- Easy steps to fix your money problems
- Find out what you need to do BEFORE you take any action with your finances
- Identify what your money blockers are
- Map out your path to financial success
- Learn to recognise when you're back in your old ‘poor' habits
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In the financial doldrums…
A few months ago, we decided to finally – finally – take control of our finances. Don’t get me wrong, we thought we were in control of our finances… actually, no, if I’m perfectly honest, we never really have thought we were in control of our finances.
We budgeted… and then promptly ignored the budgets, justifying ourselves with comments like “But it’s on sale! It’s such a bargain!” and “I’ve worked really hard and I deserve this! I’m going to treat myself!” or even “But it’s so nice, I’ve got to have it! It would be a shame to miss out!”
We reconciled the accounts and checked what we’d (over)spent against the budgets… and then went out for a nice drink & high quality meal to make ourselves feel better and drown our sorrows.
We got anxious and depressed whenever a visit to the accountants was coming up because we were ashamed and embarrassed by how we’d managed our finances.
The things is, I know we’re not alone in this. People have rarely had any real financial management education; we’re taught to SPEND, not to manage.
Lovers of Instant Gratification
We’re taught to buy things now, get another loan, start using that credit card.
We’re taught that if we’re feeling sad, we should go out and buy things because that ad on the TV says that we’ll feel better if we do and the magazine said that car is the answer to all my dreams.
Then we’re judged by what car we drive, what house we live in, the street that it’s located in, the stores that we shop at. We feel the very human need to fit in, so if we don’t have what “everyone” else has, we do whatever we can to get it, regardless of the cost.
And we’re trained to do all this; we simply don’t know anything different, no alternative way to be.
Only a tiny portion of financial mismanagement is down to lack of knowledge or training. Most of it – probably more than 90% – is emotional; purely emotional.
The reasons we overspend are the important things, we must address those before we can take any other actions to get out of the mess we’re in.
Think of it this way: we all know that if we want to lose weight, we’ve got to do two things: exercise more and eat less. Do we do it? No. Not unless there’s a big enough reason.
In other words, we don't do things unless our we get our emotions onboard with the whole thing.
7 Steps to Fix Your Money Problems
So, let’s have a look at the steps we need to take to fix our money problems:
1. Realise that our emotions rule our money
Q: Why do we (and I’m including you in that ‘we’ because this likely applies to you in some way, too) really have our money problems?
A: Because the decisions we make around money are emotional ones not logical, rational ones.
John & I pride ourselves on our integrity, respect and honesty, yet none of those values were immediately obvious in our financial life.
Actually, if I’m totally honest, they were completely non-existent for us around money. We had no integrity: we didn’t do what we said we’d do, we didn’t take care of our money, we didn’t respect either our money or the time and effort we put into creating it, and we definitely weren’t honest with ourselves about what we were doing.
We'd rather not be honest with ourselves
Rather than being honest with ourselves and facing the fact that we were screwing ourselves over, we stuck our fingers in our ears, and sang “LALALALALALA!” at the tops of our voices while skipping to the local Indian restaurant with a brief stop at the bottle shop for some wine along the way. That was how we dealt with our money situation.
Let me point something out here: I’m a site Quantity Surveyor by profession, I manage the financial side of construction projects. John runs our property developments with such a firm grip on the finances that one of the tradies commented, “I thought you were from Liverpool not Scotland” (he was Scottish himself, so it was in no way racist). Yet when it came to our own finances, we had zero idea where we were at any point in time and zero control over anything.
2. Identify Our Money Blocks & Triggers
Once we begin to see that becoming debt free (or losing weight or any of those other things that we talk about and say we want to achieve but never seem to manage) is really an emotional/psychological puzzle that needs to be figured out BEFORE we can do anything, then we can start to take action.
This is the moment to grab a pen and paper, a cup of hot, sweet tea (we may be in for some big shocks!) and find ourselves a quiet spot to work in.
This bit is not going to be pretty but there’s no way around it. If we’re going to get this sorted for once and for all, we need to dig deep and be honest with ourselves.
What are the things we say to ourselves about money?
There’s never enough?
Money doesn’t grow on trees?
Us and them?
3. Running On Automatic
Our automatic behaviours (aka habits) are what keeps things in our lives. If our habits lead us to having no money, being in debt and living from paycheque to paycheque, but we want something different to that, then we’re going to have to change our habits.
But not necessarily easy.
Breaking our old habits and creating new ones takes a fair bit of effort, it’s like a train starting out from the station; at first, the engine is putting in a lot of effort and not much forward movement is happening but after a little while, there’s enough energy been put into that forward motion that momentum begins to take over and going faster and faster becomes easier and easier.
In essence, that’s how forming a new habit works: it will be hard work at first but it will become easy very quickly (depending on the effort you put in!)
