Our thoughts are the constant companions on our financial journey.
These thoughts can be truthful and helpful to us and our lives. They can be sherpas helping us shoulder our burdens.
Or our thoughts can be potholes and roadblocks on our financial journey.
I want to dive into some of these potholes, or roadblocks, with you today.
Because awareness is power. And know these thoughts that don’t serve us helps us further in our journey.
- Have you avoided opening a retirement account partly because you don’t want to invest in fossil fuels?
- Do you ignore budgeting because you think it’s going to restrict your spending?
- Does personal finance or money management sound boring, stupid, and pedestrian to you?
Behind each of these questions stands a half-truth that I’ll touching on today.
These half-truths are some of the unspoken stories, thoughts, and beliefs that we hold about money, and money work.
They’re pesky because they seem like whole truths, or simple facts, but they contain false and limiting understandings about ourselves and the world.
And because they contain some grains of truth, they can be hard to let go of. And these half-truths get in our way. They stop us for taking those essential actions to improve our finances and grow our wealth.
Half-truth #1: I’m just bad with money
This is a biggie and it’s often a persistent thought that we carry with us throughout our lives.
This half-truth can manifest as:
- “I’ve never been a saver”
- “I’ve never had enough to live an easy comfortable life”
- “I’m 47 years old, and don’t even have a retirement account”
- “I know I should pay off my credit card debt completely, but I never have”
These are all self-perpetuating beliefs about how we handle money.
Now, It could be true that you can improve how you handle your money, maybe there’s more to do, and learn, and use. In fact, I’m sure there is. And it’s likely just a fact that you’ve never been a saver or don’t even have a retirement account at 47 years old.
The problem with this half truth arises when we believe that the person who has never been a saver is therefore inherently flawed.
Flawed in an unchangeable factual way.
And that’s the lie part of this particular half-truth.
We lack skills in an area when we haven’t had motivation to learn, helpfully presented information, and a supportive learning environment. It’s got nothing to do with our inherent properties or nature.
So becoming “good with money” simply means cultivating those things for yourself, cultivating motivation, finding the information, and seeking out a supportive learning environment, whatever that means for you.
But if we regularly mutter to ourselves or exclaim to others “I’m just bad with money!” then we never try, we never persevere, we shrug our shoulders and just accept it as fact.
But it isn’t a fact that you’re bad with money. It’s just a thought.
And deciding you might get better with money, or you were never bad with it, can change everything.
If this one rings true for you, I want to invite you to just try replacing the most persistent version of “I’m just bad with money.”
Use my Thought Ladder tool to work on replacing the thought. And see if after a few weeks of practicing the new thought, your behavior around money management has shifted some.
Half-truth #2: I need a certain amount of income to take my finances seriously
The next half truth we tell ourselves about money is that there is a correct amount of income to achieve before we should take everyday money management seriously.
And this can look like Not enough money / too much money.
In this case, you don’t think your intentions and behavior will change your everyday life, or your financial success, because you have a certain income and certain expenses right now.
If you don’t have enough income compared to your expenses, ie. your struggling and money is really tight, you will likely think: How is creating a vision and a budget going to help if I don’t even have enough money to pay the basic bills? What’s the point?
If you’re financially comfortable, have some money in savings, little credit card debt, and are starting to contribute to retirement, then you might think “expense tracking and budgeting is for people who have to pinch pennies, why put a bunch of extra work in when things are fine right now? This is basically where I was when I first started to get really serious about managing my everyday money.
So, what’s the true part here – it’s true that you need a certain amount of income to meet your basic needs, and if you’re below that, if you’re struggling to get government assistance, if you don’t have friends or family that can help, then a budget is only going to help you so much.
And I’m not discounting that, or the challenges you might face.
It’s also true on the other side, with comfortable income at your disposal, that you are in fact doing fine right now with your current level of engagement with money work.
And I’m not here to tell you you’re doing life and money wrong. You do you.
But if you’re reading this wondering if expanding the attention and work you dedicate to your money is actually worth it, then yes, yes it is.
I am here to tell you that a whole bunch of change, opportunity, and power sits on the other side of doing money work, of tracking expenses, getting present with your circumstances, building a vision for your life, creating a workable budget tailored to your life, and then following that.
A whole bunch of change, opportunity, and power sits on the other side of doing money work
In the case of not enough income, your sense of agency will change, you’ll feel more capable and confident, and your focus will shift from one of lack and scarcity, to one of looking for opportunities, trying new things, and hope for the future.
In the case of plenty of income to afford a comfortable life, adding in more rigorous money management will help you gain clarity about what you want in life, and move so much more quickly and effectively towards whatever that is. You’ll make progress that you never thought possible previously. And – here’s the bit I get especially excited about – you’ll have so much more money to direct towards the change you want to see in the world.
So, if this story resonates for you, that you make too little or too much money to make it worth upleveling your everyday money management, hang tight for the helpful approach I outline for this next upcoming half-truth.
