My gratitude adjustment: How I felt my wealthiest at my poorest

Have you waited until the last minute to start writing a paper and somehow (miraculously) finished it with only an hour left before it was due?

Have you ever had your bank account dip below $100 and suddenly found yourself in “frugal warrior” mode?

Something funky happens to our brains when we’re low on time and money. We hyper focus and block out the rest of the world.

Suddenly, it’s more Facebook or Twitter when your presentation is due tomorrow. And it’s easier to say no to the new jeans you’ve been eyeing or dinner out with your friends if you only have $10 in your wallet.

It’s the scarcity complex: when you feel like you don’t have enough time, money or energy, you focus so intensely on what’s lacking that you block out everything else.

It’s weird, but not having enough of something actually gives us a strange power to focus.

But scarcity has a dark side. That feeling like you don’t have enough – not enough time, money, love, or whatever it is you’re lacking – can damage the way you handle the rest of your life.

And I’ve been there.

Stuck in the Scarcity Complex on minimum wage with over $30,000 in debt.

When I was living on minimum wage, I was pulling all the personal finance punches. I was pinching my pennies like a pro. I could turn a $10 bill into an entire weekend of activities. I was best friends with the library patron. I rocked the thrift store like nobody’s business.

But I still struggled. Hard.

And there came a point where money was the only thing I could focus on. I became obsessed.

It was all I could think about. I worried about it, dreamed about it, cried over it. It ruled my entire existence. It got to a point where I noticed everything else in my life deteriorating before me, my health included. I didn’t have the brainpower or energy to focus on anything else but getting by.

It was the scarcity complex at it’s finest.

I didn’t realize it was a psychological issue until I read about the term recently in a book called Scarcity

scarcity book

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much

The scarcity complex is simple: our minds work differently when we feel like we lack something. And it doesn’t really matter what it is you lack: money, time, friends, or even tasty food and calories, if you’re dieting. Whatever it is you’re lacking, you spend most (if not all) of your energy on trying to manage that one thing.

I was so laser focused on my money, that I became the queen of frugality and coupon-clipping overnight. But, like the authors mention in the book, it also exhausted me. I ran out of the bandwidth to handle anything else in my life – including my money.

I constantly made stupid mistakes with my finances. I overdrew my bank account multiple times. I knew better. I could have wait to bought those items. But I didn’t have the mental energy to focus on silly things (like monitoring my bank account) if it didn’t involve getting by day to day.

The other piece of my life, my relationships, my health, my career became secondary. All I could focus on was the one thing I could never get enough of: money.

Compound this day-to-day struggle with by my ridiculous student loan debt, and I was consumed. Nothing else mattered but the incredible $30,000+ in debt that I had to pay down and my ability to survive financially until the end of the month. I was so focused on cutting costs and paying off my loans that I  forgot the bigger picture.

I forgot to live. I forgot to enjoy life.

And then one day, without earning any extra money, the intense focus and obsession stopped. I escaped the scarcity complex.

My glass was always half full. I was just looking at the wrong glass.

After months of living off nothing, I decided to make a radical, simple, conscious decision: to be grateful. I decided to focus my entire life on what I had versus what I didn’t.

I began giving thanks for the things in life that didn’t cost me a dime: my friends, my family, my community and the ability to wake up in the morning and greet the new day.

Even living on just $1,000 a month, I realized that I had so much wealth in my life. Life was beautiful again, and all it took was a shift in perspective.

It’s the easiest, most effective way to fight the scarcity monster. It’s the best way to battle the terrible feeling like you don’t have enough.

The best weapon against scarcity is gratitude.

It sounds silly, but it worked wonders for me. It brought me out of my funk and transformed my relationship with money. And it gave me an entirely new perspective on life.

If you’re overwhelmed by a lack of money – or a lack of anything – you can escape your scarcity complex right now. You don’t have to wait for more of anything in life.

Just take out a piece of paper and complete this simple, 5-minute mental exercise.

1. Write down all of the non-financial resources that you have in your life. Your friends, your health, your family, your church – anything. How do each of these make you feel wealthy?

Feel any better than you were a few minutes ago? 🙂

I’m dedicating the next few blog posts to gratitude and the things in life that help us feel wealthy but don’t involve money. With the holidays fast approaching, it’s easy to get caught up in the buying and shopping.

And at least for myself, I want to continue to focus on the amazing things that I already have.

Let the season of gratitude begin 🙂


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