$57,652.

That’s the median household income in the America, per the US Census Bureau.

That seems like so much money (and it is!), which is why so many Americans can’t figure out “why am I broke?”

If you think this list is gonna say stuff like lattes, movies, pedicures, and so on, we actually don’t think that’s the right way to look at it.

Getting a handle on your money is not so much about what you buy. It’s more about the mentality behind why you buy what you buy.

We’ll show you the self-sabotages that make you tired of struggling financially, and teach you how to stop feeling, “Why am I poor?”

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What money mentalities are keeping you broke
  • Actionable steps you can take to avoid these pitfalls

This post may contain affiliate links. See disclosure for more details.

common pitfalls that are keeping you broke

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TAKE ACTION:

  • Make today the day you decide to change your financial situation around
  • Use this handy tool to plan to get out of debt
  • Start getting yourself out of the red and quit being broke!

woman holding upen empty wallet

What is the difference between broke and poor?

Being broke and being poor might sound the same, but their meanings aren’t exactly identical.

Poor is used to describe a person that barely has enough to cover their bills, if that. Furthermore, there’s an unspoken sentiment that their financial situation isn’t going to change unless a major but unlikely change happens.

On the other hand, saying “I am broke” has a different meaning. When you’re broke, it simply means that you currently don’t have money.

For some people, they are broke because they’re poor. They don’t have enough money, so they use it all and don’t have any left to keep. But just because you’re broke, it doesn’t mean you’re poor.

Most Americans work hard and literally bring home thousands of dollars a month. You can definitely live off of far less than that, because there are people who do it every day.

So the good news is that for most people, being broke is as temporary as you want it to be. You can immediately start fixing the situation of being broke by taking action or making a change so that you start to save instead of blowing every last cent.

debt snowball worksheet tracker printable

WANT A FREE DEBT SNOWBALL WORKSHEET?

Get your fillable printable:

  • Track debt amounts
  • Log minimum payments
  • Determine how to apply extra payments
  • Slash your debt

Why You are Broke

Good money management is 80% mental and 20% knowledge. When it comes to being broke, the problem is always the mental game, not lack of knowledge or lack of money.

Giving you information about how money works is probably not going to get you out of being broke, but changing how you think about money will.

Here are the seven reasons you’re out of money even when you don’t need to be, and what you can do about it:

morning coffee latte factor personal finance

You spend out of habit

Human beings are creatures of habit, but sometimes those habits cost us, literally.

We do a lot of things on autopilot, including buying stuff.

Picking up a coffee every morning, getting a snack from the vending machine during our afternoon break, and countless other things, all without stopping to think if that’s something we really want or need in that moment.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

There are actually two approaches to breaking the habits that seem hardwired.

The first approach is to increase your awareness of what you are doing, so you stop spending on autopilot.

One tactic that’s easy to implement is using reminders:

  • Stick a Post-It note to your credit or debit card
  • Clip a paper note to your cash
  • Make your cell phone wallpaper a reminder
  • Set phone alarms or Outlook reminders for BEFORE your break

As for what to write, choose a question or phrase that really strikes home for you:

  • How happy will this purchase make me?
  • Can I use this on something else that would make me happier?
  • Is this spending decision what I want for me & my family?
  • DISNEYLAND
  • FINANCIAL FREEDOM

Another strategy is to interrupt or slow down the steps that lead up to the spending.

For example, if you want to stop satisfying your sweet tooth at the cash-only vending machine, keep your cash in a small envelope or a Ziplock bag sealed shut with tape.

The fact that you have to physically destroy something just to get that snack will make you pause and question how badly you really want it.

The good news is, that habit-forming works both ways, so once you create a new habit that’s better for you, eventually you can get that on autopilot too.

smartphone apps - social media

You spend out of social fears

Thanks to social media, certain social fears have become the norm and it’s now mainstream to blow your cash stream. The only way to get likes and hearts, it seems, is to spend, spend, spend.

Fear of missing out (FOMO for short), fear of people thinking you aren’t fun, fear of not being hip, fear that you aren’t “normal.” If you can’t overcome these fears, the only solution for alleviating the fear is to give in and spend.

But when you spend to alleviate those fears, all you’re doing is trading it for a different set of fears.

