I cringe when I remember learning to drive. At fifteen-years-old, I was impatient, full of nervous energy, and so short that I could barely reach the steering wheel. (Which is still kind of a problem, but I digress.)
My parents were backseat driving, of course, instructing me on how to drive the rural, dirt road just outside our neighborhood. “Let off the brake,” they said, and the car began to coast, slowly. Cool, I can handle this, I thought. “Hit the gas,” they said. Chaos ensued.
I swerved into the other lane, and when I yanked the steering wheel to straighten out, the car jerked in the other direction and I almost hit a fence post. My parents shouted. I screamed. All of us were terrified. I felt completely frazzled and out of control. It was like the car had a mind of its own.
For many of us, managing money feels something like this. We try to make a budget and set some limits for our spending, but our financial situation always seems to have a mind of its own: your bank account overdrafts, you get a pay cut at work, your vet bill is considerably higher than you expected.
But just as when you were learning to drive, developing a sense that you're in control can make a huge difference. When I finally felt like I was the one controlling the vehicle, driving became second nature.
Research, like this 2014 study, shows that simply feeling powerful inspires people to make better financial decisions. They develop financial confidence. For this reason, I’m a fan of quick money wins — small achievements that may not make a huge difference on paper, but which do wonders for how you feel about your financial situation. These quick wins won’t make you a millionaire overnight, but they can empower you, and that’s everything.
Quick wins give you financial confidence, and that helps you make better money decisions in the long run. (As the study put it, “feeling powerful increases saving.”)
In other words, change your attitude about money and you can change your behavior with it, which can lead to actually being in control of it. Try your hand at a few of my favorite money wins.
It seems like an odd goal for a kid; but when I was little, I wanted to be financially secure. Of course, I didn't put it that way. Instead, I declared, "When I grow up, I want to be rich." Incidentally, so did my parents. I remember rolling quarters with them, while they explained to me the importance of saving. At a young age, I realized I'd need money to do many of the things I wanted to do: travel, live in the big city, and buy stuff at the grocery store without feeling guilty. "Save your money," they told me. "It adds up."
But as I grew up, I began to feel like it was wrong to care about money. I was afraid to think too much about it. I felt greedy. Or boring. Money, as a topic of conversation outside of my immediate family, became taboo. Because of that, I absent-mindedly associated personal finance with selling out, working too much, being materialistic.
So when I found Get Rich Slowly, I was surprised by the content and the discussion. J.D. wrote so openly about his own financial situation. So did the readers. And what I always felt about money, despite trying to ignore it, was plainly explained here: Personal finance isn't about greed or materialism; it's about security, control and the freedom to make your own choices. You can tell yourself money isn't important, but we all use it at some point. You might as well make it work for you, rather than the other way around.
A few years ago, my boyfriend lost his awful job. It shouldn't have happened. He worked hard, came in early, left late, powered through sick days and rarely took lunch. This workaholic, counterproductive behavior was highly encouraged by his Lumberg-esque boss. Like I said, it was an awful job.
It wasn't a good time for Brian. He was in debt, he lived in a 400 square foot studio apartment, and he rode around town on a $400 Craigslist scooter that broke down so often it could barely be considered a mode of transportation. And now, he didn't even have a crap job. He had no job, as no one was hiring in his industry.
But not long after he lost the job, I witnessed what would become one of my favorite of Brian's traits: his resourcefulness. He made do with the scooter, riding around town to talk to various businesses in his field. While none were actively hiring, he convinced one of them to give him a job. It turned out to be the best job he's ever had, and, years later, he's been promoted (to a position he suggested), his finances are in order, and the weight lifted from his shoulders is palpable.
At the beginning of the year, I made four main resolutions, financial and otherwise.
Max out my retirement
Speak up more
There's something to be said for spending more on a quality item. If frugality is about getting the most value out of something, spending more on quality can actually be thrifty. In a recent post, I admitted that I once splurged on a $200 coat. A couple of readers rightfully pointed out that an expensive purchase isn't always a waste of money. If it is a high-quality coat that lasts years, it may be a better purchase than a cheap $50 coat you replace every season.
