in way too much debt. Ridiculous I know, but it happens. We paid off ALL our debt in one year, except our mortgage. We owe very little on our home compared to its value, and could easily pay it off in the coming year.

    Even though we may be in a better situation than some folks here, I have learned a LOT from Trent and his experiences. I admired his fortitude so much that I adopted it as my own. My young friend is doing very well, considering her education will soon put her in a great situation. She is already conservative with her choices.

    This site has something for everyone. Young, old, rich, poor and everyone in between. I for one appreciate it tremendously.

  37. Fostermamas says:

    I think Marjorie NEEDS this website more than she realizes. If her “situation” is being in debt then I think you provide the most honest, down-to-earth advice about educating yourself to make better choices -than anyone I’ve ever read.

  38. jake says:

    It doesnt make sense, she wants the blind the lead the blind, so-to-speak. In other words she only follows those who are poor, but then if the person whom you listen to is always poor, then how do you know his advice on getting out of debt is good advice? Its like the guy who’s words are louder then his actions (which Trent is not).

    I would rather listen to a guy who’s been in debt and got out of it. Than a guy who is in debt and continuous to be in debt, yet keeps talking about frugality and how to get out debt by doing such and such (again, which Trent is not).

  39. Lunasea says:

    I really appreciate your site and agree with everything you’ve said about the same principles applying no matter the income.

    That being said, I have to admit that as someone working in social services who earns less than $30,000, it’s hard not to think at times, “Sure, I could spend less than I make if I made $200,000, too.”

    I realize that by and large, people who make more also have higher debt, and I wouldn’t change my choices (working part-time while my kids are small, private school for them), but I understand the frustration of trying to get by when it seems so many people are making so much more than you.

  40. Debbie says:

    I understand where Marjorie is coming from too. I greatly enjoyed this website for about a year until I read here a few months ago that Trent paid off all his credit card debt by taking money out of his 401k. Many people don’t have that option and the struggle is very, very different. I felt like I’d been lied to for a year. I have come back after a couple of months and am starting to enjoy this blog again but I don’t feel as connected. I do think Trent is very inciteful in many of his pieces and there is certainly a lot to be learned here and a lot of inspiration to be found.

  41. I would say that you are probably the best example to follow since you paid off your debt. Don’t know what her situation is but it probably doesn’t have to do with being INTENT on paying off debt.

    Thanks for your great advice. You inspire me and my husband!

  42. Bethany says:

    I have thought what Marjory wrote. I kept reading, but I have some sympathy for her.

    While yes, the practices of frugality are the same regardless of income level, the difference is that once good money-habits were in place, you had a lot more resources to throw against your debt. I know it took a lot of discipline and courage to make real changes in your spending habits, but once you made those changes, you could make progress relatively quickly.

    I just had to stop comparing my progress to yours. Even with frugal habits, I have less left over because I make less total income. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make progress.

    Anyway, I think Marjory is discouraged because what seemed like an inspirational story (yours) turned out to be tainted by the fact that your income exceeded hers (possibly by a lot). She needs to take responsibility for her situation, sure; she also needs hope, plain and simple.

    Arguing that your advice could help her (which I am sure it would) does not address her main complaint that your financial turn around was “easy” in comparison to her perception of her own plight. I think you are a humble enough person to admit that her situation might in fact be more difficult than yours was.

    [Also, I hear some commentators making an equation of less income = less debt, which I think is overly simplistic. You could have wildly different gross incomes and total liabilities and still have the same debt-to-income ratio.]

  43. bethh says:

    I admit that I feel envy when I read about people (including Trent) who were frittering money, and with a brisk wake-up call and some serious buckling down, are able to reverse all the damage in a short period of time.

    Sure, Trent had some advantages that I don’t share: two healthy incomes, to start with, and a low cost of living to boot. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t take effort to move forward, and it doesn’t mean that this blog has nothing to offer. If nothing else it helps me maintain my focus on getting out of debt in the best way that I can.

  44. christy says:

    I disagree with what Marjorie said, but I also disagree with Trent. Yes we can all get into debt, but those who make $20,000 a year fall into debt easier because they are racking up their credit cards buying essential things such as gas, food and school clothes (although they should be thrifty in these areas). Most who make $200,000 rack up their debt paying for things that are truly not essential, such as big TVs or nice vacations that are just a dream for most poor folks.

  45. clint says:


    I have been working with people like this for years. it is a mindset that makes the difference. The way we think about money is what is important. Not how many zeros are in our pay check. I call this “it works for you but not for me” mindset the “pore mans mindset” if you think you are pore and bad things happen to you than they will and your are.

    Keep up the great work, and take a Va-ca some time.

    You need it.

    Clint Lawton


  46. Megan says:

    It is frustrating to me that there’s a perception of wealth in this country that makes people think that everything is rosy when you have lots of money.

    You can just as easily have “financial problems”, as Marjorie calls them, being “rich” as you can being “poor.” In fact, you can most likely get yourself in a lot more trouble with higher earnings because credit card companies give you the high credit limits to match–i.e. enough rope to hang yourself with.

    Marjorie’s statement reminds me of a post that Frugal Dad wrote a few months ago about the language of the perpetual poor. Those who identify themselves as poor often have a victim’s mentality.

    I am by no means a rich person, and am probably poorer than I’d like to admit, but the two main principles of frugality that Trent and so many others advocate apply to me and everyone else I know: (1)spend less than you earn, (2) increase your earning potential.

  47. bunnys says:

    i love reading this blog, but i do find it hard to relate to. i am so jealous every time you bring up that you switched yr habits and paid off all that debt in a single year. because i worry that i’ll never make more than $30k a year and, even more so, that i’ll have repeats of last year’s $11k income.
    like i can’t fathom having an emergency fund, much less the time it will take to pay off this debt. i’m currently barely getting by. there are small things i could do to save maybe $50 a month, but i think if i made those changes, i would probably end up spending more money to entertain myself.
    the difference between the $20k family and the $200k family is that though they can make the same changes in their lives, the $200k family will likely see the results much sooner than the $20k family. and that right there makes all the difference in the world. the burden of time, of doing without when you already have little for years and years, that is the major difference.

    i own my financial situation because it has allowed me to do some amazing things (i accrued a lot of debt so i could make two major moves within a year). sometimes i wonder what life would be like if i’d stayed in my comfort zone and saved my money, but i look back on what i left and know that i wouldn’t have been happy. in my case debt was sort of worth it.

  48. I would like to add one more thing to your excellent response.
    Besides being about spending less than we earn, simple dollar also helps us make the right choices about money.
    It doesn’t matter whether somebody is in debt or not, if we want to get the most out of the money we earn, then we must make the right choices about money.
    I dont have any debt, but I still follow through your blog, because I am trying to save as much as I can for my future financial goals, and I find that your blog has sound advice on many things.

    So, in my opinion money management is not limited to being debt free, its also about (to quote it in a cheesy way) “Getting the most bang for your buck”.

  49. Jared says:

    If you really want to point out how even the richest of people can have financial problems, two words:

  50. Susan in CA says:

    Hi Trent,

    I am 43 and have a BBA in accounting and an MBA in accounting and finance. For me, managing money has always been FUN! The older I get, the more people I meet, I realize that, hmmm, everyone doesn’t think like I do! There are people who need other people who understand money just like I need someone to fix my car when it starts making funny noises!

    The thing I have enjoyed about your blog is learning HOW YOUNG you are and how you “get it” about money. You’ve been on a journey but most people take MUCH LONGER to understand what you do at this point in your life. Being where you are at this age is such a huge advantage for you and your family.

    I’m proud of you!

  51. LC says:

    I have heard similar things. “You cannot save 50% of your income!” “It is impossible to raise a family of four in Orange County on $2500.” People just have to get there priorities in order. The first priority is to pay off debt, and you have to be prepared to walk barefoot over broken glass to do that. It is just another of the long line of excuses, you are lucky not to hear from that person again. It is surprising what you don’t really need. We live pretty good, but we certainly don’t worry about the Joneses, needless to say.

  52. Emily H. says:

    I see Marjorie’s point, even if she was too blunt in stating it.

    If you are making even $65,000 or $70,000 a year, you can fully fund your retirement accounts, fully fund your emergency fund, save up for new cars and home improvements, and still have wiggle room for little luxuries every so often. If you are making $20,000… you can maybe possibly make that happen, but you will go hungry, you will live with roommates, you will never get to do anything that’s fun unless it’s free. And I think that those kinds of sacrifices need to be acknowledged and appreciated. It doesn’t feel good to hear “You have to walk over broken glass to do it” when the person who tells you so is walking on glass in their work boots!

  53. Trent,

    I wonder if Majorie knows about your roots and how you pulled yourself by your own bootstraps.

    To be honest, advice always sticks for me if I know it comes from someone who’s lived through the hardships that the advice is based to encounter.

    I’ve come across some personal finance people that haven’t openly admitted to personally being in huge amounts of debt and overcoming it. While the advice is sound, it just doesn’t …. feel the same way.

  54. Eden says:

    People like that commenter just want someone to blame. I suppose it’s the government’s fault that she doesn’t earn as much money as Trent.

    From my own experience, yeah, it is a lot easier getting out of debt now that I earn a decent income, but it still takes dedication and a commitment to spending less than I earn.

  55. Ms. Clear says:

    I see Marjorie’s point too, though I think she could have said it differently.

    People who are poor in this country face a large number of obstacles. Sites like this are useful to people of all income levels, but deep poverty is depressing and leaves people feeling defeated.

    And legions of comments espousing the benefits of pulling yourself “up by your bootstraps” are just not that helpful.

    There is such a thing as economic injustice. I don’t buy the comments here talking about how lucky people are to have low incomes because of all the great benefits. Maybe isolated cases yes, but plenty of poor people get along without much help at all. Economic injustice is real. What I like least about blogs like these and the comments especially is the tendency to ignore those issues. Rather, we just abuse posters like “Minimum Wage.” Yes, I know he can be annoying, but the endless harping got equally annoying for me.

