What if I told you that you can achieve financial peace before you reach financial independence? We all have our own relationship with money, including our preconceived notions about how much we need to be happy or how we should go about making money. In other words, we all have our own “money scripts.” Dr. Kurtz, financial psychologist, argues that our attitude towards money is shaped by “direct experience, family stories, and parental attitudes.” Kurtz continues:
“Specifically, money avoidance scripts (e.g. ‘Money is unimportant,’ ‘Rich people are greedy’), money worship scripts (‘More money will make me happier’), and money status scripts (‘Your self-worth equals your net worth’) are all associated with poor financial outcomes.”
How do we change our financial mindset? Well, that’s simple: create a new one. This might be controversial but I really believe that if you’re making a living wage, financial peace is a state of mind and not a dollar sign. So long as you work towards smaller, more manageable goals then positive feelings will follow. This is no different than feeling better after going for a run or eating a healthy meal. Take action and contentment will follow. To get you started, here are a few things that made me grateful for my present financial state while I’m working towards the big-picture goals.
1. One Month Ahead
Stop living paycheck-to-paycheck. I know, I know, easier said than done, right? Back when I was living in the moment, hoping that I could stretch $20 over the last week of the month, my anxiety was reasonably at an all-time high. I disassociated with the people around me and the work that I had, and I lived in my own bubble of stress. After being fed up for months (or possibly years), I radically minimized my spending for three months in order to set aside one month of expenses (I also used whatever little savings I had). From there, I made a deal with myself that I would always be one month ahead in expenses. In other words, I would use August’s income for September’s expenses, and September’s paychecks would be set aside to use in October. Out of all the financial achievements I’ve had, including becoming debt-free, freeing myself from the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck has made the largest impact on me.
2. Money Flow Management System
There’s lots of talk on the importance of efficient workflow systems, but we rarely apply that to our finances. When your paycheck enters your checking account, where does it go? Are there automated transfers to direct portions of it to your short-term savings, investment accounts, and an emergency fund? Is there a destination to assign every single dollar? Regardless of how much you have (or don’t have), everyone can benefit from creating a system that you can feed your money through each month.
3. Do Your Homework
We can lament that no one taught us how to manage our money or we can shed the blame and accusations and take the initiative to teach ourselves. If the stock market intimidates you, read books, listen to podcasts, and speak with experts on the subject. Help is everywhere. A five-minute internet search will lead you to a plethora of articles on what investments are riskier than others, what funds are more expensive than others, and what services are offered to those who don’t wish to invest on their own.
4. Accept Full Responsibility
I have no issues with robs-advisors or other investment management services, but I prefer to use an online broker, like Questrade, and engage in self-directed investing. My decision has nothing to do with feeling superior or a gut instinct for individual trades; In fact, in my RRSP account (similar to a 401(k) for Americans), my money is invested in just three Index ETFs that cover the entire global market. In my TFSA account (similar to a Roth IRA for Americans), my money is invested in another three Index ETFs that cover the entire global market. This is not unlike the portfolios of robo-advisors. The major difference, however, between a robo-advisor and a self-directed investor is who gets to call the shots, what funds are in your portfolio, and how much of your money is spread out amongst them. There’s nothing wrong with letting someone else take care of those decisions for you, but it’s empowering when you invest your time and attention into learning how to make sound investment decisions and feel the weight of responsibility for your financial future — and that you can’t take the easy way out and ask someone else without looking it up yourself.
Your financial situation is constantly changing, but your mindset stays relatively the same, remember how far you’ve come and create a vision as to how far you’ll go. When you have a plan and system in place, you’ll be able to lighten up, release all that tension, and approach your money with equanimity.
Jennifer Chan is a lawyer and blogger. You can find her at jennifertchan.net where she focuses on connecting the dots between work, money, and happiness. She resides in Toronto, Canada with her girlfriend, full-figured rabbit, and a deaf & blind cockapoo.
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