Broke as a Joke

Written by on March 18, 2018

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It’s often said that being broke sucks.  Is that even a revelation? I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there, and most people will spend the rest of their lives there.  It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it often seems as though there’s no escape. Yet some people do get out, or more precisely, never enter brokedom.  If that makes you mad or sad, then you’re in the right place.  What if you knew the why and the what of a poor mindset, like a secret treasure map that could lead you away from the prison of poverty?

The dirt:  I have a money problem / I need more money

Once upon a time, a man was in his house when suddenly flood waters started to flow into his home. He went to his roof and waited.  The waters were up to the first story when I boy on a rowboat came by and told him to get in. He politely declined, saying “My God will save me”.  The boy shrugged and kept rowing. When the waters reached the second story, a woman on a motorboat came by and told him to get in. He calmly replied, “Thanks, but my God will save me.”  Then as the waters started to rise onto the roof, a rescuer on a pontoon boat came by and told the man to please get on. The man once again shook his head. “ My God will save me.” Finally, the waters crested the roof and the man drowned.  Upon entering the gates to Heaven, the man asked God, “Why hast thou forsaken me and let me drown?” To which God replied, “ What do you mean? I sent you three boats.”

This week we’re going to talk about why you’re broke.  Before anyone’s ass gets chapped, the words broke and wealth have nothing to do with money, and everything to do with you.  Broke is a mindset and attitude towards life, as is wealth.  The effect of either is lack or abundance of money, but money itself is not the root cause.  We’ve just found a way to simplify it as a society into financial terms, much like we do with blaming our fat cells for our malnutrition and sedentary lifestyle.

“And so like crabs in the bucket, we keep ourselves in the trap and feel okay about it as long as everyone else we know is there with us.”

How do you know you’re broke?  If you think you’re broke, you’re broke.  If you aren’t sure, then you’re broke. If you believe you’re doing quite well, you most likely broke too.  Most people are quite obviously broke, or at least one catastrophe away from being in hardship, which is essentially broke.   It’s bad when you don’t know it (though it is always revealed in time), but the real crime is when you do and take no action to change it.

I express what follows out of love and concern, not out of judgement.  We will explore at a very high level what being broke is and how to recognize it.  While I would never presume judgement, I do feel qualified to discuss this issue as I spent the first 35 years of my life as a broke, skeptical, angry and negative person. I’m nowhere near the person I need to be, but I know it and I’m working on improving it every day.  I can only encourage you, that if you desire so, to do the same.

Nobody has a money problem.  Money is just the effect of a cause.  If we universally always get paid what we’re worth, then to increase our wealth, we must increase our worth.  Become the person worthy of a million dollars and the money will follow.


So why exactly are we broke?  It’s about how we think, or more precisely, how we don’t think.  When we’re young, isn’t everything possible? From becoming a superhero to astronaut or even president of the United States, we don’t know any bounds.  Our minds are abundant and full of love. We are unstoppable, or so we think.

Gradually through exposure to school, society, marketing, and our pre-programmed parents, we are trained and conditioned to believe that not everything is possible.  That money doesn’t grow on trees, we can’t do that, and the key to success is to get a degree and a safe/secure job. We spend our first 18 years being taught how to succeed in life by people that haven’t yet found success.  Instead of thinking for ourselves, we buy the lie. Perhaps it’s easier than being controversial?

This leads to a set of beliefs (or mindset) of fear and scarcity.  We become afraid to take risks, to go for it, preferring to dwell in the warm bath where everyone else hangs out.  It’s not that great, but it doesn’t hurt too much at the moment. School enforces this by teaching us that failure is bad, even though it is only through failure that true success may be found.  So we find a temporary comfort zone where we wait, like the guy on the roof, for something to magically change. When it doesn’t, all that’s left is despair and regret; not at failing, mind you, but at not even trying.

