10 Ways to Turn a Positive Attitude into Financial Freedom
For most of my life, I would rather have gouged my eyes out than read an article about money, savings and debt. Now, I'm writing one.
Do you avoid talking, reading or even thinking about your spending and money habits? You might be a money-avoider. Here are some telltale signs:
- The idea of looking at how you spend your money gives you chills.
- You’ve tried budgeting before and it was a nightmare. You may as well have been living in the Great Depression.
- You often think about how much easier your life would be if you could save or pay off debt … often right as you’re plunking down your credit card to cover drinks or buy a plane ticket to Hawaii.
- You have this sinking feeling that you will never be the kind of person who can save money, or feel you will always have debt.
- When your employer mentions a 401k or similar savings plan, it’s all you can do not to cover your ears and start singing, “la, la, la!”
Identify with any of those predicaments? Congratulations, your relationship with money is complicated! Before I lose you to literally anything else on the internet, I implore you to hang out with me for a minute. I used to be just like you, but in recent years, my relationship with money has evolved into one that actually feels good, and I think there's a chance for you too.
Writing your money story.
In order to change how we interact with money, we have to know how we interact with money. We can only change past patterns when we are clear as to what they are.
For me, the most powerful tool in understanding my history with money was through writing a "money story," a suggestion from one of my favorite money gurus, financial therapist Bari Tessler.
The money story is just that: it’s your life story, with an emphasis on money. It chronicles your first memory of money, the way your parents interacted with money and what you learned from that, what you learned from society, and any other big memories that stick out, from childhood to now. Writing this story gives you the opportunity to clearly see all emotions that come up around money. Many of us associate money with fear and shame. Money is inherently an emotional issue because we exchange it for what we value most.
Through this story, you’ll have an opportunity to analyze what you’ve learned so far about money, and to see what stories you have about money that aren’t really yours. What do I mean by that? Often, we are carrying around our parents’ beliefs about money. Let’s say your parents didn’t have a lot of money, and always said things like, “We can’t afford that.” Most times, regardless of the amount of money we make, we will still cling to our parents' beliefs, and will find ourselves thinking or saying, “I can’t afford that,” on auto-pilot.
The first step in changing beliefs like this is knowing your beliefs. The second step is replacing those beliefs.
Record your money mantra.
We can only change our behaviors when we change our thoughts, and thinking up money-related mantras can be an effective way to do that.
On the advice of another one of my favorite money coaches, Kate Northrup, I recorded myself saying money mantras, like, “I love money. Money loves me,” “There is more than enough money to go around,” “I am enough,” and a plethora of others. I did this with feeling, really getting into the words, embodying them. Now I listen to those mantras every day when I commute.
I had tried affirmations before, but never felt like I was getting anywhere, and I felt stupid saying them. But something about listening to your own voice on your headphones replaces the narration in your head. Instead of suffering those terrible thoughts I’ve been carrying around for years (“I can’t afford that, I’ll always be broke, I suck at money”), I’m thinking thoughts like, “My prosperity supports others.” Having these new thoughts leads to different beliefs and actions around my money, and different actions lead to different results.
Become aware of your spending.
Traditional money advice tells you to “stick to a strict budget.” But most humans don’t work this way. When we feel restricted, we act out. It’s just like dieting. If you deny yourself all treats, you inevitably end up at a drive-thru window, or find yourself eating an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting.
Like it or not, the human psyche is a messy place, full of unconscious impulses and reptilian responses. When we deprive ourselves by attempting to adhere to a strict budget, most of us lash out by “accidentally” clicking the buy NOW button on those $300 Frye boots. Or we book a vacation we can’t afford to ease the pain of feeling restricted. This perpetuates the painful debt cycle. So how do you become aware of your spending in a way that feels good instead of restricted? First try to...
Save your receipts.
Even though I used to avoid thinking about budgeting and money like it was my job, I've always been aware I spend more than the average bear on food. I eat organic, I have an addiction to $4 cupcakes — you get my drift. To get a better idea of how much I spend on food, I started asking for receipts and saving them on my fridge after each grocery trip. I didn’t change my behavior otherwise. I kept on buying the cupcakes and artisan bottled drinks. And at the end of the month, I tallied up my food purchases, with special attention to the extras.
It’s not like I was surprised by what I saw. Indeed, I spend a lot of money on food! But just seeing the large number is helping me make better financial decisions at the grocery store.
I’m also getting creative. I’m not giving up tasty treats, because that would inevitably backfire. I also don’t mind shelling out more for organic food. But can I spend 10 percent less on decadence, now that I am aware of my spending habits? Can I explore getting cheaper pantry items in bulk at Thrive Market or Amazon Prime Pantry? Why yes, yes I can.
Track your spending in a notebook.
Another simple way to keep track of spending is a simple notebook. Some people use online programs like Mint, and I do too, but it doesn’t give me the same awareness as writing everything down.
