As an antidote to my last consumerist post, today I’m back to basics with thoughts and feelings.
And what’s more basic than the thoughts that pop into your head?
Specifically, how you think about money. Because personal finance is never just about doing math or following the right steps or developing enough willpower. I don’t know about you, but advice like “be more disciplined” has never worked for me.
What I do notice is that the way I think about money affects what I actually do with it.
For example, last month I got a tiny bonus from work. That bonus is still sitting in my bag, unopened. You know me, I’ve dropped hundreds and thousands of dollars in one swoop. But even if I get a windfall that’s $100, I still want to be thoughtful about how I spend it. That says something about how I view money.
While people’s money problems are complicated, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, what you can try to change are your attitudes and beliefs. So if you’re looking to switch up your thinking style in 2020, here are my favorite money mindsets I live by.
1. Treat Your Money Like a Business
I had a roommate who worked at a hip new e-commerce company called Fab.com.
Fab.com was once considered “a unicorn” startup, valued at a billion dollars. A few years later and I’m reading an article on how they were laying off 75% of their employees and selling the company for just $15 million. How they blew through $336 million dollars in three years. They grew too fast, pivoted too many times, gobbled up other companies too early—all without a sustainable business model in place. It never even occurred to them to check which products sold well.
Most people would read the story and shake their head.
And yet, how many of us are running our own lives in the same way?
Frittering money away on random things that don’t serve us in the longterm. Making good money and not having much to show for it. You buy a bag and all you’ve got now is a bag and less money. Leading lives that feel good now, but are unsustainable if one tiny bad thing happens.
In contrast, running your life like a business means valuing your money and looking for ways to make it multiply.
I know there are mixed feelings about Amazon these days, but let’s consider how they ran their business in the early years. Amazon famously made no profits for years. On purpose.
Isn’t the whole point of business to make money?
But Amazon ignored the short-term profits and invested money in new technologies that might one day pay off big. And it worked. Then those successful investments gave them the freedom to experiment with ideas that flopped, like the Fire phone. Because they built up a cushion, the failures never really affected their bottom line.
To be successful, every business owner has to work to see the big picture. And if you’re building something you care about, you tend to make more conscious decisions. When you think big picture about your money, all of a sudden it becomes a sapling to be nurtured and cared for. If you don’t value your money, then you won’t invest the time to do good things with it, full stop.
Make the decision: Would you rather be like Fab.com, which crashed and burned like a hot mess? Or make some strategic sacrifices now, so you can build something epic later?
The time to build money is right now.
So, my first tip is to think about doing activities that will benefit you years down the line. Not just tomorrow.
Start thinking of money as something to value, build and respect.
2. Make an Effort to Like Yourself—Flaws and All
Everyone has something about themselves that they don’t like, could be improved, or makes them feel like an outsider in society.
As I’m writing this right now, I’ve got several upfront reminders I’m far from perfect, in the form of five raging zits on my chin. There they are, inviting everyone to judge and criticize me.
Some of my other notable “flaws”: I’m a huge loner, which can feel like the kiss of death in the American workplace.
I have never lived in a house or owned a home. I don’t make six figures from my day job. And growing up in a lower-middle class home, early on I got free lunches at school and Christmas gifts from the Salvation Army.
But notice how I put the word “flaws” in quotations. Because I don’t really see these as issues that need to be fixed.
My flaws haven’t stopped me from doing things in life: having loyal friends, worthwhile romantic relationships, or landing good jobs. I sit away from the rest of my team at work, and my boss knows I prefer it that way.
But some people can’t forgive themselves. They shame themselves for any past mistake, will do anything to avoid showing weakness, and won’t reflect on childhood wounds.
To avoid pain, it’s a lot easier to go for the quick fix. If that were me, I might resort to any of the following solutions:
- Pay to see a dermatologist
- Hop online and order some pimple patches or ‘miracle’ acne products
- Spend $1,000+ per month on an Instagram-worthy home, putting myself at greater risk for financial instability
- Find a new job that pays me the six figures I crave, but could come with new problems, like longer hours or a boss I don’t like
- Spend money on elaborate meals, and insist on spending any amount necessary for the perfect Christmas
If you look at this list, many of these solutions are designed to separate me from my money. So it’s worth asking, if I feel bad about myself, who’s really profiting here? And other “fixes” aren’t long-lasting solutions. I’m just swapping one form of anxiety for another later down the line, which is usually financial stress.
What I have noticed about people who have an easier time saving is they tend to accept themselves the way that they are. They know they’re not perfect, but they’re fine with that. And you know what? It’s a much happier, peaceful way to live.
Here’s another reason to like yourself:
It empowers you to find inner validation. Some people only feel good about themselves when they’re “performing” for others. Getting good grades, wearing the right clothes, getting a prestigious job.
Is your self esteem conditional on doing the “right things”?
The more you genuinely like yourself, the less likely you’re swayed by other people, the better your money life.
