What We Worry About When We’re No Longer Broke

Do you worry more when you have nothing, or when you could lose everything?

Photo credit: slgckgc, CC BY 2.0.

At Lifehacker, Eric Ravenscraft describes how his life changed—and didn’t change—once his annual income moved past the federal poverty level:

Feeling Poor Doesn’t Stop Once You Make Money

I’ve had a lot of lean years (with the caveat that I was always broke, not poor, and that I had many privileges), so I recognize many of his experiences. For example:

The first time I made a little more money however, I discovered flexibility in my budget that I wasn’t familiar with. Suddenly, I could choose whether to do wise, formerly far-off things like actually saving for retirement (as opposed to the $5 every month I saved more as a gesture than anything.) I could take classes or buy software that helped my career. I could pay down debt. These were all good decisions and, more shocking to me, I could choose what to do.

I’ve had more flexibility in my budget every year I’ve been freelancing—and I’m getting very close to the point where I’m going to run out of plans for my money. With my current booked work and future income projections, I’ll end 2016 debt-free, with an emergency fund and $5,500 in a Roth IRA. Then what? What’s the most responsible thing to do next?

Of course, any of my clients could disappear at any time. Or I could get sick and not be able to work. Or something else could happen, and I could end up broke in a matter of months. Ravenscraft knows the feeling:

Once I got a better job, that fear [of losing the job] got exponentially worse. Every time I’d have a bad week, I found myself terrified it would all come crashing down. If I get fired, who will hire me? There’s no way I’ll luck into a job like this ever again. I’ll have to take a worse job making less money and I’ll lose all my indulgent luxuries like going to the dentist.


Someone who grew up with money might fear losing their job and not having access to those things until they found another one, but for people like me, it’s not just a fear. It’s a memory.

I worry that I’ll lose all of my jobs. I also worry—and I think I’ve written about this on The Billfold before—I worry that I’ll forget how to be broke. Like, I won’t be able to eat rice for every meal or sleep on the floor for a year. I’ll buy things I can’t afford (probably on credit cards) because I won’t be able to hack the broke life anymore, and then I’ll be even worse off financially.

What do you worry about? Do Ravenscraft’s experiences feel familiar to you as well?

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