So here’s my notebook. It’s tiny. It details each purchase I make during the week, and any bit of income I accrue. I keep track of things like when a friend buys me dinner, or when I get a gift, because writing these things down makes me feel wealthier and more appreciative of the little things. And as you can see, I keep special note of what I am spending on some of my top values: eating well, and personal growth. This helps me make sure my spending is in alignment with what I value most.
Create a “money for me” account.
This is one of my favorite ways to save money without feeling deprived. Instead of setting a limit for yourself like “absolutely no more Starbucks in the morning,” try this.
Get Starbucks once or twice a week if it feels good and luxurious to you. Savor it when you do. On the days when you resist buying a takeout coffee (or a book on Amazon, or a lottery ticket, or that $4 cupcake, or whatever your particular vice might be), place that money in a separate savings account.
My bank has an app that makes it easy to move money from my checking account to this savings account, and I do it every time I resist buying an unneeded treat that I used to buy habitually. This is my “Money for Me” account. At the end of last month, mine had $150 in it. I used that money to make an extra credit card payment, and that felt great. You could also use that money on something you love, like a massage or a new pair of shoes.
The point of this account is ensuring you’re not feeling deprived as you budget. This account is what prevents self-sabotaging purchases, like $300 boots and cruise tickets.
Know your own value.
Oh, wait, did you say you wanted more hokey action steps from the personal growth girl? Awesome! Here’s one of my favorites: list three things you value about yourself, every day.
Be open to this one. When you recognize your own value, you are more likely to create and respond to opportunities, thus creating more value in your life. Recognizing your own value is the first step to making more money. You have to be aware of what you’re awesome at, so you can go out and make money with that awesome.
Another way to recognize value in your life: be open to receiving (gifts, compliments, opportunities, money, etc). You might think you’re open to receiving more money; who wouldn’t be? As it turns out, lots of us. Humans have amazing ways of unconsciously self-sabotaging and blocking new opportunities.
Start small, by actually receiving the compliments that people give you. If you tend to brush them off or deflect compliments (saying “Oh, this old thing, I got it for $10!”), notice that. Try simply feeling and accepting the compliment as it’s given to you. You’ll feel better, and so will the person who is trying to give you appreciation.
Use your skills to create new income.
Once you have an understanding of your value, you can add more income to your life by capitalizing on what you are already good at. Are you great at knitting? Making raw foods? Dancing? Reading or writing? Listening to friends talk about relationship problems? All of these hobbies can be turned into side hustles that result in more cash.
Sit down and brainstorm how to make more money. Maybe you could shovel snow for a neighbor, or start pitching articles to blogs. Most of us have talents we don’t give ourselves enough credit for. Start recognizing yours and offering them to the world.
Reframe how you think about debt.
Is debt inherently bad? No. Some people have $50k of debt and think nothing of it; others feel trapped when they're $5k in debt. It is not how much debt you have, it’s how you feel about it.
For me, my student debt doesn’t bother me at all. It seems like a payment I’ll always have, and I’ve made peace with it. But when my debt seems insurmountable in comparison to my income, that’s when I start to feel like I have no freedom, and that’s when I get cagey and depressed.
When looking back at your debt, try to remove shame from the equation. Did you travel somewhere amazing, or buy the most comfortable bed in the world? Debt is just value you’ve added to your life that you haven’t paid for yet. If you don’t like what you bought, or if you regret it, integrate that lesson, and don’t pay your deadbeat boyfriend’s rent again or spend $500 on a gym membership you won’t actually use (cough, cough, I’ve never done these things). Debt teaches us important lessons.
Another way to reframe how you think about debt is through hanging out with people who are good with money, or asking them questions. What was their greatest money mistake? Their greatest learning? How do they invest or budget? Do they have debt or did they ever? What were their failures and how did they learn from them? Arm yourself with information.
Use automatic savings apps that do the work for you.
I love Digit (Brad's Deals blogger Caroline Thompson recently wrote about her experience with Digit here), which regularly takes money out of your checking account and deposits it into savings. Saving with this app has paid my airfare for three trips in the past year. I used to go into debt over airfare all the time, so this is a huge win for me.
Before I used this app, I never saved. These are awesome apps for those of us who get heart palpitations when we think about scrimping and saving — although, with my new outlook on money, I’m going to try saving a set amount of money each month next.
Acorns is another app that does a similar thing — it rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, and puts the spare change into a savings account. Every time you spend $3.78 on a fancy coconut water at 7-Eleven, you're adding $0.22 to your savings account, which the app automatically invests in order to grow your wealth, cent by cent. Check it out if you're interested in micro-investing, but don't have time to but the work in yourself.
Your next steps.
All in all, money is a very emotional subject. So many people struggle with it because it represents our freedom, desires, and values. Try choosing just one of the steps I’ve outlined above, and slowly integrate it into your life. Becoming aware can be scary at first, but it ultimately gives you the freedom and power to enjoy your money.