How I’m Getting Over My Poverty Mindset to Make My New Home Beautiful

  • I bought a home this year and I’ve had difficulty buying new household items due to a fear of spending.
  • I grew up poor and stayed that way until recently, so I’m used to buying cheap, temporary items.
  • Now that I’m more financially stable, I’m fighting those old impulses to make a comfy home for my family.
  • Read more at Personal Finance Insider.

As my husband Ian and I prepared to close on our first home, we promised each other that we would stop living as if we were still renting. 

Having thrown away the second-hand couches we’d been using for the past couple years, we set money aside for nice furniture that we would expect to last longer than the term of a lease. 

We are not especially materialistic people and don’t like to have a lot of “stuff,” but we both looked forward to having the space for practical things we need and enjoy, to really make ourselves at home. Ian and I had big dreams of making our home beautiful and comfortable. 

In the process of packing up our former apartment, we tossed cheap, broken kitchen tools and planned to buy sturdier replacements. My husband pointed out that I cook every single day and should have the right things to do it with.

It’s harder to break a scarcity mindset than I thought

This resolution proved hard for me to keep. Picking out necessities like waste baskets, towels, and flatware for our new home, I hesitated over even very basic items. 

I’d reach for a $10 stainless steel can opener and then set it back down for a $3 can opener like the broken one I’d thrown away during our move. 

While not faced with the frustration of a malfunctioning can opener at the moment and just considering the cost of our trip, one that cost $10 seemed unnecessary — even extravagant.

Several times my husband had to give me a pep talk into buying more expensive, higher quality items that he knew we’d need later down the line. Still, my anxiety over spending ratcheted up with the number of things in our cart.

My anxiety prevented me from buying things I need

We went months in our new house without a wall clock. I talked myself out of spending $30 on a clock by saying that I always had my phone on me anyway and I could just tell the time by looking at it. 

But the truth was, I didn’t always have my phone on me. Ushering myself and four children out the door for an appointment, I wondered both where I had left my phone — and how much time I had left to get shoes and coats on everyone.

It was a small annoyance, but one that I noticed similar to an itch. I’d find myself wistfully staring at a spot on my living room wall thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just glance there and know the time?” 

But then the moment would pass and I could think of several better uses of $30. My lowest moment came on Thanksgiving, when I was trying to find a way to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. 

I don’t drink wine that often, so it took me longer to notice that I hadn’t bought a corkscrew with the rest of my kitchen items — likely because it seemed unnecessary, since I only drink wine sometimes

I did eventually find a creative way to get the cork out, but it was so much work for such a silly problem that I realized I needed to really think about my relationship with money and my own needs. 

Growing up poor created a lasting negative financial mindset

I grew up with a big family in a low-income household, and then spent most of my early-to-mid 20s in low-paying jobs and in transitional living situations. This had a huge psychological effect on me, and as a result I’m very neurotic about how much money to spend and what to spend it on. 

Because I used to live in rented apartments and moved somewhat frequently, it didn’t seem worth it to me to invest in things that I would only have to toss or give away when I moved, not having room in the trunk of my car for it. 

I found myself in the habit of whittling away my paycheck on tiny purchases of cheap goods, many times over. I was also used to things being inconvenient — going without many useful items was second nature to me at that point. 

What looked like my extreme frugality was actually anxiety, and in the long run, it has not actually saved me any money.

I’m trying to buy higher quality goods now that I can afford to

As a homeowner in my early 30s with a savings account, I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf and start investing the money upfront for the goods I know would improve the quality of my life. 

My husband and I recently sat down and discussed our budget for the new year. I asked that we earmark some cash each month for practical expenses that are not strictly “necessary” by my old, strangled standards, but which make life more comfortable and convenient. 

Having money set aside ahead of time has made a big difference in my life, because then I don’t feel like I’m taking money away from other needs. 

I did end up buying a wall clock. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a happy tangerine color and it hangs where I can see it from nearly any point in my living room. I can glance up at it any time I walk by. 

The next time I was at the grocery store after Thanksgiving, I put a nice corkscrew in my shopping cart and didn’t think twice about it.

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