It’s hard to imagine that anyone would choose to be poor. Lack of money causes a lot of problems. It’s linked to stress, health issues, an array of difficulties with which the rich are less afflicted. Clearly, affluence is the more desirable option. So why would someone choose poverty?
Obviously, poverty wouldn’t be a conscious choice. Those with a poverty mindset didn’t choose it. The self-limiting beliefs that constitute this mindset are not something one consciously selects — but to overcome a poverty mindset you’ll need to make some conscious choices.
The Poverty-Mindset Trap
The trap of the poverty mindset is a set of self-limiting beliefs that prevent or hinder you from making financial progress.
People with a poverty mindset believe they’re victims. They are stuck in a system that prevents them from getting ahead. Many have tried numerous times to break out of poverty only to end up deciding it’s useless. They just can’t do it — they’re being held back or held down.
They’re powerless. Powerless over having gotten into poverty, which is often true. Powerless to escape poverty, which is a self-limiting belief.
Poverty happens. You can end up poor for many reasons.
You can have difficulty escaping poverty for many reasons. But you’re never powerless.
The Poverty-Mindset Cycle
Trying to escape poverty and being prevented from doing so can sap your energy. You may become trapped and lose hope.
Some people believe that the rules benefit others. The rules can favor the rich and hold the poor back so the rich can use them.
Some people feel trapped by the market. They believe the market benefits the rich. Perhaps they tried investing and lost some money. They believe the rich have access to information that the poor don’t have and that’s why the rich can make money in the market.
The cycle is based on a belief of powerlessness. It’s no use trying to get ahead financially because you can’t. It’s no use trying to get ahead financially because they won’t let you.
The cycle perpetuates because the victims believe they’re victims and have no control. They feel that control is outside of themselves and preventing them from escaping the poverty trap.
Changing the Locus of Control
Awareness that you’re stuck in a poverty mindset allows you to shift the locus of control from external to internal.
When you have an internal locus of control, you have the power to make changes.
Some people can achieve the realization that their biggest obstacle to financial progress is within themselves and make a change quickly. Others need more help.
Some people feel so beaten by the system that no quick change is possible. They’ll need more support and guidance.
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Financial Literacy’s Role
Financial literacy is the antidote to persistent poverty. Anyone can end up poor. No one needs to stay there.
But investment strategies and asset allocation aren’t going to help someone with a poverty mindset.
Even the most basic of budgeting strategies won’t help someone who believes they cannot be helped. This is a real problem. We can help only the people we can reach. It’s easy to help those who seek help. It’s not easy to help those who won't seek help.
We need a different message. We need a message of hope and inclusion.
We need to recognize that the challenges and problems are real. We need to recognize that solutions don’t appear to be attainable. We’re good at giving financial roadmaps to people who believe they’re completely stuck.
We need real-life day-to-day ways that the most marginalized can make visible progress. We need to be able to demonstrate that it can be done. It’s not hopeless; they’re not powerless.
This isn’t an easy or simple task. It’s reality for many organizations on the front lines of financial literacy.
Final Thoughts on the Poverty Mindset
Some people are fortunate to find the hope themselves — or some other catalyst that leads them to hope. People will change when the pain of change appears to be less than the pain of staying the same. Change out of the cycle of poverty is difficult and appears difficult.
Financial literacy can help reduce the pain of change. We can help change appear attainable. We can help to make change appear not only attainable but realistic.
If we reduce the pain of change, we can help more people transition out of poverty. And in transitioning people out of poverty, we can also provide them the tools to stay out.
No one chooses to become poor or remain poor. But many will need help to get out of poverty and stay out of poverty. Changing the poverty mindset is an essential part of improving financial literacy for society’s most marginalized.