Part of a fearful mindset is the corollary that the pie is fixed and resources are scarce.  That for me to get more, you must have less. This naturally leads to what we call crime. Is there any other justification for wrongful taking from another other than a scarcity mindset?  If you knew there was an unlimited supply of money, would there be any reason to risk stealing it from someone else? By the way, did you know that banks literally create more money every day?  It takes quite the broke mindset to risk stealing that which you can have all you desire.

This mindset of scarcity also fosters our inclination towards not believing anything that sounds too good to be true.  I’m often told in my business that nobody makes THAT kind of money. Would you agree that just because you and those around you don’t, doesn’t mean we can’t?  Who’s living in those mansions on the hill? If you don’t know, that should be your first clue. No doubt there are many swindlers out there who will sell you a rotten bag of goods, but we tend to summarily dismiss the baby with the bathwater and close ourselves off to even the legitimate.  Could it be that our expectations are so low that even a moderately good situation seems unattainable or impossibly good?

How does it feel to be so beaten in life that when kindness or opportunity knock, you don’t even feel worthy of opening the door?


Let’s highlight a few characteristics of the broke.  This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a reciprocal list.  We all do a few of these on occasion, but broke people do these as a habit.  They are very efficient when they choose to be.

They listen to the wrong people.  Broke people are notorious for taking advice from people that have no business giving their advice on the matter.  Instead of advice from the competent and successful, they take advice from other broke people, popular people, and familiar people (friends and family).  This is not to say family and friends can’t give good advice, just that the advice should not be considered good because they’re family or a friend.  If you take financial and life advice from the internet and they end up being wrong, will they back it up and take care of you and your family later on?  

They don’t listen to the right people.  There is a wealth of great advice out there from people who have succeeded in your venture.  It is said that if you want to become wealthy, find a wealthy person, get them to mentor you, do exactly what they say, and you’re next.  Oftentimes, if the good advice doesn’t fit into their poor mindset, it gets rejected no matter how accurate or truthful the information may be.  Usually this is done under the guise of skepticism.

They try not to think too hard.  Part of taking advice from others is that it allows them to shelve their own mental faculties instead of truly analyzing a situation and trusting themselves to follow what they feel is best.  This is from the fear of making a mistake. Ironically, instead of making their own mistake and learning from it, they make the mistake of following other people’s’ mistakes and nobody learns from it.

They do what they’re told.  This is not the same as doing what’s right.  Most people try to do what’s right whether they are told to do so or not.  Broke people just do what they’re told. This is why Marketing is a $200B industry.  They tell you to buy Pepsi while watching people having fun drinking it and they do it.  Any regard to long-term cost, health, or wealth is likely drowned out by the sound of the crackling ice inside the 150 calories of chemical refreshment.

They focus solely on cost.  Instead of looking at value, they focus on cost.  Is $40,000 too much for a car? Doesn’t that depend on whether it’s a 1979 rusted Ford Pinto or a 2017 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost?  Whereas wealthy folks just want to know whether it’s worth it or not, broke folks look at price and effort. If it’s too expensive or will take too much work, then they’re not interested.  The irony is that they will pay much more and work far harder in the long run.

They complain.  Broke people love to talk about problems and people.  Instead of attacking a problem, they want to share it with everyone so that the collective is pulled down to their level.  It’s certainly seems easier than fixing it, though everyone loses in the end. They forget that everyone else has problems too and they ignore the golden rule:  Don’t dump onto others as you wish them to not dump onto you.

They don’t ever give themselves a chance.  The ultimate defining characteristic of a broke mindset is low identity.  Identity is your self-worth or self-esteem. It’s never that they cannot be successful, it’s that they don’t believe it’s possible and will never allow themselves to try.  Some would say it’s a fear of failure; I would argue that it’s a fear of success. It could be very scary to achieve even a small amount of success. Suddenly you realize you must continue to succeed, else give up and live knowing that you are under-performing in life.  That’s often more depressing than had they never even tried.


