Category Archives: Rich vs. Poor Series

Rich Vs. Poor — Spending Money Emotions and Psychology

A rich person might be able to spend $1,000 per month, and a poor person might be able to spend $100 per month, so when they both try to buy something for $10, the experience is very different.

Reason 1: $10 is 1% of a rich person’s budget, and 10% of a poor person’s budget.  When you’re spending 10% of your entire budget for a month, you need to be more careful.

Reason 2: The rich person will be thinking: is this item worth the $10? Let me judge the quality of the item, and compare it to other items like it to make the best decision for myself.  Judging the item is a sign of being in control.

The poor person will be thinking: do I really need this? Let me judge myself to see what I deserve.  Being judged is a sign of being out of control.

Reason 3: The rich person will also be thinking: should I treat myself now to this item or later?  Or should I buy something completely different with this money like saving up for vacation or investments? Or should I save the money?

The poor person will be thinking: if I don’t spend this money now, some other problem is going to take this money away.  Saving is not an option because I have so many problems that are needs not wants that it’s going to be spent for sure somewhere.  I should seize this opportunity now to spend it and fix a problem right away.

Reason 4: The rich person is thinking: there are so many options that will improve my life and I just need to pick the right one for me.

The poor person is thinking: I have more problems than money to solve them so I need to pick the kind of problems I want to suffer through right now.

Personal Story: My mom and I grew up very poor, and my mom was always working so I grew up basically alone.  From 7 years old to when I left home for college at 18, I saw my mom for maybe 3 hours a week, during which it would just be work and not talking or quality time.  As a result, I would try to spend as little money as possible so as to reduce the burden on my mom so that she might have more free time to spend with me.  For example, I would starve myself every day to save money.  Then, when my mom notices she has spare cash, she would go and make an impulse buy and blow through the cash and it would make me so angry because I was starving every day for the hope that maybe I could get another 10 minutes with my mom, and my mom would just spend the money that I helped her save on material things, and I would continue to not spend any time with her.

This is why I hate negotiating price.  I know that I could fight someone for another $1-$5, but I also know that $2 per purchase adds up to $200 over 100 purchases.  And $200 could be two month’s budget for some people.

Have Better Conversations

Politeness is a measure of wealth. If people treat you well, you tend to treat others well. If people treat you badly, you tend to treat others badly.

People aggregate around what is familiar and comfortable. So people who treat each other badly find each other and continue the cycle of abuse. People who treat each other well find each other and continue the wealth inequality.

the conversation topic and the perspective on the world and the emotions displayed express your wealth.

topic: work stress vs vacation plans. Poor people complain about how work sucks. Rich people talk about all the opportunities they’re considering for vacation.

perspective: out of control, blame others vs in control, decision difficulty. Poor people talk about coping with problems caused by other people. Rich people talk about making decisions that affect other people.

emotions: needing validation so fixating on details vs healthy so jumping from topic to topic without emotional attachment or triggers. Poor people want to be heard and understood: they seek empathy. Rich people want their problems fixed: they seek solutions.

SF Chinatown 2019

Reduce Stress through Reframing. Rich vs. Poor: Views on Bureaucracy

Nobody likes waiting in line, but some people can do it without wasting emotions and energy by getting angry. They do this by avoiding personalization and blaming and false mind reading.

When a rich person goes to bureaucracy, they usually have these assumptions

  • The system is here to serve me
  • I will get served
  • I deserve to get served
  • They must serve me because I am entitled to the service
  • I have power to complain and ensure that I get the service
  • I will be fine without the service

And so most of their anger (if any) is centered around entitlement, and most of their calmness and peace is also centered around entitlement.


When a poor person goes to bureaucracy, they usually have these assumptions

  • The system is set up by someone else for their own reasons that weren’t necessarily for my benefit.
  • I just happen to qualify, maybe I will get served.
  • Or I don’t qualify, and I hope they don’t notice.
  • I don’t deserve service, but I hope I do get service
  • I am not entitled to the service, it’s not guaranteed.
  • If they refuse service I have no way of forcing them to give me service, I’m powerless. I’m weak and afraid.
  • If I don’t get this service, I’ll be much worse off because 1. I need this service 2. I don’t have much so 3. it costs me a lot to be here waiting for the service. So much so that I may not have much left–waiting in line costs so much energy and health and resources that I can’t afford to not be served.

And so most of their anger comes from the fear of being worse off, the fear of being not served, the fear of the humiliation of being refused service, and the fear of the realization of how weak and powerless they really are.


To overcome these emotions, you need to reframe the situation. Think about it this way:

  • The system is out of your control
  • The system is not human. Even though you’re interacting with people who operate within the system, the people obey the commands of the system. The system lives by using the people.  Bureaucracy is not people, it’s a system.
  • Systems do not persecute individuals. There’s nothing in the system that says for you and you alone, you cannot get service. The system has rules that are general. For example, the system might say that anyone who has blue hair cannot get service. So if you have blue hair you don’t get service. If this happens, don’t personalize it. It’s not just you, it was unlucky that it was about your blue hair.
  • If you have connections or can make insider connections to get special treatment, realize that you are no longer dealing with a system or a bureaucracy, but you’re dealing with the specific individual and their power over the system.  What this means is: it only matters if it works, and if it doesn’t, don’t dwell on the person’s failure, just realize you’re going to be served by the system, and the system gives no special treatment. No special good, and no special bad.

If you can accept that the system of bureaucracy is a mindless organization outside of your control, then there’s less to be angry about.  All you need to know is time will be spent waiting for your service, and you can spend that time tiring yourself out with anger, or you can spend that time in a better way that is up to your choosing.

  • If the system does not serve you, it’s not neglect.  A lot of people were neglected by their parents, friends, etc. and so when they’re waiting for service, the act of not being served can trigger feelings of neglect.  Don’t fall for this. The system has not singled you out for neglect. It’s a random act with no biases: systems do not target individuals, they target groups of people.  So don’t take it personally as neglect. It’s not.


I also want to point out entitlement is a key reason why communism and capitalism lead to very different mental healths for the population. In Communism, everyone knows they’re supposed to get something so there’s some peace in that. It might be widely unequal what they get compared to others, but everyone knows they’re supposed to get something and there’s comfort in that.  In Capitalism, everyone knows they’re supposed to get nothing. You get nothing unless you earn it somehow.  There’s no peace, because earning is a competition, supply and demand, market forces outside your control dictating whether you can sell your services or not.  There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty in capitalism that leads to unhealthy mental states.

Read more about articles in the Rich vs. Poor Series here.

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