If you’re struggling financially, as so many people are these days, it may seem to you that you’re doomed to go on struggling for the rest of your life. But that is an illusion.
Notwithstanding the political and economical factors that are making it more difficult for people with moderate and low incomes – and we’re not denying that these factors exist – you may have much more control over your financial destiny than you think. It’s time to replace that financial fatalism you’re harboring with a (realistically) positive attitude.
Escaping your past
Before we go any further, this is not about blaming your mom and dad for everything that has ever gone wrong and continues to go wrong in your life. You’re an adult now, after all. That said, it’s very possible that you picked up some unwise money habits from your parents. Mom and dad may have had the best of intentions, as most parents do, but if they weren’t very good money managers – if they were spendthrifts or tightwads (both extremes can be destructive), or if they just couldn’t seem to balance a checkbook – you may have internalized some of their financial attitudes and habits. While we can’t go back in time and choose parents whose money attitudes and practices fall more closely to what we consider to be ideal, we can change the attitudes and money habits we picked up from them.
First, we need to recognize what we’ve “inherited.” Try to remember how your parents talked about money when you were a child, and see whether you find yourself making similar statements. If they never discussed their finances around you, did you assume that money was unimportant to them, or that there was a level of tension about the subject that they tried to mask? And now that you’re an adult, managing your own finances, how closely do your discussions about money mirror theirs?
Whether you find that your attitude toward money is similar to your parents’ or diametrically opposed, the next important step is to put their attitudes into the proper perspective, without confusing matters by laying blame, either on them or yourself. If possible, ask your parents how their parents dealt with money matters, and what kinds of lessons they taught your mom and dad. Truth is, most parents do the best they can with what they have and with what they’ve been taught. By getting a better understanding of how your folks developed their attitudes toward money, you’ll likely gain better insight into how your own attitudes were formed. With that insight, you’ll be better prepared to “reprogram” your own attitude toward all things financial, and will have the tools you need to adopt more productive financial habits, and even pass those more positive attitudes on to your own children. Again, the point is not to play the blame game with your parents, but just to acknowledge their influence and move on from there.
Make every money decision a mindful one
Whether or not we recognize it, our parents’ mindsets and behaviors tend to shape our own. From minor things such as the brand of laundry soap we reach for on the grocers’ shelves to what kind of neighborhood we choose to live in, by default we will either imitate our parents or make a choice that is wholly different from theirs. Setting aside any judgment as to why we make the choices we make, we can improve our own decisions by becoming more objective and better educated.
This can be as simple as checking the details about and customer reviews for the products you buy, then comparison shopping to see which products provide the proper balance of function and value. It can be a bit more complex applying this process to your finances, but the same principle does apply. Learning good financial practices includes comparison shopping for the things on which you spend a significant amount of your budget, from the house you live in, to the car you drive, to the debts you take on, all the way down to the groceries you purchase. By being educated and making intentional rather than snap decisions when spending your money, you can, in effect, increase the amount of money you have to spend and save.
Learning to be more mindful about all of your money decisions is an essential first step towards a healthier bottom line. But there’s more.
Forming new attitudes and habits
Whether you have dreams of being a millionaire or billionaire someday, or you just want a decent, reasonably happy life free of money worries, there’s a lot you can learn from the lives and habits of millionaires. And we’re not talking about the ostentatious, conspicuously consuming Bold-face types who are front and center in every news story. We’re talking about millions of normal people who are financially independent because they’re frugal, and not overly concerned with impressing the world with their wealth.
If you want to live a life free of money worries, the best place to start might be to emulate the habits of millionaires, first by realizing that most wealthy people look and live just like everyone else. They don’t spend extravagantly or live showy lives. Rather, they live frugally and spend wisely. They know that saving and investing wisely are as essential as budgeting and keeping track of their spending. To their friends and acquaintances, they appear happy and unencumbered by the money worries that are the biggest source of most people’s stress.
In summary, if you want your financial condition to improve, you need to recognize and eliminate the habits that are holding you back, and replace them with habits that will better serve you. And believe it or not, doing so is easier than you would think.