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Overcoming Feelings of Deprivation


"'If the challenge we face doesn't scare us, then it's probably not that important."

-Simon Sinek


I'm freezing as I go grab another blanket. I just started living without a roommate and I couldn't afford to pay the heat; they shut it off. I had some money in my account, but my friends called last week to go to the comedy club. I can always overdraw my account, but that's a risky strategy; it's a $25 fee for every check that comes in. That adds up fast.

A couple of weeks later my boss' boss' boss comes to the bank to tell us that we have to start wearing ties to work. I don't own any ties. One strategy might be to buy one or two good quality ties that are pretty universal, but instead, I opt to go to a thrift store and find a few ties there. I don't know anything about ties, especially how to tie them. Many of them end up being quite small. Some of them are worn out and don't look good at all. Most of them are quite obviously out-dated.

Several months later I wake up on my couch in my clothes. It's dark outside as I try to make out what time it is on the VCR. It says it's 8:15. I'm so confused. I can't figure out why I decided to sleep in my living room, in my clothes. I'm worried because I have a class at 9:00 and I'm not sure if I did my homework last night. Plus, I wonder why it's so dark at 8:15 am. Then, all of a sudden it hits me - it's not 8:15 tomorrow morning; it's 8:15 pm tonight!! I fell asleep and missed my shift at work. Between working close to full time and my full course load, I've been getting very little sleep - even pulling all-nighters.

In all three cases, I felt deprived. My needs weren't being met. I was going without things I needed, like heat. I was making do with low quality, used ties when I should have found good deals on new ties that would make me look presentable. I ignored my basic needs because I put too much on my plate and I had work to do.

Feeling deprived, especially when it's self-imposed, is no way to find happiness.

deprivation is having unmet needs


Feeling deprived is one of the main reasons people don't want to budget. Budgeting feels like someone is putting restrictions on our spending. Feeling deprived has to do with having unmet needs, and it's nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with money when you don't have your needs fulfilled.

There are six basic human needs, several variants of those needs, and needs that are based on your values. The six basic human needs are belonging - we need to feel like we are a part of a group, autonomy - we need to feel like we are in control of our own lives, safety/security - we have to feel safe, self-expression - we need to feel heard, connection - we are social creatures, and purpose/significance - we need to feel like we matter.

having unmet needs increases your feelings of deprivation

Income is Irrelevant

Many people think their problems would be solved if only they made more money. This is only true for people living in poverty. Outside of that, more income doesn't necessarily take away feelings of deprivation.

According to author Karen McCall, there are three types of deprivation, going without, getting by, and overdoing it.

income doesn't matter with deprivation

A grateful person exhibits certain trails. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.

Going Without

The first type of deprivation is the easiest one to think about, going without. Going without is not having things that are essential. This is skipping meals because you don't want to spend the money on food. This is only taking your medicine every other day so the pills last longer.

This happens when people don't make enough money to meet their needs. The bigger problem is when people make these choices because they are spending money on less important things while leaving needs unmet.

going without things you need leads to deprivation

Getting By

Getting by is the next form of deprivation. Getting by is buying cheaper things even though life would be better with something of higher quality. This is a form of self-neglect.

It's important that this is much different from living an intentionally frugal lifestyle. Being resourceful, making the best of bad situations, and choosing to live on less is a choice, and an arguably good choice. An example from McCall's book, Financial Recovery, highlights the difference. If you have dress shoes that aren't in good shape anymore, paying less money to have these shoes resoled is a frugal decision. If you decide to buy a new pair of shoes that are a color you don't like and a little bit too small, for no other reason than they were on sale, then that's self-deprivation in the form of getting by.

being a miser is not the same thing as being frugal

Overdoing It

Sometimes you are deprived simply because you're too busy. This third form of deprivation is overdoing it. Many of us have lives filled with endless to-do lists that can easily make us feel overwhelmed. When we never slow down, never taking time for ourselves, then we can overlook ourselves. We are too busy to take care of ourselves.

We forget that we have to help ourselves before we can help others. You can't pour out of an empty cup.

filling your schedule up makes you too busy to take care of your needs

Spiraling Out of Control

Deprivation can be sneaky. If you live with it, it can seem like it's normal. You might even be surprised that others don't live this way. It works like a positive feedback look. The more you feel deprived, the more it becomes normal. This normalcy means that it simply becomes part of your life and you don't do anything about it. Because you don't do anything about it, it leads to more deprivation.

And around and around it goes. It's a vicious cycle.

deprivation can become a positive feedback loop

Overcoming Deprivation

As with so many things in life, awareness is the first step. Once you become aware of how your needs aren't being met, you can start to take steps to do something about it. Take care of yourself first. Make sure you are getting your needs met. Don't spend your money on 'wants' without first meeting your needs. Understand what your values are and, as important, what your values aren't - in other words, figure out what's important to you and what's not important to you.

living in alignment with your values is how to overcome deprivation and attain a healthy relationship with money

Figure out what's important to you, and do you best to align your money with what's important to you. Make sure you take care of your needs before you go out to help others.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences

Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

Karen McCall: Financial Recovery

Sarah Newcomb: Loaded

Carl Richards: The Behavior Gap

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at or thought about while writing this article. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced my thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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