How I use negative feelings about finances to my advantage

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'm starting to sound like Oprah, so let's jump into a few examples, shall we? Here's how I use negative financial feelings to my advantage.

Feeling defensive about financial advice

When I was paying off my student loan, I was frustrated and stressed. My mom, the ultimate saver, tried to give me some advice. She told me about a friend who made a sacrifice to reach her own money goal — i.e., she sold her car and took public transportation. It worked for her, but I rolled my eyes because there was no way I could sell my car and take public transportation. It just didn't make sense on paper for me. Her advice was inapplicable, I thought. And for some reason, it annoyed me.

But I was completely missing her point. She wasn't telling me to sell my car! She was urging me to think outside the box and look for my own opportunity to cut back.

I've since learned that sometimes I can use the defensive feelings I have. Of course, I occasionally come across advice that truly doesn't apply to me — not everything is going to work for my situation. In those cases, I ignore it and move on. But sometimes I come across advice that hits a nerve. I feel like it doesn't apply to me, but, instead of moving on, I get upset. I feel misunderstood. I feel blamed. For whatever reason, I take it personally. But when this happens, there usually is a reason, and identifying it can be a big help.

I've learned to recognize the defensiveness and reroute my thinking. Instead of rolling my eyes and getting upset, I think:

  • Why is this upsetting me? For example, I didn't feel it made financial sense for me to sell my car and take the bus.

  • Is it possible I'm missing the point? My mother wasn't actually telling me to sell my car. The theme of her example was to find a high-cost area of my budget and see if I could reduce it.

  • Is there a way this could actually apply to me? Yep — rent. I moved back in with her until I paid off my loan.

Instead of dwelling in self-pity and anger, those questions help me reroute my defensiveness into something productive.

Money shame

I enjoy being frugal, but I mostly enjoy what I get out of frugality — the freedom to splurge on the things I love. By living below my means in every other area of my budget, I am able to use my hard-earned money on things that make me happy and fulfilled, like travel.

This works for me and for my finances, so I shouldn't care what other people think. Still, I can't help but feel a little ashamed when I tell a friend I took another weekend trip and she raises an eyebrow, or when I tell my parents I might move into a better place and I detect just a smidgen of judgment in their collective voice, even though they trust my decisions.

My choices might be easily justified, but instead of simply brushing off this judgment feeling I sense, I try to use it to my advantage. It's a spot-check I use to keep my spending in order. When I am confronted with the side-eye, I ask myself:

  • Do they have all the facts? Many of my friends don't really know how frugal I am. But my parents do, so that tells me their judgment might be worth considering.

  • Do I trust their judgment? Yep, I trust my parents' judgment when it comes to smart spending and saving.

  • Should I give this type of spending more thought? In the case of moving to a better apartment, yeah. I sat down and talked about it with my parents to get their full perspective.

There is nothing wrong with giving your spending a little more thought. And if someone doesn't know the full scope of my financial situation, I simply ignore the side-eye and continue to enjoy my weekend trips. I don't blame them because it does look spendy, especially if you don't know how much I cut back in every other area and how much I save. But instead of dwelling on the shame, I rethink my spending choices when it's appropriate.

Market dips

All the experts say you should ignore market dips because it's not about timing the market, it's about your time in the market.

But tell me your stomach doesn't sink, at least a little, when you check on your portfolio and it has plummeted. It's only natural!

Some people give in to that feeling and end up selling their assets. This is a bad idea. Some people sit with that feeling and just try not to look at their portfolio. But there's something productive you can do with that sinking feeling: use it as a reminder to invest.

When the market dips, as it has recently, I look at my retirement savings and see if there is more I can add to it. Why not buy when prices are low? It's like dollar-cost averaging. With dollar-cost averaging, you invest a large chunk of money over time, but you buy more when prices are low and you buy less when prices are high. The idea is, you invest at a discount and, over time, you save more money.

Some studies show it works; other studies show it doesn't make much of a difference. Either way, when the market sucks, I use that feeling of nausea I get as a reminder to invest.

Basically, I use negative financial feelings as an alarm. Ignore it, and it only gets worse — and louder down the road. Dwell on it, and you go nuts. When it goes off, I can decide whether it's a false alarm or whether it's trying to make me aware of something I ought to consider. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, or maybe I could just be doing something better. Either way, rerouting these feelings serves a purpose for me, and it's a much better use of my time.

Do you use negative (or positive) feelings to help you accomplish your financial goals?

