I grew up relatively poor. While I never felt deprived — there was always food on the table and we took the occasional summer trip to a local water park — the fact remains: For several years, we lived in subsidized housing in a Los Angeles suburb.
I received free lunches at school, my family collected cans for change, and we shopped at day-old bakeries. I wore hand-me-downs from older, well-to-do cousins and spent summers in the stacks at the local library. We eventually moved to a middle-class neighborhood when I was 12, but much of the “poor person” mentality stayed with me well into adulthood.
While it’s still a work in progress, I had to make some mindset changes to work toward a wealth-building mentality. Here are some “poor” habits and beliefs I learned to break:
Wealth is a look
When we learn that someone makes six-figures or that he drives a fancy car, we automatically think he’s rich.
But being wealthy isn’t about dining in the finest restaurants or appearing like you have money. For example, when a relative of mine started wearing luxury brands and bought a new set of wheels, it was easy to assume that this person had fallen into money. Yet, when you pull back the hood, you might discover that appearances can be deceiving. In fact, that person may be living well above his means, and have mounting credit card and student loan debt. I’ve even heard stories about folks who buy new cars but can’t afford to keep the lights on at home.
It’s important to understand that wealth is much more than appearances. It boils down to your net worth. It’s how much money you have sitting in the bank and invested. So even if you’re shopping at thrift stores, you might be discreetly wealthy.
To get started building wealth: See where you’re at money-wise. Track your spending, and determine how much cash is coming in. From there, figure out how much is going out each month. You’ll also want to see how much debt you owe, and how much you have sitting in the bank and invested in your retirement accounts. You can use a money-saving app or money management platform to see your entire financial picture.
Having money means you’re a bad person
I grew up believing that only greedy people had money. And if you had wealth, you were inherently shrewd, extremely calculating, or a downright cheat.
It took me a long time to understand that having money didn’t automatically make you a member of the “Bad Persons Club.” At the end of the day, moola is a tool, a resource. Nothing more, nothing less. It can help you live a comfortable life and do positive things.
To start building wealth: Understand that money doesn’t change who you are. It merely amplifies your current self. If you grew up with a “poor is the noble, honest” way mentality, it may take some time for you to become a more money-minded person.
You win at the money game by cutting coupons
My mom was the type to drive to three different supermarkets to save a buck on produce. She would also carefully scour her receipts and if she found even a 10 cent discrepancy, we would drive across town so she could contest the transaction.
I adopted a lot of these frugal habits until this hit me: You can only save so much, but your earning potential is unlimited. For instance: I didn’t really start to save until I job-hopped and was earning $10,000 more a year. Because I didn’t change my lifestyle or boost any expenses, I was able to ramp up my savings faster.
These days I still enjoy hunting around for a deal, but will only do so if it’s easy (like not spending on stupid bank fees) and worthwhile. Otherwise, I’m fine spending an extra buck if it saves me time or mental energy.
To start building wealth: Focus on your earning potential. Whether it’s continuing education, expanding your client base, or working toward getting a raise at work, learn how to grow your money.
You get rich overnight
We oftentimes hear stories of that athlete or singer who got discovered and amassed wealth in a short amount of time. It’s an alluring myth, and one that continues to pervade our culture.
That belief certainly extended to my family. I grew up thinking that to be rich, you had to earn a six-figure salary, get a huge promotion, or win the lottery. But growing your money requires know-how.
To start building wealth: Start small, and start today. The earlier you begin saving and investing, the more time you have for your money to grow. For starters, you can automate your savings. Challenge yourself to saving five dollars a week, or $25 a month. The important thing is to get into the habit.
Exchanging time for money
I was also taught that you need to exchange time for money. If you’re not working 40-plus hours a week, you’re lazy. Along the same lines, to be busy means you’re making money. What’s more, I grew up thinking you should stick to your day job, where you’ll get small, incremental raises each year.
I now know that you can grow your money by finding ways to pull in passive income. This can mean creating a digital product, or earning royalties from content you create.
To start building wealth: Put on your creativity cap and think of ways you can make money in your sleep. See how you can earn more for the same amount of work.
Income is a stat, wealth is a habit
When you change your beliefs, mindset and habits, your money situation will begin to change as well.
This may be corny but it’s true: A basic understanding of what true wealth is, combined with a shift in your money mindset, will help you tap into your true financial potential. Are you ready to shed some false money beliefs and adopt positive financial habits?