Top ten ways you can appear rich even when you’re poor

1: Be fit and slim: there is a strong negative correlation between wealth and obesity. Why?

Contrary to popular belief, the rich are not slimmer because a healthy diet is more expensive or they can afford personal trainers. They are slimmer because they invest more thought into what they eat. This is because the wealthy have a lower time preference: they are willing to forgo the short-term pleasure of a sugar rush for the long-term reward of truly delicious food, good health, and good looks.

In developed countries where calories are cheap, our choice of food is determined by three factors: stress, culture, and availability.

Stress is the main determinant of time preference with food. Chronic stress makes us unable to make intelligent decisions about diet, and dietary sugar is the main pharmacological compound we used to deal with stress. Sugar and other processed carbohydrates are the main cause of obesity. For non-athletes, exercise has nothing to do with it.

There is much more to say on this topic, but to sum up: if you can learn to manage your stress, you will learn to manage your cravings. You can choose to develop a culture of cooking real food, and even though good food will not be as available to you, you can learn to go out of your way for it.

2: Wear well-fitting clothes: the rich are not fashionable because they can afford luxury brands. They are fashionable because they are conscious about fit and style. You don’t need to go to a bespoke haute couture tailor to dress well: you can find something that fits you at Goodwill. You just need to do free online research and make a conscious effort to design your wardrobe.

3: Show up on time: this is not to say that the rich are always punctual and the poor are late, but that the wealthy can afford to be physically and mentally present for occasions that they deem worth their time. The poor are usually distracted and either physically or mentally absent.

Like with diet, the root cause is stress: it’s much easier to be present when you can throw money to make your distractions go away. But if you’re poor, there is something else you can throw away to make your stressors go away: attachments. All relationships and possessions cost time and money. Some relationships and possessions are worthwhile and produce a positive return, while others are a net drag. When you are poor, it’s much easier for minor things to drag you down, so you must keep your load to a minimum. Partying is expensive. Owning a car is expensive. Owning the latest iPhone is expensive. Let go of attachments that are not vital to your long-term success and you will thrive.

I didn’t have a car until I got my master’s at 23. It’s not that I couldn’t afford or didn’t want a car (living in a small Texas college town). I knew that it would be an ongoing cost and a distraction from my main goal of completing my education.

4: Be young: no amount of wealth will give you a younger body, but you are in control of the two biggest causes of aging: obesity and sun damage. You may not be able to afford plastic surgery, but you can control the main reasons why the rich need plastic surgery in the first place.

5: Have a big family: while there is a strong relationship between poverty and more children, the cost of raising kids is one of the main reasons parents don’t have more children.

Children are expensive at all income levels since the expectations on parents grow proportionately. But I think the problem is the same: parents think that being good parents means spending money on their idea of a good parent rather than spending time being a parent. For example, in my family, we took our daughter out of an expensive private school because we found that she learned more from us at home. We don’t spend our time shuttling her from one activity to another, but go hiking, play chess, and cook together. Being a parent is cheaper and more rewarding than hiring someone else to parent your child.

6: Have a successful marriage: There is a very strong relationship between divorce, single parenthood, and poverty. Why do the poor get divorced more often? The root cause is an inability and unwillingness to negotiate conflict: all relationships take work and generate stress. Successful couples can take time to do the work because they manage their stress. Couples who divorce let stress and resentment build up. It is said that the overwhelming reason relationships fail is “lack of commitment.” But why are people not committed to relationships? It’s because it does not create value for them. Once the sensual aspect wears off, the inherent friction of human relationships overweights the positive aspects of the partnership. Poor people divorce for the same reason they get fat, and it has nothing to with money. The root cause of poverty, obesity, and divorce is high time preference.

7: Don’t complain: Wealthy people are happier, while the poor are much more likely to be depressed. Part of the reason is that they can throw money at problems. A more fundamental reason is that the poor have a scarcity mindset, while the wealthy have an abundance mindset.

