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People come to the path of frugality in a lot of different ways. Regardless of how you get here, you have to learn to adapt to financial changes.
Some make a decision to live more frugally because there’s a Big Goal they want to achieve, like paying off their house, having one parent stay home with the kids, traveling, retiring early, etc.
Others do it because it’s how they’ve always lived – simply, inexpensively, and out of habit.
Then there are those who are dragged to the path, kicking and screaming like a kidnapping victim because a major change occurred that took them from a state of financial comfort to one of being (at least to them) Flat Broke. Many people found themselves in a major state of financial chaos after the covid pandemic changed the American economy.
This article is about how to adapt to financial changes.
It’s a real adjustment.
If you are accustomed to financial comfort, buying what you want when you want it, dining out regularly, taking vacations, living in a big house, and never giving a second thought to the settings on the thermostat, you’re in for the culture shock of your life.
It’s happened to me, and more than once. I grew up in a well-to-do family. My parents didn’t live lavishly but they also never had a concern about money. I never once heard the phrase “we can’t afford it” growing up. I had dance lessons, piano lessons, tutors for difficult subjects, and lived in a huge house on a huge, well-manicured lot.
To say that adulthood was a shock is putting it mildly. But I adapated, and over the years that followed, got married, got divorced, dealt with real poverty, and clawed my way out of it. I bought a modest little house, an economical little car, stocked up on food, was able to afford one activity per kid, and my life was pretty comfortable.
But then through a series of awful events involving the death of a loved one and the loss of a job, I lost everything I owned – house, car, the whole shebang. I had to start all over again when I was 40.
That was not something I wanted to do.
I raged internally to the Universe, “Dammit, I worked my butt off for the past ten years creating this life and I don’t want to let go of it. I want to still go out for pizza with the kids on Friday night! I want my house back. I want my life back!”
But the Universe paid me little to no attention. I had to adapt. There was simply no option because there was simply no money and at that time, no way to acquire it.
It’s not just about the physical changes.
I’ve written before about the radical, sweeping, and wildly unpopular changes that I made to get my feet back on the ground. You can read about those changes here.
But the biggest change that I had to make wasn’t physical. It was mental. I had to accept that the life I had before was GONE. I could set about building a new life or I could wallow in regret. Those were the options.
Changing your mindset
Sweeping changes may be your only options too.
If you’ve suddenly found yourself navigating the change from bountiful to broke, here’s my advice.
It’s okay to be sad about what you lost.
It would be ridiculous to say that you shouldn’t grieve your former lifestyle, especially initially. Anyone who says otherwise either a) has never experienced such a drastic change in circumstances or b) is far more zen then I’ll ever be even when I’m dead.
There are going to be things you miss and privileges you miss. Your big gorgeous home, your swimming pool, your memberships, getting your nails done, dining out, back-to-school shopping with the kids, extravagant holidays. You don’t just walk away from all that without looking over your shoulder sadly.
This sadness is perfectly natural. It would be more unusual not to feel it. You’re not “feeling sorry for yourself.” You’re feeling grief. But don’t let it take over your life. Give yourself a set amount of time to mourn what you’ve lost, and then begin looking forward at what you’re going to build instead of backward at what you had.
Accept that life is different now.
Now that you’ve allowed yourself a bit of time to say goodbye to your old life, it’s time to say hello to your new life. And how you do this makes all the difference in the world.
If your “hello” is grudging and angry, you will be unhappy. Period. If you’re constantly comparing your new digs to your old place where everything was bigger, better, and more comfortable, you’ll hate where you are now. If you got rid of your luxury car and you’re driving a beater and you’re mad every time you get in the vehicle, you’re going to be miserable.
But if your “hello” is open and you can look at this as a learning experience, even an adventure, you are back on the road to happiness, or at the very least contentment. When you catch yourself making comparisons, try to think of a positive aspect of your current situation to counter it.
For example, if you think, “I miss my 3000 square foot house” then think “It sure is a lot easier and faster to clean my 800 square foot apartment.” Think about the things that are actually simpler now – perhaps there’s no yardwork to contend with, after school isn’t a frantic rush to take 4 kids to four different activities, the oil change on your new vehicle is a fraction of the price of the one on your old vehicle.
This is your life, at least for now. Embrace it and find the good in it.
Helping your loved ones through it
You’re in control of your own emotions, but you can’t control the emotions of others. Your family members may be running the gamut of emotions between anger and grief. They may not want any part of your attempt at a positive outlook. I have found this to be especially true of teenagers.
You can’t control their feelings but you can do some things to help them to adapt to financial changes.
Keep things as normal as you can.
You’re obviously working with financial limits but there are some things you can do to retain normalcy.
- If you usually have pizza night on Fridays, do it at home. Make the dough from scratch and let everyone top their own pizzas.
- If you can afford it, keep the most important of your kids’ activities. If you can’t afford it, look for other options like YMCA programs for low income families.
- Keep your home clean, organized, and decorated. Just because you live somewhere less exepensive doesn’t mean that it has to be ugly. Use things from your previous house to create a homey atmosphere.
