Getting Past Scarcity to Abundance

Even as our financial picture has improved and our net worth increases, I catch myself quite frequently saying “I don’t have any money.” In fact, despite an above-median income, a happy and healthy household, there was a definite feeling of scarcity. Knowing how much we made versus the average family, I was aware of how irrational it was. There was no reason I should feel this way. Some of this came out of a certain keeping-up-with-Joneses mentality, but we’ve largely gotten past that in the past several years. So why did the scarcity mentality persist? And how can you get past it?

I’ve been thinking on this a lot as my mind wanders during epic fruit and vegetable prep for preserving sessions. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.

Avoid debt and any fixed cost obligations like the plague. Fixed costs mandate a minimum level of income. They chain you to a certain level of stress, limit flexibility to take time off, and put you in an inherently fragile financial position. Be very wary when accepting fixed cost obligations for any level of time. The benefit should significantly outweigh the financial cost because there’s an emotional cost to raising your minimum level of expense.

Don’t neglect your emotional balance sheet. Money isn’t everything. The scarcity mindset prizes money – and more money – above all. It focuses relentlessly on earning more and spending less. While fixed costs are a danger, relentlessly cutting spending wholesale introduces a new scarcity. Suddenly you aren’t willing to spend on anything. But often, the best decisions for our overall well-being require spending a bit more money: Eating better food. Choosing to grow and preserve your own food, even when it’s more expensive than the same product at a store. Engaging in a hobby or two. Deciding to forgo a second income to have one parent stay-at-home.

So much of what I’ve chosen to do in the past year hasn’t saved money, but it’s added tremendously to the assets column of our emotional balance sheet. I struggled a lot with malaise over the past couple months because I was so aware of how ineffective I’d been at reducing some of our costs – most notably food – until I realized that the money aspect wasn’t everything. It gives us great emotional satisfaction to grow (and buy where necessary), and put up food grown a few feet (or miles) away from our front door.

Allow a bit of “blow” buffer to avoid frugal fatigue — IF that allows your spending and values to more closely align. Especially when in debt, but even at any stage of the wealth accumulation phase, it’s very easy to say you can’t spend money on something. But sometimes judicious, guilt-free expenditures pay dividends on the emotional balance sheet. Spending on gear to improve a hobby. Buying a little food out, or a gift, to maintain social capital with friends and family. Retail therapy this is NOT but the ideal is to align your spending and values 1:1. If you truly want to buy something, you should be able to say yes – every time. If you can’t, examine why that is.

Keep a cash buffer even when in debt. ESPECIALLY when in debt. When retiring debt, the temptation is to throw every spare penny towards paying them off. Fixed costs make you fragile, but so does spending every penny towards getting rid of those costs. What’s going to happen when a sudden bill comes up? Worse, what happens when you have to pass on an incredible opportunity to spend money on an emotional asset-inducing purchase?

With 3 kids and a homesteading-type lifestyle, we have very “lumpy” expenses. One month we spend rather little, but the next we’ll have surprise medical bills, a large bulk food buy, and a trip or activity to pay for. For the longest time I reflexively said “no” any time the topic of spending money came up. We didn’t have a penny to spare – we were in debt! A few months ago we decided to start building – and keeping – a large defensive cash buffer. It’s less an emergency fund – where you try to never touch it – and more a way to even out spending. I no longer freak out if a bill comes up, but more importantly I know we have the cash to carry a large expenditure if a good deal presents itself. Having the cash available allows me to examine the purchase on its own merit – does it align with our values? – and not the binary yes/no of whether we have the money to pay for it, even though we want it. Perhaps paradoxically, I think we’ll overall spend less money this way.

This is the perfect time of year, at least in the northern hemisphere, to think about abundance. The harvest season is upon us. Cheap, incredibly tasty food is easily available. If you’re a radical homemaker or homesteader-type, your stores are building up rapidly. Early and mid-summer sees fits and starts of preserving, but the real meat of lean-times eating are the post-Lughnasadh crops like tomatoes, apples, and winter squash. I was dwelling on how much time it was taking, how little (if any) money I was saving by it, but I was forgetting the immense emotional asset of abundance. Abundance of flavor from prime, local foods preserved with love. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love. Suddenly my malaise has (mostly) dissipated.

Have you struggled with a scarcity mentality? Frugal fatigue? How did you get past them to abundance?


One Comment on “Getting Past Scarcity to Abundance”

  1. Still finding my way! I love the advice not to get overcommitted with fixed costs. I will probably wind up joining a gym this winter (fixed cost) but I am holding off as long as possible while the weather is nice–instead of spending $50-$70 a month to work out inside while someone else watches my kid(s), I’ve been doing things like breaking down the grocery shopping into smaller, bikeable trips. Or putting the kids on their bikes while I run behind them.

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