    BTW, I’m not poor. I’m middle class. But I do recognize the privileges that I have as a member of a relatively successful socio-economic status.

  56. Diana says:

    Well, it’s like this…some people will always see the glass half empty and some will always see it half full. Obviously, her mind set is limited to where she wants to limit it to. So, therefore, if she does not wish to be enlightened any longer, the rest of us will continue to let our little light shine!!!

  57. Jon says:

    Hmm, Trent was raised at near poverty level, got an education, made numerous financial mistakes and then turned his situation around while simultaneously helping others, but his current financial status suddenly devalues his insight? O….K….

  58. JB says:

    People should look to your financial turnaround as an inspiration, not as a turn-off and depressing because they can’t do it as fast.

    While I probably couldn’t pay off that much debt in a year I could if I say, got a second job or increased my skills and got a higher paying job. Or moved to a cheaper area with decreased cost of living. Or got rid of my car and took public transportation. Or cut down on entertainment/dining out. The list is endless..

    ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way” People can do amazing things when motivated to achieve a goal, just like you were.

  59. LC says:

    “It is not how much you earn, it is how much you keep.” I am surprised nobody has mentioned that.

    And yeah, it is pretty hard to talk about getting a better job when you do not even have bus fare to get to work! I can sympathize. I know that economic injustice is real.

    But how do you manage to have such debt at that level? And frankly $70,000 is not high income, (well maybe in Iowa) and does not go far raising a family. If that person is so poor, then how can she afford to throw away hundreds of dollars each month on interest and fees?

  60. Salsaram says:

    Hi Trent, I hope that Marjorie had more positive things and this was not her total statement. It is a shame. By the way, I’m very frugal but also enjoy life. I graduated with a MA from a private school and owed 57,000 dollars in student loans about 2.5 years ago. I make about 30k (and live in SF which is absurdly expensive) but was able to be very attentive and pay off 25k in that time. I now owe 32k and I did things like join Americorps and work in it for the last year of my internship. It paid me a whopping 1100 bucks a month but it also allowed me not to pay interest on my student loans and then gave me a stipend of about 6k right off the bat when I graduated. Your site is intelligent thoughtful and worthwhile. Maybe people want an easy way out instead of dealing with their own issues and mistakes. Look at how many people play the lottery expecting that big pay out instead of saving those bucks and earning interest? Thanks Trent!

  61. LC says:

    Getting out of debt was sudden in my case, and not without high cost, but it was almost the best thing that ever happened to me. It was like being freed after having been a slave. I did not get out of the habit of pinching every penny either, and having money in the bank now is just more toward my ultimate goal of buying my freedom entirely, and becoming financially independent.

  62. I think all of these blogs are targeted towards upwardly mobile, solidly middle class people. Lower demographics, IMHO, have difficulties which few of us are willing to comprehend. Look at undocumented immigrants in this country, for example, which number estimated 10-20 million. No government aid. Tough to advance much, or get education, if you don’t speak English. Don’t see too many coupon offers for beans & rice, nor do I see it possible to start a garden for them when you are living in a three bedroom apartment with 8 other migrant workers. Tough to afford ANY type of car (or even get driver’s license), let alone late-model used car.

    The ironic thing is that this particular demographic has MASTERED the more theoretical aspects of personal finance, being some of the most prolific savers in the country (as measured by the humongous amounts of money they send back to their home countries every year). Plus, it’s rather tough to get credit without an SSN.

  63. Wes says:

    Anytime you deal with the public, you’re going to get some extremely negative comments…no matter how good a job you’re doing (I’m a fan of your site). In my experience, it’s not what you’re doing, it’s something in their life.

    Whether their boss was perceived as being “unfair” to them or their husband was a jerk, it’s much easier to take it out on the guy behind the counter or in this case, the guy running the website.

    It’s tough sometimes, but shrug it off if you can. I agree with the folks above, your advice is sound and well-written. This young lady obviously has bigger issues in her life.

  64. danielle says:

    Where’s minimum wage when you need him? He’d be all over this!

  65. juliecache says:

    I learned long ago that no matter what your income is, you still want to feel like you got a good deal. If you buy anything, no matter what your income, you don’t want to get ripped off. Keep up the good work at The Simple Dollar!

  66. Tony says:

    The only problem I have with your reply is “Luckily, I now earn more”.It was like you are almost apologizing for how much you now earn. Luck has nothing to with it, Your earnings are a result of the things you did to improve your situation in life.

  67. Charlie says:

    I agree with Marjorie. There is a BIG difference between someone who has debt because they bought too many SUV’s, live in too big of a house, or have too many clothes and debt from necessities like fixing your car or medical bills, etc. The latte factor is a piece of crap. You can’t cut out things you never spent money on to begin with. You can’t stop going to the movies when you don’t go in the first place. You can’t cut out cable you never had. You can’t start going to Goodwill when that’s where you’ve been going your whole life.

    You are great for people who simply need to “straighten out”. But, I agree you probably can’t help Marjorie.

  68. Tony says:

    “Undocumented” Immigrants should get back in line right behind all the “Documented”(I guess LEGAL is another word for it)Immigrants is see being naturalized every so often down at the courthouse. What part that don’t you clowns understand.

  69. Lurker Carl says:

    Interesting views.

    Marjorie isn’t as bad off as she would like us to think. Truly impoverished people are not worried about how quickly anyone here pays off their debts. Without reliable access to basic utilities like electricity or plumbing, they aren’t likely to be surfing the net. Keeping shelter and seeking tomorrow’s meals is a higher priority.

    A low standard of living in today’s society is the middle class lifestyle of 50 years ago. Every household NEEDING a TV, telephone, automobile, air conditioning, central heat, computer, etc is the result of the widespread public demand for luxury items that didn’t exist until very recent times.

    When I didn’t have 2 pennies to rub together, I worked multiple jobs to reverse that economic misfortune. Finding similarly impoverished soulmates on the internet was the last thing from my mind because the personal computer or the world wide web hadn’t been developed yet.

  70. Carlos says:

    Saving for retirement is next to impossible when your income is low. I would actually cite this as a very valid class warfare issue, since SS will likely vanish (or be reduced to a shell of its present self) in our lifetimes.

    Otherwise, as has been said, the numbers change, but the ratios don’t. I work with several people who earn $400,000/year+ (really). A lot of these folks borrow money from their parents when they hit a rough patch.

    If I earned that much for five years in a row, I could retire. I don’t, so it’s moot.

    They do, and will never earn enough to fund their lifestyles.

    You’re “rich” in my book when you have enough income to fully fund your (and your spouse’s) IRA and 401k/403b plans, make all payments (mortgage, insurance, credit cards), and take a nice vacation twice a year, and, the big one, have no debt.

    I’m personally with Dave Ramsey on the “don’t have a mortgage” strategy. I paid off our house three years ago; my wife wants to move to a bigger house – I can’t see it. A lot of people think we’re “poor” since we live in our first house (which isn’t 3600 sq. feet and on three acres).

    I love our 2000 sq. foot house with a small yard. No mortgage = no pressure.

    There’s that other axiom though:
    happy wife = happy life.

  71. Amit says:

    I see these statements absurd at best. Well when Trent was in debt, a lot more people associate and sympathize with him becuase he was poor or in a bad situation. Ones he is out of debt or rich, doesnot disqualify him for giving financial information/advise. I think it qualifies him even more..its like…i was there( debt) before..i am out of it and you can do it by applying the same principles..it might take you little longer..but you will succeed if you see yourself through and stick to it.

    I am happy topost my first comment.

  72. Cathy says:

    Tonight while my boyfriend and I were eating dinner, we noticed a guy sleeping behind a trash can across the street. My boyfriend put together a plate of our leftovers and took it over to him. It was a kid about 20ish years old, who was out on the street and homeless. He was embarrassed and said he wasn’t trying to make a fuss, and just needed a place to sleep before he went to work.

    If Marjorie was writing her nasty gram from a warm home with an internet connection, he’d probably say she was rich.

    All about perspective, ain’t it? Everyone is some one else’s rich.

  73. Sam says:

    Agree, spending less than what you earn is a universal rule that everyone should follow whether you’re poor or rich.

    Fix My Personal Finance

  74. Rob in Madrid says:

    There’s no question that the working poor have it much rougher than the middle class do. Often many are caught in a cycle poverty that feeds on it’s self and is very difficult to break. Having said that the same principals still apply. Learn how to break the cycle that keeps you in debt/poverty. The Tightwad Gazette is just applicable to the working poor as it is to the middle class.

  75. PChan says:

    Ms. Clear, I want to second everything you said.

    I posted my thoughts last night at around 8:00 or so, got a note they were in moderation, and haven’t seen them since. I’m glad to see a few folks like Ms. Clear echo them.

  76. Jules says:

    Anybody who spends themselves + $17K into credit card debt has (had) a financial problem.

    I love this blog, even when I disagree with it (seriously, knitting isn’t as cheap as you think it is). We’re at the bottom of the income barrel here in Holland, at least as far as having disposable income goes, but because we both subscribe to the principles of frugality that you elaborate on, we don’t feel poor.

  77. Emily H. says:

    Needing an automobile is not a result of society’s demand for luxury items; it is a result of abysmal urban planning and public transportation in most of the U.S.

  78. Oliver says:

    I think the advice you give out is great Trent. Spend less than you earn is a lot harder when you have a low income but all the small tips (like clipping coupons, changing lightbulbs) helps to achieve that goal. Of course, if you’re on a high income those tips wont help as much if you’ve got a proportionally higher debt but you may find it easier to spend less than you earn (by being more frugal in general).
    I’m glad I found this website and I’m sure many people are more financially smart from reading it.

