Russell Anderson reckons Aberdeen can keep challenging the Old Firm regardless of differences in spending power.
The ex-Dons skipper believes Derek McInnes’ approach in the transfer market has been key to the club’s resurgence.
Despite having precious little to spend, Aberdeen are within touching distance of a third consecutive second-placed finish.
Jonny Hayes claimed Aberdeen would need around £20 million to catch runaway champions Celtic.
The Reds are nine points clear of big spenders Rangers, who must spend £50m to catch their Glasgow rivals – according to former Ibrox hero Willie Henderson.
Controversial Gers forward Joe Garner arrived from Preston North End for £1.8m, dwarfing what Aberdeen have to spend.
Kenny McLean was the last player to arrive at Pittodrie for a fee, costing £300,000 in early 2015.
There has been some budgetary belt-tightening at Aberdeen since Anderson made his debut in the era of the club’s only £1m man, forward Paul Bernard.
All six of last summer’s permanent signings arrived on free transfers, while Greg Tansey’s pre-contract deal means the Dons will not pay Inverness a penny.
But former Scotland centre-back Anderson believes the Dons can keep challenging regardless of their finances.
“We will always try to compete, the challenge will always be there,” Anderson said.
“The resources that Rangers can call upon far outweigh anything we can match, and then you just have to look at the resources Celtic can call on.”
“We’re not at that level as a club but that’s not to say we can’t compete with them and we’ve shown that this season.
“Money doesn’t automatically bring success – it can help if it’s spent wisely, but as a club the manager has been very shrewd with his signings.
“As much as we are in a good place, there is always room for improvement and the manager will always be looking for that, striving to be better.
“The challenge is to retain the players we’ve got and to recruit players to improve the team.”
Aberdeen have the opportunity to clinch second place on Sunday with a win against Hearts at Tynecastle.
Typically a tricky place to go, the Jambos have stuttered since Ian Cathro took over in early December.
When the former Newcastle assistant arrived in Edinburgh, Aberdeen were three points behind Hearts – and five behind Rangers.
Hearts have went into freefall since while the Reds have caught fire.
The gap between the two sides has swung with the Dons now a colossal 21 points clear of the Gorgie outfit.
Despite doubts elsewhere earlier in the season, Anderson was confident the club would prove their mettle as Scotland’s second-best.
He said: “Around November time when we fell seven points behind Rangers there were a few people who questioned whether we would be able to compete with them.
“I was confident, and it’s easy to say that now because we’ve had a very good run since then, but you just have to look at the consistency levels of the players in the past three or four years.
“It’s very impressive and having played with most of them and watched all of them regularly this season, I’m not surprised they have reached the levels they have.
“There’s a real determination and motivation to do well and they are getting the recognition they deserve.
“They’ve got two cup finals this season and are second place in the league.
“You’d have to say up until now, it’s been another successful season. But there is still an awful lot to play for.”
Aberdeen have the Scottish Cup final against Celtic yet to come but still have four league fixtures to play.
The Dons lost their first game after the split to St Johnstone last weekend.
That took their record to 10 defeats in 21 games after the annual divide since McInnes took over, with just four wins in that span.
Aberdeen have been accused by some of losing their impetus towards the season’s end over the past couple of years.
But Anderson is confident the group will finish the campaign strongly, with cup final spots a key motivator.
With 10 current Dons having made more than 100 appearances for the club, Anderson also feels their time together could help them get better yet.
He said: “I know the manager will be trying to drive that home to the players, that the season is not finished yet.
“We’ve got an opportunity for the players to try to get into his team for the cup final.
“There is a motivation and an incentive for players to keep their levels high.”
He added: “Bearing in mind the amount of games they have played over the past four seasons, including European games and cup games, you can tell they are maturing.
“They’re developing all the time and look better players now so the team is getting better for that reason.”