It’s All in Your Head: Why a Scarcity Mindset Is Keeping You Poor

scarcity mindset“I can’t seem to get ahead. I guess I’m just destined to be poor.”

“I wish I could afford that.”

“This is good enough. I don’t really want the bigger house, better car or fancy vacation anyway.”

Do these sound familiar? If you’re like most people, they probably do. You’re frustrated at the end of the month because it feels like every penny you make goes toward paying bills, and you have nothing to show for your hard work.

You see things that you would like to have, seemingly frivolous items like designer shoes or a new television, and walk away, thinking that because you don’t have the money now, you won’t ever be able to have what you want. You’re jealous of others.

While it’s true that basic necessities like food and shelter cost more than ever, the real reason that most people aren’t achieving wealth goals has nothing to do with how much money is in the bank. It has to do with how they think about money.

There’s Never Enough

Many people have what’s known as a scarcity mindset or scarcity mentality. In the simplest terms, the scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough — whether it’s money, food, emotions or something else entirely — and as a result, your actions and thought stem from a place of lack. Instead of believing that you have enough, and there is plenty to go around, you cling to everything you have out of fear of coming up short.

It manifests itself as something as small as under-tipping a server to keep your bill small, to a more substantial decision, such as not investing in the market because you’re afraid to lose money. When you have a scarcity mindset, all decision-making is based on the false notion that there isn’t anything else coming or that you can’t make more money.

never enoughThe scarcity mindset prevents you from achieving wealth for several reasons. First, when you’re constantly focused on keeping what you have, you don’t seek new opportunities.

Fear holds you back, so instead of becoming an entrepreneur, you develop a false sense of security from collecting a paycheck — forgetting that you’re putting your financial well-being into someone else’s hands.

Second, the scarcity mindset often makes you feel as if you aren’t worthy of wealth and success. You might be focused on just “getting by” and avoiding imminent disaster. Never mind that there’s no reason to believe that things will fall apart; you just want to stay afloat that so you’re reluctant to take any chances — even if it’s just investing a small amount of money. You may need that money for an unexpected bill, after all.

The scarcity mindset also causes people to make poor decisions. When you are worried about your bank balance, for example, you might put off opening the bills or pay at the last second (or even late). Yet the issue won’t go away on its own and in fact will only get worse — thereby increasing the feelings of scarcity.

Addressing the Issue

So how do you overcome the scarcity mentality, especially when it’s been your prevailing way of thinking for most of your life?

  • Use the language of prosperity. Instead of saying “I can’t afford it,” say “I have other priorities right now.” Shift your thinking, and focus on the abundance that you do have.
  • Let go of “stuff.” The scarcity mindset can often manifest as hoarding, as people often hold on to things long past their usefulness for fear they will have to go without. Let go. Donate unused or unwanted items to a worthy cause, and you’ll instantly feel wealthier.
  • Avoid comparisons. Scarcity thinking often causes overspending, usually because you want to keep up with others. You let envy guide your decisions, causing huge bills. Don’t compare yourself to others; they may be overspending as well.
  • Acknowledge others’ success. The scarcity mindset leads to jealousy not only in the material sense, but also in feelings of inadequacy or competition when others have success. To improve your own outlook, acknowledge the success of others and applaud their achievements. They may just inspire you to improve your own situation.
  • Make small steps toward growing your wealth. Open a savings account. Invest a small amount of money in the stock market. Increase your 401(k) contributions. Build your safety net, realizing that you won’t miss a few hundred dollars here or there in the overall scheme of things.

When you change your mindset from scarcity to abundance, you become more tolerant of risk and understand that you need to spend money to make money — and that when you focus on abundance, it will come your way.

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  1. It’s so easy to underestimate how powerful and important mindset is in achieving anything. Great tips!

  2. This is terrific. That a scarcity mindset can contribute to real problems is something that just isn’t said often enough

  3. Awesome post. A great mentor of mind always said to keep an unlimited pie mentality. His belief? It doesn’t matter how many people are already “doing what you’re doing.” Cream will rise to the top, baby!

  4. Agnieszka Obara says:

    Well said! How you see things will absolutely impact your attitude towards life. The more positive you think about the better you feel and the more motivated and productive you are.

  5. I think there is more to it than a simple decision for most people. I think a lot of people have spent their lives being told negative things like “you won’t amount to anything” or “it’s not possible to succeed in xyz.” Breaking down those walls is essential for moving past the scarcity mindset.

  6. Kirsten @ Indebted and In Debt says:

    Oh my goodness, this describes how we’ve been to a T. We put off opening bills. We saved money because we thought an unexpected bill would pop up. We are not quite hoarders, but there’s not much we’ve let go of in the past few years.

    I’m going to be sharing this information with my husband. It’s clearly time for us to work harder on mental shifts. Thank you for this!

  7. Love love love this! So absolutely true. I used to have that mindset when I first started freelancing. Man I must have been a peach to be around. ugh! I realized the more I wished for things to change, the less they did. I don’t want to get all “the secret” here, but it certainly makes you a more positive person in general when you flip your dialog to a more positive type saying. I swear though once I did, opportunities came to me.

  8. Prudence Debtfree says:

    As I started to read your post, I was thinking, “Interesting, but it isn’t an issue for me.” But then I recognized myself in these words: “you don’t seek new opportunities. Fear holds you back . . ” Thanks for the eye-opener and for the advice regarding a change in language.

  9. I see it all the time, great post!

  10. Grayson, AWESOME post. We struggled with this for many years, and I thoroughly believe it’s a large part of what got us into so much debt. We have largely overcome it now, using the tips you mentioned above, but we still have to work regularly at having a prosperity mindset. Attitude is indeed everything.

  11. So true! I’ve fallen into that trap in the past. You can accomplish some much more with the right mindset!

  12. This was my father-in-law’s philosophy, too. He used just these kind of persuasive arguments to talk my husband into going into business with him in 1993. In 2004, the company failed, and my inlaws and we are still flat broke with no assets, living paycheck-to-paycheck, in our 80s and 50s, respectively, something I hadn’t done since my early 20s. Read Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door and choose saving your money over risking it.

  13. The scarcity mindset makes perfect sense, anyone who lived during the Depression, or a Communist regime, understands this. If you can’t afford to pay your bills, how can you “invest”, when the possibility of losing money truly exists? So, no, you can’t afford to take chances. It’s not “In your head”, it’s very real. There are no guarantees, either way. You could work for someone, and get laid off, or your business could go belly up, and with your own business, there is a lot more at stake. There is no such thing as “Stabilty” anymore. Learning to live within your means, regardless of how meager, is the first step. Credit is the enemy, in this respect.

    1. That’s the thing, you only focus on what you have instead of focusing on what you “could” have or opportunities to get you out of our situation. There is also a much bigger gig economy these days where people can truly earn more on the side if they want to. The issue is most people don’t want to do that work. They want the money to come to them. Been there, done that. Once I realized I had to get out there and push for more, the opportunities started coming in, the wealth started to grow, and the fear subsided.

      1. Mr. Grayson…good morning! I am in a public bus on my way to work and tears streaming down my face. I am so grateful for this post. I am convinced that it is that mindset that has me here, waking up two hours earlier to be able to catch a bus on time. I so want to get rid of this mindset, this is definitely a first step. Thank you ?