Granny got it wrong: Why penny-pinching makes you poor

Guest post by Kate Hanley, a mind-body coach and yoga teacher who blogs at She is the author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide.

The basics of personal finance advice dictate that whenever times get tough (and going through a divorce when you’ve got kids is undoubtedly one of those times) you’ve got to pinch your pennies. My grandmother calls it “pulling in your horns” – spending as little money as possible until the horizon gets brighter. I appreciate her advice to never throw things away that you could find some use for (she’s got a drawer full of aluminum pie plates for this very reason). But I think “pulling in your horns” is a load of hogwash (another of Granny’s favorite terms).

I am all for clarity on how much you earn and how much you spend, and keeping those two figures within spitting distance of each other. But I bristle at keeping a death grip on your wallet when you’re in a crisis, because this line of thinking only keeps you where you are. What you focus on grows – if you’d dead-set on finding ways to save, you’re putting all your attention on a lack of money, which only perpetuates feeling broke. If you’re looking for ways to invest in yourself, you’ve got your sights set on improving your situation.

In other words: It takes money to make money.

For example, after I had my first baby, I resisted paying for a sitter. After all, I worked at home. I was convinced I could write when the baby was asleep. Turns out my darling daughter was a catnapper. It wasn’t until I committed to paying for 25 hours of childcare a week – even when that number was barely bigger than my current income – that I started earning more money. Way more money than I had ever made before, actually. I found paying someone to watch my kid incredibly motivating, and I went after bigger, better paying jobs. I also stopped frittering away hours online. Yep, that money bought me way more than childcare. It bought me purpose.

But there’s something even more important about spending money on what you know in your bones to be a crucial piece of a brighter future. When you invest in yourself (by which I mean spending money on something that will move you forward – like a new website, or a class that teaches you marketable skills that will help you land a higher-paying job), other people will be more likely to invest in you, too. You show up with more confidence, which means you go after bigger opportunities and people are more likely to value you and what you have to offer.

After my second child was born, in 2010, all the projects I had lined up for my return from maternity leave evaporated. I started taking any assignment that brought in any paltry sum. And I stopped being able to imagine any other reality. After a year of grinding it out, trying to spend as little money as possible and hoping the situation would fix itself, I decided to get proactive and invested in a career coach.

My coach has helped me to recognize the skills I have beyond writing, and to create several new revenue streams based on those skills. Today I can clearly envision how I will reach new professional and financial heights that I could never have imagined without her guidance. If I had chosen to pull in my horns, I’d still be writing articles for paltry sums and hating every minute of it.

When something is important, you absolutely must spend some money on it. It’s not a treat. It’s a necessity.


Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

3 thoughts on “Granny got it wrong: Why penny-pinching makes you poor

  1. I love this article! I have to admit that I am a big fan of Kate Hanley, but that aside, the advice is so true. We often forget that fruition follows focus. If we focus on the things we don’t have, we tend to have less all the time. We can build our lives on the hopes or the hurts, it is our choice. Kudos!

  2. Very well said, DeAnne. It’s tough to have a mentality of abundance when things get tight, and of course it would be ill advised to suggest spending frivolously in tough times, but one has to strike a balance to achieve wealth — no matter how we define that word.

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