Half-truth #3: More income is the answer to my financial problems
This next half truth about money is a tricky one.
It’s the thought that making a lot more money in and of itself will improve your financial life. It sounds a bit like the one I just talked about where current comfort leads you to believe putting more work and intention into your money isn’t worth while.
But this one is specifically about hyper focus on sales and income as the solution to your money struggles.
It can look like putting all your efforts into making sales in your business (not that I’m down on sales work) as opposed to spending according to a carefully crafted plan, and having a strategic savings approach to managing your cash flow.
It can look like repeating money mantras 10x a day and trying to ‘live as if you’re already a millionaire’.
If you find yourself thinking thoughts like “when I land a big client, or project, or gig, sell a big package, then I’ll pay off the credit cards, then I’ll be able to relax about the finances” then you’re buying into the lie contained in this one.
The truthful part is that having more income could indeed make parts of life easier, and afford you more freedom. You might be able to pay off debts that are in collections, or easily put 3-6 months of expenses aside for your rainy day fund with just a one time bank transfer.
But honestly, while good things, paying off old debt or quickly financing a rainy day fund are temporary wins, as opposed to structural changes in how we manage our money.
If we still have the same attitude, skill set, and intentions when more income appears, we’ll get really similar results to when our income was less, regardless of the manifesting affirmations we repeat.
There’s a reason a big chunk of lottery winners go broke, and that the phenomenon of lifestyle inflation exists. Just because you have more money flowing through your hands does not mean you change the way you spend money, your beliefs, or the focus of your spending. We relate to money the same way in each instance, UNLESS we’ve done money work at the same time as making more sales and income, or, er, winning the lottery.
And I get it, I really do.
When I began taking money management really seriously, I was already 10 years into my financial journey of working to improve my finances overall.
At that time, my net income from my massage practice was about $45,000 a year. And that’s low to try and create a good life in NYC that includes a fully funded Roth IRA, and new clothes now and then that don’t come from sweat shop labor. I was at around ¾ capacity in my practice, but feeling reluctant to expand too much because I had had several health struggles over the years. And I was regularly thinking about how to expand income, hustling to figure out what’s to supplement massage, or replace it, to make life a bit easier with such an expensive cost of living.
So that was my basic state, hustling and wanting more income. Sure, I was intent on paying off debt, putting some savings away,and small amounts of investments. I checked my balances, and didn’t miss payments. But I was a long way from real everyday money management.
Then there was my watershed moment of enough already, it’s time to do things differently!
For me that looked like $3,000 on a credit card because we took a real vacation for the first time in about seven years, to an AirBnB in Vermont for a week. We had previously cleared over $12k in credit card debt following my health crisis and I had been so relieved to be free of it, before we jumped on the vacation idea. Anyway, we had a great time, got home, and then I looked at the balances.
Something just snapped in me when I saw that $3000 balance sitting there. I was ready to uplevel the time and attention I gave to my money and my money management. And when I took that change seriously, within eight months, I had improved my net worth by 32%, which was about $15,000. Yeah.
And here’s the thing, my income didn’t change at all during those 8 months. I was still making around net $45k a year. No change in income but 32% change in net worth, which means I have more savings in the bank. I had completely paid off all of my non student loan debt, and had built bank account checking buffers and was creating sinking funds, had put more in my investments. So, while more income can be a good thing, it’s not what determines change in the way that happens when you start to really get conscious and active around your money.
I still have higher income goals. That’s still part of my life. But I have a completely different relationship to everyday money management, and that’s what’s made all the difference to my finances.
And I’m not saying to throw out all your gratitude practice, affirmations, mantras, or money rituals or whatever else you have been taught will allow you to manifest loads of money. They can be powerful and helpful.
Just know that increasing your income alone is not going to lead to when you think it is. You have to change your thoughts about money and learn to handle it differently.
So, if you have been focusing your intention and money work into affirmations, sales, and increasing revenue, AND you budget regularly, track expenses, have sinking funds, and an emergency account, then great.
But if the income focus is the primary one, then ask yourself, how much income is enough income so that I know I’m ready to start with everyday money management? How will you know when you’re ready for more intention in your money management and for learning the essential tools to build financial stability? What exactly are you waiting for? Is something else holding you back from focusing on everyday money management, as well as increasing income?
I don’t know the answers, but I know you will.
Half-truth #4: Money Work is Shallow or Corrupting
This next half-truth is a doozy, especially for those who might consider ourselves creatives, consider ourselves progressive, or conscious, spiritual, or maybe in support of social justice, or activism.
It’s the belief that personal finance and working on your money is shallow or negative in some way.
Maybe you’ve always believed that money is the root of all evil, and rich people are inherently bad. Or it’s that money work is shallow, or that it’s super nerdy.
We may underline for ourselves that so many things are so much more important than money, things like Art with a capital A, fighting systemic racism, being active in your community, whatever it is that in comparison makes money seem base, trivial, or corrupting.