3. It’s OK to Let Yourself Feel Bad
A fun fact: I’m actually the most sensitive person in the whole world. If you look at me the wrong way, I guarantee I will notice, and I feel feelings that I never thought possible. My mom said that when I was a baby I’d burst out crying if I didn’t like someone’s face. Then she’d have to calm me down by taking me to look at trees.
Have you ever full-on cried in public, because you felt so bad? If not, I think you should try it.
Sometimes I feel like we live in a society that treats our emotions like a stigma. You should brush them to the side. Or chase another feeling to make the bad one go away.
Pay attention to what you tend to do when you feel anxious, scared, upset, or lonely.
Do you sit with the bad feeling, knowing it will probably pass? Is your first impulse to overindulge? To numb the pain? Or do you call a friend?
Track what’s happening in your brain when you’re making a questionable decision. Say it out loud. Example: “I’m stressed out right now and I’m shopping to feel like I have control.”
4. Most Things Are Manageable
This past weekend, my husband and I caught some episodes of ‘Cheer,’ a documentary that follows a scrappy cheerleading squad as they compete at the national level. When one of the cheerleaders falls to the mat at practice, injured, the coach’s response struck me:
She asked, “Are you hurt, or are you hurting?”
If the cheerleader was hurt, it’s time for the hospital. But if she’s hurting, then it’s time to rest and power through.
When it comes to your money, the second something is hard or uncomfortable, do you bail?
The first steps to improving with money are landmines of discomfort:
- Opening up a credit card statement
- Starting to track your spending
- Figuring out where to cut costs
And how do you react to failure? Or when a problem inevitably comes up? Does it ruin your whole day, or do you brush it off and think, this is just a temporary setback?
I’ve had plenty of bad things happen to me, like losing a parent as a teenager and having to gather evidence to put someone in jail.
And yet, these were manageable to me. It didn’t always feel like it at the time, but every time I went through something difficult, I thought, ‘Well, the worst has already happened and I’m still here, so whatever money problem comes next can’t be so bad.’
Once you get through one hard thing, it builds confidence, which helps you handle the next obstacle that will inevitably come your way. With money, confidence is key. You have to believe that you can make progress.
If you’re always looking for the easy path, to never feel stress, it’s hard to build that confidence. So start viewing discomfort as something to be embraced.
Because you’re not going to save yourself to wealth. Building wealth means powering through uncertainty and discomfort:
- Starting a business you’re not sure will succeed
- Finding the first clients of a side hustle
- Taking the steps to invest when you have no idea what IRA means
And instead of saying, “Nobody taught me,” it means sorting through information overload on Google. Sifting for information that applies to you, then discarding the rest.
Life is stressful no matter what. If you’re always avoiding the pain, you can’t expect to reap the rewards.
5. This Is An Opportunity, Not the End of the World
And then there are those who think the whole world is out to get them. Instead of seeing opportunities as possibilities, they see them as constant threats.
- Travel hacking is a scam.
- It’s not possible to sign up for a credit card twice.
- I won’t buy secondhand, because I’m afraid of bedbugs.
- All roommates are terrible.
- If I invest, I can potentially lose all my money.
You could also choose to approach the same scenarios as opportunities, and with curiosity:
- Travel hacking could allow me to have dream experiences I normally couldn’t afford.
- If I get approved for the same card again, I also might get the sign-up bonus again.
- There are amazing deals if I shop secondhand.
- Roommates can help me save hundreds of dollars per month.
- If I invest, I can potentially grow my money like crazy.
No doubt that bad things happen and scams are all around, but if you are immediately shutting down possibilities, your money opportunities will be limited in scope, too.
And it’s not about recklessly taking risks, but being curious about them.
The next time you come across an opportunity, ask yourself, “I wonder what would happen if…?” And then personally follow up on that idea. Too many people let one random person’s experiences on the Internet affect what they do, like how to handle credit scores.
Then you mitigate the risk. Because as I mentioned, risk is a very real possibility. You ask: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
If I get rejected for a credit card, do I care what a faceless credit card company thinks of me? Can I handle it if my score drops a few points?
6. It’s Consistency, Not Numbers
I am here to tell you to become less money obsessed. In personal finance, the focus is naturally always on the numbers. Or on success or happiness. But those things are fleeting.
I want to have a million dollars by age 30.
Once I make six figures, my life will change.
When people meet these goals, it’s time to move onto the milestone. Next thing you know you’re on a hamster wheel of chasing success with no end in sight. Wondering why you’ve achieved the dream and aren’t any happier.
But when you go after consistency, the numbers tend to happen as a byproduct.
If they don’t meet the numbers, people tend to be really hard on themselves. And when they feel discouraged, it’s easier to give up.
If you see the progress line generally going in the right direction, that’s all you need to know.
What about you? What are some mindset changes that have positively impacted your money life? Or which mindsets do you have trouble with?
Feature Image: Unsplash