It’s No Fun Being Poor


This article was adapted from an address delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

It’s no fun being poor, but no one has to be. Through prayer and action God helps us avoid being poor. He that has eternal life is rich.

However, we can become victims of real poverty if we are not wise in our daily conduct. The main question is, what is meant by the terms poor and rich? Do they have to do only with material goods? The next question for every person to consider is not what he would do if he had large amounts of money, time, influence, or educational advantages, but how he will best use the means and resources he has and will yet have.

The purpose of this article is to try to help all of us avoid being poor. Hopefully, if we are already poor, as I define the term here, we will be able to overcome that condition. For your consideration, I am going to identify some “commandments” we should follow if we would avoid being poor. Doubtless, there may be many others, but for our purposes, the following may be a good start.

Thou shalt not lose a friend or cease being one.

A person is poor when he has fewer and fewer friends. A person is poor when he is friendless. When friends, those closest to us, have reason to leave us, to disbelieve us, to lose confidence in us, we are poor. When we lose friends, our strength as well as our desire to do good is often totally drained from us.

Very often friends are lost because we are unwilling to pay the price it takes to maintain them. It was the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

A person is poor when he is friendless, but even poorer when he ceases being a friend. No matter what others may do, we cannot afford to give up our sincere efforts to be a friend.

Thou shalt honor thy character and protect it from self destruction.

A person is poor when his character is filled with greed and dishonesty. When we give in to misconduct under pressure, we are poor. We are poor in character when we think “getting by” is a substitute for doing our best. Virtue, action, and truth properly blended in life make a person rich.

Our character is determined by how we perform in meeting life’s challenges. Thank God for individuals who have the courage to stand up and be counted on the side of truth and integrity. What a compliment it is to have someone say of you, “She will not yield her principles under pressure or distress.”

Thou shalt not deceive.

A favorite tool of the devil is deception. Satan’s skills have given him the title of “The father of deceit.” He would have all of us become poor by living and promoting lies. Whenever deception is encouraged, the person encouraging the deception loses the most. He must bear the responsibility for those he injures. A man of deceit considers what he can gain by telling partial truths. A man of character considers what is right.

Thou shalt not compromise thy principles.

All of us should constantly remind ourselves that character is education properly applied. The sharing and encouraging of truth on a continuing basis protects us from poverty. A person living high standards of virtue and morality will not compromise his principles no matter what kind of situation he may be in.

People of uncompromising principles are never poor. Those who live by worthy principles are rich.

Thou shalt love thyself.

The worst form of defeat is to be conquered by self. Defeat is not pleasant, but nothing is so painful and devastating as self-defeat. Losing our self-dignity and self-respect is the worst form of poverty. When trust in friends and self are both lost, there is not much trust left in life.

A person is poor when he places despair over hope. A person is poor when he fails to remember who he really is and forgets his relationship to God, family, and self. We are someone—a spirit child of our Father in Heaven—and with his help, we can accomplish all things.

Thou shalt be honest.

A person is poor when he thinks honesty is a policy instead of a proper way of life. An honest conscience is worth more than it costs. “What profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36.) How many times over the years have you heard the declaration that it is greater to be trusted than to be loved? Without honesty there is no foundation upon which to build.

Thou shalt not wrongfully exploit others for personal advantage.

A person is poor when he uses the name of an individual or an organization to promote or sell something of doubtful value. How unfair, unwise, and poor are those who want us to believe an investment opportunity is “good” because of political or Church connections. Dishonesty is any communication given by one person to another with the intent to deceive.

Those of us who knowingly participate in dishonesty in any form are moving in the direction of poverty.

Thou shalt not believe repentance is an announcement.

A person is poor when he does not realize repentance is a process and not just a declaration. Every person has the challenge of recognizing and carrying his personal cross. Repentance requires action.

A person who is willing to repent will never owe more than he receives. Repentance makes it possible for us to get back up when we fall. A person is poor only when he is unwilling to use and understand repentance. Repentance is not a public announcement that we are going to change our lives. Repentance means living a better life and forsaking transgression. Repentance is our conduct in public and in private.

Thou shalt not allow thyself to be managed by money.

A person who allows his money to manage him instead of him managing his money is poor. No matter how much or how little we have to live on each week or month, it needs to be used wisely. We need to decide on a budget and live within it.

It seems there will always be emergencies and crises in all of our lives that cause financial hardships, but even these developments need not make us poor. Financial disaster can be avoided if we learn with others how to help ourselves. Anyone with friends, family, neighbors, bishops, and stake presidents who care is rich.

Through work, education, and commitment, we can feel personal satisfaction if we make use of our resources appropriately and wisely. No one needs to apologize for his success in financial achievement if the means of attainment have been honorable and he knows how to wisely use what he has. Only if money and wealth become our goal and our god, we will be poor.

I personally respect those who are honorably successful in achieving an abundance of this world’s goods, but only if it is very evident their money is being wisely used. One of life’s great lessons is to teach us that what we do with what we have is more important than what we have. We do not judge the value of the sun by its height, but for its use.

With friends, virtue, character, truth, integrity, repentance, and other God-given gifts, pearls of great price are ours for the seeking. It’s no fun being poor. Fortunately, none of us has to be.

[illustration] Painting by Carl Bloch