Whether it’s saving for retirement or taking an inventory of our wardrobe, most of us have asked, “Do I have enough?”
I’ve experienced this mentality in my own life. Chances are most people have experienced this thinking as well.
Or maybe instead of asking the question, you find yourself making a statement: “I don’t have enough” or “I never have enough.” Here are some related refrains that can poison our financial mindset:
“There are never enough hours in the day.”
“I don’t make enough to save for retirement.”
“I don’t have enough to be grateful for.”
“My house isn’t nice enough for our family.”
“No matter how many promotions I get, it’s never enough.”
Each of these statements stems from the “Do I have enough?” mentality. And this doesn’t even begin to account for the rat race that ensues from attempting to keep up with the Joneses.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking an honest inventory of our financial standing, this is a slippery slope to the scarcity mindset. Do I have enough? is a terrible question that masks the practical, objective steps we can take to improve our financial health.
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Unfortunately, the question of enoughness tends to permeate the way we handle our budgets. Let’s examine why this is a terrible filter, then look at a healthier alternative.
A Scarcity Mindset Leads to Poor Financial Decisions
This isn’t just theory. There is actual scientific evidence that a scarcity mindset can cause your financial situation to deteriorate. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that a scarcity mindset changes our neural processing capabilities.
The researchers took a functional MRI of two groups: the first had an abundance mindset, and the other had a scarcity mindset. The participants were asked to pay for familiar food items while fully embracing these mindsets.
What did the researchers find?
Those with the scarcity mindset had a measurable decrease of activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that plays a role in goal-directed behavior and decision-making.
In other words, the psychology of scarcity destroys our ability to reason clearly when making financial decisions. People’s minds are less efficient when they feel like they lack something. They don’t even have actually to lack finances or resources. The feeling of deprivation is enough to alter our neural pathways in negative ways.
By asking whether or not you have enough, you may be unintentionally fueling a scarcity mindset that could wreak havoc on your finances.
Keeping Up with the Joneses Distracts from YOUR Financial Goals
One of the main reasons people ask whether they have enough is because they are wondering how they stack up against their peers and neighbors.
Have you ever felt caught up in comparisons? It’s human nature. We compare paychecks, house size, vehicles, and where our kids go to school. Why do we constantly find ourselves trying to impress people who likely aren’t even paying or have their own things to worry about?
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If you’ve ever run a marathon or any type of road race, you may have heard the saying, “Run your own race.”
Whether you are attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon or simply want to finish the race, you have your own goals that are important to you. But if you attempt to race the runner next to you, you might find yourself burning out sooner than anticipated.
Similarly, why try to keep up with the Joneses when their goals might not even be your own? In fact, the Joneses might not even be as well-to-do as you think.
Nearly 63% of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck.
Only 39% of Americans can cover a $1,000 unexpected expense.
15% of Americans have nothing saved for retirement at all.
An estimated 64% of Americans will retire broke.
Given these latest stats, do we really want to be like the Joneses? If you’re reading this blog, I highly doubt it. Just like a seasoned marathon runner, I encourage you to focus on your own financial race and financial goals.
It Can Lead to Wasting Money
When we stay laser-focused on our financial goals, we are more likely to pay ourselves first and save for the future.
But the moment we view finances through the lens of enoughness, we are tempted to:
- Impulse buy
- Buy luxury or “image” items when we can’t afford it
- Purchase name brand when generic is comparable
- Skip looking for deals or discounts
Of course, treating yourself is nothing wrong, especially when that treat is built into your budget. But personal waste is one of the top reasons many budgets are upside down.
If we waste less money, we are able to put more towards retirement, more towards savings, and better meet our financial responsibilities. The best part? You may find yourself stressing less about finances.
It’s clear that the mantra of “Do I have enough?” can do more harm than good. So what is a healthier and more responsible alternative?
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Questions to Ask Before Making Any Purchase
Rather than asking whether you have enough, consider asking yourself these questions instead:
- Do I need it? We need some obvious items, including the basics like food, shelter, and transportation. However, this question can apply to non-essential items as well. For example, when it comes to clothing, are you replacing an item or simply buying something new for the sake of it? If you’re not replacing a specific item, rethink whether or not you truly need it.
- Can I afford it? It is ok to buy something that you want instead of need, but make sure that you can afford it. For instance, you likely don’t need a piece of new jewelry, but if you want it and can afford it, then feel free to consider whether the purchase is worth it. If you need to put a “want” on a credit card, then now isn’t the right time to make the purchase.
- What is the real cost of this? What is the lifetime or actual cost of owning a specific product? A new car, for example, costs more than just the sticker price. It also costs additional insurance coverage, gas, oil changes, tires, and more. Aside from maintenance costs, think about opportunity cost. If you spend money on something that isn’t essential, is it detracting from other goals such as saving or investing? When you stop and think about something's true cost, you will be more likely to fully consider whether the gain of the purchase is worth it.
- Have I looked for alternatives or the best deal? Before making any purchase, I encourage you to be a savvy shopper. Have you compared the same product at different vendors to make sure that you are paying a fair price? Are there alternatives of the same quality? Are there any discounts available online? Even if it’s not a big-ticket item, remember that small savings add up over time!
Do you struggle with enoughness and the idea of keeping up with the Joneses? If so, what are some tactics you use to make sure you run your own financial race and no one else’s? I’d love to read your ideas in the comments section below!