Ending the Fear of Poverty

by Cecilia MacMillan
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Is your past keeping you from making sound financial decisions today? See how one woman is ending the fear of poverty she has struggled with since childhood.

Frugal living, living on a budget, and debt-free living are popular topics these days. I think these concepts are great, and I would love to lead a simpler life and pay off my debts.

But living frugally comes with a certain amount of fear if you are an adult who grew up in poverty.

Recognizing and Facing the Fear of Poverty

Frugal living is not the same as poverty. I understand this as an adult who can sit down with my budget and determine how much money I have coming in and going out. I now understand that living within my means is a choice. Yet, frugal living can still trigger fear in me.

It can remind me of times in my childhood when there wasn’t enough to eat. I remember adult conversations held in front of me regarding bills that couldn’t be paid. And I knew by the way other children treated me that I was somehow different because of my family’s lack of funds.

I can use a coupon at the store and have all of these feelings of insecurity rush back. Or worse, when I am on a tight budget and an emergency happens when my savings balance is low, having already been spent on some other life surprise.

Escaping Economic Bondage

It is also easy for me to get caught in the dread of debt and living paycheck to paycheck. My partner calls the feeling economic bondage – the feeling that I must work more hours to keep my head above water and then work even more hours trying to pay off my debts.

Those long weeks drain me and make me sick. Then I am trapped because I have to continue working for my insurance to pay for being sick.

This was the year I couldn’t stand the economic bondage any longer. I decided to start a journey to debt freedom. To find some financial independence and escape the bondage I had created with money.

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Keeping the Fear of Poverty at Bay

First, I had to face my fears surrounding money. I had to recognize that the poverty of my past that owned my parents and surrounded our family did not have to own me now. That through frugal living, I would spend less, and by working, I would make more money over time.

So, what I want to share is not what I am doing to save money but what I am doing to keep the fears of poverty at bay.

The Security of Stockpiling

The first thing I did was allocate some money to start a stockpile. My partner doesn’t fully understand my need to stockpile but he can wrap his mind around the psychology behind it and recognize that it does help me control my fear.

To feel secure that my needs are being met, I need some backup things just in case. For me, this is having on hand a backup of soap, shampoo, conditioner, cleaning products, paper products, canned food, frozen food, and dog food.

My stockpile helps keep my mind at ease that no matter how tight money gets or if I mess up the budget (because I am new at this budgeting thing), I will be clean and fed, and my little dog won’t starve. My feelings of financial insecurity are a little more tamed. (See The Benefits of a Household Stockpile.)

The Security of Savings

I also set up direct deposit to automatically take out savings from my paychecks. (See How to Make ‘Pay Yourself First’ Work for You.) I don’t want to even see it. I just want the cozy feeling of knowing it is there in case I need it. I put it in a bank that is out of my way to get to, and I have no cards linked to it. I must go inside of the bank to access the cash.

The way I budget, there is very little left by month’s end. My savings account tames the fears when my checking account gets down to a few dollars. 

The Security of Having Control Over Spending

If you’re like me, shopping is very addicting for you. I just love the feeling of something new. I know this feeling is fleeting, and the joy and high I feel is temporary, but something about it is deeply tied to emotions for me. It is the feeling that I can buy what I want when I want, which I could never do as a child. (See 8 Emotional Triggers That Cause People to Spend.)

I had to teach myself that I have to delay gratification. I have to save and put off that feeling of reward. It took a few weeks fighting the urge to shop for needless things. Now, I can ask myself if I really need an item and squash the urge. (See Could Acquired Needs Theory Save You Money?)

I had to look at it this way. These items that were making me feel good were putting me in debt. They were making me poor no matter how they made me feel. The shopping needed to stop. I certainly shouldn’t be taking on senseless debt while trying to pay off debt.

Have you overspent your way into debt?

Make a plan to get back out. Get How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have and create a debt payoff plan personalized to your budget and lifestyle.

The Security of Having a Full Fridge

Another insecurity that always seems to throw me off is a feeling that I may go hungry. I have my stockpile, but to also help control this fear, I started cooking in bulk and freezing portions.

As someone who doesn’t love to cook, this was a big adjustment, but eating out or grabbing a meal on the fly wasn’t in the budget. I take one day a week and cook in bulk, usually more than a week’s worth. That way, if I am running late for work, I can grab a meal and just go.

Or if my fridge is getting empty and it is still a few days to payday, I can put meals in the fridge from the freezer to eat. It looks full again and the fear subsides.

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Taking Things Day by Day

I now do a lot of things to save money and live more frugally, but I have to take it day by day. I have to remind myself that my needs are met. That they will stay met. I have to tell myself that money is just a tool that we use. Money comes and goes. That I am making an intentional choice to live frugally and it is not because I am poor with nothing. I have plenty. I have to talk out my fears of being insecure, some days more than once.

Using these little fear-soothing tactics and positive thinking, I was able to pay $1,200 dollars towards my debt in the first month. And I will continue to use these tactics to keep the fear of poverty from overwhelming me as I continue my debt-free journey.

Reviewed November 2023

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