  79. kim says:

    Frugal Bachelor, undocumented people don’t get benefits because they are criminals. They are working and living in this country against the laws of this nation. They need to leave not get aid. If they can obtain a legal immigrant status, then there are financial benefits available to them. If you sneak into a movie, do you deserve to see the show because you made it through the door or are you still guilty of theft of service?

  80. Joe says:

    Hi Trent, I think so many people are thankful for your articles, it’s not worth spending your time with this kind of “readers”. Why should anyone jump off just because you earn a lot with thesimpledollar? Basically, this only shows how good you have learnt dealing with money in both ways – earning and spending. If Marjorie wants to follow a poor blogger who stays poor – let her do so ;)

    Anyway – God must love strange people because he makes so many of them …

  81. Glblguy says:

    Great answers Trent. Marjorie is a victim caught up in the view point that you stuck with what you perceive you are.

    I personally believe you decide whether you are rich or poor and what you earn is directly proportional to how hard you work.

    Marjorie, quit being a victim and stop being “poor”.

  82. Ms. Clear says:

    Reference #52 for an example of an unhelpful comment. I wouldn’t read here either if I was in Marjorie’s circumstances.

  83. Chere says:

    This is the best, least condemning and intimidating financial place I have seen. I feel overwhelmed and afraid a lot of the time, and this feeling doesn’t lend itself to any kind of healthy wellbeing.

    Specifically, I would like a simple way to manage monthly household expenditures (not the big stuff like mortgage), but little stuff like groceries, household stuff, and incidentals. We fritter away several hundred dollars a month. Any ideas how to track this simply?

    Thank you for your honest and simple approach.

  84. Ronnie says:

    Good lord… reading through these comments, I think Marjorie’s point is stronger than it was originally.

  85. derringer says:

    It would do many people well to understand that everything is relative. As a few have stated, there is *always* someone who makes more money than you and *always* someone who makes less. If you are going to base your entire judgement of their opinions on how much money they make, you are completely missing the point.

    There are those that make 300,000 per year that have comparitively small retirement savings and will have to sell their homes to retire. There are those making 200,000 a year with negative net worth– up to their eyeballs in debt.

    The point of spending less than you make is one that anyone can learn and benefit from. Having envy over someone else’s income level blinds you from seeing the quality in their advice.

    I find it appalling how quick people are to blame their circumstances on their income levels, when that is *rarely* the issue. Live within your means and you can attain your goals, regardless of income. That is the point of this site, and the author does a very good job of providing information designed to help you get there. Don’t be so quick to ‘find a new site,’ lest you ignore what you should be paying attention to to change your situation for the better.

  86. April says:

    Ms. Clear and Marjorie certainly have an interesting take on things, but people who think that they can’t get any good advice from TSD or similar sites just because the writer is in a higher income bracket are the same types of people who refuse to help themselves.

    I know there are poor people struggling to make ends meet, but if you really think that none of the advice posted on this site could be of any help to you, than you aren’t even trying to better your situation. Trent is right. Clipping coupons, conserving energy, gardening, etc. apply to everyone. If you refuse to read just because Trent makes more money than you, you’re missing the point, and you’re probably right, there’s nothing here for you.

    “And legions of comments espousing the benefits of pulling yourself ‘up by your bootstraps’ are just not that helpful.”

    Than what is helpful? Should we all say, “Poor Marjorie?” Poor, helpless Marjorie who can’t do a thing to ever improve her situation? I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think many of us are saying that it CAN be done.

    One of my good friends comes from a family of 10 migrant workers. One day when they were working in the fields, his mom told him that if he didn’t like doing this kind of work, he better go to college. So he did. Then he got his masters degree. Now he’s highly successful. I just know of too many cases where people found ways to improve their situation, all because they “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.” Many of these people had the added hurdle of English as their second language. My best friend had two kids at a young age, and their father left her. He doesn’t pay child suport. She had to live off of food stamps and the generosity of family members, but now she has a good job and she can support herself and her kids.

    If you think nothing can help you and no advice can apply to you, than I truly feel sorry for you because you will always remain right where you are now.

  87. OneLoveTwoAccounts says:

    I want to throw a different light on the idea that more “wants” are being – incorrectly – considered “needs” than in decades past.
    While I will agree that many things mentioned are not strictly needed to *survive*, if we’re going to talk about advancing into or as part of the middle-class, I don’t think you can consider a computer a “want” any more. You may not need a 2.6GHz processor and 4GB of RAM, but if you don’t have some method to train yourself, *many* middle class jobs are completely unavailable to you. Yes, you can go to a community college or the library, but for the most part, having one at home, where you don’t have restricted access and you can do you homework to learn the word processor, or spread sheets, or database entry work is going to advance you much faster.
    I’m not just throwing this out in theory; my MIL left nursing when no computers were needed, raised two boys, and since re-entering the work force cannot keep a job because she never kept up with computers and takes too long to learn the data entry. She is always being replaced by younger nurses who can learn or already know the computer interfaces. If she were a single woman trying to make it on her own, it seems even her previous education and experience would not be enough to keep her in the middle class.
    OK, I got there the long way but my point is this: tech skills are becoming a need for almost all jobs, so considering a computer a “want” WILL keep or put people in a lower class. Nostalgia for an age past when “needs were less” doesn’t make today’s necessities extravagant.

  88. Julie says:

    It never before occurred to me to think about how much money Trent makes. I get great advice and ideas here and tons of inspiration to work on my personal situation. It also never occurred to me to bash Marjorie or name-call after reading a few lines she wrote and knowing nothing or her real circumstances. Interesting that so many people got upset and, in a few cases attacked her.

    While the $20k to $200k comparison might be valid, there’s a whole other world out there that isn’t mentioned. It’s the group that makes just enough to not qualify for any assitance (except in the form of plastic). My mom is in that group. She works 7 days a week and wouldn’t accept assistance even if she did qualify. But to say she just needs to pull up by the bootstraps and clip more coupons is moronic. Some people are already doing all the frugal things and still barely scraping by with no chance for getting ahead. Life happens and we don’t all have the same resources (whether they be education, or food stamps) available to us.

    I’m not saying we need to throw Marjorie a pity party, but we also don’t need to kick her while she’s down…especially when we have no real clue as to what she is facing. It would have been interesting to see a real follow up with Marjorie where we find out more about her circumstances and if TSD is really a beneficial site for her (I’m sure it would be). Digging out of debt and getting ahead is hard, sometimes overwhelming…I guess most of these commentors have never blown a fuse or lost it in the midst of it all. Otherwise they may have found a way to affirm Trent while still extending a little grace to Marjorie.

  89. I find it odd that everyone seems to be defining rich as a monetary thing. As a tax preparer I know a lot of people who are wealthy. And in my own mind set the majority of my cliental are not “wealthy” but I would say that the vast majority are rich. I am sure it is all in the way one defines rich, but to say you are not a poor man but a rich one. . . I can only assume that the richness of what makes you is shining through. And Marjorie sees this and I am going to assume then that she is offended by it. I only hope that people will see the richness that I assume I have. I assure you money, having it, doesn’t make one a “rich person” a lesson I am having to teach my children.
    You’ll move on. Of this I am sure.

  90. momof4 says:

    You do a great job trent and almost all of the tips you give can be universally applied, regardless of income level. If Marjorie is at a lower income level it will take her longer and it may be harder, but she can still do it.

  91. Ms. Clear says:

    ITA with Julie.

  92. Ms. Clear says:

    Furthermore, Marjorie never said that the tips here weren’t helpful to her. She expressed frustration with someone writing for an audience that can afford to pay off $17,000 in a year. She’s got a point. That’s not something that can be done on a $25,000 per year salary.

  93. Mister E says:

    I can totally sympathize with Marjorie. It is tough sometimes to take advice from someone who clearly has every advantage over you.

    I spent the first 10 years of my working life doing menial jobs. Working very hard for very little pay, no benefits of any kind, always having to count the hours on my paystub because whoever the boss was would routinely skim a few off of each employee to save money. I worked nights and weekends and never had a holiday and only ever called in sick 3 times in those 10 years because calling in sick meant finding a new job quite often or having my hours cut way back for being unreliable. I regularily worked 15-20+ days in a row without a day off and 16+ hours a day some days, on my feet, without a rest and more than one job I had over the years didn’t even give you a lunch break – if you were booked 10 hours you worked on your feet without a break of any kind for 10 hours, you were welcome to scarf a granola bar if you had one in your pocket and it didn’t interfere with work.

    I tell that story not to elicit sympathy, but when I was living like that and I met someone complaining about what a tough week they had at “work” sitting in an air conditioned office in front of a computer I wanted to throttle them, not take their advice. Why, some people would be SO wiped out that they’d have to take a personal day and get a massage, oh the insurance only paid 90% but they just NEEDED a break, it’s tough to stay motivated when you only get 4 weeks of paid vacation a year you know.

    Now I’m the one “working” on a computer and making what, to me 5 years ago, is a wage that just seemed mythical with some pretty good benefits and paid days off for vacation, personal days, moving, funerals, graduations and a laundry list of others. I am also absolutely ENCOURAGED to use my unlimited paid sick days if I’m feeling even slightly under the weather. Most of my friends are still lucky to make 25k a year working way harder than I do and I feel like a heck of a jerk sometimes talking about the most recent time I went out for dinner and drinks on the company tab.

    But I digress.

    There is still much wisdom in some of the things posted here, and Marjorie would not be wise to ignore them just because the author is relatively well off.

  94. QuiteLight says:

    I love this website for the endless array of resources & strategies Trent offers us. They are valuable regardless of income.

    As someone living on a smaller income, I know the frustration of cutting & cutting expenses & still falling behind, but I am falling slower & slower & will eventually turn it around. Sure, with my smaller income, it will take me a lot longer to pay off my debts than someone earning twice what I do & making the same cuts & choices. But I’ll still get there. It’s not a race.