Fear of being able to cover your bills, especially if an unexpected emergency comes up. Fear of never being able to retire. Fear of not being able to provide everything that you want to for your family.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

If you are easily swayed by social media, take a hiatus and do a blackout until you can gain control of your financial health.

If you find it impossible to stay away, spend a day searching for bloggers and Facebook Groups to follow that advocate healthy financial habits so that your social media feed has at least some good advice to balance it out rather than being 100% influence to spend.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Follow us on Facebook, where you can get a steady stream of content about saving and money mindfulness!

WANT A FREE MINI MONEY JOURNAL?

Get your mind and wallet on the same page with a fillable printable journal to:

  • Dive deep into your money values
  • Uncover habits and trends influencing your personal finances
  • Get motivated to make positive change with your money
  • Start getting your money to work for you

You spend because people ask you to

The human drive to follow the crowd is pretty incredible. Check out this video from Prudential to see what we mean:

If you’re friends with people who love eating out or doing stuff that costs money, it can spell trouble for your wallet. Even if you don’t necessarily want to join in, it always feels uncomfortable rejecting others or going against the grain, so we get that it’s tough.

When you’re struggling to make ends meet, however, your friends aren’t the ones who can’t sleep at night. You are.

When you’re swimming in debt, your friends aren’t the ones sacrificing their future. You are.

When you’re over your job and need to move on but can’t because you have nothing to fall back on, your friends aren’t the ones that have to suck it up. You are.

Ultimately, the person who knows what’s best for you and needs to look out for those interests is YOU.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

More often than not, people ask you to tag along just because they want company.

If your co-workers ask you to come along for a coffee run, or your friend wants you to join them to the mall, why not go ahead and just elect not to buy anything?

Of course, there will be other cases where spending is part of the deal, like going out to dinner, or you might doubt your willpower’s ability to stand firm.

In those instances, keep in mind that turning people down is far easier to do if you have a script or plan ready ahead of time.

Decide how you want to politely decline social invitations and add a short explanation like “I’m doing a no-spend challenge” or “Our family is trying really hard to save up for [insert reason].”

Friends and family who truly care will not only be understanding, they’ll also be supportive.

It also helps to remember that saying no to spending doesn’t have to mean saying no to spending time with your family and friends.

Instead of saying no outright, you can suggest a more budget-friendly activity.

For example, instead of going out to the movies, suggest having a movie night in at someone’s home. Or, offer to host a potluck instead of going out for dinner.

parents kissing baby

You spend for your kids

Yes, we are fully aware that what we’re about to say is very controversial. But before you rip us apart on this, hear us out.

We aren’t saying to spend nothing on your kids. You brought them into this world, so you certainly have an obligation to provide for their needs and well-being.

But kids don’t need much, certainly not as much as they are being showered with these days.

How much you love your children is not measured by how much you spend on them.

Plus, you just can’t give your kids the best attention and care possible if you’ve got your own financial problems looming in the foreground.

That’s why you’re supposed to put your oxygen mask on first before helping your kids on the airplane – what good are you if you’re down for the count?

If you don’t have an emergency savings, the proper insurance, and a retirement plan, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous financial position, which ultimately puts your children in the same bad situation.

Even if your children are older, not taking care of yourself financially means there’s a higher chance that you will need to call on them for help when something goes wrong for you.

Even if you don’t ask them for money, they’ll probably pay in the form of time or grief.

On top of the actual dollars and cents of the matter, the values and life lessons they are picking up from you will prepare them poorly for handling their own finances.

They will not see an example of saving & planning. They will not make a connection between effort and reward. They will come to only expect, not earn.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

Your #1 obstacle here is probably guilt, but you do not need to feel guilty that you are trying to save or otherwise invest in your family’s future.

Even if your kids whine and complain, they are just as resilient as adults when it comes to living on less money and eventually they’ll get used to it.

If it’s really hard for you to get over feeling bad, we suggest “making it up” to your kids by planning free activities or spending time together in a way you didn’t before. Kids don’t need more money as much as they need more you.

debt snowball worksheet tracker printable

WANT A FREE DEBT SNOWBALL WORKSHEET?

Get your fillable printable:

  • Track debt amounts
  • Log minimum payments
  • Determine how to apply extra payments
  • Slash your debt

You deny your weaknesses

No one is perfect, especially when it comes to money.

There will always be things that are extra tempting to you, or that you’re lazy about, or that you don’t have knowledge on, no matter how financially on it you may generally be (including, ahem, yours truly).

