I used to pride myself on how little maintenance I required. “Workout? What’s that?” I joked. “Exercise? I thought you said extra fries.”
I drank all the coffee all day long, then switched to alcohol, then ordered a chili cheese dog and smugly judged all the Crossfit crazies who jogged by me, huffing and puffing.
“These Los Angeles health nuts in their Nikes and their Lululemon,” I scoffed. “So superficial.”
To me, working on your fitness meant caring way too much about your appearance.
Just enjoy life, I thought, naively.
Why make yourself miserable just so you can look good?
Then I got a stomach ulcer.
I had to cut back on the coffee.
And the alcohol.
At the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me if I exercised.
“Sure,” I said, and she asked how often. “I don’t know, fifteen minutes a week?” She stifled a laugh and I said, “Hey! That counts!” and she said, well, not really.
I’m learning to value and take care of my body, but I’ve found that a lot of people approach money the same way I approached my health.
They want nothing to do with it, they think it’s superficial or greedy, and they just don’t want to concern themselves with such capitalistic matters.
They simply don’t care to learn how to manage money.
But then they freak out when their checking account is in the red because of an overdraft fee: the financial equivalent of a stomach ulcer.
Money is not as important as your health or your time or your experiences, but it can impact all of those things.
You use it and you need it, so you might as well learn how it works.
The “Money Avoider”
Did you know there are four basic money “scripts,” or beliefs, that people follow?
Financial psychologist Dr.Brad Klontz explained this to me when I interviewed him in my book.
Based on his work and research over the years, he identified four main behaviors people follow when it comes to money.
The four scripts are as follows:
- Money worship: You think money will solve all of your problems
- Money status: You equate net worth with self-worth
- Money vigilance: You’re super careful and secretive with your money
- Money avoidance: You don’t know how to manage money and don’t want to deal with money at all
Each of these scripts can be associated with bad money behavior, but I think money avoidance might be the one people can relate to most — at least most of the people I know.
People who fall under the money avoidance script are prone to overspending and hoarding, according to Klontz’s research.
They might not believe that they deserve money.
They might think that earning money = selling out.
If you’re reading this and you’re a money avoider, though, it’s a good sign.
It shows that you want to get comfortable with money, even though you kind of hate it.
This is actually why I wanted to learn and write about money myself — I hated the idea of it always getting in my way.
I had to say no to everything because I didn’t have enough money.
I couldn’t travel because I didn’t have enough money.
I had to move out of my apartment because I didn’t have enough money.
As much as I tried to ignore it, money seemed to constantly make itself known in my life.
I wanted to figure out how it worked so I could keep that from happening.
Below are four pieces of advice for getting comfortable with managing your money when all you want to do is avoid it.
Come Up With a Plan — After You Cry It Out
One reason many of us avoid money is that our financial situation just looks so damn bleak.
You know your account is overdrawn.
You know your credit card bill is through the roof.
Dealing with it is depressing, so you avoid it.
Yeah, yeah, you know that avoiding it will only make it worse, but uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.
My friend Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt has some great advice on how to manage money when your emotions get in the way.
In an interview for The Cut, she told me (emphasis mine):
“The first step is to look at the numbers honestly. This is the toughest part,” said Lockert, who writes about finance on her site, Dear Debt. When she made her own get-out-of-debt plan, Lockert looked at her numbers on Mint.com, then immediately deleted her account and pretended she didn’t see it. “Not a great start,” she admitted.
Her advice: “If you need to cry, cry. Scream into a pillow. You will feel emotional and that is completely normal. Go for a long walk. Don’t do anything that first day. Let it sink in for a few days.” Then, once you’ve processed the shock and come out of denial, it’s time to plan. Figure out how much of your income you can reasonably afford to throw at your debt, then prioritize your high interest debt and perhaps even brainstorm ways to earn more money on the side. As cliché as it sounds, it will help your mental health tremendously to forget about the things that are outside of your control and focus on the small actions you can do to feel a bit more empowered over your situation.
In other words:
1) deal with your feelings. Acknowledge them and process them.
A large part of getting comfortable with money, after all, is getting comfortable with the emotional side of money.
Give yourself the emotional bandwidth to be able to look at your budget without bursting into tears.
After you’ve done that;
2) come up with a plan.
If you’re in debt, prioritize your debts and pay them off, as Melanie suggests.
If you need to come up with a budget, start with a basic formula like the 50/30/20 rule, then look up other money rules of thumb.
The main thing to remember when you’re starting out is that money is a habit.
If you work on it a little bit every day, it’s a lot easier to manage overall.
Again, like your health, when you start to ignore it, that ignorance becomes comfortable.
But the more you expose yourself to money, the less of a nightmare it is to look at your bank account.
Design Your Lifestyle for Money
This tip comes from Tim Ferriss, who advocates something called “Lifestyle Design” to develop better habits.
You transform your environment into a place that makes it dead simple to develop new, good habits and ditch bad, old ones.
A classic example of lifestyle design is keeping fresh chopped fruits and veggies on hand when you’re trying to eat better.
So how can you do this with money? I’m glad you asked!
Here are a few examples:
- Set your homepage to Mint. Or whatever budgeting tool you use. This way, when you log onto your computer every morning, you’re faced with your spending.
- Get money advice in your email. Subscribe to a personal finance blog’s newsletter so you get periodic emails with money advice. It doesn’t have to be mine, but my sign-up form is below.
- Carry a personal finance book with you. I think it was Stephen King who said the easiest way to read more is to carry a book wherever you go. So when you’re waiting for a movie to start, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc., you always have something to read. Carry around a money book and you’ll always be one page away from learning about how to get your finances in order. Again, it doesn’t have to be my book, but I have to say, my book looks good on people.
Brainstorm a few ways you can design your environment to make money more front-of-mind, then put those tasks on your to-do list.
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