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How to Be Mindful with Money — Even When You’re Broke

By Kara Perez
February 10, 2017

Being broke is literally the worst. It takes a toll on your mental, physical, and financial health. Living paycheck to paycheck is a hard way to live; every financial decision seems to carry consequences. If you decide to pay rent, when will you be able to pay the utilities? Maybe you have to make the last $100 stretch a full week until that next paycheck comes in.

When money feels like a burden rather than a tool, it might seem impossible to be smart and mindful decisions with your paycheck. I know I’ve been there- in 2014 I lived off of $15,000 for the whole year. I was totally broke, I carried student loan debt, and making money decisions that weren’t based on fear felt totally beyond my reach. Spending any money made me feel anxious because I didn’t know when I could replace it.

The good news is being broke doesn’t have to last forever. You can dig your way out. It takes time and work, but it’s 100% possible. Almost three years out from my brokest point, I’m debt-free with a healthy savings account and retirement funds. I’m no Bill Gates, but I don’t sob over my finances anymore either.

So how did I get here?

It started by forcing myself to take a step back to look at the bigger picture and then making an active decision to be more conscious of how I manage my money. I realized for me, my anxiety stemmed from carrying student loan debt. I focused on paying that down, which gave me a goal to work towards each day. I eliminated unnecessary spending and actively sought more work to increase my income. These deliberate decisions lessened my anxiety, as well as boosted my finances.

I’ve compiled some mindful money tips that I used when I was broke and still use today. Good money habits can pull you out of being broke, and sticking to them will help you stay that way.

Make Time to Reflect

Sit down and look at all your assets, all your accounts, and all your debts. Write down how much money you have coming in every month, and from which sources. List out your expenses. Seeing the overall picture of your finances will help you understand which money habits help you, and which hurt you.

Be Deliberate With Your Money

Making mindful money decisions stems from living your life with intention. Take a moment to focus on what you’re working towards and anchor your decisions with determination to build your life in that direction.

For example, when I was still thousands of dollars in student loan debt, I made the decision to pay it off as quickly as I could. To that end, I cut my budget as much as possible so I could free up any extra cash for debt payments. I chose to prioritize my debt payoff over anything else in my life, and was deliberate about making the payments.

I gave up going out to eat and drink, getting haircuts, clothes shopping, and buying gifts for holidays. I stopped driving and starting biking or walking to work whenever I could. I ate basic meals of rice and vegetables, both of which are among the cheapest things at the grocery store.

All these small things added up to big savings for me. It created a few extra hundred dollars in my small budget that I could put towards debt payoff. Each decision I made to cut something from my budget or to make an extra debt payment was in service of my larger goal which ultimately help put those small sacrifices in perspective.

Think Of Money As a Tool

When you’re broke, money feels like an obstacle. There’s never enough to go around. You might feel resentful, or you might feel hopeless.

Understanding that money is a tool is the best thing you can do to take control of your finances.

Money is not for you or against you in and of itself. If you can harness it, you can make it work for you. To start thinking of money as a tool, go back to your goal. Establish what it is, and establish a timeline that you’d like to accomplish it in. Some of the money you earn between now and then should be used each pay cycle to help achieve that goal.

Tackle One Problem at a Time

Identify your biggest money obstacle, and work towards eliminating it. When I made $15,000 in 2014, it became clear that there was only so much penny pinching I could do. $15,000 only goes so far, after all. I needed to make more money: that was my biggest obstacle to get over.

I more than doubled my income in 2015 to $32,000 by working more hours, getting a few raises at my hourly jobs, and picking up part-time work. As I made more money, debt payoff became easier and I was able to realign my priorities. Money was now a tool that I used to accomplish my goal. Each paycheck had a purpose, which made money less scary overall.

If you need to grow your income, start by asking for more hours at work. Look for side hustles you can do in your time off. Sell things you’re not using, or create things you can sell as crafts. Nay extra income generated should be put towards your goal. Use your money to get what you want.

Focus On Yourself

It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others today. One look at any social media feed, or one glance at a magazine cover at the grocery store shows us a glitzy world that we’re not living in.

Step back from looking over others shoulders and look at your own life. Focusing on yourself puts your attention where it can do the most good. What your friend does with their money doesn’t affect your life- it’s what you do with your money that matters.

We never know another person’s real financial situation. Someone could be supported by their parents or their partner, or they could be funding their life through credit cards. That friend with the beat up Honda could have $50,000 in the bank. Don’t let other people distract you from taking the steps you need and want to take. Stay focused on your own goals.

Being broke can seem like it dominates every aspect of your life. Breaking the cycle takes determination, but I pinky promise you can do it. Being mindful about your money every day is a necessary step to take to break out. What else do you do to break the cycle of being broke?

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