Updated: Oct 8
I’m a huge believer in the power that examining our personal money beliefs can have in changing not just our financial picture, but our entire life situations - so much so, that it's really the foundation of the money coaching practice I am building. Here's my story.
Several years ago, I had an epiphany about how my own deep-seated assumptions and issues with money were literally keeping me from getting ahead financially. One day it just kind of hit me: my annual income had more than doubled over the first ten years of my career and I was still living the same paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. It was mostly a feeling I had, which equated to the reality of my bank account - anytime I managed to save what seemed like a decent amount of cash, I subconsciously found a way to deplete it.
It was like a lightning bolt of understanding struck me. I wasn’t struggling to save more money because I didn’t make enough, it was more like I was almost uncomfortable with having savings. And as I dug deeper into my money “rules” and assumptions, I was embarrassed and ashamed to realize the real issue.
I resented people who were better off than me.
And because I had a subconscious distaste for those that I perceived to be better off, I took steps to avoid being that way, even though cognitively, I knew that I wanted to have savings and feel more comfortable with money. For example, the first time I paid my credit card debt off then built up a decent savings, I switched careers and spent my savings PLUS accumulated all the debt I'd paid off and then some, mostly on things like clothes and other stuff that I didn't need. It was at some point in the journey to pay off round two of 5-figure debt that I had my epiphany.
Our love-hate relationship with wealth
Americans have a fascination with wealthy people (case in point: the Kardashians, and dare I mention the 45th President?) and I’ve only met a few people who think that striking it rich wouldn’t be nice. Yet many of us harbor disdain and judgement for people who we perceive to be better off than us in our daily lives. I won't comment on the uber-rich, since that's not what I'm talking about - I'm talking more about everyday people who are just better off than us. Neighbors, co-workers, friends, even some family members - it's acceptable to be a bit salty toward people we perceive as, well, "richer" than us.
It’s one thing to envy Reese Witherspoon's beautiful lifestyle, but I was looking at people who were like me in many ways, just more financially comfortable, and placing them in a different class than I saw myself. This “me versus them” attitude was holding me back from ever actually allowing myself to get to a point of financial comfort, regardless of how much money I made.
Getting at the heart of my perceptions
I was literally sabotaging any chance I had at getting ahead because deep down inside, I didn’t want to be perceived as greedy, selfish, privileged, having it easy, etc. When I was super honest with myself, I admitted that I was harboring those judgments about people who seemed to have their financial act together. And I realized that not only were those judgments not true, they were actually hurting my own financial situation.
By challenging these assumptions and realizing that the real difference between those better off than me was more due to a difference in little financial decisions like driving a car beyond the loan payoff date or not buying as much house as they could afford, than them making more money or being greedy and selfish, my situation slowly began to change.
A tiny shift
As I started to release my negative feelings about people with money and instead practice an attitude of abundance, gratitude and “we’re all in this together”-ness, my money situation started to change.
My checking account started having more than $100 in it on pay day because I wasn’t buying my way out of guilt.
My savings account reached $1,000 and I let it continue to grow — something about hitting 4 digits and staying there turned out to be a HUGE shift for me.
I paid off my debt for good and never turned to credit cards again to plug a gap for something I should be saving for.
Most importantly, I started thinking of myself as someone who made smart decisions with money in order to give myself financial freedom, instead of someone who never had enough.
And I stopped looking at others who seemed to have more money than me as greedy and selfish and instead saw them as people who value financial security as much as I do. A nice side effect was that I was a happier person in general as well.
Test your own attitude
Here’s a quick test to see if perhaps you’re suffering from a similar subconscious reaction: If you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck no matter how much you make, ask yourself how you feel when you see someone driving a luxury car like a Mercedes or a Lexus. If you automatically assume the driver must be some rich jerk who thinks he’s better than you, you could be suffering from the same money mindset that was holding me back. (assuming the driver didn’t just cut you off in traffic, then I don’t care what kind of car they’re driving, they’re a jerk!)
Make the shift
To overcome it, start to become more mindful of your internal dialogue when it comes to financial security, then start to change it. Rather than, “Oh, I could never afford that,” start asking, “How can I afford that?” The next time you catch yourself saying, “That would never be me,” ask yourself, “Why not?”
As you start to answer those follow-up questions and take the time to be really honest with yourself, you’ll start to see a subtle shift in the way you handle money. Let your savings account cross that $1,000 mark and get used to it. Don’t be surprised if eventually you start to realize that a thousand bucks isn’t really that much, while also honoring the work it takes to get there.
Question your assumptions about carrying debt — there’s no rule that says we always have to have a car payment or credit card balance.
That’s all it takes — a one degree shift that gets you further and further on a new course will eventually take you to an entirely new place financially.