The Problem With Saying “I’m Broke”
08.03.17

“I’m broke” is my catch-all excuse. When I want to order a second glass of wine: too broke. When I fill up my Everlane cart, gaze at it with sweaty longing, close the tab: nope, no can do. Broke. On a recent vacation in Kauai, when we decided not to book the helicopter tour of the island: Wouldn’t it be nice if we weren’t so broke? (I said this! In Hawaii!)

“I’m so broke,” “I’m poor,” “I have no money.” These are common statements used to legitimize why we can’t have the things we want. The truth is, this is dangerous language. Not only does it dehumanize the actual condition of poverty, but it prevents us from developing a relationship with money that is based on gratitude for what we do have, instead of a perceived lack.

Personal finance is a thorny subject. And by dwelling on absence, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we couldn’t possibly take control. What if, instead, we chose to focus on abundance?

You Are (Probably) Not Poor

According to the (admittedly inadequate) definition of poverty established by the U.S. Census, 13.5% of Americans live below the poverty line. As a single person, that means an annual income of less than $12,060. It means a lack of basic healthcare services, lack of proper nutrition, lack of employment opportunities.

Luxuriating in the language of poverty if you’re lucky enough to have access to those basic needs and more is not only insensitive and misleading, the false sense of futility it creates is harmful to your own financial growth and stability. By moving away from the “I’m too poor to buy X” refrain, toward more accurate language instead — “I could buy those mules, but doing so would create stress and that’s not the choice I want to make” — you’re internalizing a much truer sense of your own financial habits and obstacles, which will empower better choices in the long term.

The Money Meditation

One concept in financial literature that doesn’t get enough attention is “conscious spending,” which doesn’t necessarily entail spending less; rather, it’s about ensuring your spending is in line with your values. As financial writer Ramit Sethi puts it, “It’s about spending extravagantly on the things you love while cutting costs on the things you don’t.”

Around 75% of adults admit to making impulse purchases. Conscious spending aims to change this, through what is essentially active mindfulness. Each purchase should be interrogated, not simply by asking, “Do I need this?,” but also: Could I borrow this? Could I find it for cheaper elsewhere? Could I get it secondhand? And further: Will this make me happy tomorrow? Is it creating waste? Where did it come from? Who made it? What is it made of? Could I make a choice with a more positive impact?

Ultimately, the questions you ask yourself depend on your own principles, and that’s what conscious spending is all about: Ensuring your finances are an expression of your values. That’s why I didn’t feel bad about spending the extra $7.99 for the IMAX screening to see Harry Styles light up his first feature film. I’m putting my money where my mouth is (all over Harry Styles, praise).

Thank You, Money!

For most of us, our relationship with money is a contentious one. Paying bills doesn’t put a song in anyone’s heart. The primary emotion money generates for many is often closer to anger or guilt. Gratitude is altogether radical.

How woo-woo you want to get with this is up to you. In Money: A Love Story, Kate Northrup advocates unpacking early financial memories and training your brain to form new, bountiful associations. There are mantras and meditations and it’s all a little bananas. That said, money does both play a significant role in our primary relationships and govern many of our everyday decisions. Turning a negative relationship into one driven by gratitude sounds less practical than downloading a budget app, but it’s worth considering. Maybe your financial struggles run deeper than an inability to cut your cold brew habit.

Curious? Some tiny, loving actions that can go toward an attitude shift:

1. Treat your money well.

It works hard for you; you should give it a nice place to chill. Clean out your wallet. Dump old Duane Reade receipts, toss or find a different spot for loyalty cards you rarely use and reorganize what’s important. Take out any bills and give them a friendly smooth and pat before carefully placing them back. This will feel silly. So what? Pare down as much as you can. I donated my chunky wallet and now use a small change purse I found in London. It was handwoven by elderly Welsh women, and that’s delightful. I marvel every time I take it out, and I relish that pause. It’s a moment to ask myself if this purchase will make me as happy as my change purse does.

2. Thank yourself every time you complete a financial transaction.

Try it for a week. Honor the work you did that allowed you to make this purchase. This is some high-level Priestess Oprah work, but paying bills should honestly be a moment of triumph, not panic. How lucky we are, to be able to enjoy hot water, lights and high speed internet.

3. Keep your money in your sights as much as possible.

This means taking advantage of opportunities to see it move and change hands, up close. Share it with your community by buying local, joining your neighborhood yoga studio, supporting small businesses whose supply chains you can see.

4. Give as much as you get.

This doesn’t need to be financial. Call your senators to protest the death sentence masquerading as a healthcare bill, pet that lonely looking dog outside the coffee shop, go see your friend’s free experimental improv show. Or it can be financial, and that can feel good, too.

This work won’t transport millions into your bank account. It won’t transform you into someone who understands derivatives, analyzes money markets and wears a monocle without irony (if you already do those things, however, please teach me). What it will do is empower you to approach your own financial journey with a greater degree of confidence and self-worth. Gratitude is a sweet, juicy peach. Take a bite.

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