Do you ever feel in control of your money?
How does money make you feel?
Does the thought of opening your bank statement send chills down your spine?
Do you avoid budgeting or paying bills, finding any excuse not to do them or facing up to your financial situation?
Or maybe you have money in the bank, and when you think about it your back stiffens? You know you should do something with it, invest it, buy a house, put it to work but the thought of figuring that out gives you a knot in your stomach?
If you relate to any of this, you are far from alone. I reckon you are part of the majority. So many people dread making financial decisions and don’t know how they will clear their debt, pay their bills or ever buy a house or start investing. They don’t know where to start. The online messaging is so confusing and contradictory, it’s overwhelming and anxiety-inducing and so they freeze and do nothing.
But why is this so common? Money is something every human on this earth needs to deal with. Like food, it’s a non-negotiable part of living as a human being.
Money is something we simply cannot avoid. How many decisions do you make every day that are not impacted in some way by money?
We need it to buy food, pay for our homes, put fuel in our cars, and pay for the TVs we watch, the books we read, and the bed we sleep on. There is little that doesn’t require money in some direct or indirect form.
Want to go to the beach? It’s free right? The beach may be free but how do you pay for the car or bicycle to get there? Even if you walk, you need money to pay for clothing and footwear, the sunscreen you wear to protect your skin. Think about how many elements of that free trip to the beach involve money.
Look around the room you are in right now. Everything you see used to be money.
We have demonised something so intrinsically integrated with our everyday lives and thought process
Money in itself is not bad. Money is not good either. It just is. It’s a tool. It's energy. It doesn't have a personality. It doesn’t have needs. Yet we often find ourselves in a mindset and habits that result in us feeling controlled by money.
Becoming money's master instead of money's servant is life-changing.
And the more money you have, the more choices, freedom and security you have and feel. Money itself won’t bring you happiness. But it makes doing what makes you happy much more accessible!
For money to help facilitate happiness and improve your life, you need to first master it.
‘Money is a terrible master, but a great servant.’
What drives the overwhelm so commonly felt when thinking about money?
The financial industry has done a fantastic job of making money management and investing seem very complicated. It’s a world full of jargon, acronyms and complicated investment products. It’s full of horror stories of scams, mistakes, and ruined lives.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. In fact, the best money management tools and habits are the simplest ones. The simpler the investing, the more it has shown to return in the long term. Start simple, don’t start with complicated investment products or cryptocurrency if you are doing this for the first time. Learn to swim and build up your strength in calm waters before you jump head-first into piranha-infested stormy waters.
Recognise your emotional state when you think about money
Money is a very emotional topic. Men often link money to self-worth and success. Women tend to link money to their sense of security. Because of this, when we feel threatened or insecure in our financial situation, it can trigger an extreme emotional response. Being aware of this is important to healing your relationship with money and the part it plays in your life. It will help you understand how much control you give to money over how you live or feel about your life.
This leads us to the next point.
It’s the No.1 cause of arguments in relationships
Money is regularly reported as the number one cause of stress worldwide, for men and women. It’s no wonder that money is the number one cause of arguments in relationships. Many of my clients are couples. They tell me how great their relationship is, that is until they start discussing money. The conversations start well but end in blaming, fighting and falling out. They want help to communicate better about their family finances. For some, it has gotten so bad, I am their last attempt to save their relationship.
It's a topic many find hard to discuss. If you have a negative perspective on money and are unaware of your money mindset or your subconscious feelings about money, then it’s only natural it will cause issues in your relationships. If you see money only through your own lens and experience, then naturally you will feel threatened when someone has a different perspective and is challenging yours. The key is to understand your own money mindset and dare I say it, money trauma. Then listen to your partners. Why do you think the way you do about money? Why do they think the way they do about money? Be open-minded and willing to see money from your partner's perspective and experience. You will get to know your partner more deeply, you will be better able to navigate money conversations more compassionately and calmly. Couples end this process feeling more aligned, closer and with shared financial goals they are excited about working on together. Money moves from a problem to a shared exciting project. They report they are closer and happier. Money didn’t do that. Facing up to their emotions and feelings about money did.
So where do you start if you are feeling overwhelmed or out of balance financially?
First, start with your value system. Do you know your values? Do you know what’s truly important to you? If not, start there. Figure out who you are and what you want to achieve in your life.
Values & Goals
The next step is to think about financial goals that are in line with those values. Many have financial goals based on what other people tell them they should do with their money. But that’s not exciting or motivating. What do you want to achieve this year? Pick three goals that are most important to you. It’s important to be emotionally attached to these goals, they have to mean something to you. Can you link them directly to your values? If not, then scrap them and start again.
Now you understand your values and have goals that are in line with those values, the next step is to gain financial clarity.
Many of my clients come to me saying ‘I make a good salary. I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle. Yet I never seem to have money at the end of the month. I don’t know why!’.
Understanding what is happening with your money is full of aha moments, knowledge about yourself, your habits, your blind spots and your value system. Having full clarity over your financial habits and spending is invaluable. Why? Because you don’t know what you don’t know. We all have financial blindspots, spending we don’t remember, habits we aren’t even conscious of, or if we are, often vastly underestimate the cost of them.