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Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

Fantastic post Kirsten, I love reading your thoughts and insight on this great blog. I have a very similar way of thinking and have cut almost all excess costs out of my life so when I do buy or spend on something like a new house to rent out I’m always subjected to some negative comments as to where I could possibly get the money from. I always try to explain that I’m frugal and don’t have much expenses but you can always see an underlying tone of suspicion that I’m going something illegal. Anyway this post has reinforced my… Read more »

Mr. Frugalwoods
Mr. Frugalwoods
5 years ago

The point about recognizing defensiveness rings true to me. I think folks who know a lot about personal finance (most reading this blog) can get a bit touchy when someone who might not know as much in aggregate gives them a suggestion. I know I do! But I’ve found some really great tips and ideas from my friends who aren’t frugal and aren’t great at investing. You just have to be open to listening. Of course, don’t take bad advice, but also recognize your own blind spots. Feeling defensive is a great gut-check moment on whether you are in a… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago

“Gut-check moment.” I like that. And good point! A lot of times people who haven’t been immersed in the PF world can offer a fresh, real-world perspective.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

I like the point about money shame. I get a lot of the “must be nice…” because I don’t have kids. I even had a tow truck driver give me the “must be nice to have to have an emergency fund” sneer when I didn’t panic about replacing tires or rims. I decided to just agree with them (in my head, anyway). Yes, it is nice to buy a new coat when I need to replace an old one — that’s because I budgeted for it. And yes, it’s nice to not have to worry about an unexpected car repair… Read more »

Chels
Chels
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Beth, I’m a single woman too and I find myself doing the “must be nice” thing when I hear about my friends’ woes that seem so significant because they have husbands to contribute financially and share expenses with. I think they think that to themselves sometimes when they hear about the freedom I have as a single person to budget toward my own goals (that don’t include children). It is hard to be on my own, but I feel proud of the financial progress I’ve made. I have to remind myself that the grass often just *seems* greener.

LMoot
LMoot
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

You’re so right Beth, and I like what you said about just deciding to agree with them in your head. My grandmother always says “If everyone were to throw their problems down in the street, each would pick back up their own problems in a hurry”.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

@Lmoot and Chels: totally agree with you both! When my married-with-kids friends say “must be nice to have so much money to spend on yourself and so much free time”, I know they wouldn’t trade their family for what I have. I doubt they would trade their problems for mine either.

I have to bite my tongue a lot and figure I must be doing something right if people think my life is easy!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Ha, I like that you just decided to agree with him. Put aside the snideness of the comment, and yeah, it is nice to reap the benefits of your work and sacrifice. It doesn’t mean you don’t have your own set of challenges. But yeah, it’s nice to have an emergency fund!

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

Yes! If someone’s telling you something about your finances and you feel defensive or ashamed you probably have an opportunity to learn about yourself and your money.

Janel
Janel
5 years ago

I love this post – it can apply to all areas of life. I think that when it comes to giving advice, a person’s openness to receiving it is highly dependent upon how much they respect you as a person and if you are an authority on the topic. I will easily jump on the defensive if a person with bad credit tried to tell me how to manage my money. However, they might have some great points or they can be sharing their lessons learned.

LMoot
LMoot
5 years ago

I love the psychology of personal finance. I feel like FA’s should be required to minor in psychology; not that the cut and dry, how-to stuff isn’t helpful, it is. But it’s these types of articles that stick with me for a long time and provides the material for me to pull out when I’m feeling stuck (like I am right now). Then again I’m all about daily affirmations and incense to motivate and open the mind, so I’m sure some people are better driven by the factual things, but for me constantly evaluating my feelings about finances is what… Read more »

Nina @ RichLife.io
Nina @ RichLife.io
5 years ago

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”. This goes for many things in life. I believe that once we become aware of our resistances and turn them into opportunities for growth we are really ‘winning’ at life. Because they who can conquer their greatest flaws and weaknesses and turn them into strength are well on the way to perfection.

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

This was an excellent article, and a nice change of pace from focusing solely on the “finance” part of personal finance. At times it feels like PF writers confuse themselves with motivational speakers and only acknowledge positive emotions, which just rings false to me.

DealForALiving
DealForALiving
5 years ago

Like anything else, one’s approach to personal finance should be deeply personal and unique. I imagine the hard work of each of my interest-building dollars and when I’m not maximizing that work, I feel like I’m missing out.

Running my finances like a business keeps me in control of things.

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