The Scarcity Fallacy: Is Less Really More?

Having the privilege of walking through life with people vocationally, aiding in the acquisition, maintenance and dispossession of earthly resources as a financial advisor, I’m burdened with a heightened sense of the battling spirits of scarcity and abundance.

The dehumanizing poverty that torments the Majority World screams that resources—here and now—are scarce. Remembering when I handed a bowl of vitamin-charged oatmeal to a boy who lives and breathes in La Chureca, the Nicaraguan squatter town subsisting off of Managua’s trash, I occasionally twinge at my willingness to pay $5 for a cup of premium Central American coffee. That expenditure could buy a week’s worth of mush, keeping children of the dump alive.

How could I not consume less?

And share more?

Living with less has practical benefits, too. There’s less to clutter, less to maintain, less to depreciate, less to heat and cool, less to insure, less to worry about, less to carry.

Less to burden.

There are two whopping problems, however, with the scarcity doctrine and the pursuit of less:

First, like anorexia, a deep scarcity conviction cannot be satisfied.

One’s possessions can always be leaner.

One can always have less.

While the addiction of the day certainly leans toward the acquisition of more, we can also fall unhealthily in love with having less.

Interestingly, though, many of the people addicted to accumulation do so because they too are stricken by a belief in scarcity. The outgrowth of their worldview is to horde instead of dispossess, but the root is the same.

The biggest problem with the scarcity mindset, however, is that it is based in falsehood. While certainly not all, most of the resources that we use to build and buy goods and services are renewable or replaceable.

This is especially true of the commodity with which we interact most—money. Despite the “get mine” mentality, the battle for U.S. dollars is not a zero-sum game. For better and worse, they keep printing the stuff.

In the short term, those who make life a cash-grabbing exercise may find temporal rewards, but in the long term, dollars eventually shift away from those not adding value to those who do.

Minimalism and the pursuit of less is a means, not an end.

Satisfaction. Fulfillment. Contentment. Enough. These are worthy, if not elusive, ends.

We miss the mark to presume that contentment will be found through either the path of less or more, scarcity or abundance. Indeed, it may have little to do with either.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter @TimMaurer.

This commentary originally appeared May 13 on Forbes.com

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Tim Maurer, CFP®

Tim Maurer, CFP®, is a Wealth Advisor at Buckingham and also serves as our Director of Personal Finance. Tim’s second book, co-authored with best-selling author, Jim Stovall, is The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life. He is a CNBC contributor and also writes weekly for Forbes.com. He is a graduate of Towson University.

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