Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Poverty Mindset

There has been a lot of talk on the You Need A Budget (YNAB) forums recently about a "poverty mindset", and how it affects how people handle money. The general consensus seems to be that some people in rough situations get so used to having little money that, when they get more, they automatically squander it.

Another side of the debate points to people who abuse social care systems, making no effort to lift themselves out of the state of poverty. Instead of trying to do better, they settle into the rut of receiving handouts and build their life around them.

For me, I have been blessed to never know poverty. I have never been hungry; I have always had a place to lay my head. I have been clothed and I could get to school. I realise how fortunate my upbringing was in that regard. Even so, there were times when I felt my inability to afford the extras in life and, at the time, that felt monumental. Since then, I have grown enough to know that the extras aren't that important after all. I have my Father to thank for a good bit of my financial sensibility. He told me in my teen years about my responsibility to support the household I was in, and also cautioned against spending money frivolously.

This is not to say that I have not had my moments of completely going against some parts of his advice, but eventually I returned back to the basics.

One of the other things which has affected me positively over the years is embracing minimalism. It was like waking up from a stupor of reckless spending and hoarding and realising that I was drowning in 'stuff'. What followed was a massive purging of things in my surroundings.  Even more profound and far reaching, however, was the mental shift that took place; my mind decluttered as well as my environment.

I realised that most things in this material world are completely unnecessary. Despite what society is claiming to be the basic standard of living - which generally includes a car, a house, many gadgets and toys, plus the latest fashions - the basic needs of life have not changed.

Food, shelter, clean water and clothing remain the basic needs of life. In a forward society one could add education, health care and employment opportunities; these assist you in securing the first set of basics I mentioned.

From this starting point, I realised with a thundering clap of awareness that I was extremely fortunate. Despite being nowhere near a millionaire, I have more than enough to sustain an extremely comfortable life and, further, when compared with most of the other humans on the planet, I am rich.

I see the poverty mindset in people who are just as fortunate as I am but, because their frame of reference is different, they feel like they are constantly in a rat race. There is never 'enough' money and so, instead of being prudent, they take that as an excuse to 'live it up' and not worry about the future.

Some people genuinely don't know where their next dollar is going to come from and have neither family nor government assistance to fill in the gap. Their dreams start at a hot plate of food and their stretch goal might to be able to eat in a fast food chain one day.

I remind myself of my good fortune regularly to keep myself from feeling bogged down by the expectations of other people, especially when I get caught up in the hype over something that, at the end of the day, is only an extra.  I remind myself that extras won't significantly improve my quality of life.

Most of all, this allows me to be more generous and to help others who are truly in need of support. Knowing that I can furnish someone with a need instead of simply buying something I want lifts my spirits.

I do my best to help my friends and family to see that they are one of the privileged few and not part of the struggling many but I also know it is a hard sell. When you compare yourself to celebrities and upper-middle class examples of wealth, you will never feel as if you match up.

We all need to step outside of our self-imposed poverty mindsets by taking a very hard look at what is necessary in life and what is simply 'good to have'.

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