I recently shared the story of a woman who wondered, “I make $6.50 an hour — am I poor?” The author had lost a good-paying job, moved to rural Montana, and was struggling to get by. Several readers forwarded a similar story about a woman who is surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year.

The authors of both articles live on about the same income. What is remarkable to me is the difference in the women’s attitudes. Karen, who makes $6.50 an hour, complains about work conditions (she feels like a “slave”), seems unwilling to make sacrifices, and glosses over the fact that she owns a home. Donna, who makes $12,000 a year, has a positive and active attitude regarding her situation despite similar hardships:

Make no mistake: I’m poor by choice, because I needed to change my life. I chose to leave my marriage, and I chose to become a student. I can live this way because I know it won’t be forever. I’ll have my degree in two more years, and I’ll go back to work. I survive on economies large and small. I bring my laundry to baby-sitting jobs (yes, I ask permission). I brown-bag my lunch every single day. I combine coupons and rebates to get items for free (I haven’t paid for toothpaste, shampoo or other toiletries for years). I drink water, not soda. But in order to thrive, [I] have to hustle, too, always looking for ways to save a dime or to make one.

Rather than complain about the work she’s forced to do in order to get by, Donna scrounges for other opportunities. She does some freelance writing, some baby-sitting, and more. “When I wasn’t working I was studying,” she says. She recognizes that her current stage of life calls for sacrifice, but she’s not letting it get her down. She’s keeping a positive attitude. She has developed a series of mantras to keep her motivated:

  • “It’s not what I have, but how much of it I can keep.”
  • “How can I get it free, or almost free?”
  • “Enough is as good as a feast.”
  • “Every day is casual Friday!”
  • “Announce my intentions.”

Donna has discovered that increasing her monthly church tithe to $20 helps her to feel rich. Do you see the difference here between the authors of these two articles? The first makes $6.50 an hour, owns a home, and feels poor. The second makes less money, pays rent, but has managed to find ways to feel wealthy.

I admire Donna’s attitude. I have no doubt that she’ll succeed.

(Note: a similar comparison could — and should — be made between people earning ten times as much money as these two. One person earning $120,000 year may feel poor, while another will feel wealthy. It’s all about attitude.)

[MSN Money: Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year]

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