    My parents went from a high double income (nurse & lawyer) to very limited (nurse & full time student with small child (me)) to middle class (nurse & professor). But they lived frugally all the while & paid cash for EVERYTHING; house, cars, everything, and saved enough for my brother & I to go to school all expenses paid (although we worked hard & got limited scholarships), and my mother now enjoys a very financially healthy retirement.

    I want to be just like them.

  95. Mary Beth says:

    So true Trent. You can either get angry or get motivated.

    The studies that track lottery winners underscore your point. Before their win, most lottery recipients had a lot less to work with and most likely did not have good budget managing skills or discipline. That did not change once they had more money. It only compounded the problem.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, as the say. Although my family makes a decent income, we still struggle with finances and discipline. However, after my daughter was diagnosed with an illness that required monthly prescriptions in excess of $1000, we re-worked the budget and found a way to make it happen without going into debt. Reducing spending can be done on almost any income if the desire is there!

  96. Crispy says:

    I find there is a common sentiment among people that when you are reasonably comfortable financially, it is because things are being handed to you, or that you are afforded certain privileges.

    As a kid, I remember winter mornings when the heat was so low in the house that we could see our breath eating breakfast; wearing second hand clothes; and never having the chance to indulge in luxuries like the other kids.

    However, my parents instilled in me the value of hard work and dedication, and that is what kept me going while I was pounding the pavement as an adult trying to find a job to support my family. I don’t feel like anything has been handed to me.

    I don’t disagree with Marjorie, but I do feel that no matter what your personal financial situation, there are opportunities to make progress and not get defeated with whatever happens to be standing in your path. It may take a year, it may take ten, but there is no point in letting yourself get downtrodden by the success of others. There will always be someone who is richer than you. It doesn’t matter – you are living your life, not theirs.

  97. Mary Beth says:

    I can see both sides of the issue on this one. I love The Simple Dollar. I also get frustrated sometimes, not just at this site but at advice in general, to cut back on eating out etc. Every magazine, news cast etc. seems to rerun the same tips. Yes, if you are spending money every week eating out, you can certainly cut back and improve your finances. If however, you are eating out once a year on a special occasion, cutting back on eating out isn’t advice that is going to be of much help to you. Try as I might, I cannot convince my family to stop EATING (only kidding, I don’t try to tell them to stop eating). My DH and I have seen a 50% cut in income in the past two years due to economic downturns in the housing industry. I was always frugal and spent less than he made (we were a one income family for 10 or more years). I took a part time job when my youngest entered school in order to be able to contribute to college funds, retirement etc. It is frustrating to see that what was once extra money for savings now has to go to pay bills and seems to cover less and less each month as prices just keep on rising. So, yes, I can understand the frustration of getting advice to stop eating out, cook from scratch, clip coupons etc. When you are already doing those things, and struggling not to go into debt, that kind of advice can be more frustrating than helpful. On the other hand, it does not take away from the soundness and usefulness of this and other similar websites. Trent publishes lots of reviews of personal finance books and gives a whole slew of money saving ideas on a regular basis. I find the books highly motivational and if they can help me improve my situation, so much the better for me. (Of course I check them out of the library) As far as tips go, if I am already doing 99 out of 100 but I can make my situation a bit better by doing just one new thing, why not! I have recently started making my own detergent and am enjoying the savings from that. I enjoy Trent’s writing, I enjoy reading the comments and if I were to get only one tip a month that I could implement, I would still be better off.

  98. billy says:

    To be fair: I’ve met quite a few homeless people who started out as millionaires, but there are very few millionaires (our cultural obsession with mythologizing them aside) who didn’t start out with some money. Getting out of poverty is a lot harder than getting into it, and I don’t think the tools presented at The Simple Dollar are likely to help anyone in really serious poverty out of it, but they are valuable tools nonetheless, especially if you’re (like most people I know) kind of perpetually on the brink of falling into deep poverty with paycheck to paycheck living. Simple strategies like an emergency fund can be literally life-savers for people who have even a small amount of money to save.

    But if you’re really, seriously, brink-of-homelessness poor, all the frugality and right choices won’t save you (even though everyone you meet will blame your poor choices for your situation). At that point, you’re just getting screwed by everybody, and getting out of that situation without a lot of help from others is a rare and lucky feat. Pretending otherwise with talk of “personal responsibility” is just kicking people while they’re down.

    I can sympathize with Marjorie’s resentment (I’ve spent too long with people on the street not to) but I think it is a bit misplaced. It may well be that The Simple Dollar isn’t what she’s looking for, though, since it’s a website about personal finance for people who can at least possibly spend less than they earn. It’s hard to deal with the other side of that (people who really can’t because of their situation) without running into a lot of politics, something which I’ve noticed Trent tries to avoid.

    A real personal finance site for poor people would need to include things like how to avoid getting a ticket for sleeping outside, strategies for dumpster-diving safe, healthy food (don’t turn your nose up at it till you’ve tried it, honest), strategies for talking to social workers who are already convinced that you’re faking whatever problems you have, self-defense strategies, ways to get loan-sharking payday loans companies out of your neighborhood, ways to kick drugs, how to replace lost or stolen ID when you have no home address (often impossible), complaints processes for different police forces (for when you get beat up by cops, almost inevitable for a lot of homeless people). If that’s what Marjorie is looking for, she’s absolutely right to look elsewhere. However, I don’t think it’s a knock against The Simple Dollar that it doesn’t have this stuff anymore that I can knock a National Newspaper for not having local news specific to my situation, they’re just different topics.

  99. April says:

    Huh. Marjorie didn’t exhibit much “grace” where Trent was concerned. She could have just stopped reading, but she felt the need to send her negativity his way in her e-mail, putting him down for being a “rich person” who “[doesn’t] have financial problems and can’t relate to [his] situation.”

    She made a lot of assumptions about Trent, who, as he said, grew up near the poverty line.

    And I guess if you’re already doing all of the frugal things you can, and no one has any additional suggestions that you can use because you’ve thought of EVERYTHING, then yeah, you should quit reading TSD. Maybe you should write your own blog if you know so much that no one could offer anything new or useful to you.

    I don’t have a problem with Marjorie, I have a problem with people who shut out new ideas or options over something so stupid as the writer’s income level, and then feel the need to send their negativity his way. We can all learn something from each other.

  100. April says:

    And well-said, Crispy.

  101. April says:

    Should be [her], not [his].

  102. Andy says:

    Comment #51… I agree with you 100%

  103. April says:

    @ Kim and Andy:

    Undocumented workers DO get a lot of benefits from the taxpayers. At least they do here where I live.

    My dad is a contractor, and in his line of work he sees plenty of undocumented workers who don’t report income and don’t want to become legal, pay taxes, or pay for healthcare. They have no interest in learning English or obtaining citizenship. One of our good friends is an immigrant who was in their EXACT same place, but he became legal, he pays taxes, and he pays for healthcare. It disgusts him that he did this, and these others CHOOSE not to do the same.

    I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone…that they choose not to do these things…but it is the case for quite a few.

  104. Debbie M says:

    I once heard a radio talk show where a lady with money problems was advised to make changes such as eating out only once a day, moving from an insanely-priced large apartment to a more reasonable 2-bedroom apartment (she was living alone), and keeping her car until it was five years old before replacing it. As a person who never ate out, shared a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate, and had just been living without a car until I could afford to buy a ten-year old one, I found this radio show not only unhelpful but also depressing.

    Most financial advice is written for people in the 28% tax bracket, yet a person making the average income in the US is likely to be in the 15% tax bracket. Financial bloggers are more diverse than other personal finance sites, but they are still weighted upwards. And the fact that no one ever considers themselves rich (except just after reading the website that compares them to other people around the world), can feel disheartening. Reading that you paid off a huge amount of debt is a lot less exciting after reading that your income also seems huge. It seems like, well, of course you can do that, anyone can do that. (Which is, actually, one of your messages!)

    And although most of your strategies do apply across all income levels, I think people at average and below average income levels may use them in different proportions. For example, I’ve read that people on welfare do a lot of bartering with their relatives and neighbors. For example, you might let your relative move in (for free) if they watch your kids while you’re at work and do some of the cooking and cleaning. And if the person living with you is your daffy grandmother or perverted uncle, and so you have to figure out ways to keep your kids safe anyway, well, I don’t think you’ve written about that sort of decision making. Yes, you’ve discussed other situations where your friends or relatives tend to cause problems with your finances, but you can imagine that reading about you having to pay more than your fair share at a restaurant doesn’t feel the same.

    Some of these commenters talk as though if you aren’t making a lot of money, then you are not doing well. One person mentioned a $50,000 income as if that were low and another said that $70,000 is low. Someone said a house of a mere 200 square feet and a small amount of land is moderate. And yet the average salary is $39,000. I have only just recently started making that salary and am nevertheless doing very well. I paid off student loans, I bought a house at age 33 (when I was making less than $20,000 and was single), it will be paid off when I’m 50, I’ve visited foreign countries, I have a low-stress life with lots of time for reading, learning, and playing, and I’m retiring at 52. My main sacrifices are that I live in small dwellings with a roommate and I drive old but reliable cars. (I had a lot of advantages too such as good health, good benefits, no lay-offs, and no dependents.)

    Let me just also add that you cannot “fully fund” your retirement vehicles if you’re making $20,000 a year as someone suggested. The maximum for a 401K is $15,000 (or is it $15,500 now?) and for an IRA it’s $5000. That would be your entire income. Even I don’t fully fund my accounts; I deposit “only” $6,200 per year. (Whenever I read advice to fully fund retirement funds, and this is quite common, I know I’m dealing with yet another writer with an above-average-income audience.)