Just beware that if you start to see these things in your own life and wish to change, there will be significant resistance from those around you and even strangers.  Most people don’t want to see others like them win.  It forces a mirror upon themselves and makes them feel bad for not winning as well.  Therefore, if you don’t have haters and naysayers in what you do, then you’re probably not doing anything worth doing or having anything worth having.

By the way, if we do what others do, we’ll have what others have.  While that might sound okay, let’s take a quick look at what most people have, or don’t have.  Is this what you really want?

  • 70% of Americans are considered overweight with 36.5% considered obese. (CDC 2017)
  • 33% of Americans say they’re happy (Harris Poll, 2017)
  • 46% of Americans could not afford to cover a $400 emergency. (Wash. Post 2016)
  • 62% of working households age 55-64 have retirement savings less than one year’s income.  45% of working age Americans have ZERO retirement account assets – 401k or IRA (NIRS, 2015)
  • 68% of Americans don’t know when, or if,  they will ever be out of debt ( survey 2018)

And so like crabs in the bucket, we keep ourselves in the trap and feel okay about it as long as everyone else we know is there with us.  Of course, eventually the trappers come and take us away to our fate at the local seafood restaurant, but such is life when you’re broke. You have no control.

So what can we do about it?  Here a just a few simple (but not necessarily easy) ideas on how to start changing your mindset from one of poverty to one of wealth.  The journey is certainly to be tough, but it will be worth it.

  1. Stop listening to broke people.  Either do the opposite or at least do credible research on your endeavour.  I know your broke uncle loves you and would never intentionally harm you, but that doesn’t make his advice any more true.  Google is the bathroom wall of the internet. Not fact-checked and unmoderated. Ask an expert in the field or someone who’s been successful, not some joker who tried it and quit after a couple of months.  If you wanted to run a marathon, would you talk with someone who’s won a few races or the guy who ran ½ a mile and then quit. They will both give you advice, but whose should you take?
  2. Read books written by and about successful people.  Learn their mindset and how they approach business and life.  After all, if you’re going to copy a cat, might as well copy the right cat.  The best part is you can take someone’s entire life in a 200 page book, distilled down to the key nuggets.
  3. Change your associations.  Associations are everything and if you hang with the crabs, you will be a crab too.  Get away from negativity and skeptics. I was the penultimate skeptic in my earlier years.  By definition, I always looked for what was wrong with everything and ignored what was right.  Then I found out that skeptical people are usually broke and broke people are usually skeptical.  Start to associate with people who are where you wish to be.
  4. Ask questions.  Be curious.  Don’t be so quick to judge.  Forget what you know since that is the reason you are where you are.  Can your ego handle that you may be wrong? Can you handle that what your parents instilled in you could be wrong?  Successful people are always open to ways to become more successful, even if it means killing some of their sacred cows.
  5. Give yourself a chance.  What if you fail?.  But even if you fail, you really  haven’t wasted time. You’ve learned and grown in ways you couldn’t have without the experience.  Of course, we never seem to ask the question of “What if I succeed?” The debate on whether to go for it is a fantastic, interesting, and useless debate.  Go for it then decide if it is right.  How else could you possibly know? After all, if what you’re doing isn’t working, what do you have to lose?
  6. Make a change or don’t complain.  Complaining is a powerful tool for attracting more things about which to complain.  It not only creates more problems, it’s just plain rude to those around you. When you feel that complaint welling up inside you and you just have to share it, at least follow it up with “but the good news is, here’s what I’m doing to fix it….”

The good news is that the first step to change is recognizing change is needed.  I challenge you to circle just one of the items above and take action on it for the next 30 days.  What if you’re better than you think you are? Would you want to know now or on your deathbed with the pangs of regret?  If you give yourself a chance and never give up, you just might find the universe and other people open up doors to help you.  As always, please share this with people you love and care about. You just might save some lives!

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt


Meet you at the top, ‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded.


Josh Zepess



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