Friday, October 12, 2012

To be, or not to be, broke.

In recent years I've noticed a trend in the use of the word "broke".  This is a subjective observation, but one I will make nonetheless because it touches upon the introspective.

The word "broke" seems most commonly used to express lack of funds for run-of-the-mill expenses, like eating out with friends or the cost of gas needed to drive to the ocean for a weekend get-away.  But I've noticed it is rarely used to express lack of funds for large expenses, like a home.  Large expenses are instead lumped under the graceful rubric "it's just not in the budget right now", which I think is silly because, in comparison, "broke" would be more accurate to describe a lack of funds to purchase a new home than it would to explain the inability to afford a small expense (further suggesting that one is foolish enough to live in such a small financial margin that one cannot afford small expenses). Although "broke" could simply be an excuse to get out of doing something (but motive only for you to know), I feel the usage of the term is inaccurate at best and dishonest at worst.

A limit in the budget means you have money dedicated to certain things, but you cannot in good conscience spend money outside of that.  Whereas being broke is literally where you would have to ask for help because you don't have anything to offer in exchange for what you need.  Any less stringent of a circumstance (e.g. "wants") begs criticism, but that's not the purpose of this blog.

So what is the purpose of this topic? It is to consider one's worth or value in society based on how you describe your financial limitations. Money will always be a heavy topic.

So how does certain terminology affect your value? Well, if you're truly broke on a consistent basis, you'd be starving eventually. Thus being broke is truly a rare situation. I would venture most Americans aren't really that bad off, because we live in a credit society that enables such thin financial margins to last as long as they do. Thus, if you consistently describe yourself as "broke" you may be perceived as:
1: Irresponsible (unable to budget or forecast wisely; shortsighted; dependent upon other services)
2: Dishonest (if you're irresponsible, you're more likely to exaggerate)
3: Unreliable (if you're unavailable because you're often broke, folks won't get involved with you)
4: Awkward (folks will be reluctant to involve you because they fear you'll be embarrassed)

Obviously, real financial hardships can and do exist, but this is usually the extreme exception to the rule.  Based on my experience (and because we live in a credit society) the correct term would be "It's not in the budget" rather than "I'm broke" because, let's face it, unless you're extremely rich, a new house isn't going to be budgeted; it's going to be financed, just like those small emergencies are financed with a credit card.  So "broke" is really more of a lifestyle than it is a circumstance. But I digress.

If we instead use "It's not in the budget", I posit that external perception will change (and also be statistically accurate).  You could be perceived as:
1: Responsible (you sound active in budgeting, and even if you aren't, it's a good reminder to do so)
2: Honest (statistically, if you're responsible, you're less likely to exaggerate your circumstances)
3: Reliable (and accessible, and being around people who have these same traits will rub off on you)
4: Comfortable (people will continue to include you because you're approachable)

In short, if you're broke all the time, you will be isolated by your circumstances and will be perceived in a negative light regardless of where you are in the echelons of society. Such perception will rob you externally and internally of influence and interaction, and these are very healthy things to have in your social diet.

So next time you are invited to an event that you can't afford, cheerfully respond with "I'd love to go, but it's just not in the budget right now. But let me know next time you go, I'd love to get together and do something!" This proactive response can lead conversation to where something is actually planned, and if so, you have the opportunity to budget for it!

Such communication indicates you can plan (budget); that you're interested in more than yourself; that you have substance (which makes you interesting too); that you're aware of what's going on in your own world; and that you exercise discretion in expressing your financial status (trust me, people can read you better than you think).

Although this is a subjective topic, it is in my mind first and foremost a topic of the individual.  I have both lived and observed these perceptions and firmly believe that how we behave ourselves affects how others perceive us, and that in turn affects how we perceive ourselves.

There is certainly more to life than the marginal status quo. You owe it to your friends and family (and yourself) to try a different frame of mind if your stuck in this one.  Try existing for more than just your own margins, because over time friends and family will begin to believe you don't even care enough to make room for them in your life, and if so, you will end up at the bottom of the list.

We all know the whole "self worth comes from within" psychology, and there's no doubt that is the case, but that's not the only influence that matters. I believe outer expression and reciprocation mirrors back on us our own subconscious perceptions of ourselves, and that is truly part and parcel of how we grow within. Everybody needs a mirror, even ones they might not like. This once applied to me, even though I thought I had all the perception I needed. I was wrong.

I'd love to hear your comments, whether you agree (or not), and how your conversation and conduct in life impacted how others perceived you, and in turn if that affected how you saw yourself.

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