    Do you actually know of good blogs from people with average or below average incomes you could recommend? I can think of only two. 20 Year Challenge (http://20yearchallenge.blogspot.com/) – low income, but it’s more of a personal finance diary than a list of articles with generalizable ideas. Fabulous Financials (http://fabulousfinancials.com/) has plenty of money now, but her start was very different, so you could recommend starting at the beginning of this. This is also more of a diary-style blog, though.

    Finally, in case you were wondering, this is one of my favorite blogs of all time.

  105. Debbie M says:

    Oh, and even assuming that illegal immigrants don’t get benefits because they are criminals, the fact remains that some of them can save a lot of money on a very low income and so amazing things are possible.

  106. Todd says:

    A little compassion goes a long way–even (or especially) toward those who don’t show us compassion first. Trent has written many times that frugality should not make us Scrooges. There are many Bob Cratchits and Tiny Tims in the world, not all of them with angelic personalities. Sometimes people like Marjorie might write in not to be “re-educated” but just to have a voice and to have their tough situations acknowledged.

  107. Jenna says:

    Good grief.

    Whining about how you can’t possibly identify is just a part of the poor me syndrome. And when I say that, understand that I have been there, done that.

    Yes it’s harder for those of us with lower incomes. Heck yeah it is. But plenty of richer people than me have gotten into worse debt than I have. And by the same token some people who make less than me manage their money better.

    I love this site. I have never felt Trent didn’t know what he was talking about just because I know I make less than he does.


  108. expat says:

    I used to think the same as Marjorie does. I spent many years believing that those with money simply could not be quality people that I could learn from, or associate with. I loathed them for their money, instead of trying to learn from them; I carried a chip on my shoulder towards the rich. I’ve spent a lot of time re-evaluating how I feel about money and those that have more of it than I do, as I work to dig myself out of 10’s of thousands of dollars in debt.

  109. Tom says:

    Sorry to comment here, but your article on 8 frugal tips didn’t have comments enabled.

    Re: letting the neighborhood children access your yard and play equipment. You had better have good liability coverage on your homeowner’s insurance because if one of those kids gets hurt you’ll be facing a claim. Moreover, you might want to think twice about the “open gate” policy if you’ve got an attractive nuisance on your land, like a pond or an old barn that is barely standing.

    You want to be good neighbors, but you have to be careful as well, particularly since you might not know the parents of the kids invited by kids.

  110. BonzoGal says:

    It’s funny how many people comment here saying “This particular post doesn’t apply to me in any way- why did you write it???” or “You’re not in the same pickle I’m in, so I’m not reading you any longer!”
    Yeesh! Good advice is good advice, no matter where it comes from!

    Amy Dacyzn wrote that she often got the same sort of flak for articles in her newsletter, and her response was “You’re right- not every bit of advice here will be applicable to every person or situation- but you can find SOMETHING here to help you, so just use those parts!”

    And Marjorie, a person who pays off $17k in debt in one year isn’t “rich,” he’s determined and focused. Trent made a lot of sacrifices to do that. Maybe he did it faster than you could, but so what? His techniques can help!

  111. Emily says:

    I echo what some of the other commentors say about cutting Marjorie a little slack. Her assumption that because Trent is making a pretty good salary that he can’t help her is seriously misguided. But I understand the place she’s coming from. I bring in about $16,000 a year, pre-taxes. The frustrating part is I am just over the line to qualify for any benefits, so if anything comes up I’m completely screwed. I read many financial blogs and they all talk about the importance of investing in your retirement, and an emergency fund, and show all the ways someone from a middle-class background can cut money.

    But if you’re coming from a really low-income place, there’s nothing to cut because you couldn’t afford them in the first place. I think about having a three-month or six-month emergency fund and it is going to take me YEARS to build one. On Trent’s advice I’m going to settle for $1000 and then start diverting some cash to retirement. It is seriously disheartening though to see all these tips and tricks you’d LIKE to try if you had the money to do ’em in the first place.

  112. deepali says:

    It’s funny how a lot of commentors mention Marjorie’s bad attitude, but fail to notice their own cruelty and judgment (particularly based on one statement from her).

    Are there really 73 comments here telling Marjorie off? Do you really know what her problems are? Maybe she’s *not* frittering money away, and maybe she doesn’t have a lot of flexibility for saving money. In which case, maybe The Simple Dollar isn’t for her at all. Not everything works for everyone.

    And is everyone really judging her based on one statement? How can you tell what her attitude is based on words on a computer screen? She’s being direct and honest. Maybe Marjorie is just a plain talker. Not everyone needs to kiss up.

    I didn’t see anything negative in her comment. I saw a statement from someone who realized that she’s going to need more than The Simple Dollar can provide. I can’t imagine Trent really imagines this is a one-stop shop here. I thought this site was for entertainment purposes only…

  113. Tom says:

    Marjorie is probably more interesting in complaining than being empowered. There’s a certain class of people in debt who are only looking for ways to blame someone else and “work the system” to get out of their obligations. That’s probably why she wrote that snarky email. The truth that things are her fault and her responsibility to fix is not the message she wants to hear.

  114. April says:

    I don’t believe in attacking her personally, only her mindset.

    But I admit that I don’t feel sorry for her when others attack considering her attitude toward Trent. Marjorie should try coming to him from another angle, such as, “I only make X, so how can I apply these principles or what can I do?”

    I’m sure Trent would have been happy to direct her to TSD material or to give advice or put it out there for the readers to help. And instead of attacking, I think people would try to come up with any solution they could think of to help her. No, we shouldn’t respond rudely to rudeness, but at the same time, don’t expect for people to go out of their way for you, either.

  115. Pchan says:

    Interesting how Marjorie is a whiny victim who blames people who make more money than her, but it’s okay for some of the commenters here to blame low-income people for getting scads of benefits and being part of a “poor mindset”. (As for undocumented workers getting “all kinds” of benefits, come to my neighborhood sometime–you’ll soon be disabused of that notion. Jeez.) Interesting how it’s horrible to assume that those of us who make good enough money to get ourselves out of financial scrapes don’t have financial problems, but it’s okay to assume that Marjorie has debt (or credit card debt) and that she isn’t trying hard enough. Telling that it’s “class warfare” (I assume you were being facetious, Trent, but that term makes me twitch for many reasons) when Marjorie sends a frustrated email, but it’s just the truth when commentors here pile on in a self-righteous feeding frenzy.

    People say that they’re criticizing her mindset–but you only know what you’ve read in *one email*. If it’s so awful for Marjorie to assume that Trent doesn’t have financial problems based on his bio, it is just as bad to assume you know her “mindset” from one frustrated email. It is just as bad to assume that she spends all of her time complaining and blaming other people.

  116. AverageAK says:

    Am I wrong here, or doesn’t Trent mention in his early posts that much of his original debt was paid off with a cashed in retirement account? I just find it interesting that he never mentions this when he is talking about how much debt he’s paid off in the past two years.

    I’m not whining, I think this is an excellent blog with great advice, and I know plenty of people who have cashed in, and then racked their debt right back up, so Trent gets kudos from me for sticking to his financial goals.

    I just think Marjorie is making the point that not everyone has the same resources, for instance it is not possible for everyone to eliminate half their debt at one swoop. Trent doesn’t mention the cash in anymore, and I find that fact a bit misleading to those who have to start from scratch. It doesn’t mean I value The Simple Dollar less though.
    I also think that you can discuss Majorie’s points without attacking her. Trent is not some infallible God that should never be questioned, as some of you seem to believe.

  117. kellykelly says:

    I took her email to mean she couldn’t be INSPIRED by someone with Trent’s income … not that his his ADVICE was inadequate.

    My income and debt levels have gone up and down, up and down. (And not from buying luxuries either. I have not purchased a game, video, movie, music or etc in about six years. I am not kidding. You can rack up debt from paying the utilities on credit — or car repairs — trust me on this!)

    Marjorie sounds very frustrated. I understand completely.

  118. Jim says:

    I think Marjorie’s mail wasn’t necessary. It seems Marjories point was that she no longer enjoys or finds use in this site simply because she found out more about Trent’s financial situation. She seems to making an assumption that Trent can’t possibly help her cause he makes more or that his advice is now not applicable to her.

    Its definitely easier to manage if you make more money. I’ve seen a couple people in the comments with higher incomes trying to compare $20k and $200k salaries. There is really NO comparison. If you disagree then try living on $20k instead of $200k and prove me wrong.

    Some specific advice won’t work for everyone. This is true. One blog won’t fill the needs for everyone everywhere.

    So I have a question :
    Who is this site targeted at exactly? Is the information here meant to be general enough to be applicable to everyone at every income level? Or is it mostly targeted to be practical for middle or higher income levels?


  119. Cathy says:

    Well, she is right. These financial blogs are geared towards middle class who have the financial means to take care of their basic necessities (food, water, shelter), and have disposable income left to fund savings accounts, retirement funds, and vacations. TSD and GRS are two of my favorite financial blogs, but they are not blogs that are good advice for helping someone get out of poverty or minimum wage jobs.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t good advice here. She’ll probably want to skip the discussions about maxing a 401K (because she doesn’t have an extra $15500 laying around), but I thought the articles about communication being your best skill to a better job to be universal. And networking. And don’t burn bridges.

  120. Mondo says:

    OK, I have never commented but I feel the need to. I have at one point in my life lived on 14K/year – and more recently, closer to 180K.

    I have given up relating to people who don’t know what it’s like to literally have to live on 25 cent Top Ramen, and choose between debt and a pair of shoes without holes. And lie about not having a coat.

    That extra $50/month I could have possibly saved would have come at such a greater cost, than saving that extra $50/month does today – that I completely see why some folks would be offended that you even dare to compare the situation.

    I am admittedly a high income earner (about 100K), and my husband a bit less – and NOW I find it far easier to live on very little than I EVER did making only 14K when I *had* to.

