Essays & Confessions

What A “Scarcity Complex” Is, & The Surprising Reason I’m Glad I Have One

By | Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When I moved to LA 6 years ago, I was earning next to nothing working at a startup, and my earnings stayed below the poverty line before I finally moved on to new opportunities. In the span of 2.5 years, my earnings had grown from $18K/year at startup #1 to $32K, to $55K, to $75K, to $90K. There’s a lot to be said about knowing your market value, and while millennials get a bad reputation for job hopping, my life would be drastically different right now had I not decided to say “to hell with it” and move forward.

But before that ever happened, I was living in extremes.

I’ve mentioned before that startup #1 came with no semblance of work-life balance, often working around the clock, nights and weekends. And while I was burning the midnight oil, I was paid in literal beans (and other groceries). When I moved out of the startup house and into an apartment with my at-the-time boyfriend (and fellow startup #1 coworker, also earning nothing), we struggled. For a long time.

I don’t believe in startup martyrdom and don’t think anyone in a developed economy should experience what it’s like to live on next-to-nothing. But, in some ways, I’m very thankful to have experienced it.

My ex and I had, well, zero money. We struggled, but we struggled together. We got creative, relying on Youtube tutorials to fix our cars, proactively looking for budget recipes and second-hand options, and working together on freelance work when we had any time to take on additional projects.

All of this brought us closer and forced us to work as a team, relying upon, supporting, and caring for one another in ways that we likely wouldn’t have experienced without the crippling lack of income. I’m thankful to have shared those experiences with him, and honestly, I’m so thankful for the habits gained from it.

If not for that serious financial struggle, I wouldn’t have had the habit of saving so aggressively. I wouldn’t have been able to buy my home at 25, or pursue early retirement by 35. Not spending money isn’t a goal for me right now, it’s a habit. And for a while, it felt like a psychological need. I’m coming from a place of “I can’t have,” rather than “I can go without.”

While my scarcity complex has led to some arguably good habits, it’s been unhealthy.

It’s held on through that earnings growth. I’m no longer in a position where I have to struggle, and I’m thankful for that. So now, it’s time to stop treating myself like I have to struggle or go without. It’s time to break that scarcity mindset.

It feels wrong to me, but it’s ok to splurge on a trip up the coast. I want to buy my mom a nice cashmere sweater, just because I know it’ll make her happy. I can afford to cover dinner and not worry about splitting the bill exactly. I can buy milk and eggs or paper towels for the house and not fret over my roommate paying me back.

The little voice in my head saying, “girl, don’t spend” is slowly being tempered with another voice saying, “spend, but spend wisely.”

Spend on the things that make life more comfortable, less stressful. Release the grip on a dollar or two because, in the long run, it’s a small cost to pay for peace of mind. I never liked being the person who had to calculate split costs for small things, and hound people to pay me back. It was a necessity back in the day, but it was an added stress that I no longer need to feed.

Letting go of that constant fear of running out means I’ll carry less anxiety over spending. I’ll still march towards my goal of financial independence and early retirement, but perhaps get more joy during the path there. Money can’t buy happiness, but reducing my own anxiety feels like a marked improvement.

I’ve started small. I still use my favorite tools to track where my money is going, but unless I’m not hitting my savings goals, I can spend freely.

I’m extremely lucky to be able to afford not to have a scarcity complex – I don’t want to undermine that by continuing to stress myself out over every little purchase.

So, while I’m thankful to have been able to build the habits towards financial health, it’s time to let go of that fear. Thank you, scarcity, for teaching me to be lean and creative with my needs. But it’s time for me to move forward.

Tis is a 20-something recruiter, startup enthusiast, finance blogger, and proud feminist-slash-crazy cat lady. Find her on Twitter or check out the blog for lifehacks and musings on personal finance, professional growth, and enjoying the journey to early retirement.

Image via Unsplash

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