Is The Fear Of Going Broke Keeping You From Living?

July 24, 2012


Is the fear of going broke keeping you from living your dreams? Here's why it shouldn't.

I was on a chat the other day with a good friend of mine that was telling me that she really wanted to relocate to a new city, but couldn’t do so yet because she was afraid of “not having enough money.” Before we delve into today’s post, let’s delve into the fear that surrounds having “enough,” and what it means to truly “be broke.”

Two years ago, I was getting ready to leave for graduate school which was a cross-country move with no job lined up. I didn’t get funding for my program and I was terrified of going broke. TERRIFIED to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night and I would start to draw up budget charts with Crayola markers as if that would help me better control each and every penny that came and left my bank account. I was micromanaging my entire life as if doing so would help me combat the fear of the unknown and most of all, the panic attack inducing fear of “going broke.”

Truth be told, if you would have asked me what “enough” money was, I couldn’t tell you. I vowed that I needed enough money to be comfortable and feel safe, but I couldn’t put a number to it. That idea, right there is the point of this post- unless you can put an attainable and realistic dollar amount to your fear, you’re letting it rule your life.  Most of us have never really been truly, hopelessly broke but the idea of being broke seem so scary that it guides our decisions.

When all was said and done and I finally started living in the city, I needed to make $1,000 a month to live comfortably. That would cover everything- rent, utilities, food, entertainment and of course money that might as well have been burned. Problem was, I rarely, if ever, made $1,000 a month as an unfunded graduate student working a part time job and I started to dip into savings.

The first few months I had to use my emergency fund, I went into panic mode. I started going over my Excel spreadsheets and guilting myself for not being able to live within the $800 a month I was making (yes, I realize now that was crazy, but when it was all I had, you can imagine I was going to try like hell to make it work and regain control!) My savings account got smaller and smaller- I could feel myself plummeting into my impending doom of bag-lady living, going destitute and being miserable. I thought life sucked now, and it was only going to suck more when I went completely broke.

Guess what? Two years later, I have LESS in my savings account than I did two years ago. I have nearly no money saved (not that it’s anything to brag about, but I am debt free and most of my student loans are nearly paid off.) I have about 3 months of living expenses set aside, and while that isn’t ideal, I want to make the point that I’m better than I have ever been.

Truth is, there are people living on half of what we have and they’re twice as happy.  We’re not as afraid of going broke & hitting bottom as we are of having “less” than someone else.

The main “demon” that I tackle on Frugal Beautiful is debt- especially consumer debt. The bulk of young women I deal with are grappling with debt from shopping addictions or fancy apartments they couldn’t afford in a down economy, the rest of us are simply trying to live with what we’ve got and are struggling to save up a nest egg. Yet, as I had this conversation the other day, I had to wonder, how many of us are hiding behind the idea of “having enough money” and it’s preventing us from doing what we really, truly want to do?

Some women never need an excuse to do what they want (usually though, this is in terms of buying stuff) yet there are plenty of us who grapple with guilt and punish ourselves for not having enough. Additionally, we may hide behind the fear of being a bag lady without a decent emergency fund to the degree where we never take a risk, relocate, go travel, start a business or quit a job we hate simply because we cannot fathom what it’s like to not have what we have now.

I can tell you from experience that if all the money you had now were gone, you’d be okay. It would suck, but you would survive.

There are plenty of people that truly are on the edge of disaster with their savings where one small emergency could lead to home foreclosure, a lawsuit or necessitating they sell off everything they own to have a roof over there head- I would wager that most of us are nearly not that bad off… the worst we would face would be canceling memberships, taking a second job or selling off *some* of our stuff.

I strongly feel that most people who have never experienced poverty have no idea how little they could really live off of.  I don’t think anyone that has had to actually “just survive” knows what true, simple survival is like-  but the idea of having to give things up, to change a lifestyle, to not live up to the standards of “well off,” that we’ve set for ourselves scares the bejeesus out of us.  We cannot truly be scared of living on the streets because chances are, that would never be an issue- the heart of the fear is change, uncertainty and feeling insufficient.

Most of us, even on our worst days would never actually be homeless- someone would always help out.  We would never be homeless and hopeless, that’s beyond comprehension for the average person, what we truly fear is losing our privilege and our minds are running amuck with doomsday scenarios that will never actually pan out.  The fear of sacrifice and living on less (read: NOT living on NOTHING) is what keeps us from quitting a sh*tty job, marrying our lover or relocating to our dream city.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, because trust me, if you allow yourself to take a risk and sh!t hits the fan, you will amaze yourself at your own blood, sweat and ingenuity to make it right again.

Or, you can live in fear and never know what it’s like to feel free and self-sufficient, your choice.

18 comments so far.

18 responses to “Is The Fear Of Going Broke Keeping You From Living?”

  1. As someone who is in a job she hates, but is afraid to leave it in a down economic time… well, thank you for this post.

    • Shannyn says:

      Hey Ashe- everyone’s situation is totally different. I tried to make the point that when we live in ambiguity where we never know what “enough” is or what “broke” would be, it keeps us in a state of fear that we never address.

      Working a job to survive is one thing, but I know people who stay in jobs they despise simply because they think that living without cable or a car, getting vacation time or a 401k would be destitution and truly, we see that it’s not the case. I have friends that fear even downsizing their apartment or not being able to afford a condo before they’re 30… and sometimes the fear they feel is kind of funny.

