Money is a tough topic. Societally, we have a lot of shame talking about how much we make, how much we have, and how much we spend. Because of it, we are often afraid to talk about finances, because we don’t want to be seen as poor or irresponsible or prideful or whatever else we imagine is “bad.” That makes it difficult to learn how to deal with all of the situations we’re in that rely on it, whether it’s negotiating salaries, budgeting expenses, or saving for the future. Without a certain amount of money, though, and the ability to balance what we have coming in with what is going out, we can’t meet our basic needs like shelter and food, let alone the small and large luxuries that make life enjoyable. There are a lot of details in how to manage our money, but I’d like to talk about some of the broad areas you should explore for help as you buckle down to address this aspect of your personal security.
To help give yourself a vocabulary and bolster your confidence in the topic, start by taking advantage of the many resources out there for you to learn from. As with self-defense and other important topics, you will want to be careful about who you accept as an expert or other definitive source. Looking for hard credentials helps, as does being skeptical of someone just because they have a lot of followers or claim to have made a lot of money for themselves or others. Seek proof of results, cross-reference information among unrelated sources, and consider the value of listening to someone who is honest about not having all of the answers. Be open, too, to finding useful advice in one area from one person, but not another area from the same person. Then start digging deep: read books and articles, listen to podcasts, watch videos, attend seminars, follow social media accounts – whatever your preferred method of learning might be. Studying has multiple effects: it reduces shame because you’ll be around people who talk about money, it exposes you to others who are in similar situations as you, and it enables you to speak the language of finance so that you are able to function in its world.
Don’t be afraid to lean on technology to aid your journey to financial security. There are many personal finance apps out there, with varying levels of complexity, that can help you build budgets and track your income and expenses. As you get more advanced, they can track your retirement and investment accounts too. If those are too much, you can also start to get a handle on your money simply by using the websites or apps for your banks, credit cards, and loans. Rather than stick your head in the sand or relying on guesswork, make a deal with yourself to check them on a regular basis so you know exactly where you’re at. That doesn’t mean you have to check every day, but perhaps once a week, month, or quarter, or just before you make a big purchase. While you’re at it, set up email, text, or app notifications so you know when you hit certain balances, or when bills are due. Calendar reminders to make regular payments like rent, utilities, or loans, can also make you less likely to miss them if you’re not comfortable with setting up automatic transfers or if you want to make sure you have enough money in your checking account before they go through.
As with other specialty areas in life: think about hiring a professional. You are not required to DIY your personal finances, and you are not required to do your best to muddle through based on the advice of friends who are as lost as you are. You can get a trained and certified financial coach or planner who can help you untangle and understand your money situation and get you on the right track to meet your goals, whether it’s paying off debt or buying a home or going on a bucket list trip. You can get a licensed financial adviser who can help you work the mechanics related to managing and growing your savings and investments. They’re professionals, so you’ll need to pay them, but that means you’re paying them to answer all of the dumb questions you’re afraid to ask someone else and to address your specific personal concerns that you can’t find answers to online. It’s their job to listen to your concerns and work with you to figure out how to deal with them. Of course, like with any other expert, you’ll want to be careful about who you go to and like with any other provider you’ll want to make sure you mesh with them personally, but it’s worth the hunt because their services can be invaluable.
Finally, remember that the core of shame is that it is encompasses all of those things we find painful to talk about, to expose to others because we think those things will cause those we love and like to judge us unworthy and reject us. We keep those things secret in an attempt to protect ourselves but in doing so, we wall ourselves off from connecting with other people who can help us understand we are not alone, and who can help us improve that which we would like to improve. One of the best ways to attack shame is to talk about the things that we find shameful. It’s extraordinarily difficult, and it’s perhaps the hardest part of the advice I have to offer today, but I promise it’s worth the effort. On a practical level, this means finding a friend or three you are comfortable having money conversations with, beyond anyone you share expenses with and have mandatory financial chats with to figure out who’s paying for what. I’m talking about some folks who you feel safe sharing numbers with whether they’re large or small, who you can bounce ideas off of without judgment, and who you can trust to be honest with you. Your chats don’t all have to be serious and hard either – they can also be to celebrate a financial win, like hitting a salary or savings goal, or being able to buy something special. They just have to happen, and when they do you might be surprised at how rewarding they are.
Money is a tough topic, but not an impossible one. The tools and resources are out there so that you can take control of your finances and be comfortable with them as part of your regular life. It doesn’t have to be a mysterious, shameful thing not to be examined too closely, just another challenge you can handle.