Our spending habits can tell you so much about how you are living your life. This point alone is why many procrastinate on this exercise. They are scared to see the undeniable truth of how they are living. It’s a vulnerable exercise for many. It forces many truths to the surface.
How do you achieve financial clarity?
Every month I download my bank and credit card statements into excel. I then copy them into my Clarity Sheets. My Clarity Sheets are what others may call budgets, or in business language, they are my Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss Account and Budget for my life. I categorise all my transactions and review the results. I look at how much I spent in each expense category. I compare it to what I had planned to spend in that category. If it’s different (it almost always is!), I think about why it’s different. Why did I spend more? Why did I spend less than I had predicted?
Many fear this exercise but I find it empowering. I don’t enter it with a critical intention. I enter it with curiosity and an open mind. I banish the negative self-talk when I’ve overspent and think about what prompted me to spend that moment. I can see how I am tracking towards my financial goals. It makes it real and tangible.
It’s a learning exercise. I learn about my financial habits, my money mindset, my cost of living, and about where I am happy and where I am not. There is so much information in those numbers. I can make conscious and informative decisions based on the information in these sheets.
How we spend our money is often a reflection of our state of mind, of what is important to us and of where we are in life. It’s like a numerical representation of my values and goals. So naturally, it can help me see where I am varying away from my goals and values. And equally, where I am on track with living the life I want to live.
After working on your values, and goals and really looking under that money bonnet, the next thing is to use all that amazing insight and information and create a Money Flow Plan. What is that you might ask! It’s not just a nicer name for a budget. It’s a positive approach to budgeting.
Budgeting has a bad rep. Budgeting can feel restrictive and full of shame. It insinuates you’ve done something wrong or are incapable of making good money decisions so you need to be put on a money diet!
I prefer to treat it as an intention exercise, a plan, a manifestation tool and an accountability tool. It’s not a tool for shaming, self-criticism or shame.
I often get asked about how to put a budget together. Keep it simple. Don’t overthink or overcomplicate it. You want it to be fast and easy to update. It only needs to show you the basic information such as how much you plan to spend in each category and then how much you did spend in that category. Fancy charts, projections or complicated formulas are nice but not necessary. They are only worth the effort if you use the information they are generating to make decisions. Otherwise, they can be a distraction and an excuse to procrastinate.
Where do you start
First, decide how much you want to save. The recommended savings goal is at least 20% of your income. Next, insert your monthly needs costs such as rent/mortgage, electricity, groceries, and mobile phone costs. Then insert the costs of your wants such as shopping, travel, eating out, health and fitness, and subscriptions. Use the information you gathered in the financial clarity step to ensure you don’t miss out on any costs.
If this exercise results in you reaching our savings goal, that’s great! If when you deduct all your expenses and your savings goal from your income, the result is a negative figure, then revisit each line and adjust in line with your values and goals until it nets to zero.
It’s important to keep your values front and centre of this exercise. Every expense should have a purpose and is a conscious decision. Remember it’s important to build in fun and stuff you want. Don’t focus only on what you need and over-restrict. Don’t let society's guilt trip mean you don’t allocate funds to something important to you.
Now you have a money flow plan, review it monthly and adjust as new situations or information arises.
A plan without accountability is often simply a waste of time! It’s crucial to check your spending against your plan each month. This builds accountability; if you know you will review at the end of the month, you are accountable to yourself! It can help you make good decisions! Also, checking against what happened is an important step to ensuring your budget is realistic, that you maintain that powerful clarity and you can adjust your habits or plan as necessary.
Implementing this way of managing your money intentionally and consciously is crucial. It will bring a sense of control to your money. It will also bring your mindset to the surface.
As you go through this exercise, become aware of your thoughts. Watch how your body reacts when you see something you don’t like in your clarity exercise. Does your stomach tense when you see a large expenditure of money? Do you feel excited when you see money spent on travel? If you believe all spending is bad, then potentially you have a scarcity or lack mindset. Dig into this, why do you feel that? What life experiences have you had to create that mindset?
Do you worry about income? Or do you feel secure that money will appear when you need it? If it’s the latter, then potentially you have an abundance mindset. An abundance mindset is great, but often I hear ‘I attract so much money. It seems to just appear when I need it, but I never have any money in my bank account, I have no savings. Attracting money is crucial, combine that with effective and positive money management skills, well that’s when millionaires not only make their money but keep and grow it too!
Spend the coming days becoming aware of your thoughts about money. And not just about your situation or habits. How do you speak or think about how others manage their money? Are you judgemental when people show their wealth? Or when people don’t show their wealth? Your thoughts about others and their money will tell you a lot about how you feel about money!
Take this process as slow or fast as that works for you. Most importantly, keep it simple. Follow the steps at your own pace, don’t overwhelm yourself trying to do it all in one day! This is a lifelong habit change, it will evolve and grow as you do. If you have avoided the gym for years, you wouldn’t expect to be able to lift 30kg on the first visit. Treat this in the same way. Slowly and safely build up your financial muscles.
Would you like a helping hand to get started on this journey? Follow me on @consciousfinancecoaching for free money worksheets and tips.