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:
• Did you grow up in an environment or experience circumstances, like the ones mentioned above, that might have affected your mindset about money and self-worth?
• Do you feel like you have to fight for everything you have?
• Do you have a lot of fear around taking risks? Do you avoid risks, even when they have significant upsides?
• Are your actions driven by running away from fear or running toward your values?
• Do you often get accused of self-sabotage?
• How do you view people with a lot of money or success?
• What kinds of things do you do when you have “extra” money?
• Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how much money you have, where it’s going and how you can get more?
• How do you respond when faced with opportunities at work?
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:
1. List your beliefs. Write down things you believe about yourself, positive, negative and neutral. Note which of these beliefs serve you and which limit you. Then literally cross out and rewrite the ones that limit you. It’ll take some time to fully integrate that belief into your mindset, but rewriting it is a good first step.
2. Forgive your limiting beliefs. Remember that you adopted these beliefs because they served you at one point — they might have been protective when you were young or helped you fit into a community that cared for you. They’re not serving you now, so you can be grateful for what they once offered and let them go.
3. Raise your awareness to poverty and disparity around the world. It’s hard to feel lacking when you see how much you have compared with so many others. That could mean recognizing financial or other privileges, like being cisgender or white.
4. Remind yourself there’s more. Adopt a mantra to become comfortable parting with money. When you hand over cash, tell yourself, “There will be more.” When you pay a bill, note out loud the value you gained, like, “This kept my family warm.”
5. Add luxurious touches to your everyday life. Surround yourself with a feeling of abundance without necessarily spending more money.
6. Plan for spending on yourself. Set aside a jar or a bank account just for fun, so you don’t have to go through the agony of deciding to spend money every time you treat yourself.
7. Get educated. When you know how money works, you’ll be less likely to believe there’s a limited amount to go around.
8. Be generous. This is hard for someone with a scarcity mindset — how can you give money away if you never have enough for yourself? But that’s the point. Giving away money when you start to feel that lack can snap you out of the mindset and remind you there’s always enough to go around. Supporting other LGBTQ folks and organizations also helps move us all toward success and changes the narrative around queer poverty for future generations.
9. Dream big. Give yourself time to imagine wild success for yourself. Write it in a journal or just take a walk and daydream. When you feel uncomfortable with some aspiration, let yourself push through that and imagine achieving it — you don’t have to think about how, just let yourself feel the desire for that success.
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.
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