How to Adjust to Prosperity After Poverty

When transitioning to greater financial security, it's important to track your spending and plan for the future.
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Written by Chanelle Bessette
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Edited by Sara Clarke
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Growing up without money affects how you live on a daily basis in childhood, and it can have long-term effects into adulthood, even when you begin to have enough money to make ends meet.

When you move from experiencing poverty to maintaining financial stability, there can be some major opportunities to set yourself and your family up for long-term security. But there can also be challenges around changing your mindset and managing your emotions about money. Here are some things to expect when you move from one circumstance to another.

How the experience of poverty can shape your money behaviors

When money is tight on a continual basis, hard decisions often have to be made, such as, “Am I going to pay my light bill or am I going to buy groceries?”

“There’s no right answer, and either way there’s going to be a lack of safety,” says Saundra Davis, a money coach and director of Sage Financial Solutions.

Davis says that lack of safety — i.e., not being able to fulfill all of your needs and living in fear that you’ll lose your income, benefits or housing — “can create what is widely termed as ‘financial trauma,’ which is when an experience with money, or a message passed down from a previous generation, causes us to behave in response to the trauma rather than with thoughtful consideration.”

Family relationships are typically an influential factor in your money habits, and they can also be a major consideration once your financial situation improves. Davis says that thought patterns about money can come from lived experience, but they also come from information passed down through family members.

There can be additional obstacles that might affect you or may have affected your family in the past, such as racial or gender discrimination, mental health issues, substance abuse or disabilities that may have hindered earning enough money for your household to cover its expenses. Systemic obstacles can also be a consideration, such as how public benefits might be cut off once you reach a certain income level, even if you still need financial assistance to pay for food or housing.

Assuming you’ve been able to overcome these challenges, there can be mental hurdles to get over once you’re in a more financially abundant situation. But there are steps you can take to get on track toward achieving your financial goals.

How to change your money mindset and management

Veniecia Robinson, a therapist and life coach, has personal experience in shifting her money mindset. She grew up in a household that faced financial challenges, and she also became a mother at a young age. She recalls paying certain bills only after she had received a service shutoff notice. Once she started school to become an accountant, she decided that she wanted to change these habits and parent her children to understand credit, saving money and how to manage their spending habits.

One of the early steps she took toward financial stability was to start keeping tabs on how much she was spending, which she recommends to anyone who’s working to improve their financial situation.

“It can be terrifying to start tracking your money because once you know, you have to do something about it,” says Robinson.

After she had a handle on her income and expenses, she was able to prioritize the financial goals she had created for herself and come up with a spending plan. For her, that looked like paying her bills first, then allocating the remaining money this way: setting aside money for discretionary spending; saving some money for a rainy day fund; and investing a percentage toward her future.

If you aren’t sure where to start, in addition to tracking your spending, reach out to a fiduciary financial planner — ideally before your money comes in. Fiduciary financial planners have a legal duty to act in your best interest, which means they won’t push you to buy a financial product or service. These financial planners can be found with an online search, or through referrals in your community.

You can also reach out to a financial therapist when thoughts about money are getting in the way of decision-making or if you’re feeling stressed about money. Davis also suggests that people increase their knowledge by reading financial resources and thinking about their emotions around money. Financial education can be found in many sources, including books, classes and online. Start by checking out the personal finance section of your local bookstore or library, or you could look up financial terms online.

If family is a concern, a meeting can be a helpful step to set expectations around money and to discuss how the whole family could benefit from a financial shift. This might entail discussions around how money can be used to provide long-term security versus what it can do in the short term.

“You should give thought to the impact of financial decisions on your whole life,” says Davis. “Recognize that resources can change lives for the better. You should be thinking, ‘What do I want life to look like later?’”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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