I’ve been writing about personal finance for a few months now, and frequently, as I’m writing a piece like Reasons to Budget With Mint or This Story Will Make You Save For Retirement, I’ll wonder: what kind of place do you need to be in to take my advice or to see value in it? Over and over, I keep coming back to the only two prerequisites that must occur in the mind before any action is ever taken:
1. You have to have a desire to be good with money.
2. You have to believe you can be good with money.
That’s pretty much it! Well, that’s actually the recipe for being good at anything. Yet they’re the two toughest things that never really get emphasized enough. I can write about how to budget and save all day long and hope something sticks, but without those two things, nothing is ever going to happen.
It’s the same for anything really, so maybe the recipe is just too obvious, but why don’t we ever seem to talk about it? There’s so much complexity in these two simple things, so I’m going to try and break down all the things I think are involved in the two.
A Desire To Be Good With Money
There Are Some Things We Can’t Be Bad At
While money management seems like the type of thing we choose to do, it falls into the same category as getting a job — it’s something that’s sort of optional, but not really. We may graduate and get our first job and absolutely hate it, but deep down, we understand the merit of having a job.
For some of us, a job is just a necessary evil. For some of us, a job is our passion. But whichever camp you fall into, there’s a general understanding of the stability a job brings to your life.
Depending on how much you actually enjoy managing your money, being good or even just okay with money is the same thing. It’s going to make your life a lot harder if you don’t manage your money at all.
If a job provides security and stability by bringing in money to avoid being in debt while paying for life’s necessities, money management is the natural complement to that. Why are we okay with being in debt if we’re earning a paycheck as opposed to being in debt if we’re unemployed? At the end of the day, debt is debt regardless of whether you have the false security of a job cutting you a paycheck.
Desire Doesn’t Have To Equal Passion
Money is kind of a boring topic, so you don’t have to be on personal-finance-blogger-level of wanting to be good with money. Of course, it would help, but it’s actually not a prereq! Like I alluded to above, not all of us are passionate about our jobs. I like my job, but even finding a job I like took a lot of time. I didn’t find it an acceptable excuse to quit working altogether because I didn’t like my first job.
Money management is similar. It takes a while to find something that works for you with minimal disruption if you dislike doing it. It’s in your best interest to want to level up your money management skills if you lack them, because it’ll help with planning for short and long-term stability.
Wanting To Be Good Keeps An Open Mind
Wanting to be good at something will keep our ears perked to topics that may relate to it. Even if it’s not your top priority to be good with money, there may be more general awareness of blog posts that come up on the topic. Even by just keeping our mind open to the idea of improving will make us more receptive and likely to take action on something we see or encounter on the topic.
I was talking to a friend a couple months ago about credit card debt and how dangerous interest can affect the final balance you pay. They responded with something like, “Oh yeah, I remember reading about credit card interest once, but I honestly just still can’t remember how it works exactly.” And internally, I was thinking…how is that possible…you’re good at math! But they didn’t really care about money management so of course, it’s not knowledge that’d stick.
A Belief You Can Be Good With Money
“I Can’t”/”I’m Not”/”I’ll Never” Is The Death Of Belief
I do this all the time. I’ll say things like “I’m not a runner,” or “I’ll never be good at standup comedy,” or “I’m not a scientific thinker,” etc. on the basis that my past self wasn’t particularly good at these things when I tried them. What’s worse actually is that for some things, I just assumed I would be bad at them.
Which, by the way, I “just know” or I can “just tell” are the strangest phrases ever. On their own, they don’t even mean much. The kicker is they’re usually followed with an implied “I can just tell I’d be bad at stand up comedy so…I’m not going to try and be good at it,” or “I just know I’m not a runner because of my weak ankles, so what’s the point of even trying to be a runner?” (I’ve been using this excuse forever!) Of course, there are things we’re naturally inclined towards, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be better or good at anything we’re currently terrible at.
Sometimes it’s just easier to say those things to get other people to back off because we don’t really believe we’re incapable of being good at something. What we’re actually saying is, “I don’t want to put in all the effort it’ll take to be good at that right now.” Which is fine for most things! What we’re saying is that we don’t value it enough to commit to getting better at it. There are many things that are good for us and we really don’t have to commit to being good at all of them.
But other times, we actually do believe we can’t be good at something, EVER, for whatever reason. This isn’t an issue of not wanting to commit to getting better at something in a particular moment — it’s actually a fixed mindset. To move forward with being good with finances, we have to debunk the fixed mindset with reason. How do we debunk a fixed mindset about money (or anything?)? Well, that needs its own blog post!
Belief Aids Beginning
It’s pretty hard to start building any habit or skill, and if we don’t think we can do it, then we probably won’t ever start. Most times, starting something is already an overwhelming task.
We don’t necessarily know the right way to start developing a skill or what might be the best things to practice if we want to. We don’t know which resources are the best entry point. Sometimes we know the timeframe for seeing results will be really long, etc.
Those are all things I’m constantly thinking when I think about starting something and wondering whether it’s worth it. Take my blog, for example! I had set up WordPress multiple times in the past, so that was a start, but I had no idea how to find readers, how to improve my writing, what to write about…
Even though those things were really overwhelming initially, I could still start addressing them because I believed I could find readers, even if it took a while. I believed I could improve my writing if I just kept writing and sucking sometimes. If I believe I can do it, then I don’t self-sabotage my efforts to begin by getting too overwhelmed by the details.
Belief Aids Recovery From Failure
No one gets things right the first time they do it. The last time I remember learning something without totally getting something wrong was probably when I was learning basic math in grade school. And even then, the magic of learning something when you’re a kid is not beating yourself up over failing over and over.
Sometimes we feel that failure is an indicator that it wasn’t meant to be. It makes us highly aware of our desire to be good at something and the fact that we aren’t. But if we already believe that we can be good with money, we can move past failure more quickly.
Maybe I want to learn how to budget, but I miss my budget goals for the month. If you already have the nagging sense that maybe you can never actually manage to stay within your budget, then you’ll just immediately give up. If you already believe you can stay within your budget, you might go and seek out a different technique or try to edit your budget to be more realistic until you succeed.
Was there anything you never started because you didn’t believe you could? Tell me about it in the comments!
Jing is an SF transplant, software engineer, and personal finance blogger. She’s weathered clueless spending, not-so-fun-employment, and a cross-country career change. You can find her documenting her financial wins and mishaps over at Millennial Money Diaries.
Image via Unsplash