At Eckerd, there is an alarming number of students who claim to be poor in their everyday conversations. But when I look around, I see BMWs and Teslas in the student parking lots, Cartier rings and Gucci merchandise in class and new iPhones chirping all around campus.
I’ve had friends claim they don’t have any money to go out, but in reality, they just ran out of their parent-allotted allowance for the week and refuse to get a job. This phenomenon is often referred to as “poor mouth,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “pleading poverty as a defense or excuse.” There are several reasons why people engage in poor mouth to hide their wealth including the fact that it’s no longer cool to be rich.
With scandals like YouTuber Olivia Jade’s incredibly wealthy parents buying her way into college and Bernie Sanders condemning rich people during every Democratic presidential debate, nobody wants to be part of the group that America hates. Back in the day, people used to fake wealth, but now it is the opposite. Instead of buying fake designer items to appear wealthier, the new trend is to shop at thrift stores and hide expensive things in an effort to erase the reality of the upper class.
Eckerd students will claim they cannot afford to pay for things like an Uber, and let their working friends pay for their share of the fee, yet they brag about their upcoming spring break trips. People who engage in this type of poor mouth are afraid to be compared to the Olivia Jades of the world after it became clear just how far privilege in America can go- especially at private colleges like Eckerd.
Wealthy college kids are not criminals, but after seeing the world tear celebrities apart over college acceptance fraud, it almost seems like they are; especially the ones who grew up in affluent communities and remain unaware of what poverty actually looks like.
Complaining about being “poor” is not a fun, quirky punchline – it’s something that adds anxiety and pressure to college students who are really struggling. Jessica Lindsay, a journalist with Metro News, said it perfectly in her article, “If Your Parents Are Rich, Stop Pretending to Be Poor.”
“They’ll never know what it’s like to have absolutely no safety net, or to wonder if you’ll be able to afford your bills that month, and lucky for them,” Lindsay wrote. “It’s just the embarrassing fetishization of not having money that gets to me.”
Lindsay also suspects that liberals feel as though they need to appear to be poor in order to fully support their ideals or risk looking like a hypocrite. While I think she’s correct in her suspicion, this idea is also bizarre to me– you do not need to be gay to support the LGBTQ community, and you do not need to be an animal to support animal rights, so why should you have to be poor in order to show support to people in poverty?
This “poor mouth” phenomenon is especially interesting at Eckerd because tuition is so high and students pay in very different ways. Some rely on student loans, some rely on their parents and many rely on a combination of both.
But Eckerd is undeniably wealthy, and money can put a strain on your friendships with peers who have a different level of financial freedom than you do. An anonymous contributor to the news forum Grazia Daily said that she pretends to be poor around her friends because she feels guilty about having more money than they do. She adopts a completely different lifestyle in their presence.
“There’s ‘rich’ Hannah, who holidays in Dubai and New York with her work friends, has a personal trainer and never has to scrimp and save,” Hannah writes. “And then there’s ‘poor’ Hannah, who my [university] friends see.”
Hannah is in a relatable situation to Eckerd students with wealth disparities, especially when they grow resentful towards their friends’ iPhone 11s and Teslas. However, neither party is to blame. Instead we should be wary of social comparison itself.
While social comparison motivates some people, it can be incredibly toxic to others, so to avoid the tension the rich act poor and shop at less name-brand places like Walmart instead of Trader Joe’s. But poor mouth is more problematic than you may think because it trivializes poverty, a very real societal issue.
The “broke college student” trope takes on a completely different meaning when a student genuinely cannot afford to buy luxury items and their parents are relying on their academic success. One simple action that everybody can take is to be mindful of social comparison and try to engage in it less– whether that be upwards or downwards. While you shouldn’t have to change anything about your life to please others, it is also important to be respectful of others’ financial situations.