Have you ever felt like you take one step forward, and two steps back with your finances? Have you ever said, “I’m just not good with money?”
When thinking about solving the money problem, it’s easy to see where it shows up. Two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Almost half wouldn’t be able to come up with $500 cash in an emergency. The average credit card debt is over $6,000.
While there are an ever-growing number of external forces making getting ahead more difficult, it’s crucial we examine our own self-destructive behaviors. Where and how are we messing things up for ourselves?
I’m no stranger to self-destructive behaviors. My 20s were filled with overconsumption. I ate too much, drank too much, and spent too much. The results were predictable. I was overweight and broke. I wasn’t paying attention, or sometimes willfully ignoring, key areas of my life. Fortunately, I was able to change my behaviors and “get my act together.”
I took a hard look at my lifestyle and decided to make changes. I’m going to share the process I went through and I’m hopeful it will help you make changes as well.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Understanding our patterns
- Software and hardware
- Getting what you want
Let’s get started.
Understanding our patterns
Many of our patterns and habits are beneficial. We figure out the best ways for us to do certain things. Unfortunately, many of them are also self-destructive.
Here you are. You arrived at this particular place, time and situation because of your patterns and habits. For me, I was overweight because of my dietary and exercise choices. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck because I was spending more than I was making.
In order to change our circumstances, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. We need to interrogate our realities.
What are you unhappy with?
What aspect of your financial life are you unhappy with? What do you want to change?
What behaviors got you here?
When you look at how you’re handling your money, what behaviors caused the problems?
What behaviors are keeping you here?
Are the same behaviors keeping you stuck? Are you trapped in a vicious cycle?
Software and hardware
Like the technology that plays such a vital role in our lives, we have software and hardware. Our software is our beliefs about money, our thinking and emotions around it, and our current level of literacy.
Beliefs about money
We all have an operating system which is constantly running in the background. When our beliefs are positive, they help us. When they’re negative, they limit our ultimate potential. If you’re not sure if you have positive or negative beliefs about money, I encourage you to go through these prompts. They’ll help you know.
Thinking and emotions
Our brains are amazing. They’ve helped us to sit atop the food chain for a long time. But their not good at personal finance.
The same part of our brain that responds to mortal danger, also processes financial matters. So the emotions I experience when I smell smoke are the same as when I open my 401(k) statement and see my balance has dropped 20%- our brains tell us to get away. That instinct is valuable when it comes to escaping a fire, but harmful when it motivates us to sell off the investments in our retirement accounts.
The more we can be aware of our thinking and emotions around money, the more we can avoid making mistakes. This piece on behavioral finance can help.
Those are the essential tools to help you to solve your money problem.
Our hardware are the tools we use to manage our financial lives.
To successfully manage your finances, you need to select a method for keeping your budget. There’s not a correct way to do this, spreadsheets, apps, or the back of your checkbook all get the job done.
The more we can automate our finances, the better. Set up automatic bill pay, direct deposit, and automatic contributions to all of your accounts.
Getting what you want
You’ve explored your patterns and thought about the areas of your financial life that need improvement. Now it’s time to get clear on the financial life you want.
It’s valuable to think about financial goal setting in terms of time horizon. No doubt you’ve got financial priorities in the near, mid, and long-term. The clearer you can get on what you want, the greater your odds of making it happen. To help you in this process, you can access our Goals course for free.
I also think it’s important to spend time thinking about your values. These are the lens through which you see the world and make decisions about how to allocate your most important resources. It’s highly possible you already know and live your values. That being said, I think it’s worth a refresher. You can access our Values course for free to make this happen.
Gold, silver bronze
There are rules, or truths about personal finance. I like to talk about the top through as if they were Olympic medals.
The gold medal of personal finance, meaning the most important, is Pay yourself first. If you pay everyone else first, there will never be enough money left over for you. You pay yourself first by setting up automatic contributions to your accounts.
The silver medal is Stay out of debt. Debt burdens many of us; it held me down for years. Not only does it prevent us from investing in other priorities, it causes stress and anxiety. If you’re in debt, do whatever needs to get done in order to get out. In service of helping you do this, you can access our Get Out of Debt course for free.
Bronze is Diversify. A common investing mistake is taking on too much risk. We do this when we invest more than 5% of our net worth in one stock or investment. The remedy is diversification. We can diversify by simply investing in a low-cost mutual fund or ETF.
Here are two honorable mentions:
Become the CEO of your financial life
This simply means taking ownership of your financial situation. There will never be anyone more interested in your financial success than you are. Act accordingly.
Spend less than you make
This sounds so obvious, but can be really hard to do. You’ve got to stop spending all your money. Failure to do so will keep you stuck right where you are.
Why now? Why do you want to solve the money problem in your life?
Here’s something I know; you and I have enough time to do most anything we want. But we don’t have time to waste. Many aspects of personal finance are time sensitive. Meaning, the longer you wait, the harder it is to accomplish what you want.
It’s time. Get started. You can do it.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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