Communication is essential. You can’t just go through and turn everyone’s world upside-down without discussing it with them. If you have a partner, you need to be on the same page. It’s hard enough to make big changes – and it’s nearly impossible to do so if your partner is not on board, or worse yet, actively working against those changes. You may need to make some compromises.
You also need to explain to your children what’s going on. Don’t scare them to death and make them worried they’re going to be homeless. Just be truthful but keep it appropriate to their maturity level. This article talks about breaking it to your kids that you’re broke.
Just because life is different doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
While the things that made life different for you were probably bad – really bad – it doesn’t mean that your new and different life has to be.
Sometimes these changes are permanent. If that’s the case, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life bitter and angry at the world. You need to find the positive aspects of your new life – it may take some time but you will find them. Look into some of the following philosophies for inspiration.
Focus on gratitude for the things that you have rather than sadness for the things you don’t. That simple shift in mindset is very powerful in helping you adapt to financial changes.
Sometimes your change in circumstances is short term. (I’m not saying a month, I mean a couple of years or so.) If that’s the case, as you’re rebuilding your life, think critically about the things you add back in. Think about the things with which you were content when times were harder. Can you still be content with those?
While you may want to make some changes, you may find that this period of time was actually a gift that allowed you to narrow your focus on the things that are truly important. That has been true for me.
A lot of folks seek the rush of ecstatic joy and excitement. They want that rush of endorphins all the time, but the more you get it, the more difficult it is to achieve it, just like a synthetic drug.
On the other hand, contentment is a wonderful and sustainable state of mind. You can remain happy and content without constant external input. It’s a lot more peaceful than the ups and downs of endorphin-seeking. Content people rarely get bored and tend to feel more gratitude.
So perhaps when finding your way back, out of the shock of your sudden change in circumstances, you might alter your course. Instead of trying to navigate your way back to the way things were, maybe you’ll want to set your destination as “contentment.”
How have you had to adapt to financial changes?
Have you ever had to deal with a major change in circumstances? If so, how did you deal with it? What tips do you have for others going through the same thing right now.
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
12 thoughts on “You Used to Have Money and Now You’re Broke: How to Adapt to Financial Changes”
It’s called attitude adjustment, and your post has just helped me adjust mine. Thank you
Thanks for your encouragement Daisy. If we have nothing to give, we can still give encouragement. I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul,
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:10-13 NIVUK
I’m grateful for dirty dishes to wash…I had food to eat. I’m thankful for dirty laundry, I had clothes to wear. Thank God for housecleaning that needs to be done, I have shelter.
We regret many of the things we bought during our working years; we can’t take care of them now, or don’t want to store and clean things that aren’t necessary for our daily lives…we have given much away, but “your kids don’t want your stuff!” is so true.
We wish we hadn’t tried to impress people who didn’t even care about us or whom we didn’t even really like.
Just some thoughts about getting real about your wants and needs no matter how much you make.
The app for Walmart grocery pickup is favorite tool. Regardless of whether you do a pickup order or go inside the store. This app is a great budgeting tool. Put things in and out of your cart and get an instantly updated total. Just now I needed to choose between a bag of potatoes or a bag of apples. Because of the season I chose apples. They don’t have to be cooked (won’t heat up the kitchen) and they are a great way to eat peanut butter. The app helps me make decisions and plan what to cook. Sometimes I realize half my vegetables are essentially seasoning. Garlic, ginger, 3 kinds of onions, fresh herbs. I deleted all this in favor of vegetables that help fill your stomach. Squash, broccoli and green beans. I replaced expensive berries with cheap filling bananas. Cottage cheese is cheaper than Greek yogurt and goes well with apples and bananas. I splurged on feta cheese because I have a ton of couscous and garbanzos and also lentils in the pantry. I got colby-jack cheese because I have so many cans of black beans and pinto beans. I always buy eggs. God’s most perfect protein source.
TBH my finances are at the point of choosing filling over tasty. I’m actually worried about getting enough to eat. If not for years of preps I would not be getting by.
Done this been there, back in the early 90s. I lost my job, I had no unemployment, and plenty of bills to pay. The first, best thing I did was accept my situation. The second was get off of my butt and find a way. I invested $150 in some window cleaning tools and business cards, and hit the streets. I ate at the food bank. It sucked but I got by, and little by little my circumstances improved. When it happened again in 2002 I knew what to do. Now I own a successful freelance business. I have dishes to wash, clothes to launder, and a house to clean. I am grateful.
I’ve made do out of necessity for years. My husband has Alzheimers. He was hospitalized last week with a severe UTI. Now he’s in rehab getting stronger to come home in 8 more days. Suddenly I’ve been put in a new place. Taking food from a community pantry and a senior citizens food bank program. Free lunches for seniors. It is better quality than I’ve eaten in years. There are canned veggies, fresh fruits, frozen meats. And much more. Even 10, 2 lb bags of different nuts. Dry milk like were used to and instant potatoes that I use often. I can get the senior food bank food once a month and twice month at the community pantry. Out in front of the pantry are 4 dwarf apple trees with many young trees coming up from the roots. I came home with several 1 to 3 ft young trees. I shared with a neighbor. She’s been sharing with me.
