This post was originally published on Behavioral Cents.
This is THE YEAR you want to get on top of your cash. GREAT! The worst thing you can do is start with a budget. What? Really? Why? (and secretly, you’re probably thinking Yay!!). Money is not logical. Money is fraught with emotion. And if you force yourself to do something you “should” be doing, you will find some zillion reasons not to do it. Then you’ll feel bad because you “should” be doing it but aren’t, and you’ll start judging yourself, and then feel like a failure. You’ll quit.
To successfully change your money behaviors, you want them to stick. And that means managing your money emotion as well as your money flows. A budget typically defines a forced march, allowing you to spend only after expenses and debt payments are covered. This is like starving ourselves to lose that 20 pounds, and then eventually rebelling because we just need a little treat. We all know how that goes. There’s a reason all the major diet companies offer low calorie brownies isn’t there?
Here is a gentle process I incorporate when I coach women on their money. It helps to form stronger emotional building blocks for changing your money behaviors.
#1. Forgive Yourself.
You are not defined by your money behaviors. You are so much more than your bank account and you have gifts to give to the world. Money may simply not be your thing. Money behaviors are learned (or never learned) from early role models in your life. And once you become aware of them, you can change them. Accept what is today, and accept change to move forward.
#2. Take Money Off a Pedestal
And put your own happiness on it. What you give to this world, and how you leave it is far more important than the size of your bank account. Don’t misunderstand – money is a tool that can help you get there and we’ll talk about this in future blogs. But it is only a means to an end. Money can give you choices, a voice in the world, and power to change lives. What makes YOU happy? Think about your joys in life and close your eyes. How do you feel when you experience your joys? NOW start exploring how you can get that feeling back into your life more often, one small outing, event, or hobby at a time. This will fill your soul and help you resist trivial temptation.
#3. Think About Your Life Goals
This sounds like a bigger job than it is. The challenge for women is that often we focus on the needs of our children and partner. And that may be part of your life goals, so add them in. Now it’s time to throw some spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks for YOU. You can erase, re prioritize, and add. It’s your life and your goals will evolve. NOW ask yourself …do you think enough of your money is being saved toward your true, life goals? Your money-life balance is just that – using it for happiness today while also saving for happiness tomorrow.
#4. Admit and Own your Fear
You’ve been meaning to decrease debt, save more, or just be more mindful of where your cash is going for how many years? Be honest. You just can’t find the time, right? Yet when your boss has a special project, your child has a special event, or you need to research a new furnace because yours just died, you find the time? This is all about emotion. Something is getting in your way and it could be fear, guilt, shame, denial…you name it. You might even have an inkling about what this emotional block might be. NOW, imagine how you would feel if you were totally on top of your cash: Relieved, Free, Empowered, Awesome? You can get there. If you keep revisiting these feelings, they will help you stay on your steady savings course.
#5. No Deprivation Required
We often spend to fill a void. We have a void when we aren’t getting the Zen, love, or confidence-building from activities that truly fill our soul and keep us grounded. We confuse a need for the soul with a need for material items. The trick here is to understand what makes you truly happy (see #2), and ensure you’re getting enough of it. This enables you to build stronger willpower against material temptation. If you aren’t sure what your joys are, you have been giving too much to the world and depleting yourself. When you don’t have joy, you are deprived. When you have joy, you reduce spending and don’t feel deprived.
#6. Start a Spending Plan
A spending plan helps you actually track your money inflows and outflows. And there are always surprises! Tracking what you’ve spent is the first step. Then once you’ve got 2 months under your belt, projecting what you’re going to spend the next month is the next step. Sometimes it’s scary to project, because we don’t want to fail. But hey, it’s just between you and your computer, right? Comparing actual spending to projected helps you learn when you over spend or under spend. That helps you investigate WHY. And sometimes, it’s due to emotional triggers. Don't forget to plan for some of your joys! Do you need to manage a spending plan forever? Not necessarily. You will be surprised at how just one year puts you in a much smarter place.
That’s it. 6 Steps to healthy spending. If it’s too overwhelming, we’ll cover it in more bite size pieces in blogs to come.
Carrie Rattle is Founder of Behavioral Cents and a 30-year veteran executive of financial services. Behavioral Cents helps women build money confidence, gain control of their finances, and feel comfortable making their money decisions. We work one on one in a private, non-judgmental atmosphere with a program tailored to the individual. We help women assess their financial situation and change their money behaviors for the better – without deprivation. Thoughts always welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.