    I remember dealing with one woman who as a SAHM had never struggled up the corporate ladder, and was married to an executive…… she simply refused to admit that I was not a financial “ninny” when at 14K/year – I could not save money and ended up in some debt (about 2K) when her “frugal” husband who is now a financial planner in college was able to save money when he was equally “poor” (you know, the kind of poor you are when dear old mom and dad are paying your way).

    I gave up and realized that class warfare will be here forever when both folks at the bottom won’t take responsibility for their own situation (as I did – in time) – and ALSO when folks who ARE priviliged deny that they are and that the inequity out there is real.

    At any rate, keep up the blog – I find it very inspiring but I sure wish you’d have an article on how to persuade hesitatn partners :) – my husband thinks we are living in poverty now that I *force* him to eat home cooked meals everyday. LOL.

  121. Sandy says:

    I have been reading this site for about six months. I have a hard time following this thread, because I think at one point I was bitter and probably sounded like Marjorie, but I do completely relate to Trent too.

    I graduated from college, had $20,000 in loan debt, $200 charge on my credit card from school books (Very stupid!!) that I couldn’t afford at the beginning of the semester and could not find a job after graduating for months. Well I shouldn’t say that. I did find a job I worked at Burger King for minimum wage for 4 months 60 hours a week, slept on a friends sofa until the next shift started, rinse and repeat. I walked 4 miles to work. I paid off my card. It was a job. I did feel entitled to more, I hoped for more, but it wasn’t happening.

    I got a major toothache..had to have oral surgery and get rid of my wisdom teeth so the rest of my molars didn’t need root canals. I did this without insurance, should have done it in college, but I didn’t have the money then either. I worked 40 hours a week in college to not have more than $20,000 in debt when I left. Two weeks after my toothiness, my science degree finally landed me a job. But I had to move to another state. Moving was easy, I had a suitcase of clothes.. but the deposit on a new place, finding the new place, affording the travel.. because you know what, even if they pay relocation expenses they don’t always give it to you up front! I didn’t know that I could actually get assistance or financial help from anyone and I was ashamed to be a college graduate (with a 3.9 GPA) and structurally underemployed. I thought I had failed somehow.

    What did I do? I said I’d take the job. I found a camp ground nearest to my new place of employment and near a bus route, borrowed a tent and sleeping bag from my friend, and spent all but $150 dollars of my Burger King savings on a greyhound and headed off. I was relieved it was early summer and I would not freeze. The week it took to get my moving expense check was long and tiring. You know what I did with the $5000 moving expenses? I got a beater car (because the place I could afford was too far too walk and I didn’t want to take the bus..unfrugal me) and the place I could afford. It even came with three roommates! What amazes me looking back, is I never thought to whip out my credit card. But the financial saga was long.

    Those years completely sucked. And I only endured them for a little while. I can still remember seeing people at work go out for lunch every day. They went shopping to feel good. They drank lattes and brought in Dunkin donuts. They went drinking every Friday. They’d talk about how they needed to save money. I got made fun of for my brown bag lunch and was deemed antisocial. When I found out under pressure, I lied and said I had diabetes and had to eat very carefully.

    Anyhow, when you are on the edge and see others with what seems to be so much, you do see things differently. I think I would have put Trent in the same category if I read him them.. I would have thought, jealously,”What a luxury to have the ability to choose frugality! This guy has no idea what it is like.” I’d have thought about how I have to be frugal just to live, any little emergency or illness means I would not be able to eat, much less choose a coffee at home versus one out.

    But this is not the whole story, and I do know that now. Once you are in debt, you are in debt. It does not matter from what salary you got there. You still have the overwhelmed, bad sleep, tension headache, anxiety. When you are in debt, the reality is you can’t afford what you are consuming at the moment, and are only a few more bad choices from hopefully having at least a tent over your head. My oldest brother took that route. We had long talks. Salary is mostly irrelevant, though you can hypothetically dig out faster with the high salary, which can be a serious boon to your health and piece of mind.

    I’m equally capable of getting myself in a financial pickle now that my family and I bring home $200,000 year. But have a bit of pity on the lower income class and their perspective: a sudden expense of $100.00 is a small (albeit important) portion of a $200,000 income compared to one that is $20,000. Who will swing into debt faster with the sudden $100 expense? Yes the emergency fund can save them. But what if you have too many emergencies and life changes happen fast?

    Many of Trent’s frugal suggestions are ones I already do/did. But now, most of the time I need to be reminded to do the frugal thing. I’m tempted to be that prick with the latte, shopping, eating out and throwing away my stability, because I have earned the privelege of destroying myself now right? Then I read Trent’s blog. Then I remember the girl who spent months at Burger King to save up money, who camped out in a strange new place… who ate mostly PB and J and Ramen her last year of college and I know that’s just not how I want to live.

    So do have sympathy for those who are still working at Burger King/other minimum wage scenario whose science degree/or no higher ed did not bail them out. If you have had the choice of living at a higher income and throwing it away to be in debt, be kinder and gentler. There are plenty of Marjorie’s around who will sneer from their library kiosk (hopefully or she should just not read the blog and save $20 or more a month) because they haven’t had the opportunity yet to see how easy it is to discard financial stability through overconsumption, and to be where she is right now. It looks likes a simple case of overindulgence to her while she can barely afford necessities.

  122. Kate says:

    to quote “but they are not blogs that are good advice for helping someone get out of poverty or minimum wage jobs.”

    I disagree, at least where TSD is concerned since I have not read GRS. Trent has provided numerous tips on resume writing, interviewing, finding side jobs, finding ways to go back to school, etc in order to increase a person’s earning potential. He’s also written about what local and state assistance programs to look for in order to get additional aid. These techniques are crucial if someone is looking to move up from minimum wage, and to a degree even poverty.

    There seems to be general tone that once you hit a certain income point you are unable to put the techniques sited in this blog and others to use. Sure you may not be able to use them all, but there is no magical cure-all or perfected plan to get rich, financially independent, etc., and honestly discounting and even scorning a good faith effort on the part of others to share the tactics that have worked for them is the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot if said person is looking to get their financial feet back under them. However, I’m not sure what this ‘you’re shit out of luck’ number is. Is it minimum wage? I don’t think it’s that simple since I know people who make minimum wage and live comfortable lives. They can’t buy a new car, but then again, they don’t care about a new car.

    One commentor said that someone making 20K probably can’t save for retirement, etc.

    I supported both myself and my husband on 28K a year while he was in school, got rid of credit card debt, funded an emergency fund, started IRA accounts for us both, and socked away additional monies for health insurance so that we could look at moving to a less expensive plan. All this while living in a major city. Many of the things we did to make this possible, I have since read on TSD. (unfortunately he hadn’t started writing then.)

    Does this make me a financial genius, or an expert on living cheap? Nope. There are a lot of things that I could have done better or differently. My point is that for anyone (including Marjorie) to assume that nothing here could apply to them is self defeating. Trent’s information on Vanguard’s funds may be out of a person’s reach, but his food recipes, laundry detergent strategy, coupon use, etc. are pretty useful for anyone trying to get their finances under control.

    I even think Trent wrote an article specifically for low wage earners.

  123. Angela says:

    All that Marjorie has to do is read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and her views will completely change. At least, that’s what happened to me. I have twice as much credit card debt and if you asked me a year ago how long I thought it would take me to pay it off, I would have said about 7 or 8 years. My whole life has changed after reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (3 months ago) and I can clearly see myself being debt free in less than 2 years. If Marjorie read this book, I would guarantee her opinions and thoughts would change. The Total Money Makeover is one of the best personal finance books out there (it’s been on the NY Best Sellers List for over 2 years straight). Dave Ramsey has changed thousands of people’s views on money and debt and I’m happy to say that I’m definitely one of them!! I highly recommend checking him out, http://www.daveramsey.com, and especially his book, The Total Money Makeover!!
    Thanx for reading…

  124. BonzoGal says:

    @deepali,comment #113:
    “I didn’t see anything negative in her comment. I saw a statement from someone who realized that she’s going to need more than The Simple Dollar can provide. I can’t imagine Trent really imagines this is a one-stop shop here. I thought this site was for entertainment purposes only…”

    What was negative in her comment was the fact that she MADE the comment in the first place. If she found that this blog wasn’t helpful to her, why didn’t she just look elsewhere? Why did she have to say something insulting to Trent? If I read a blog that isn’t useful to me, I don’t complain to the writer- I go out and find something that IS useful. Why is it Trent’s job to be everything to everybody? A blog is written by someone with a certain point of view, and this one is Trent’s. If people don’t like it or find it useful, they can go elsewhere- but why do they have to take a “parting shot” at someone who is providing us all this advice/info FOR FREE??? This is the kind of negative feedback that makes blog writers give up because all they’re getting is flak for their efforts.

  125. I’ve had people say to me, “Well, you must be rich,” when I tell them how we’re debt-free except for the house.

    I just reply, “Nope. Just smart.”

    That usually shuts them up!

    Some people just aren’t happy unless everyone is as miserable as they are.

  126. Jean says:

    Trent….well said! Frugal habits are applicable to everyone. Thanks for your blog, I enjoy it tremendous ;)

  127. Sally says:

    Grew up middle class – trying to attain higher than middle class. It is a mentality issue a lot of the time. Look at the Hurricane Katrina victims – they were poor before the Hurricane – yet they stayed in a poor city – they didn’t want or didn’t know how – or care to know HOW TO GET OUT OF POVERTY

  128. April says:

    @ Pchan

    First, I know for a FACT that illegals get benefits, so don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. I personally know these people, and I know what they receive because they’ve told me. As I said, that’s true of where I live. Maybe where you live is different.

    Second, I said I was criticizing WHAT SHE SAID about no longer reading a blog she said she enjoyed because of Trent’s income level. No, I don’t know her entire life story, but I do know enough to know she’s discounting anything she could learn from TSD based on Trent’s income. And in my opinion, that’s her loss, and it’s very short-sighted.

