When ‘More is More’ Goes Overboard

Casey Hynes—Up Close and Personal Finance

Scarcity mentality is a state of mind in which you assume there’s only a limited amount of money and resources to go around. Sound familiar? While I long exhibited signs of this anxious mindset, I first learned the term while reading T. Harv Eker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, a deeply meaningful book to me.

This mentality often stems from negative early-life experiences and messages surrounding money and success. As adults, people who develop scarcity mentalities often spend money as soon as they get it, fearing the opportunity to buy the things they want won’t come again. It also inspires resentment toward other people’s success. “If they got that promotion, I won’t. There aren’t enough bonuses and opportunities for everyone, so I lose,” the thinking goes.

I was a classic scarcity thinker. Growing up, I attended a private school where many of my classmates were wealthier than I was, but I always said I didn’t care about money. Experiences were more important than cash, so I spent whatever money came my way as soon as I got it. Allowance, birthday gifts, tips from my first waitressing job—all of it was gone almost instantly. When I turned 18 and got my first credit cards, I adopted a devil-may-care attitude toward debt and developed a frenetic, adversarial relationship with money instead of a healthy framework for dealing with finances. Life is short, so I should enjoy it now instead of worrying about saving, I reasoned.

Beneath the surface, however, I was often angry with myself for creating situations in which I felt stressed and trapped. Not only did I constantly blow through my paychecks, I resented people who made more money or scored big opportunities. I’m not proud to say my first reaction when I read stories of people who went from broke to successful was to feel envy and suspicion, instead of drawing motivation from their success.

I wanted what they had, but I was too scared to take the leaps necessary to get it. I invested countless hours into low-paying freelance writing clients instead of scaling back so I could focus on marketing and pitching better-paying companies. I was stuck in a vicious, fear-based cycle in which I made little money and spent it as fast as the invoices were paid.

When I learned about abundance thinking from Eker—the opposite of scarcity mentality—I saw a way out of the constant financial anxiety and negativity. The premise underneath abundance thinking is that everything you have now—money, opportunities, and possessions—can be created again. Rather than spend every cent you have because there’s no guarantee you’ll have it again in the future, you trust your needs will be met and then some. Thinking this way creates a sense of calm that allows you to think long-term and prioritize saving and investing over spending.

Using abundance thinking, I could finally start to plan long-term. Instead of stressing over assignments that barely covered two days’ worth of groceries, I could pursue better clients, develop my freelance writing business, and invest more energy in my true priorities.

As I began to lift myself out of the financial malaise, I also saw the benefits in spending more money up front for quality products instead of buying whatever was cheapest, only to have to replace it six months later.

I reached a major milestone when my partner and I unexpectedly had to buy a new car. Our old one had given all it had. Black smoke poured out when we drove, and our mechanic assured us there was no saving it. “Not roadworthy,” he said.

I panicked. We hadn’t planned for this; how were we going to pay for another car? We’ll have to buy something cheap from some used car lot where they don’t care about your credit and hope they’re not ripping us off, I fretted.

But we didn’t. We spent a few days researching cars online until we found one at a reputable dealer. When it turned out to be exactly what we wanted, my partner and I calmly discussed finances, agreed on what we could afford for a down payment, and took out a car loan. It was a significant expense to add to our monthly budget, but we trusted we could handle it. And we have, without fail, ever since.

It was a triumphant moment for me because it was the first time in my adult life when I put the abundance mindset into practice. Rather than scrape together whatever we had to buy an unreliable car in cash from a sketchy dealer, we took the long view. Sure, we would be paying more this way. But it would also last us several years and likely save us thousands in repair and towing bills.

The feeling was thrilling. I can do this, I thought. I can think long-term. I can make smart financial decisions. I don’t have to be reactionary when it comes to money.

After that, I began approaching other areas from an abundance mentality. I’m not going to panic about that high grocery bill, or the subscription service I forgot to cancel that charges me $60 a month, or the dinner that cost double what I anticipated … The list went on. I trusted that the work and payments from clients would come each month, so there was no need to fuss over a few hundred dollars here and there.

And the money did come, for a while, but then, as it happens, the work dried up. A big project ended, a major client decided to go with an agency, and I was in a tight spot again.

That moment was a harsh lesson in overcorrection. Leaving behind the scarcity mentality had been a positive step toward having a healthy attitude toward personal finance. But I interpreted abundance thinking to mean “don’t think about your spending, just trust that it will all work out,” and that’s where the trouble started.

It was a relief to not stress over every single purchase I made, but I wasn’t practicing mindful abundance thinking. Just because you have the money—or the credit—doesn’t mean you should spend with abandon. But that’s exactly the route I took, ignoring the little voice that said, “$100 for takeout is a lot of money, even if you are treating friends to dinner” or “$50 worth of groceries is a lot to let go to waste, even if it’s not going to break me.

Those decisions would have been unwise under any circumstances, but they were especially problematic because I hadn’t yet implemented the long-term planning aspect of abundance thinking. Aside from socking money away for a cross-country road trip, I had no savings or financial contingency plans. I was also heavily relying on credit cards that were in an interest-free promotion period. Sure, I had eight months until the permanent, much higher, interest rates would kick in. But with fewer clients, I was less certain I’d be able to pay the balances off before that happened.

That’s when the real value of the abundance mentality hit me. It isn’t some wishy-washy belief that money will come to you regardless of how you behave. It’s about taking a positive, long-term, proactive view toward money management. And that’s the part I’d missed in all this—the management. Abundance thinkers don’t spend carelessly. They know more money is out there to be made, so they’re comfortable saving and investing, and they use their earnings to create wealth and stability. I had the first part down, but the rest? Not so much.

When it came to transferring spending money to savings, living the abundance mindset was more challenging. I knew I should have started an emergency fund sooner. Experts recommend freelancers save enough to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses in case of a sudden income drop, and my lack of a safety net stressed me out. But part of me still argued that I might need that money, that I wouldn’t have enough for groceries, that I should leave it in my checking account “just in case.” I always put off saving because I “couldn’t afford to,” although my many take-out dinners, online shopping orders, and bottles of wine told a different story.

When I came back down to earth from pseudo-abundance high, I started funding an emergency savings account. It took some time to get used to the habit, but the peace of mind I get from knowing I have money in savings has finally begun to outweigh the panic. I’ve begun to trust in my ability to manage my money, even when work is slow or expenses are unexpectedly high, and I’m creating a buffer between me and financial disaster. Knowing that allows me to think long-term and to consider new opportunities that seemed closed off to me before, such as buying a house, investing, or trying new business strategies.

Most importantly, it’s made me less resentful. Part of abundance thinking is taking joy in others’ wealth and achievements, being inspired instead of spiteful. Now I can celebrate other people’s wins and learn from them, instead of begrudging them their successes and bemoaning my own struggles. And trust me, whether financially or emotionally, that’s a much nicer place to be.