      I don’t know your personal situation but I hope you make the right decisions for you 🙂

  2. Jenny McDonald says:

    This is JUST what I needed to hear today! As you know, my impending international move has me full of anxiety. Most of that anxiety is related to the potential debt that this move will place me in for the foreseeable future. But ultimately we all have to make a decision that some risks are absolutely worth taking in order to go after what you really want!

    • Shannyn says:

      Oh it’s totally scary for sure, and being your personal, in real life friend I know what you’re up against is going to be challenging but I’m so glad you’re doing it. You will be surprised with how your life transforms when you’re strongly focused on relocating and going through school- all the “stuff” you thought you had to have to survive suddenly aren’t even an issue… your life will be so full of awesomeness Jenny, so excited for you!

  3. Great post! I definitely have that fear of being broke and yes sometimes its prevented me from taking some risks, but it has also motivated me to find other ways to make more income through a second job and writing gigs. Sometimes fear can be crippling or sometimes it can be a great motivator to push yourself.

  4. Great post! I know so many people who have this fear too! They would rather freak out or have 2 jobs than just “have less”. I can understand being afraid, but sometimes they need to realize that it is okay to have a smaller apartment or an older car.

  5. Allison says:

    This post is why I follow Frugal Beautiful! I have very frugal parents and they taught me to save from an early age, and living at home now during the first year of working full time is helping me build a nice savings account. But having that income means I end up spending more than I should, and I worry when I move out of my own I’ll spend all my savings on purses and panera salads! I’m trying to ease up on the un-necessaries so that when I am on my own, I will be able to live well within my means without dipping into my savings. I don’t want to be without that cushion if I really need it!!

  6. Kelley says:

    Thanks for always making me feel better about this stuff. <3

  7. I think this is spot on! I put off self-employment for a few months that I shouldn’t have just because I was scared. But I have learned to use the fear instead of being controlled by it. Fear leads me to waste less money but I am still enjoying life and know that I can do anything if I need to.

  8. Nurse Frugal says:

    This is such a great post! My husband and I are currently living off of 40% of our income and we have never been happier! We are spending the rest on paying off our mortgage, and it amazes me that we are spending less and having more fun then we could have imagined! It does require some creativity but that’s part of it!
    -Nurse Frugal

  9. bianca says:

    this is such an awesome post. i’m still living at home at age soon to be 26 (next month) with my almost 3 year old son. i’ve never moved out, so i don’t know what it’s like..but even before getting pregnant, i never moved out in fear i’d never have enough money and that basically meant, not having enough for my ‘wants’ 🙁 i have student loans that i need to pay (the amount is way huge to me, but possibly not for a lot of people) that seem to loom over my head, you know?

    one day, i will take the plunge and move out..and have that emergency fund and not make myself worrying about the small stuff!

  10. Just curious — in what city is $1000 per month enough for all living expenses?!

  11. Brittany M. says:

    “The fear of sacrifice and living on less (read: NOT living on NOTHING) is what keeps us from quitting a sh*tty job, marrying our lover or relocating to our dream city.”

    WOO! You said it! I can relate to this post, and I really needed this pick-me-up today. Not too long ago, I decided to do something for MYSELF for once, and I quit my shi*tty job so I could finally be happy. Now, currently unemployed, applying absolutely anywhere, and having little to no savings, I’m scared as hell. But you’re right, in this point of my life, I’ve learned to live with less. I still have a roof over my head and people who care for me enough to support me in my (crazy) endeavors. I’m very appreciative of that. I have high hopes of finding a new job and my savings is small now, but I’m keeping positive!

    I’m also starting grad school next month with no outside funding as well. This may not be the place, but do you have any tips on how to pay off those dreaded loans?

    Thank you for the incredible post, and sorry for the huge comment!

  12. Helene says:

    You are incredibly insightful! By far, my main takeaway from your post: “We’re not as afraid of going broke & hitting bottom as we are of having “less” than someone else.”

    Thank you!

  13. Kevin Mzansi says:

    Love it! : “There are people who are living on half that we have and are twice as happy”!
    So true…Sometimes we realize what fear does to us when only when we step back and get some perspective…

  14. Well said! I amaze myself with how frugal and thrifty I can be when I have to be. Although I’ve had those fears and imagined myself being homeless, or worse, living with my parents again-lol, I know I will do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I’m probably far from it. I do, however, wish I could just breathe a little easier with my finances.

  15. […] Is the Fear of Going Broke Keeping You From Living? – Frugal Beautiful […]

  16. Diana Smith says:

    I understand the point you make but the truth is I am terrified of having less than what I have. I make 50k a year, I have a car and an apartment, my partner makes 55k , so you would think that I wouldn’t be afraid. I am not afraid I am completely terrified, so terrified that if my partner order a glass of wine at dinner I order water, because I feel I have to adjust to a budget. I come from nothing I was homeless when I left my mother at 14 but now as an adult the fear of thinking that I can lose stability doesn’t let me sleep at night. I think about money 99% of the time. It sounds crazy and might seem funny to some but this fear is real. I feel like if I somehow end up with less than what I have now I have failed.


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