  129. Andrea says:

    Someone at a lower income level needs your advise MORE, not less! I love your blog and read it daily.

    I grew up POOR. Now I have a household income in the 300k range. I still make my own laundry detergent, get books from the library, drive a car worth 5k, etc.

    Frugality is even more valuable at our income. It has a greater affect! I also think there is more pressure to keep up with peers at this level and with our chosen careers.

    We all can benefit from focusing on what’s important and living simply at any income. You are 100% right that finacial principles don’t need to change across income levels! Keep up the good work.

  130. Scott says:

    In the United States poverty is a psychological disorder. It is typically a perception. People who live at the government delineated poverty level have higher standards of living that almost everyone who lived before 1930. Maybe even 1945. Subsistence living standards are virtually non-existent in the United States.

    That tells me people at all income levels have what they need, but not what they want. We must learn to love what we have and recognize what we need, not what we want. The lady who made this post we are responding has access to a computer.

    When people say “poverty” in the United States, they aren’t talking about need, they are talking about envy, discontent and pessimism.

  131. K says:

    Read Trent’s article from yesterday and you’ll find that he paid off $68k in debt in 2 years. but then he mentions that only $8k of that was from his 401k, and that the total amount was equal to his salary 2 years ago. So he was able to life on about half his salary.

    Even if your income isn’t as high as Trent’s, you should be able to make sacrifices like he did. Cut out unneeded expenses. Sell stuff. Get odd jobs to make more money. You can live comfortably on $25,000 (I do), and if you make less than that, you’re probably eligible for some assistance.

    It’s the poverty mentality that is more detrimental than poverty itself.

  132. Ronnie says:

    @Cathy – Exactly.

  133. billy says:

    Grew up middle class – trying to attain higher than middle class. It is a mentality issue a lot of the time. Look at the Hurricane Katrina victims – they were poor before the Hurricane – yet they stayed in a poor city – they didn’t want or didn’t know how – or care to know HOW TO GET OUT OF POVERTY

    I’ve got to say – I know Trent doesn’t like to get political but I really wish that he’d moderate out victim-blaming like this, it’s nasty and cruel and doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation many of the Katrina victims were in.

    I’m also really appalled to see so much hate being spread in The Simple Dollar’s comment section towards poor people and immigrants. Needless to say, I’ve got to agree with Pchan here, the nastiness directed towards poor people who don’t place the blame for their situation squarely on their own shoulders (even the KATRINA victims, who were, you know, victims of a natural disaster followed by a political one in which the Army was threatening to SHOOT people for taking food from stores that was going to get written off anyways) is totally uncalled for and reflects badly on the people making those comments. Class antagonisms and unequal opportunity are alive and well in America, and if you haven’t experienced them yourselves, count yourselves lucky, don’t shoot the messenger.

  134. Sandy says:


    There are plenty of hungry people in the United States. There are plenty of people who do not have a roof over their heads. There are plenty of people getting aid and support in shelters. There are so many, that shelters are often full and turn people away. I consider these people to be in poverty. They do not have what they need.

    Marjorie may not be as impoverished, but it does not mean that there are not poor, impoverished people who do not have what they need in the United States.

    I am sure that these individuals must feel envy, discontent and pessimism. But I wouldn’t call it a psychological disorder. I would call it normal and sane to be jealous of people who are well fed and who live with a roof over their heads while you have nothing.

  135. Sophia says:

    I agree Marjorie’s tone was aggressive and she came off as judgemental of Trent- but I have to take huge exception to the old standby of referencing straps to be pulled on your boots just a liiiiiitle bit harder and you can do it.

    I’ll use comment #87 as an example of one of many on here. Just the fact that your friend had a mother in his life, who took the time to tell him about the importance of college, that’s more than some people have. And your other friend, who you say is now supporting 2 children, that’s great. But you also state that after her husband left her she was living on food stamps and the kindness of her family for awhile. What if that hadn’t been there?

    My only point is that, if everyone who has “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” took a good, hard look at their life story, they would find the involved grandmother. Or the role model teacher who took them under their wing. Or government assistance for school. Somewhere along the way, there was a benefit to you, something that, had it not been there, would have left you adrift.

    Please understand, I’m not saying there aren’t the one off situations where literally, everything goes wrong, but most of the time someone helps you pull on those bootstraps. It doesn’t take away from your work, your determination, but it does speak for the fact that we are all in this together, and we all benefit from helping one another. I came from poverty and abuse and was never told I should go to college, my mother to this day still makes $14K a year- and I’m proud of my hard, hard work and commitment. But I can also point to scholarships, food stamps, thank god for involved teachers, and yes, some luck.

    I just think there comes a point when one’s faith in another’s ability to achieve becomes almost cruel, and obstructs the ability to see the very real challenges they face. We should all try our very hardest, but we should all pray that when we’re at the end of our rope someone is compassionate enough to reach out a hand.

  136. NED says:

    Have not read the other posts (134 and counting, omg…). Just gonna give my 2 cents’ worth and be done with it.

    The biggest difference between a person earning 20,000 a year and 200,000 a year is their income per hour, as described in day 8 or 9 of your “31 days to financial recovery”. In real terms this means that a person who earns 200,000 a year has more options available to him when it comes to investment of his time and money. That person also stands to lose more if he is pretty aggressive in poor investments or just plains overspends, so in a way it balances out. As they say, the higher you are, the harder you fall.

    I find that the amount people overspend by is measured as a factor of income rather than a raw amount, except at the very low end of the income scale, where they are struggling on basic necessities. That should always be foremost in reader’s minds, not perceived class differences based on status symbols and the size of the check a person receives. All that matters is how much money is saved month on month, bar none.

  137. Pchan says:

    April, instead of insisting that you know for a fact that undocumented workers get all kinds of benefits, prove it or drop it. They do not collect Social Security. They do not get health care (unless you count waiting in the ER for most of a day a “benefit”). They do not have dental care. They do not have a pension. What benefits are you talking about?

    And yes, April, you and other commenters here have been downright ugly and nasty in your remarks about Marjorie and other poor people.

    @Sally–“Look at the Hurricane Katrina victims – they were poor before the Hurricane – yet they stayed in a poor city – they didn’t want or didn’t know how – or care to know HOW TO GET OUT OF POVERTY”

    Thanks for proving my point, Sally.

    BonzoGal–you’re right. We should all praise bloggers all the time. Conversely, we can trash anyone who criticizes a blogger instead of moving on. She never said it was Trent’s job to be everything to everybody. She said she didn’t feel his blog had anything to offer her. Agree with it or disagree with it, but the vitriol leveled against her–and people who are struggling and not as perfect as some of the commenters here–is frankly disgusting.

  138. Scott says:

    It sounds like Marjorie isn’t looking for ways to make positive changes in her life, but company in her misery. She resents the fact that others have more than she and she would rather read about someone in a similar plight than read success stories about someone who is becoming rich by making tough choices that she doesn’t want to make. Marjorie: if you want to better your financial position you might consider reading about those of whom you are currently jealous and study how they came to attain their level of wealth.

  139. consumer_q says:

    I can appreciate Marjorie’s sentiments, yet also agree with Trent’s response at the same time.

    A person with “financial problems” whose income is $250K and lives in a “nice home” has more options to make it out of the situation relatively unscathed, when compared to a person pulling in $15K with “financial problems” and living in a hovel.

    Trent’s blog never came across as a how-to-become-rich site, but more of a how-to-create-less-debt blog. If Marjorie cannot relate to Trent, all he really loses are some potential ad-clicks, right? ;-)

  140. Jim says:

    April, you say that you know of illegal immigrants who get aid from taxpayers. What aid exactly is it? Are they getting the aid legally or is there any fraud involved?


  141. BonzoGal says:

    @Pchan ,comment #136: “BonzoGal–you’re right. We should all praise bloggers all the time. Conversely, we can trash anyone who criticizes a blogger instead of moving on.”

    Pchan, you did not understand my comment at all. It’s fine to disagree with a blogger or offer them criticism- but it’s a low blow to just jump on the blogger in a rude manner. If Marjorie had said, “Trent, I don’t think you’re addressing the needs of people at much lower income levels,” that would have been a criticism given with respect and thoughtfulness, and would have made her point completely. (And it’s an interesting and good point.) It’s the MANNER in which she made her complaint that I object to.

    I’m really sick of people who assume that it’s fine to attack bloggers with whom they disagree. I find that cowardly- most commenters are essentially anonymous readers, whereas Trent gives his real name and real life situations.

    People here mostly engage in rational and polite discourse, and occasionally disagree with either Trent or each other. I like this site because most people here discuss ideas in a mature manner. Some people, however, don’t- and they deserve to be reminded that bringing up your points in a respectful and polite manner gets you listened to, while throwing out insults does the opposite.

  142. Pchan says:

    BonzoGal, I get that you don’t like the way she addressed Trent, and I respect your view, though I disagree that Marjorie’s email was an attack. Angry and frustrated, yes, but not an attack–and I would hate to think that anytime someone’s frustration ever showed through, that they would get pilloried the way Marjorie has. Trent posted something someone emailed to him that was attacking, and deserved mockery–some idiot going on about how he’s a cheap loser with no life. There’s a world of difference between that and someone who’s frustrated and angry. I’ve been where Marjorie is.

    Frankly, I find it hypocritical that people decry Marjorie’s assumptions about Trent and then go on to make assumptions about her (and about poor people in general).

    If it’s not okay to make these kinds of assumptions about people who are in a higher income bracket, it’s not okay to make them about people who aren’t making a lot of money. I’ve seen a lot of nasty, vile, and frankly hateful comments in this thread about the poor–there’s been nothing rational or polite about it. They start out as criticism of what Marjorie said, and then expand to poor and low-income people in general. How is that any better than someone assuming that a person in with a higher income doesn’t have financial problems?

