SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The vast majority of people who refer to seemingly insufficient sums of money as “that kind of money” or “that kinda money” live below the poverty line, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego.
“Very few of the participants with net worths greater than $13,000 were apt to refer to sums of money equal to or lesser than $500 as ‘that kind of money’,” said lead researcher Seo-yeon Khim of UC San Diego’s Center for Research in Language. “But nearly all of our less affluent participants used such phrasing regularly, even when referring to sums of money as small as $14.”
The study, published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Languages and Culture, asked more than 2,500 participants from various economic backgrounds to describe how they would spend their money if they were suddenly awarded sums as low as $14 to as high as $150,000. While only a handful of the more financially well-to-do respondents peppered their answers with the phrase “that kind of money” or its sister descriptor “that kinda money,” nearly 100 percent of participants living at or below the poverty line responded with one, and sometimes both, of the expressions.
“What I found truly fascinating was the uniformity with which our less prosperous participants used the phrase in reference to amounts of money that many people would likely never describe as ‘considerable’ or ‘substantial’,” said Khim, who admitted her initial interest in studying the phrase was sparked by a middle-aged chimney sweep she overheard at a roadside Circle K convenience store. Upon cashing in a winning scratch-off lottery ticket worth $9, Khim overheard the chimney sweep enviously remark that he “could buy two more cheddarwursts with that kinda money.”
Khim’s coauthors were equally surprised at the results, noting that usage of the phrase appears to be exclusive to people of limited means who have an even more limited if not nonexistent grasp of responsible money management.
“Initially, the study intended only to examine usage of the phrase ‘that kind of money’ and if the expression can be tied to a particular social class,” said coauthor Min-jun Cho. “But in asking people to describe how they would spend their hypothetical financial windfalls, we also realized that many of our less propertied participants would spend both large and small amounts of unexpected money rather frivolously. My fellow authors and I even began joking amongst ourselves that we hoped our more indigent subjects would never run into any unexpected sums of money, large or small, for fear that they would only spend their manna from heaven on excessive amounts of beef jerky or Toby Keith cassettes.”
Cho and his coauthors’ fears are not unfounded, as the study includes an index of participant responses that run the gamut from shrewd approaches to handling sudden strokes of financial luck to inexplicably poor ways to spend both small and large amounts of money. But it’s among the latter group where the answers are most puzzling and revelatory.
“How wouldn’t I spend $14 is a better question to ask,” responded one participant who lives well below the poverty line. “Shoot, with that kinda money I could buy a third bottle of Mr. Pibb every day for a whole week.”
Both Khim and Cho admit such responses have piqued their interests, prompting the two researchers to begin collaborating on a new study aimed at determining if anyone capable of opening a basic checking account has ever used the word “yinz.”