The abundance mindset sees the universe as full of opportunity — for friendship, love, and financial success. By contrast, the scarcity mindset sees everything as a fixed pie and leads to hoarding, envy, and stagnation in every aspect of life.

Poor people with a scarcity mindset think that if their neighbor has something good, whether it’s a possession or relationship, it must be unavailable to them. So they complain about the cruel, unjust universe.

Wealthy people with an abundance mindset see others’ success as an inspiration: if their neighbor has a great marriage, a beautiful house, or a successful business, there is something positive to learn, and potentially a valuable relationship to build. The universe is full of opportunities, so there is no reason to complain about failure – they have only themselves to blame.

8: Enjoy great art: while the rich can afford an original Banksy their wall, and at their kid’s bar mitzva, the world’s greatest paintings are in public museums, and great music and film are nearly free for you to enjoy — if only you developed a taste for it.

It is said that Howard Hughes once locked himself in a hotel room and watched Ice Station Zebra for months. If I developed an OCD desire to watch a movie on repeat for months, it would the 2003 film “Master and Commander.” I’ve heard some people complain that the film is boring and doesn’t have enough action. Once again, high-time preference is at fault. You are addicted to crave the rush of sugar in food, the cheap dopamine thrill of pornography, and the freight train of explosions in the latest Michael Bay Transformers 7: Faster and Exploder.

Nurturing a taste in great art takes patience and time, but if you want to explore the highs and lows of the human condition and be inspired to be a deeper, more passionate soul, you must put in the time and work.

9: Keep a clean house: yes, the wealthy can hire housekeepers to pick up after them. But if you’re poor, you have an advantage they don’t: you have fewer possessions and less space to store them in.

While weekly cleaning is necessary for every household, being organized is more important: by putting things away after you use them (and teaching your kids to do the same) you can keep your home from becoming a mess in the first place.

The messy appearance of poor households has another cause: the scarcity mentality. People hoard things they don’t need because they worry that they won’t be able to get a hold of them again. But possessions you don’t need right now are only a drain on you: they take up physical and mental space in your life. Let go of the things you don’t need with the faith that they will be there when you need them again. There are “Buy Nothing” neighborhood groups all over the U.S. where families freely exchange things they don’t need anymore. This year, I got a punching bag, a shop vac, a kids trike, lightning for my garage, toddler clothes, yard tools, and much more. We gifted just as much. Relying on relationships and having faith in people’s generosity frees us up for physical and mental baggage.

10: Don’t stress about money: in developed countries, stress about money is the worst aspect of poverty, worse than the physical deprivation it forces. Few people in America have to worry about going hungry or homeless, but many more live paycheck to paycheck with chronic stress about money. A $500 surprise expense would put most Americans into debt.

A high income is no guarantee of financial well-being: if your spending rate is greater than your income, you will never have financial security. Real wealth is not measured in income, but financial security: the confidence that no matter what happens to your income stream, your lifestyle won’t be affected.

The solution to money stress is simple: live below your means and build an emergency fund. It’s easier not to stress about money when you’re young and broke. When you’re starting out, all you need to worry about is living below your means and keeping your emergency cash fund topped up. When you’re wealthy, very little of your net worth is cash. You have to balance your net worth between business interest, real estate, securities, and other assets. Managing your portfolio becomes a part-time job – unless you hire expensive money managers, which is another set of worries.


Wealth is one possible reward for developing good habits in life. It takes time and luck to build wealth, but you don’t need to wait to become rich to enjoy the other rewards that result from striving for physical and mental health.

  • Find life-enhancing ways to manage stress (such as sports or hobbies rather than food, porn, drugs, or tv)
  • Eliminate relationships that drag you down and distract you from your life’s goals
  • Put as much thought into your appearance as you do into other important aspects of your life
  • Make a concerted effort to nurture your soul with great art
  • Eliminate possessions that do not bring you joy or add more value than the financial, physical, and mental burden they carry
  • Live below your means to avoid financial stress