Another version of this general approach to money is that personal finance and money work is boring, or uncool, because, I don’t know, it involves things that people associate with duty rather than excitement, or the use of spreadsheets.
So, I’m not saying that Art, Justice, Activism, Progressive values, personal growth, or acknowledging that we are more than a fluid sack of cells aren’t all crucial parts of life, that they aren’t even more important than accumulation of wealth for the pure sake of it. And there’s the nuggets of truth here.
But here’s the lie. The lie is that these value judgments are due to the inherent qualities of money itself. That it is inherently boring or evil or corrupting or base. Money takes on the characteristics we humans give it out in the world. It’s like clay that we choose to mould one way or the other.
Money takes on the characteristics we humans give it out in the world. It’s like clay that we choose to mould one way or the other.
So, what I’m saying is that attaching a bunch of negative attributes to the neutral tool that is money will majorly get in the way of building financial stability and freedom for yourself.
Oh, and as you build that stability and freedom for yourself, and you grow in your skills and increase the money you have to make decisions about, you are better able to support whatever personal, social, or spiritual work is important to you.
My lasting impression from childhood about money was that being an entrepreneur, earning money, and taking risks with money was all fine and accepted, but saving for the future, thinking about retirement, acquiring property, ‘counting pennies’ was looked down upon, was considered ‘materialistic’ as opposed to spiritual or evolved. The personal accumulation of wealth was considered majorly less-than.
I’m not saying that focusing your whole adult life around personal wealth growth is the way to go. All of these questions are determined by who we are and what we want at a given time in our lives. But if changing and improving your relationship with money is on your mind, and you identify with some version of the “money work is bad” thoughts, then this particular half-truth is one that might be helpful to explore.
One fun way to shed some of this particular half-truth is to look for examples in the world of folks clearly using their money for good. Off the top of my head, I think of Oprah and her work and activism, or of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia.
Half-truth #5: Budgeting is Restrictive
Our final half-truth today is that one that kept me stuck the longest. And it’s really specifically a half truth about using a budget, about planning your every day money behavior and acting accordingly.
It’s that using a budget is restrictive, that it means you’ll never spend money on fun things again, that you can no longer buy XYZ, and you’ll have to be a good girl all the time, or some version of that.
Over the course of 10 years, as I sought information on how to improve my personal finances, there would always be the quick, often offhand pointer or assumption, that using a budget is crucial and an automatic part of getting serious about managing your every day money.
And I always ignored it. For 10 years.
I believed that if I created a spending plan for myself, a budget, I’d be restricted and I’d feel hemmed in, and I wouldn’t be able to follow the plan. And then I’ll get really down on myself and the fact that I don’t follow through with my commitments to myself, and it’ll just be yet another failed New Year’s resolution.
it would just be another reason to beat myself up, because that’s where I was at the time.
So I now understand that beating myself up when I don’t act according to plan is counterproductive. It’s never the answer to berate yourself for anything.
But that aside, with the right system, budgeting isn’t restrictive. And it’s not an arbitrary set of rules you have to adhere to.
A well-crafted zero-based budget is completely tailored to your own sweet weird particular life and circumstances.
Not only that, I actually discovered to my delight, that using a budget is incredibly freeing, especially if you use the envelope system, whether with the cash or a cashless version of it. I just want to share the delighted surprise I experienced in budgeting.
Sounds ridiculous to say if I think of myself 5 years ago hearing that. But it turns out that using a budget is freeing, it’s enjoyable. And it catapults your money progress. Which in turn increases your confidence in your own abilities overall, and your sense that you’re taking care of yourself.
Using a budget is freeing, it’s enjoyable. And it catapults your money progress. Which in turn increases your confidence in your own abilities overall, and your sense that you’re taking care of yourself.
So if you find yourself apprehensive about being restricted when using a budget, and you’d like to feel differently, I have a challenge for you.
First write down all your thoughts about the restriction aspect, anything you’re afraid you won’t be able to have or do any more.
With pen and paper.
Any old memories that come up around restriction. Feelings of rebelling against authority or being stuck in inflexibility.
Once you have them all outside your head, start to just look at what you’ve written, with compassion.
Ask yourself if each sentence is really true, without knowing the answer. Sit with it. And decide if you want to continue believing that. You might find that you don’t.
If you want support around the process, join the Plum Tree Community.
So, let’s recap the stories, the boulders and potholes, that can keep us stuck from moving along the path to financial stability, and prevent us from implementing intentional everyday money management.
- #1 “I’m just bad with money”
- #2 “I don’t make enough or I make too much money”
- #3 “I need to focus on income – rather than management – to get to financial stability”
- #4 “Money work is boring/nerdy/shallow”
- #5 “Budgeting is too restrictive and I’ll fail”
I’d love to know which boulder you connect with most, the one you recognize as being most up for you in your life.
Drop a comment below and let me know!