You can develop a scarcity mindset around anything you consider valuable — money, food, jobs, public resources, people in the dating pool…
Thinking of these things as scarce can make you feel like you have to hoard what you have, compete against everyone else, obsessively account for every piece and penny, and — counterintuitively — splurge when you experience a windfall.
A scarcity mindset also convinces you you’ll never have enough, no matter how hard you work for something. You’ll never get the good job, you’ll never have enough money, you’ll never find love.
This mindset can lead to tons of self-protective behaviors that can actually hurt your financial wellbeing. Its most insidious effect is convincing you it's fruitless to even try to build wealth or improve your financial situation.
Even worse: Constantly dealing with a feeling of lack around money can be seriously detrimental to your overall mental health.
A Harvard experiment found that just thinking about expensive bills can impede cognitive function. But we don’t need to tell you that. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and trying to get through work every day, you know from experience.
A scarcity mindset comes from a variety of sources, including your parents, culture, religion, society, and past experiences and trauma.
It’s important to know identifying a mindset doesn’t mean blaming yourself for your financial situation. Just like recognizing internalized feelings of things like homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, misogyny or white supremacy, identifying a scarcity mindset is about recognizing the impact of the culture surrounding you and understanding how to undo it.
You may have developed a scarcity mindset as a way to protect yourself from real or perceived risks at one point in your life. For example, if you expect to face traumatizing discrimination in the workplace, you might adopt a belief that it’s not worth pursuing success in your career.
A scarcity mindset about money can also come from experiences and emotions that aren’t directly about money.
Many queer people have faced messages our whole llives that we aren’t worthy of love, marriage, success, family or happiness. We don’t see ourselves represented in positions of leadership, success or power. We can internalize those limiting beliefs about what we deserve or are capable of and apply them to all areas of our lives.
A more insidious cause of a scarcity mindset is that poverty or lack might feel comfortable for you.
Many of us grew up in communities that revered poverty or vilified affluence — anyone remember your parents giving a judgy side-eye to the rich family in town? That can teach you you’re a bad person if you want to accumulate wealth, buy nice things or ask for more at work.
For many of us, no matter how we were raised or what we’ve experienced, a lack of understanding about how money even works can cause us to believe there’s a limited amount.
You might believe some people are just born rich, and some people aren’t. If you’re one of the people who “aren’t,” you’re out of luck.
How do you know that you have a scarcity mindset?
First of all, it’s quite likely you do, because a lot of us operate in this mode. So it’s definitely worth taking a little time to investigate the ways you think about money.
Ask yourself if any of these applies to you:
This is important: You don’t have to be poor to have a scarcity mindset! You might have tons of wealth and be constantly afraid to lose it or feel like you can never stop working because your self-worth is tied up in how much you earn.
Here’s the fun part: You can change your mindset.
Like any psychological work, shifting your money mindset from scarcity to abundance will take time and work. But you can do it. Shifting your mindset is about recognizing the beliefs that hold you back and replacing them with new ones that can help you excel.
That’s a little esoteric, so here are a few tangible steps you can take day to day to rewrite those beliefs on your brain:
Abundance is about more than just earning money or accumulating wealth — though financial wellness and stability are an important part of an abundant life for many people.
You get to define what abundance means for you.
Abundance might mean becoming a CEO, making a billion dollars and owning a summer home in Italy. Or it might mean being able to comfortably live in a city like New York so you can get out of your hometown.
It could mean having a happy family, doing work you love, having access to health care, getting free time or being surrounded by a supportive community.
Take the time to envision an abundant life for yourself — and remember, you are worthy of wanting more.
Dana Sitar is a personal finance writer, editor, writing teacher and owner of Dana Media. She’s written about work and money for Forbes, the New York Times, CNBC and Inc. Magazine. She founded Healthy Rich to publish stories that illuminate the diversity of our relationships with work and money.