Need a boost of financial confidence? Join TFD’s first virtual workshop, Staying Financially Balanced in a Chaotic Year. TFD Founder Chelsea Fagan will be chatting with journalist Ismat Mangla about how to manage our finances during this totally new era we’re living in. Get your tickets here. A recording of the event will be available for attendees.
Years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to study abroad in Australia, but shortly after arrival, I had a health scare that cost me thousands of dollars. Suddenly, I was on a new continent, unable to work, and very, very broke. Desperate, I scoured the internet looking for solutions and miracles, and I fell into the dark hole of self-help and “manifestation.” for those not in the know, manifestation is the idea that you can make something happen by “thinking” it into existence.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of self-improvement and learning, but my pursuit of answers in the world of self-help sent me down a terrible spiral. I would be depressed about being broke, find a self-help book or manifestation course, then spend the last of my money (or money I didn’t have) to find the “secret” to success and happiness that I was going after. For the next couple of weeks, I might feel inspired, but I rarely took any real action to create positive change. I still felt stuck in my situation and overwhelmed with the idea of transforming my life because my self-worth and sense of purpose were depleting. Afterward, I’d feel dejected again, and I’d find myself as the target of a different self-help resource.
My financial situation did a number on my sense of self-worth and self-confidence and made me feel like a failure. Self- help feeds on this insecurity.
My financial situation did a number on my sense of self-worth and self-confidence and made me feel like a failure. Self- help feeds on this insecurity. Often, ads and course descriptions are written in a way to play to your feelings of inadequacy. It was easy for them to make me feel like I was fundamentally flawed and needed the material to have any chance at “fixing” myself. Then, because I was so convinced that I was a failure, I couldn’t bring myself to do any of the real work required to make a difference in my life. I couldn’t stick to a budget, follow through on plans, or anything else the books suggested until I worked on my mindset first. Self-help books often ignore the mindset piece, so that you always feel stuck and worthless and, as a result, continue to buy products.
I had to learn that self-help materials didn’t serve to fix me and that I was already gifted enough to create a great life for myself. Once I focused on building my confidence and finding small wins, I was able to more carefully discern which self-help purchases would actually help me to improve and teach me new skills. Not all self-help is bad for you — some of it actually is helpful. But now, before buying any new material, I follow a series of steps.
I define my desired outcome.
Before taking a new course or purchasing a new self-help book, I ask myself, “What will this help me to accomplish? How will my life improve afterward?” It’s important that I get specific about my desired results. Will I develop tangible skills to be happier? Will I gain an income stream? Will I learn a new skill? For me, it isn’t enough to just feel empowered or have my heart warmed temporarily. If I can’t name what the purchase will bring me, it probably isn’t right.
I take inventory of my current resources.
After I define my desired outcome, I think about the resources and information that is already available to me. Local libraries are amazing resources that save money and help the environment. Even if my library doesn’t have the book at their location, they may be able to find it, or there may be an online version I can access with my library membership. YouTube is an amazing resource with hours of video content. Skillshare has thousands of courses to teach new skills, and it isn’t hard to find a 2-month free trial from your favorite online creators. Pinterest is another treasure trove where millions of bloggers and creatives share their own free resources. Another plug for libraries? They often come with memberships to online learning platforms, and it’s all at no cost. Before paying for anything, I make sure to look for material available for free.
I’m honest about my progress.
The last reflection step is probably the most important for me. Have I really given the free resources a shot? Have I been consistent long enough to really see positive effects? Because much of my issue with self-help material comes from a lack of confidence, it’s important that I prove my ability to myself first. If I’m truly ready for an investment, that’s great. Still, I have to hold myself accountable.
I pay close attention to past customer reviews and refund policies.
In the past, I would be so sure that a certain book or course would solve all my problems that I would ignore any negative feedback, or I wouldn’t look into feedback at all. Just like any other purchase, it’s a good idea to read the reviews before buying. Think critically about them to determine whether the reviewer’s concerns apply to you, and go from there.
Also, pay attention to the refund policies for the course or material. What happens if you’re unhappy with the purchase? How much time, if any, do you have to request a refund? Take note of the dates and record them, so you don’t miss the deadlines.
I already possess whatever it takes to improve my life. The secrets are not hidden in the pages of something else’s book or waiting for me in a course about connecting to the universe.
I set up a sinking fund and save.
Finally, if I truly believe that a purchase is aligned with my goals, I buy it. However, I make myself wait for the purchase by setting up a sinking fund and saving for it. I “sleep on it” for a month or so, saving a portion of the cost each week. It’s not uncommon for me to realize that after saving, I have a better use for the extra money in the fund.
After finishing a new book or course, I reflect heavily on what I learned and commit to applying those lessons in my life before even considering a new purchase. Since using these strategies, I’ve been very happy with the results and proud of the changes I’ve seen. I still come across a dud every now and then, but I feel much better about asking for course refunds or leaving constructive feedback because I know I did what I could to make it work for me. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that I already possess whatever it takes to improve my life. The secrets are not hidden in the pages of something else’s book or waiting for me in a course about connecting to the universe. Those things can inspire and teach when you’re in the right headspace, but you can be resourceful enough to make it without them.
Maya Fleming is a writer, self-care enthusiast, and the host of Gentler podcast where she chats about post-grad adulthood and using self-care to enrich all areas of life, especially personal finances. She lives with her puppy, Ginger, in the DC area. You can follow her on Instagram.
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