10 Truths You Need To Accept To Get Good With Money

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1. You are probably spending more money than you want to admit (just like people often underestimate their daily calorie intake). It’s a combination of many things — wanting to be easy on yourself, wanting to feel that rush of instant gratification, and avoiding the serious, highly un-fun work of having to go through your accounts with a fine-toothed comb. But the truth is, if you are not following your spending somewhat religiously, you would almost certainly be surprised by at least one of the categories in it. We go out more than we think, order that extra round or appetizer, or stop at Forever 21 to pick up a few items that “don’t really count.” Except they do, and they add up.

2. You won’t make it without a budget. Unless you are a billionaire, and even then, you have a team of people managing and paying attention to your money. Maybe you don’t have to watch every dollar you spend, but you can’t just ignore it. If you want to save, if you want your money to work for you, and if you want to have some kind of financial plan, you need a budget. There are many apps that can help you with this, some of which are found in your own online banking. But you have to take the help where you can get it, and at least get a firm understanding of how you spend (even if you don’t plan to reduce it right away). If you don’t, those “little splurges” will add up to something frequent, significant, and unmanageable.

3.Your parents grew up in a different generation, with different job prospects, little (if any) student debt, and completely different values (particularly when it comes to when and how we should start families). This doesn’t make them bad people, of course, it just means that they may not always know what’s right for you today, in the economic and social situation we live in. They may be insisting you do certain things that you’re not ready to do, or want you to fulfill their values when they no longer align with your own. They may simply not understand the debt or joblessness you’re living with. Listen to their advice, be patient and kind, but don’t hate yourself for not being able to live up to their plans for you.

4. Your savings should be automatically debited whenever your check comes in. Money you don’t see is money you are much less likely to spend, and the more your brain gets used to processing that money and having to decide to save it, the more likely you will be to justify not doing it. You’re not unusually weak-willed, saving is just hard, and goes against our desire for immediate gratification. Adapt to it.

5. There can definitely be bad financial influences in your social group, who encourage you to spend on things you shouldn’t. But at the end of the day, only you can force yourself to open your wallet and make a purchase. Take personal responsibility for the things you decide to spend on, and if you need to distance yourself from bad influences, do it. But don’t blame them for the decisions that ultimately you had to make.

6. Relationships are easily (and often) broken by money problems. If you are in a relationship where money is something you cannot communicate openly and honestly about, or your values and plans for the future do not align, it is probably doomed (at least statistically speaking). Maybe it’s not the most romantic element of dating, but finding someone with whom you are compatible financially, and around whom you never feel ashamed or pressured to keep up, is as crucial as someone who’s a good kisser.

7. If you don’t have an emergency fund, nothing else matters. Stop whatever you’re spending on, and build out your emergency fund. Things are always fine until they aren’t, and your job is always there until it isn’t. You should have at least six months of bills’ worth of savings ready to go at a moment’s notice, no exceptions.

8. No one is excused from having to learn the tenants of financial literacy, and no one is going to teach you unless you seek out the knowledge yourself. You should know the basics of investing. You should start planning for retirement more or less as soon as you start working. You should create a nest egg of your own, totally independent from whatever relationship you happen to be in. You should cushion yourself with information and preparedness, and not expect things to just “work themselves out,” because they almost never do. The resources are out there, inform yourself.

9. If debt is a reality in your life, treat it like you would an illness, and find the best and most comprehensive ways to treat it. Don’t let it fester unchecked, and don’t assume that the first solution you’ve found to pay it is the best one. There are many strategies to managing debt and bad credit, and like anything else, they fall somewhere on a list of priorities in your financial life (under an emergency fund, for example). Debt is a chronic reality that many people have to live with, but that does not mean that it should dictate your entire life.

10. Being impressive is always — always — less important than being independent. Being able to rely on yourself, trust yourself to make good decisions, and plan for your future may not always be sexy or impressive in an Instagram pic. But they are always better (and ultimately more satisfying) than any one purchase that you don’t need. You are not here to make other people think you are living a certain life. You are here to live your own, in the best way you can do it. And it’s no one else’s business.

Image via Ella Ceron

Feel like you’ll never save enough money to be a real person? So did Steph Georgopulos. Read about it in Some Things I Did for Money

  • Skyscrapers and Palm Trees

    I will be the first to admit how awful I am about “being good” with money. Credit cards and my control were the worst idea. But since getting a full time job I had to start controlling myself. These were GREAT tips. 7 and 9 were so on point. Thank you! -alex

    skyscrapers & palm trees

  • Cameron Galsworthy

    I am good with money for about 5 months at a time and then boom everything happens. Recoil and then go again. Very good and practical advice to help knuckle down for more than 5 months at a time.

  • abbeyps .

    I consider myself pretty responsible financially, but making a budget has always been difficult for me for two reasons. First, though I’d love to use an app like Mint, they don’t connect well with my bank’s accounts (I use Schwab), making it difficult for the app to recognize when I am putting money away for savings. Secondly, I’m a grad student, and my salary/fellowship varies year-to-year based on whether I’m teaching or if I have to travel, often for months at a time. Any suggestions would be most welcome!

    • Summer

      Maybe give Powerwallet a try. Similar to Mint with budgeting prowess, and I had success connecting an account with them that I was unable to on Mint.

  • jdub

    I just set up a payment arrangement to pay off the last outstanding major piece of debt I have, and I’m really excited about it. Budgeting and being diligent and tracking what I’m spending have been a real lifesaver, and have help me turned everything around within less than 2 years. Next up is learning about investing, and building up them savings!

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