4. Realise When Our Automatic Emotional Response Has Gone Into Action
It was one of those days:
…one of the kids couldn’t find one of their school shoes (how does that happen?),
…we were late leaving the house, we’re out of petrol and there’s a huge queue at the garage,
…then we hit a traffic jam because the council have decided to do some work on the road in rush hour,
…the worst client we’ve ever come across in our entire working lives gave us hell,
…our boss took their bad mood out on us,
…we leave work and head to the shopping centre to pick up something for dinner and when we get home, we realise that not only have we bought far more in the supermarket than was on our shopping list, we’ve also spent several hundred dollars on a new dress, some face cream, some shoes for the kids and a couple of nice candles for the lounge.
We live UNconsciously
In other words, we were in a totally unconscious, automatic mode when we were out shopping.
We’d had a bad day, we were feeling stressed so we did something to make ourselves feel a little better.
For about five minutes.
Then we felt even worse than we did before because now, on top of all the stuff that’s happened to us during the day, we also feel guilty and ashamed with spending all that money.
That’s what we do, right?
Or another automatic behaviour (one of my personal favourites) is when we see money in our bank account, we immediately think “Okay, what can I buy?” and we go out and spend it.
These, and the behaviours like them, are just the automatic ways we behave with money. We need to notice them (and not cast judgement on them!), write them down and recognise them for what they are: the things that stop us, the things we need to change.
5. Identify Our Money Habits (Particularly The Bad Ones!)
There are nine ways in which we all sabotage our financial life. We may all have slightly different ways of tripping ourselves up in each area, and some areas may not apply to us much or at all…
…Actually, I’ve learned to be most wary when my immediate reaction to a suggestion that I may have something to learn in that area is a flat “No. That’s definitely not me.” Because those areas are where the biggest have always occurred.
If we find ourselves just dismissing something out of hand, that may very well be the place where we have the most to gain.
The Questions To Ask
So, it’s time to ask ourselves this: how do I behave in these areas? What habits do I have? This is the key: what habits do I have? A habit is something that we do automatically, unconsciously, without thought, and doing it makes us feel good because it’s so familiar.
We are designed as human beings to try to make ourselves feel good. We want to feel happy about ourselves, life, everything, so we do things that will make us happy.
Only we tend to go for instant gratification, which is where the problems begin to occur.
This isn’t bad, there’s nothing wrong, this is just about recognising what’s happening and asking ourselves if we want to do something different in order to get a different result.
We need to identify our rotten money habits and replace them with new ones.
6. Figure out what we actually want and map out a new path
That may sound like a ‘duh’ question but most of us would answer it either by saying what we don’t want – “Well, I don’t want to live from paycheque to paycheque” –
Or by talking about some vague dream that we have – “I want to be debt free and travel the world in first class style” (that’s one of mine).
Yeah, okay, that’s nice, but how much income will you need to allow you to do that?
How much money will you need in the bank?
What will your sources of income be?
My answer to all of those has occasionally been, “I’ll win the lottery”.
Cue rolling eyes.
Seriously? It’s like saying, “I want to lose a bit of weight!” Nice. How much weight? By when? How will you achieve that?
Think about it: we’re most successful when we have clear goals and a clear plan of how we’re going to achieve them.
Check out these articles that go much deeper into this topic and will help you work through this and get you clear on exactly what it is you want:
7. Practise the new habits DAILY until they become automatic & unconscious actions
This is when our focus and intention is most needed: when that train starts to leave the station.
This is where our reasons for changing are most important. It’s also really important to recognise that this may get seriously tough and to make sure that we’ve set ourselves up for success.
Here's how to do it:
- Get an accountability partner – Find someone who we can talk to and who will remind us of our goals and intentions
- Change our morning routine – This sounds a bit weird, but if we change some of the things we do automatically, others things change more easily. Instead of getting out of bed, then going to the bathroom, then cleaning our teeth, then getting dressed, then making a cup of coffee, followed by feeding the cat, mess up the routine a little and do things in a different order. It’s amazing how weird it feels!
- Write down our intentions for the day each morning – not a To Do list, merely a little writing to remind ourselves what’s most important for us. This may be things like “Spend quality time with my daughter” or “Put $10 into my savings account” or “Check out about starting that second income stream”. It’s about reminding ourselves why we’re doing this and that new habits have now replaced our old, automatic routines.
- Practise watching ourselves – Become aware of what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, how we’re reacting. Get into the habit of writing everything we notice down in a notebook.
- Recognise and acknowledge when things are changing – It will take time, baby steps are the key here and it’s important to acknowledge every little win that we have, every time we manage to recognise something, even if we didn’t recognise it in time to catch ourselves before our old habits came into action, it will get easier and quicker and we will change things… if we keep at it.
Set yourself up for success!
We need to set ourselves up with a structure to succeed. No structure, no succeed, it’s as simple as that!