Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Your brain on poverty
According to NPR, being poor is stressful. Well duh! Being poor uses up a lot of mental bandwidth. When a person is constantly thinking about money, they have less mental energy to think of other things.
What can we do about that? Be rich, problem solved.
Okay, maybe that's not too easy. The NPR story didn't have any solutions.
It's tough to not have enough money to pay the bills. Most of know what it's like to worry about money. Unlike NPR I'm going to offer some ways of dealing with it.
The first is to get expenses well below income. Never mind the actual numbers. Here's an example: Let's say someone is barely getting by. Then they move into a less expensive apartment close enough to work to eliminate the need for a car. Suddenly they can buy a fancy coffee drink at Starbucks and not worry about every penny. Being able to buy a treat without having to wonder if it's in the budget does wonders for one's state of mind.
What if it's impossible to reduce expenses or increase income? What's the strategy for that? The problem is that poverty consumes too much of a person's attention. The constant grind wears a person down. Automatic bill pay can help. Having the regular fixed bills paid directly from your account frees up time and having to think about the bills. That frees up brain power for other things. It's not a total relief, but every little bit helps.
Then there's the situation where no matter what happens, expenses outstrip income. You've got to ask yourself, is this a temporary financial bind or is this a long term problem? Most of us get big unexpected expenses from time to time. Focusing some attention on the problem to help fix it is a good use of brain power. Then getting a little financial cushion to deal with that sort of problem in the future will remove future worries.
What if it's a situation where income will never exceed expenses? Many of us, through no fault of our own, find ourselves in such situations. Then all we can do is cultivate a serene attitude. It's like driving on an icy road and all traction is lost. The only thing you can do is hold on and pray. Either you'll get lucky and avoid the crash, or you won't. It's no longer in your hands. There's even a certain freedom in acceptance. Will avoiding buying that fancy coffee or an ice-cream cone make any difference at all? No? Then by all means treat yourself to one of the little pleasures in life.
Now it's time for me to take some of my own advice. I'd been in the icy road financial car crash scenario and had the good fortune to land wheels down. For a number of years I didn't worry about money. Not that I had much, but expenses were under control. Over the years, however, real income has slowly gone down while expenses have gone up. It's time to pay attention again to get things back into balance. I do not want to start worrying about being able to afford a cup of coffee.