We’ve lived off stored food the last year. I have a lot of things still put back but nuts, fresh fruit, and meats are a treat. I can pick up again Tuesday so I get the second pick up in the month.
I’ve always provided, raised, canned, sun dried, ect. garden, fruits, rabbits, ducks, and chickens. Suddenly I’m needing to accept help. I’m still gardening, adding fruits to the property as I can. I’ll still can and sun dry foods. But for now we will enjoy the bounty. Todays 4 lbs ground beef, 10 lbs chicken wings and 8 nice pork loin steaks, 2 lb strawberries, 2 bags of apples, a bag of oranges, 2, 5lb frozen bags of blueberries, 2 sm peanut butter, 2 medium lg cans of ground pork ect is more like groceries for us for 2 months. I usually have enough to eat from harvest till harvest. All this plus nice hot lunches delivered to a rural front door leave me amazed. The lunches come with a full meal including deserts and individual 1/2 pints of milk, and a bottle of water.
The money being saved will go toward repairing or replacing a non working solar array. I have power to a shop and well but not the home. Now I can hope to get that remedied and catch up with this years property taxes. I won’t be buying groceries for the time being.
Don’t eat out. Buy inexpensive food, in bulk. Have Satellite TV? Down grade to the lowest price. Cancel your TV bill for 3/4 months ( they let you do that) then go to the Library for free movies. Cancel all subscriptions ( Mags, etc.) Get the lowest costing cell phone. Sell things. Make things to sell. Part time job? Full time job? There are a lot of jobs out there now. Learn a new trade. Cut down on your electric bill. Can you heat with wood? then add a wood stove. Drive less, combine your town trips. Use a bicycle. Have a water bill? use less. Grow a garden. Food Bank? I volunteered there for 3 years and people would drive up in new cars ( truth), not judging. So don’t be ashamed. Hunt? Fish? Last but First Ask GOD for help.
Great ideas above. I remember cutting the sleeves off my kids winter tees and dresses and hemming them to go through a whole year of seasons. Upcycle clothing. It’s actually fun! We also had a “blessing board” where we wrote every single good thing that happened, like someone giving us hand me downs or a box of cereal they wouldn’t eat. It was amazing to look at and kept us thankful and positive.
In contrast to the wide-spread prepper mindset of preparing in advance for as many likely disasters as one has the time, resources, and funds to address, a frequent theme runs through so many stories of sudden no job, no income, and no income-generating Plan B, C or D that are thought through and ready to go. This is in an era where there are any number of books (and web resources) on how to generate second sources of income, often labeled as “side hustles.”
Many of those would need to be screened out as “not a good fit” but that’s a process that takes time. There’s also the likelihood of making better decisions (before coming under extreme pressure) while you have more time to do a more thorough investigation of the most interesting possibilities you uncover.
As a starting point, run a search in the books section of Amazon for “side hustle.” Notice all the sub-headings that Amazon suggests that could be worth exploring. After you’ve made a list of the most promising titles, be sure and jot down the date they were published. Anything older than six months past the publisher’s release date is fair game for an attempted local library FREE interlibrary loan request. Most such requests come through in a few weeks although once in a while there will be exceptions. See why waiting until you’re broke and desperate conflicts with the time it takes for free interlibrary loans?
Also, Dave Ramsey has an interesting YouTube video about giving advice to a caller whose employer was threatening to terminate any employee in three months who refused a Covid-19 vaccine jab — never mind the deadly blood clots, infertility, and other nasty side effects that have been reported. Ramsey suggested to the caller to find a replacement source of income ASAP from a position of strength, rather than waiting until desperation from unemployment sets in. That seems wise to me and is not inconsistent with the prepper mindset of developing a Plan B, C and/or D well in advance of any need.
You are sooooo very right Daisy attitude is king. Ive lived out of old cars and a sleeping bag on the streets of L.A. and when looking back on all that from a better place adjusting my attitude is what got me through it and kept me positive and progressing.
Little did I know it would be foundational lessons for my prepping mindset years later. Everything … even the worst things can exert HUGE positive impact on the rest of your life in ways you can not fathom at the time.
At the ripe old ages of 82 and 74 my husband and I are about to move away from the life we have created in Small Town America back to the city so that we can be near our son, daughter in law and granddaughter. We have made the choice willingly but it is still going to upset the comfortable life that we have established. We will have to leave ninety percent of our friends. We will have to leave our church. We will have to leave all that is comfortable and familiar. BUT…it is going to be a grand adventure. There are lots of unknown and scary things ahead, but we are going to do exactly what you have said in this article…look for the good things and embrace them. Thank you for this article. It was fantastic and super well written. Great advice. I highly recommend it.
I think your move is a wise choice. Closer to family and based on “city size”, closer to medical system(s). Face it, as we age, healthcare becomes a priority in life.
While never being flat broke, I’ve lived lean. And was able to do so because both of us (partner included), were raised to live within our means. Yeah, we’re in a good place these days BUT regardless of income, we kept our expenses low. It seems that with every economic downturn, frugality becomes the “in” thing. Too bad all those articles don’t start and end with “this is what you should be doing all-the-time”.