'Poor in Kenya Is a Lot Different Than Poor in America, Isn't It?'


Every Saturday morning at PJ Lifestyle, join parenting writer Rhonda Robinson as she documents her strategies for getting her family’s finances back into shape. Check out the previous installments in her ongoing series:

Week 1: 5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship

Week 2: Where to Start When Your Financial Ship is Sinking

Week 3: Keeping Afloat With A Budget


This week was rough.

I had to remind myself of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a young man from Kenya.

He had a basketball scholarship at Vanderbilt University. His girlfriend was a good friend of my daughter. The couple came to our home to visit for the first time. He was extremely tall, a mild mannered guy with a huge smile. Teasingly I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He explained he was getting his degree in social work. “Not a lot of money in that,” I chuckled.

He just flashed a blindingly bright smile and looked down shaking his head. “That’s ok,” he said. “I’m not really in it for the money. I just really want to help people.”

At that moment I realized something and asked, “Poor in Kenya is a lot different than poor in America, isn’t it?”

He laughed, then said with a more somber tone, “Poor in Kenya means you have a dirt floor if you’re lucky enough to have a house.” He described the conditions that people in his home town live in.

It was then I realized that my idea of poor meant I don’t get to have what I want when I want it. I have to wait, maybe even save for it. That’s not really poor. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Even when we were our “poorest,” we still owned a home. I’ve never looked into my children’s eyes and saw hunger that I couldn’t feed. During that time, we also owned and maintained a vehicle. My family had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted.

By most standards around the world, I’m rich. In fact, I’m so rich that I can drive my car into a separate room of my house. Clean water is at my fingertips, and fresh food grows in my yard.

For most of us, being poor in America is more a frame of mind than real poverty.

My frame of mind is in need of some major repair.

Last week, I searched for the best budgeting software and decided on YNAB. I have everything set up, the budget categories are filled. Everything that is except the numbers that represent actual money. I backed out. Just couldn’t face doing it and looking at the numbers.

I know, that’s foolish. But not only is it stupid and foolish — it’s painful. However, it couldn’t have been near as painful as the consequences of not getting my budget set and consequently overspending.

The reality is that we are not poor — not by a long shot. You’re not poor just because you’re deprived of the luxuries you once had or someone else enjoys. Someone once told me that money problems are the best kind of problems to have, because they can be fixed. I didn’t appreciate the wisdom of those words at the time. I do now.

This week’s goals:

  1. Stop whining.
  2. Face the numbers. Because ignorance is not bliss, it’s financial suicide.
  3. Find something to be thankful for every time I begin to feel “deprived.”
  4. Take a close and honest look at my spending habits.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realized that the first thing you need to do to change your circumstance is to change your perspective?