Still, there is a fine line between buying quality and using quality as a justification to spend more. Here are a few things I consider before I plop down a bunch of money on a so-called quality item.
Can I find it cheaper?
Apologies for sounding like an infomercial, but quality doesn't have to be expensive. Ever found a big discount on something you know you will use often and that will last years? It's a great feeling! Here are a few ways to spend less on quality:<
For the past two years, the topic of women and money has come up in my life quite a bit. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that I'm a woman who writes about money.
But as a woman who writes about personal finance, I feel have given the topic less attention than it deserves -- not just in my writing, but in my own thoughts too. I suppose I figured personal finance is something that we all struggle with, not just women. But the more I learn, the more it hits home, and the more I realize we should embrace the topic so we can do something about it.
The Confidence Gap
Last year, when I read Barbara Stanny's "Secrets of Six-Figure Women," I found myself nodding in agreement to just about everything she'd written. Some of her points were an unsettling confirmation of my own career shortcomings -- particularly, her chapter on the "traits of underearners." A few of these traits: We have a high tolerance for low pay; we underestimate our worth; we're terrible negotiators. Check, check and check.
At another site, I recently wrote about a tool that shows you online prices in terms of hours worked. I used a random item -- a fancy coffee maker that costs $116 -- as an example. It would take someone who earned $38 an hour approximately three hours of work to pay for that item. A reader replied that, if they made $38 an hour, they wouldn't waste their time thinking about whether or not the purchase was worth it.
To me, this was a spot-on definition of lifestyle inflation, summed up perfectly in one simple comment.
Someone who makes $38/hour earns about $79,000 a year. This is quite a decent living, but it is not enough to stop thinking about your spending altogether, without experiencing some consequences. But that is what happens with lifestyle inflation: You earn more, you spend more, and your spending ends up matching your earning. It's why some people fail to build wealth despite that they rake in the big bucks. It's why some people that earn six-figures still can't seem to dig themselves out of credit card debt.
I have never had much patience for dwelling. Time is a limited resource and I want to use it in the best possible way. Dwelling is a waste.
I also have little patience for sweeping things under the rug and pretending to be happy when I'm not. Ignoring a problem is a great way to ensure it will come back to haunt you later. Plus, in the meantime, it looms in the background, ruining just about everything. Like dwelling, sweeping things under the rug is a fruitless use of one's time.
But it is certainly easy to give in to both. You can dwell on negativity, and you can ignore it just as well. Neither really accomplishes anything -- in fact, they make things worse. Money is an emotional topic, and we've talked before about how it is more about mind than it is about math. Still, even though our emotions are delicate and vulnerable, we can hack them and make them more practical and productive for our lives. When it comes to money, at least, I try to take my negative feelings and employ them to serve a purpose. I get something useful out of them, and then I throw them away.
I get frustrated when people don't understand what it means to be frugal. A few criticisms of frugality I've come across:
Frugality is a waste of time.
Frugality distracts you from earning more money.
Recently, Fidelity released another survey about millennials and money. They found that 47 percent of us are saving for retirement. To me, that stat was really telling about our generation's view of personal finance, and it's not unlike other findings. When TIME wrote about the survey, they reported:
"Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 71% of millennials eligible for a 401(k) plan participate and that 70% of millennials began saving at an average age of 22. By way of comparison, Boomers started saving at an average age of 35."
It is self-reported data, sure. But it seems hard to deny that there is a heightened, post-recession interest in finance and our economy. We're pushing for every manner of financial education -- in schools and on the Internet. Personal finance has become an increasingly popular niche in the blogosphere. Even Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is involved in the production of movies designed to explain how our economy works. To me, it's harder to believe there wouldn't be some sort of new-found interest in personal finance after the Great Recession.