Essays & Confessions

5 Things I Learned About Getting Good With Money After I Stopped Trying To Control It

By | Tuesday, April 02, 2019

I’ve been on a ~journey~ towards how to be smart with money over the past few years. I’ve written in the past about my transition from working minimum wage service-oriented jobs to a full-blown salaried office job. This jump was bumpy, to say the least, and my relationship with money went through several evolutions.

During the first phase of working with a higher salary, I had fun spending almost all of it each month. I reacted to this by becoming aggressively frugal for months on end, cutting out almost all indulgent spending. Lately, I have landed on a more intuitive approach. As much as I love structure and routine, there is something natural and fluid about letting ebbs and flows exist within my relationship with money.

After aggressively tracking my spending for months, I recently let myself off the hook for two months. During this time, I indulged occasionally, but in general, I stayed mindful of how I was spending. I still budgeted out my weeks using cash, but on a sunny Saturday, I used my debit card to spontaneously purchase a $40 candle that smells intoxicating and has truly brought pleasure to my life. (You know you are getting older when candles become this exciting.) When I finally did check back in with my granular spending, I was surprised to see I was still spending much less than what I was earning. It made me realize that sometimes letting go a bit is the exact thing you need to do. I’ve gone from a place of high indulgence to strict control to, ultimately, a balanced, mindful place that allows for some wiggle room.

I’ve narrowed it down to five key themes that have allowed me to ultimately find this place of relative balance and peace with my money:

1. Control Isn’t The Goal

When I first started tracking my spending, it was almost at an obsessive level. I’ve equated it to counting calories: eating exactly X amount a day may not equate perfectly to “health.” And just because I knew exactly where every penny was going doesn’t mean I felt like my relationship with my finances was necessarily “healthy” or “thriving.”

This is a very personal journey for people, and different styles will work for different people. I have friends who love spreadsheets and truly find joy in knowing where every penny goes. But as someone who has been described by people as “creative” and “fluid,” I felt constricted rather than supported by this approach. Knowing exactly where every penny was going was not necessarily the trick to get me to spend less and save more. I still highly recommend that everyone should do this for three months just to understand where their money goes, but I don’t think obsessively tracking every penny is necessarily a long-term solution for financial health and growth.

I still use Mint to automatically track my spending, and I do look over it a few times a month, but I no longer check in on it every day. This has taken some of the stress out of tracking my finances and has actually helped my confidence around money improve, as I’ve seen that I can still stay on track with my spending even without tracking where every last cent goes every day.

2. Finding Balance Requires Losing Balance

Balance is always the goal, but unfortunately, finding balance sometimes requires losing it first. We are only able to appreciate balance after going through periods of instability. After working for years in retail and always getting different sized paychecks based on whatever hours I had worked, I am so appreciative to have a job where my paycheck is always consistent. For me, to get to a point of relative balance with what I am saving vs what I am spending, I unfortunately went through phases of over-spending and aggressive frugality. The positive is that I’ve learned so much by going through both periods when I have accrued debt, and periods when I’ve spent aggressively below my means.

I am currently in a place where I feel really comfortable about what I am able to save and spend each month. But I know I only got to this place of relative comfort after going through those periods of discomfort. I know I will likely go through phases of financial success and stress in the future, but I know that through each of these periods, I come to an even stronger sense of balance.

3. Examine Your Subconscious Beliefs About Money

I’ve mentioned the book Your Money or Your Life in the past, and I will continue to bring it up for the rest of my life. It is a resource that profoundly impacted how I look at money. In the world we live in, money is essentially your life energy. And for me, this book shaped my beliefs around how I want to save and spend my life energy.

This specific book may not impact you the way it impacted me, but I can’t stress reading finance books or blogs enough as a way of expanding and evolving your subconscious beliefs around money. Sharpen your understanding about how you personally relate to money. As much as I love to have the “money doesn’t matter!” existential conversations, in my current reality, money really does matter. I can’t help but take that fact seriously. Many of us have complex relationships with money that were especially impacted by how we viewed money during our childhoods. But I have found it is so important to take an inward look at your emotions and feelings about money. Do you have a scarcity mindset? Are you over-indulgent to compensate for something going on in your life that you haven’t really worked through? For me, my relationship with money has improved greatly from putting in the energy to read, write, and talk about it with friends, family, and even my therapist.

4. Long-Term Goals Are Critical

The key to my success at spending mindfully while still staying on track to reach my goals is to set very specific goals. I always have a savings goal set on Mint and I set a date range where I plan to reach this goal. These goals keep me on track with my savings each month. It’s a bit childish, but the graphics on Mint truly inspire me to keep putting money away to reach my goals. If I don’t have very specific savings goals set for myself, I am much more likely to spend extra cash.

5. Let Yourself Change Your Mind

Two years ago, I would have preached the power of tracking where every penny goes. But I have shifted to a place where this no longer helps me like it used to. I will likely evolve again. Learning to let my relationship with money shift and evolve can feel unsettling, but it can ultimately be empowering. Check in on the systems you have in place to manage your money and be mindful if anything is no longer serving you. Does tracking your money feel illuminating, or tedious? Does using only cash feel helpful, or stressful? Is your excel spreadsheet still working for you, or is it time to check out online money management platforms? There are so many ways to approach your relationship with money. Give yourself room to experiment and grow.

Mona is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She likes drinking coffee, summiting mountains, and eating mangos. She is currently writing about all things related to money on her blog

Image via Unsplash

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