  143. Previous Welfare Child says:

    Hi Trent,
    I’m sure you won’t read this because I’m the 140th comment. But, I am truly saddened by Marjorie’s comments. I grew up on welfare, when my mom died; I contributed what little I had to her funeral. It’s all about debt-to-income ratio. I owe $259,000 from medical school that I have to pay off in about 7 years due to my very expensive education that I have deferred for 10 years so that I could continue my training as a specialist. I have worked hard and studied hard my ENTIRE life and it’s personally insulting to hear someone say that I am too rich and I don’t have money problems. My debt is not from spending frivolously on my credit card, going on expensive vacations or eating out, it’s from coming from a poor family and student loans! I struggle everyday to pay my bills and I don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. I can only contribute the minimum on my student loans every month and the worry is unrelenting. I am around wealth everyday, but I live in an apartment (next to the hospital- 7 minute walk) and I drive a Prius. I don’t have credit card debt because I could never afford it and when I did have credit card debt the expense was related to my career. I feel no different than you Trent; debt is debt regardless of the income. If you make XYZ a month but you have XYZ in bills then we are in the same place; broke! I learn from you every time I read this blog and I earnestly try to implement your teachings and suggestions. I am not jealous of you, I am INSPIRED by you, and if you can do it, God willing, so can I!

  144. BonzoGal says:

    Agreed that attacking Marjorie or other people in lower income brackets isn’t right, respectful or helpful. But I still think that Marjorie’s email was an attack rather that just ‘frustration.’ She wrote, “You don’t have financial problems and you can’t relate to my situation.” That’s an accusation, and an unfair one on Trent.

    I’ve railed against the same sort of negativity in other posts as well- maybe I’m tilting at windmills, but I’d really love to see the personal jibes stop. And you’re right, Pchan, this includes jibes at other commenters.

    “Can’t we all just get along?!?” ;)

  145. This site is one of the best on the net for financial issues.

    However, sometimes it is easier for a person to take advice from someone that has more in common with him or her.

    You don’t spend a lot of time in here talking about how to cook with food from a food bank or to even find a food bank, or how to get the right paper work through the food stamps (and other welfare) systems. You don’t focus a lot on how to talk to the chaplain at a hospital about forgiving your medical bill. You don’t talk about how to write a scholarship application for a financial and make sure to emphasize how much you need it without depressing yourself.

    When you do talk about being poor, you sometimes give terrible advice, like recommending people eat Ramen for the carbs! Ramen is mostly empty calories and very salty. Hypertension? Obesity? Does a poor person need that too? Wouldn’t it be better to recommend going to a Dented Can’s grocery store to buy spaghetti sauce or a bulk foods store to get whole wheat noodles, or talk about u-pick farms to get low cost vegetables? These foods will be healthy and very cheap.

    For this place in my life, where I am working, have a house on a mortgage and student loan debt, your blog is incredibly helpful, but honestly, 5 years ago when I was on food stamps? I would have gone elsewhere for appropriate advice. And really that is okay. Write what you know Trent!

  146. Pchan says:

    “Can’t we all just get along?!?” ;)

    INDEED. And share some decent bean recipes, while we’re at it. ;)

  147. Annie says:

    I think Marjorie’s frustration is that you’ve built a lot of your claim to expertise on a financial turnaround that would be utterly impossible for some people. How can Marjorie pay down an equal amount of debt in a year on a salary that is a fraction of your yearly income? At least some of your success lies in your paycheck. Some of your posts own up to that, but not enough.

    P.S. I’m with Pchan. I’d also like some decent bean recipes.

  148. deepali says:

    You know, the worst thing about this post isn’t Marjorie’s comments (because again, you must have some amazing powers of insight if you can sum up a whole person from a couple of sentences). It isn’t Trent’s comments either – I think he responded well.
    What disappoints me is the negativity and cruelty in the comments. If I were Trent, I’d be concerned about what that says about my readership.

  149. Lara says:

    Okay, I didn’t read through all the comments, but I did want to respond.

    I think it’s awful that Marjorie can’t see the forest for the trees. Regardless, saving money is saving money. Spending less is spending less. NO ONE who finds good use of this site is in the exact same financial shoes as any other, much less the author.

    That being said… rather than look at how an income of $20K relates to an income of $200K – let’s consider that maybe her situation is more like “I make $20K a year and have $100K in debt” versus the possibility that Trent’s is “I make $50K a year and have/had $20K in debt.” (No, I’m not assuming this is or was the case, I’m just using an example.) What I’m saying I guess is that Marjorie ranted rather than explained how supposedly Trent’s situation doesn’t relate to hers… she only vented and tried to make Trent feel bad about his success in learning how to take control of his money, because she has yet to figure out how to do it herself.

    I think childfreelife has it right. It’s quite likely that Marjorie CAN’T get the help she needs here, right now in her life. It doesn’t mean she should chastise you for helping those who can.

  150. Bettsi says:

    Wow, these comments are pretty amazing. While none of us has any control over Marjorie or Trent or the other commenters, I just want to remind us all that we CAN control ourselves and to be very careful before pressing “Submit Comment”.

    I really like what Sandy @ Comment #122 said: “If you have had the choice of living at a higher income and throwing it away to be in debt, be kinder and gentler.” Thank you, Sandy, that was the most thought-provoking comment.

    Trent, thank you for sharing what you know. I do enjoy reading it.

  151. Sally says:

    Re: #134 #I’ve got to say – I know Trent doesn’t like to get political but I really wish that he’d moderate out victim-blaming like this, it’s nasty and cruel and doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation many of the Katrina victims were in. – and #138
    You misunderstood my point. I am merely stating that, sadly – poverty is an issue of generation after generation not learning HOW TO GET OUT OF POVERTY. Things before Katrina were bad in many cities – Katrina made it worse – so my point is – why would you STAY in a place that has nothing to offer you? A person who knew no better – or had not been taught any “better” would just keep with the status quo.

  152. Sally says:

    I know people who grew up with enough yet have “chosen” to live with less – or less than I think is a decent living. Two issues – underearning and poor choices regarding quality of life – there’s an extra $200/month for cigarettes and beer – but there is no $$ to invest or save….. The people in poverty that I truly epathize with are CHILDREN – because they have no control or choice over the actions of their parents

  153. Sally says:

    sorry “empathize” – spelling

  154. tentaculistic says:

    @ Carlos: “A lot of people think we’re “poor” since we live in our first house (which isn’t 3600 sq. feet and on three acres).I love our 2000 sq. foot house with a small yard.”

    Ha ha ha ha – I want to live where you live!!!! In my big, v. expensive town, 2000 square feet and even just a balcony (much less a small yard) are quite enormous.

    I think my only regret with our 1000 sq feet condo (with small balcony – booya!) is that it is perhaps too big. There are so much cooler things when you get to the smaller size. Look at Apartment Therapy for all kinds of multi-use furnishings, including my favorite the Murphy Beds… sigh they’re kinda ‘spensive though.

  155. Kitty says:

    Well, for me, being an ultra-thrifty person was the only way I COULD get out of debt. I used Dave Ramsey’s method in in 2 years and 3 months, I got gid of $28,000+ on take-home pay of $28,900. It can be done, but you can’t do it by purchasing lattes, new cars, new houses, new clothes, and eating out in restaurants.

    I have no debt now, I feel empowered and I’ve learned that I can live on very little. I’ve frittered away a lifetime of savings opportunities. Now, I’m just a few years from retirement, but know that I’ll have a little nest egg.

    Don’t wait…start eliminating your debt today!

  156. April says:

    @ Jim and the ever-so-lovely Pchan–Just stumbled upon this old post, which I abandoned before you posted.

    The Texas Hospital Association estimates the annual cost of uncompensated care to illegal immigrants at nearly $400 million a year. Yeah, it’s emergency room care, but it’s still medical care, and it’s FREE. My grandma has spent hours waiting in an emergency room, too. Lots of people do. And she goes home with a bill, and no, she is not rich. In fact, she’s not even middle class.

    I’d say that’s a decent benefit, at least, my grandma would think so.

    There is the benefit of education–guaranteed to illegal immigrants–which costs almost 4 billion per year in my state. In higher education, through House Bill 1403, passed in 2001, illegal immigrants have access to in-state tuition, a benefit that most legal immigrants don’t even have. The cost to the state for that is $34.5 million per year.

    Also, in Texas, we have the Children with Special Health Care Needs program, a supplemental health care program designed to help children with health care problems that are too expensive for Medicaid. About 70 percent of all clients enrolled are non-citizens.

    Note for Pchan–I’m not arguing about illegal immigration either way, so chill. I’m saying that there are significant taxpayer dollars that benefit illegal immigrants. I provided the specifics since you’re unable to simply Google it, for whatever reason.

  157. Michecox says:

    I realize I’m joining the party a little late, but I’ve always felt this site, while certainly useful, was definitely geared toward a higher income bracket than I’ll be in for many years (at least until I’m through college).

    Trent, do you think maybe you could do a roundup of bloggers who are “poor”, live on minimum wage, practice voluntary simplicity, etc? I know I have struggled to find personal finance bloggers whose situations are closer to my own. Maybe that would help the person who wrote the original comment you responded to as well.

  158. RyanLoos says:

    I got the same response from potential clients when I talk about having my home paid off. They think that I make a ton of money, when it is budgeting and sacrifice that have done it for me and my family. I have been hearing so much about class warfare and I am finding that work ethic has a ton do with your current financial situation (whether it is positive or negative).

  159. Brett says:

    Can I weigh in on this 3 year old argument? lol

    To say “I won’t listen to you about money because you have money” is absurd. Exchange the word “money” for “health” and it’s easy to see how stupid it is.

    Frankly, I’d rather follow the path of someone who STARTED where I am and has found a good path up the mountain than someone who hasn’t ever left base camp and keeps walking in circles.

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