The Difference Between Broke Versus Poor

“I’m so broke/poor”. Many of us, especially in our college years or in our 20s, have been guilty of jokingly saying this — especially when money was tight. In social situations, it can be easy to refer to being “broke” or “poor” interchangeably, but it is important to understand the difference between these terms to avoid being insensitive to those who may be experiencing financial hardship.

As best described by Katy Wolk-Stanley of The Non-Consumer Advocate, “[t]o describe oneself as poor is to accept an external definition of oneself…[i]t’s a long term situation and (this is important here) your financial identity is labeled by others.” (Wolk-Stanley, 2016). Being “poor” then, is a greater societal issue for those who may be trapped in the cycle of poverty.

According to the 2016 Census, “if a single-person’s household income is lower than $22,133, [Statistics Canada] defined it as ‘low-income’… same goes for a 4-person household with an income of less than $44,266” (Global News, 2017).

While the average living costs varies for each province, it is the unfortunate reality that “there were 4.8 million Canadians living in a low‑income household in 2015, of whom 1.2 million (nearly one in four) were children” (Statistics Canada, 2017).

So is it okay to say you’re “broke” instead?

With the flood of memes and video clips on being “broke”, it can be difficult to completely avoid bringing up these sort of jokes. Often times, we may say we’re “broke” to find some comfort in knowing other people may be experiencing similar situations of financial instability. Other times, it can suggest you might need some help managing your finances better. In any case, it is important to be mindful of how this term may come off to those that may not align with your income level.

For many of us young professionals, our financial situation or income level may not be consistent enough to make big purchases on a whim. And even if you are able to, everyone’s situation is different. As Katy Wolk-Stanley explains, “[t]o be broke may mean that you have no money, but it’s a temporary situation. You’re just one good paycheck away from financial stability” (Wolk-Stanley, 2016). Moreover, one’s definition of a “good” paycheque can also depend on their individual lifestyle.

The best answer we can think of is to be more empathetic towards one’s financial situation — this mindset is ingrained in our culture here at Koho, and we stand by our mission to help Canadians take control of their finances.

We hope this brings more awareness on how we, as a society can have a healthier conversation around personal finance and how we can support those in need of a helping hand — even if it’s as simple as adjusting the language we use when people share their financial struggles.

As always, if there’s anything we can do to help you manage your finances better, feel free to reach out to us at

About the Author

Lynn Shinto


Community Manager