Please stand up if you read Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek. Now sit down if you work less than 40 hours per week. Still standing? I thought so. Me too.
Tim's book is great, no question about it, but let's face it: we already know just about everything we need in order to be financially successful. We've got all the books and blogs we need to get on track. We know where to find the 10% coupons. We know how to track our spending, and we know where to educate ourselves about investments. But most of us are still stressed out when it comes to money. What's the problem?
Financial earthquakes (like the “Great Recession of 2008”) don't help. But as brutal as the economy has been over the last year, most of us are in the same relative place as when this mess started.
Was your financial situation perfect twelve months ago and then >poof< it all went away? For some people this maybe be the case, but it's probably not your story. It's not mine. We might be behind the eight-ball more than we were a year ago. But if we're hurting now, we were probably struggling then too.
My theory is that our financial struggles have very little to do with money. Money will never create peace of mind; only we can do that. What we need is financial balance. More money is nice but it won't create financial serenity. Balance will — and it won't cost you a cent. You can have it today. Right now.
One good start toward balance is the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Frugal Dad had a brilliant post on this several months ago. I encourage you to read it. Among other things, Frugal discusses the importance of letting go of things that are beyond our control, such as the stock market, interest rates, and unemployment rates. He also talks about having the courage to change the things we can, such as education and work ethic, and asking for the wisdom to know the difference between the two. This prayer is probably the most powerful string of words ever put together — regardless of your religious beliefs.
But accepting the things we cannot change and changing the things we can is great on paper and hard to implement, right? I mean, right now it might be very easy to agree with the Serenity Prayer. But when you've lost your job and your credit card bill is staring up at you, it's not so easy.
I faced a very frightening financial reality over the last year. But here are four steps I've taken that have really helped my financial serenity. I hope you find them useful as well.
Earlier I said that we know everything we need to know about money. I may have exaggerated. We all lack self-knowledge and understanding. To solve your financial problems you have to be crystal clear on what the problem is:
Often, folks wander around with a vague sense of being overwhelmed by their finances. Break it down. Write it down. What problem do you want to fix?
Once you know what the problem is, you need to fully understand the possible and best cures. Talk to experts. Talk to friends who have overcome similar challenges. Consult this and other excellent blogs. There are tons of resources for you — most of them free. Be open-minded and non-judgmental. You don't have to decide what to do yet. You are just gathering information.
Now that the easy part is done, it's time for the next step.
Financial success is a function of you rather than your circumstances.
What is it about you that keeps you back? How do you sabotage yourself? We all have character defects. What are yours? Are you lazy? Is that why you stopped tracking your expenses? Is that why you're sitting on the couch rather than looking for work?
Do you fight with your partner about money because you are selfish? Have you stopped investing because of your fear? Does your arrogance alienate others who might otherwise provide good counsel?
How do you torpedo yourself? If you really want to get to the next level financially, be honest. It's this lack of honesty that keeps people buying financial books and systems. They keep looking for the magic bullet that's going to fix their problems. Look for your own character defects and become willing to do the work.
This advice may sound strange but it's a key ingredient.
Think about this as you would any business decision. If you had an employee who continued to mess up time and time again, you'd fire him, wouldn't you? If someone demonstrates a complete lack of ability to perform a given task, she's gone. Right?
Let's say you've tried and failed several times to track your expenses. You've made promises to yourself that you break time and time again. You've failed yourself — so fire yourself.
Put someone else in charge. Get an accountability partner and “report” to her. If you prefer, hire a financial adviser and take direction. Whatever it is, if you've failed at some aspect of your financial life, fire yourself and put someone else in charge.
When you “fire” yourself, you are committing to take direction from others and ignore the little voice in your head when it tells you “forget that…I know better”.
Look around. There are plenty of people in your life who would be happy to be on your team. Tell them what it is you want to do and do it. Tell them you want them to be your accountability “boss”. Tell them the problem you are trying to solve, be honest about it, and commit to take action and report daily or weekly, as the case may be. Tell them that they can “fire” you if you fail to live up to your promises.
This one idea has helped millions of people overcome serious problems such as substance addiction, and it can be invaluable to you as well. There's something about being human: We really don't like to let other people down. Use that to your benefit.
You have the knowledge now. You know what the problem is, and you've consulted with others about the best remedy. You've fired yourself and you are ready to take direction from your new “boss”.
Now do it. Don't think about it. Do it.
Remember, you fired yourself. You aren't the one deciding what to do anymore. It's not up to you. You are simply a cog in the wheel. You're a private and your new boss is the general. She says jump, and you ask how high.
Don't let your mind trick you. You are a smart cookie, and if you allow your character-defected mind to make decisions in this realm of your life, you'll find some rationalization why you shouldn't do it. That's the reason you've failed in the past. Actually, you haven't failed…your tricky mind has failed you.
When I write about character defects, please don't think I'm pointing fingers. I have a list of defects longer than the Bill of Rights. Fortunately, these techniques worked for me. I can honestly say that I don't remember the last time I worried about my finances.
To be sure, I've taken huge hits in my business and my income is down. But by gathering the knowledge, seeking clarity, firing myself, and taking action, it's been much easier to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and it's been easier to see the difference.
Eggshells photo by Pink Sherbet Photography.