Well, in truth I’ve been battling the scarcity mindset for years. The difference is that, with Tim out of the picture, it’s even more patently unwarranted than before. I have plenty of money. I’m putting away plenty of money. But it still doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m not whether it ever will.
So here are the steps that I’m taking (and that you can take) to battle the scarcity mindset.
Track your expenses
Not knowing how much is going out is always a bit terrifying. If you don’t have a firm grasp on how much money is leaving your account, you could easily inflate the number to be bigger than it really is. In that case, you’re not going to feel safe financially because it will seem as though money is leaking out everywhere. This feeds into the scarcity mindset.
Instead of guestimating your spending, track your expenses for a month or two and compare them to your income. This could help you feel more secure.
This is what I’m doing so that I get a better sense of how much of my money is outgoing. So far, it’s not doing a lot to soothe my nerves — all I’m seeing is money going out — but once I have a total outlay for the month (which I think will be lower than I expect it to be), I should feel better.
Find places to trim
Tracking your expenses will also give you a broad view of where problem areas — or at least areas ripe for improvement — could be. And if you can lower your spending, you’ll know that there’s more money to be had. Which is the opposite of “scarcity.”
Thanks to a reality check from a friend, I’ve already found some spending that I can trim. With very little brain power, I quickly found ways to save around $80 a month. That’s nearly $1,000 a year! That definitely helps me feel more secure and less like money is a scarce resource ’round these parts.
Okay, I know I just told you to cut expenses. And telling you to spend when you feel a pinch seems pretty counterintuitive. But just hear me out.
I thoroughly believe that, if you can afford it, a carefully considered expense or two could make you feel more secure. The emphasis here is on “carefully considered.” Don’t go charging into the department store waving your credit card and grabbing things blindly.
But something within reason — the occasional facial, covering those grays in a salon, even just a nice coffee at Starbucks — can help you remember that there’s enough money to go around.
My examples are my lip wax ($12) and coloring my hair ($35 at the beauty school). Doing this (and being able to take it out of the weekly budget) reminds me that I’m doing just fine financially, that I can afford indulgences without breaking the bank. So yeah, weird as it seems, a little bit of spending helps me feel more financially stable.
Keep your numbers handy
I put away a lot of money in the last two months, but knowing that abstractly hasn’t made much of a dent in my scarcity mindset. Instead, I need to write down the exact amount of money I put away these past couple of months and refer to that when I start to panic.
It may also help to write down current balances in your bank accounts. Seeing hard numbers — be they amounts saved or money in savings — could help remind you that you have a cushion.
Call it what it is
The scarcity mindset is just another form of money anxiety. I went over ways to deal with that in this post. Now I just need to take my own advice and apply it to the feeling that there isn’t enough.
Remember: anxiety isn’t rational. So when the scarcity mentality is at maximum power, it’s best to remind yourself that what you’re experiencing probably isn’t logical, let alone representative of reality. This could help you calm down. If not, at least it’ll keep things in perspective.
Set a goal
If you can meet a savings goal — either for general savings, retirement or some special project (home improvement, a trip, etc.) — you’re less likely to feel like there isn’t enough to go around.
The trick is to set a realistic-yet-ambitious goal. Because if it’s too high, you’ll consistently fail, feeding the anxiety. But if it’s too low, it won’t feel like an accomplishment, and the sense of scarcity probably won’t be eased much.
I’m going to set my goal at $750. If I can put away a total of $750 into the SEP and savings account each month, then I really can’t argue that I don’t have enough money.
That number is a compromise. My first impulse was $1,000, but I think that’s far too high to hit every month. My next thought was $500, but that felt too low. It’s not, of course. Even with a 50/50 split for savings/retirement, that would mean meeting my $3,000/year SEP goal. But again, anxiety isn’t rational. Given what I make, a $250 boost to each account doesn’t feel like enough. So I’m going to try out $750 and see if that’s reasonable. I can always lower (or hopefully raise) it as needed.
There’s very little in this world that can make you feel richer than giving to worthy causes. This is also one of the toughest ones to do when you already feel as though there isn’t enough money to go around.
It’s something I’m working on because, logically, I know I have more than enough money. I can spare at least $50 a month. In truth, I’m sure I can spare a lot more, though I’ll never be comfortable donating 10% of my income the way some people do. But this is about baby steps. Fifty dollars doesn’t feel unmanageable. Heck, I could even take it out of weekly funds so that it doesn’t go on the credit card. So I’ll start with $50 and hopefully work my way up.
But you don’t have to start that high. Start with $25. Heck, start with $10. Any little bit will help the organization. A lot of places accept online donations now, so you don’t even have to write a check!
Feeding America is a great charity that helps food banks all over the country. There’s also the American Cancer Society* and plenty of other non-political organizations.
I personally will probably give to Feeding America, the NAACP and Planned Parenthood (I am a knee-jerk liberal after all) but we’ll see what other requests come my way.
These tips won’t help everyone because some people have a very real scarcity problem. They’ve trimmed expenses, they’re already tracking spending, and there’s simply no money left over.
In that case, I think the scarcity mindset isn’t anxiety. It’s rational.
Unfortunately, it means there’s not a lot to be done about it. If you’re physically capable of it, you can always find ways to boost your income through side gigs. But that’s not possible for everyone and/or the side gigs you are capable of might not bring in enough to make a dent.
If that’s true, then just try to breathe and know that you’re doing the best you can in a bad set of circumstances. Hopefully, things will get easier for you soon. If they don’t, then at least remind yourself how tough you are for staying sane in such a stressful situation.
Do you struggle with the scarcity mindset? What ways have you found of coping?
*Speaking of the American Cancer Society, a member of the PF blogosphere‘s son is going through a fight for his life, which means both parents have had to take time off work. If you want to help, here’s more information and a place to donate.