I Was Mistaking My Poverty Thinking for Frugality


I’ve been MIA. Not that my mind hasn’t been here, it’s that I’ve been struggling with where to place my thoughts. I needed some time to detach, figure some things out, and set my mind back up on the right track.

I realized a weird phenomenon while I was closely tracking my spending and writing my blog. I would crash and burn hard, every couple months or so, as if it was clockwork. It’s kind of like the person who gains weight when dieting because of the frequent binges that shake down whenever one deprives themselves too much.

Was my yo-yo financial dieting truly due to deprivation? Were my shopping bans actually depriving me, or were all my crash-and-burns happening due to a deprivation/poverty mindset? 

Whenever I really tune in to the words of wealthy people (in my effort to learn what an “abundance mindset” looks like) I don’t hear the language that I constantly chirp at myself. There is no overflow of “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts” and definitely no severe chastising of behaviours. It was becoming painfully obvious that whenever I try to trim back – whether simply sticking to a budget or enforcing a full-on shopping ban – my mind was full of negative, restricting, impoverished verbiage.

I have not learned to separate choosing not to spend with being unable to spend.

Not spending on something I want has not been enforced in my subconscious as an active choice that comes from a place of enough, from a place of over-flow, or a place of abundance. To me, won’t always equaled can’t.

In my mind, not buying that new phone comes from a place of not being able to afford it, not because the one I have works perfectly fine, and I’m grateful I have that piece of technology that keeps me connected to my friends and loved ones. Saying I can’t meet friends at a cocktail bar comes from a place of saying I’m too broke to pay $12 for cocktails, and not from a firm belief that I am able to afford those drinks, but would much rather prefer to allocate that money to building a strong financial future for myself where I can also help support my family as they age. All my choices were coming from negativity, lack, and a firmly entrenched mindset in poverty thinking.

You know what the biggest problem with poverty thinking is? It’s not just that soul-crushing heavy cloud that hovers over you, it’s not that lack of motivation that settles in that makes you throw your hands up and think “what’s the point if I can never get ahead?” It’s that we humans are hard-wired to gather, scoop up, collect and store when we think resources are scarce and there won’t be enough.

Just like a squirrel who goes into overdrive collecting nuts before the barren landscape of winter hits, we tend to stockpile when we think there’s not enough, or when we think the source of what we need will run dry. We’re far from hunter-gatherers now, but try telling someone there won’t always be ‘thing X’ around, and see how bad they start wanting it – ALL of it. It’s why limited time sales work and why binge diets don’t. We don’t like the feeling of scarcity, and we have a hard time finding balance when we feel things are scarce.

To counteract this, I’m working on feeling that my saving and debt repayment money actions (as opposed to shopping and spending) come from a place of active choice and not from lack. I’m trying to sit and grow my feelings of contentment and “enoughness” so I know my choices come from the absence of want, not the absence of money. I want to be so enveloped in my motivation to make my money work in service of my ideal life that when I choose not to spend, there is no doubt it’s because I want to allocate the fruit of my output towards my dreams.

So I put my writing and my involvement in the personal finance community (which mostly means reading and hopefully offering encouraging thoughts on fellow bloggers’ posts) on hold until I could deconstruct my negative beliefs and put myself back together in the right way. To be perfectly honest, I’m not there yet. I don’t think I’ve made my mind right yet, and I still can’t really tell you what an abundance mindset looks and feels like. I still catch myself calling myself broke, that there’s not enough, and that I’ll never get ahead. But I’ve decided I need to start again somewhere, and if we all waited until we were perfectly ready or felt like we had it all figured out before we started on our challenges, we simply would never get started.

I’ve decided to take one step forward again. It might take a while to get the other foot in front of it, but I’m certain that when it does, it’ll be going in the right direction.

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  1. This is a great point. You can always take the frugality mindset too far into a deprivation mindset. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily being frugal if you have no other *choice* but to be frugal, after all.

    1. I definitely took it way too far; I gather I even started off from a deprivation mindset as opposed to realizing that all my physical needs are met and I should be grateful and happy to live in a safe, peaceful place and my frugality is just harnessing my money towards building a dream life. I started from a place of “I can’t spend because I don’t have.” It takes a lot to rewire the brain but I’m rolling up my sleeves and am willing to do the work!

  2. This is a really interesting read! I think you have to give yourself huge props for recognizing the pattern that was happening instead of just throwing your hands up and failing to change your behavior. The thing that took me from depreciation feeling to the sense that I was making positive choices just for me was a big, important why. My reason for choosing a different financial life has changed since I started last August, but it is powerful enough to give me the feeling that I am choosing to invest in the life I want instead of momentary satisfaction. Everyone’s why is different. Celebrating small wins (I no longer want that thing! I didn’t pay for parking this week!) helped too. I am cheering you on. I admire the introspection and honesty in this post. So glad you shared it.

    1. Thank you kindly for your comment and for cheering me on – the encouragement is so very appreciated! I’m thrilled to hear you use your ‘big why’ to navigate your big life choices as well as day to day decisions – I can really learn from you! I find I have my moments where I’m present with who I am, my ‘big why’ and what building the life I truly want will take and how to get there, and then I stray from the path and I have to start from ground zero again. It’s really motivating to hear about you sticking with your decision and overcoming the pull of that momentary satisfaction to focus on the big picture. I look forward to binge reading your blog!

  3. Good post. Living frugally is a mental game in many ways. Contentment is often a choice. You have mentioned in this post and others that you own enough stuff to be content. Keep working on that mindset. You are never going to make true traction until you reach some kind of personal peace. Continual shopping and buying online is just filling some kind of void. Do you know what that void is? Give every dollar a name and tell it where to go! I have seen blogs of families of five who had debts of over $200,000 who are having success. (Check out http://www.faithfilleddebtjourney.com) It is possible.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. It really hit home. I think I’m most definitely trying to fill a void and instead of getting sucked into acquiring material things to fill it, I need to stay consistent in my efforts of creating a mindful and meaningful existence. I feel like I have my lightbulb moments where I return back to who I really am only to fall off the horse again shortly later, so I definitely need to keep my eyes on the prize – and reading about others who have done it/are doing it helps so very much. Thank you for the recommended reading!

  4. I’m so glad you posted 😁I think all of what you are struggling with is part of the process of growth and learning and change. You will probably feel this off and on many times. But that is okay. It’s okay to retreat and regroup, no matter what it is you are working towards. Better than giving up, right? I think we need different strategies to stay on course when our minds and temperaments throw us for a loop. Part of this journey is learning how to steer and stay on course when the wind changes. You’re doing great, and it’s lovely to hear from you! Jill

    1. So great to hear from you, Jill! I’m planning to binge read on how you and your family have been doing, I hope you’ve been great! Thank you for the kind words, it’s been hard not to be disappointed in myself for needing the time off because it’s meant I’ve lagged behind in my debt payoff goals and progress, but it definitely was needed. It truly is learning to navigate and taking a new course when the landscape (our minds!) deem it necessary. Hopefully this mindset is something I can stay on course with and just feel good and grateful and simply happy with. Thanks again, and so good to hear from you <3

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