We aren’t expecting you to make like Tony Hawk and do a 180. But it’s important to recognize when you have a weakness, otherwise you might be working a lot harder than you need to to make progress financially and frustrating yourself to the point that you give up.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

We’ve always said the same thing about money weaknesses: if you can’t beat ‘em, work around ‘em.

Let’s say you swear you can hear Starbucks calling your name when you pass them by on your way to work. If that’s the case, choose a different route that doesn’t go by Starbucks.

smart shopping to not get into debt

You choose temporary comfort over temporary discomfort

To paraphrase Dave Ramsey:

DAVE RAMSEY:

Everyday you’ll be faced with choosing between the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, but the pain of regret weighs tons whereas the pain of discipline weighs only ounces.

When most people make their money decisions, discipline doesn’t stand a chance against ease and convenience. Who wants to choose something painful over something that’s not?

But you have to remember that the immediate state is temporary. The comfort of ease and convenience now will cost you the ability to build a lifetime of ease and convenience.

Likewise, buckling down a little now means way less stress and effort for yourself in the long run. And your future self will definitely thank you for that.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

One way to make the temporary comfort less attractive is to compare it side by side with the long-term discomfort, because they’ll always come together as a package deal.

You’ve probably heard about the strategy of converting the price of something into work hours, but we don’t think it truly gets you to feel how you’re hurting yourself.

Between credit card interest and lost potential to earn compound interest, a purchase you make now could easily cost you five times as much in the long run.

Also, you shouldn’t think about the hours you already worked, because a few hours is not going to seem that bad when your mental frame of reference is 40-hour work weeks.

Instead, ask yourself if whether you’re willing to work overtime to buy it, because sacrificing your time like that is what really stings. Seeing a $50 pair of shoes as ten hours of overtime is a really different way to look at it.

WANT A FREE MINI MONEY JOURNAL?

Get your mind and wallet on the same page with a fillable printable journal to:

  • Dive deep into your money values
  • Uncover habits and trends influencing your personal finances
  • Get motivated to make positive change with your money
  • Start getting your money to work for you

sad face

You settle for being miserable

Know what’s sadder to us than the first ten minutes of Up? The fact that so many Americans have accepted the pain of poor financial health as a way of life.

We believe that EVERYONE deserves to be happy with their money. AND, we genuinely believe that everyone can get to that point.

Being broke is only a given if you let it be.

HOW TO FIX THIS:

Many of the people who suffer from this problem feel hopeless. Maybe they’re in so deep that they can’t possibly fathom being debt-free and financially secure. If that’s you, it’s time to take a lesson from Disney and start imagining.

get out of debt stories cherie lowe slaying the debt dragon how to get out of debt

One of our favorite strategies for finding financial hope and inspiration is to hear from others who’ve been there done that.

Slaying the Debt Dragon by Cherie Lowe is a fantastic book about how her family went from being $127,000 underwater to debt-free in just four years! The storytelling fun and whimsical, and there are pages and pages of practical tips to be found.

But most importantly for you, she shares not just her own story but that of several other families. That’s because she knows, and we know, that every family has different journeys, different obstacles, and different motivators.

The more stores you hear, the more likely you’ll find one that truly speaks to you. And, you’ll see that it’s not just a fluke for someone to pay off their debt and start saving. Anyone can do it, including you.

Conclusion

If you’re sick of being broke, check out our list of the top seven reasons why you’re broke and what you can do to turn things around. Learn how to stop being broke and start banking not just money, but confidence, self-worth, and a chance at a good future too.

TAKE ACTION:

  • Make today the day you decide to change your financial situation around
  • Use this handy tool to plan to get out of debt
  • Start getting yourself out of the red and quit being broke!

SPREAD THE WEALTH! SHARE THIS POST!

KEEP LEARNING & EARNING:

Stacy aka Aunty Chang

AUTHOR BIO

STACY, aka AUNTY CHANG, is a personal finance blogger set on a mission to show people that there's more to money than just the numbers. With two rental properties and a six-figure 401k by her 30's, she's on track to retire early without sacrificing work-life balance to get there. She wants to teach others how to identify their goals and use money to make them happen. Dual income, no kids, based in Hawaii.

Hangs out on Keeping Up with the Changs: Facebook | Twitter