You're Not Broke(n)

Of all of the different ways that people describe their financial woes, the one that always raises my hackles is “I’m broke.” 

Broke is a state of having little or no money. But there is a deeper connotation, which is that there is something broken in one’s financial life or one’s ability to earn enough money. “Broke” indicates an internalized attitude of insufficiency, which is about as motivating as a blanket of wet felt.

Terminology is important. It frames how we experience our financial lives, both mentally and emotionally. “I am [x negative descriptor of self]” is a particularly toxic frame, because it takes an external, temporary state (in this case, of depleted cash flow) and makes it a character statement. 

When we see ourselves as broke we ignore or devalue the money we do have and how we choose to allocate it. Managing cash flow is a series of choices. You can choose to own those choices and stand in your own economic power (even owning your mistakes), or you can choose words that disempower you and reinforce a sense of personal failure each time you run out of money. 

Look at the difference between saying “I’m broke,” vs. saying, “You know, I can’t afford to do that right now because it’s not in my budget, but let’s plan to do it next month.” The first one is a non-starter. Want to do something with me? Well you shouldn’t, because I can’t and I don’t have any idea when that will change. 

The latter statement expresses healthy choices, boundaries, and it furthers the relationship with the person to whom you're speaking. Sure, it’s a little wordier and may feel a bit awkward at first, but when you’re using financial behavior to transform personal attitudes, words matter. Plus they're free. Use the good ones.

Amanda Clayman