breaking out of financial fears

My tax man has been in the business of money for over fifty years. His business is perched on the third floor of an inconspicuous putty-colored building, sandwiched between a production company and a plumber’s HQ. Walk into his office and it’s a little like a page out of the I Spy series of my childhood: books upon books and knick-knacks randomly scattered around the shelves. A framed set of coins, a USC championship banner from who knows when. Old family photos and Hemmingway anthologies. Notebooks and textbooks and file folders galore. The haphazard space is strangely calming, the lack of outward order makes me sigh with relief every year – because once I sit down at his desk, I know he’s got my back. His hands shake slightly and he uses the same calculator he’s had since 1984. And when I express concern or ask a question, he reminds me that I’ve got things under control – because much like his office, my exterior world can sometimes feel a bit confusing.

Money is a topic which most of us tap-dance around, even with the people closest to us. There’s a sense of shame associated with not having as much as we feel we should, or not being able to afford what we once could. Because of this shame, we take what we can get and run with it. We latch onto poor financial advice without doing research or getting multiple opinions, because it’s something. We hang onto certain monetary guidance for longer than it serves us, sticking by principles or processes that might have been appropriate a few years back but are since outdated for the life we lead in the present and hope to create in the future. It doesn’t help when we encounter people who perceive a mentality of richness as greedy or narcissistic. We cling to financial fears, we adopt a less-than mentality even if we are blessed with abundance. We are starved for an open conversation, we are conditioned to make money our enemy.

It does not have to be this way.

It’s very likely that if the thought of checking your bank account balance makes you break out in cold sweats, you’ve got quite a few people around you who are reinforcing this. Money woes can be a way of bonding with others: commiserating over how expensive something is or how you really cannot afford such-and-such. It can be a relief to know that you’re not alone, but it can also be damaging to both parties if you are not devising a game plan to shift into a more positive and proactive reality. Here are some tools to break out of financial fears, shift into a rich mentality, and stay, shall we say, accountable:

Revisit your own financial history.

Think back to a time you felt as if you had nothing – the think of a time that felt more abundant. Remind yourself that money ebbs and flows just like the weather and the waves of the ocean. Everyone (even Oprah!) has had these ebbs and flows – we just don’t hear about them. What might feel hopeless now is just a low spot in the cycle of your financial flow.

Educate yourself.

Knowledge truly is power – and wealth. Even if everything you read sounds like a foreign language at first, just read. Or listen to a podcast. Or watch a lecture. We’ve got so much information at our fingertips in this day and age, and most costs virtually nothing to access. My favorite resources are personal finance guru Suze Orman, who is a favorite of the Big O herself, and money maven Kate Northrup, who gives brilliant, grounded financial advice that’s both relatable and attainable. And never be afraid to ask around, whether it be from a professional financial advisor or just someone you view as having it “together” who you can confide in without fear of judgement.

Partner up.

If you’re one half of a dynamic duo, it’s essential you and your partner create a safe space to discuss money. Not only is this healthy for your mind and bank account – it’s healthy for your relationship! Sit down during a neutral time (not when the actual problems arise or big decisions need to be made) and have a conversation about your current respective attitudes towards money and how they have been formed over the years through upbringing or experience. Most financial fears stem from a place that goes beyond dollars and cents – aim to understand each other’s views and emotions surrounding money, then discuss how you can help each other shift into a positive space together. There are few things worse than feeling as if you cannot share deep-set worries or fears with the person you love most. Make sure each other knows you have a safe, respectful place to turn and strategize when you’re anxiety-ridden. 

Give More To Get More.

This might sound counterintuitive, but when you feel financial fear making its way into your mind, spend a little on someone. It can be anything from donating to a friend’s marathon efforts to buying a coworker her morning green juice. To combat feelings of having nothing, we must actively create a sense of positivity and worth. It doesn’t have to be much – you don’t even need to spend more than a couple dollars for this to work; the amount is not the point. It’s about cultivating worth and value. That means showing someone else they are valued. The fact that you are able to give enough to make someone else smile can set off a chain reaction in your brain and heart that makes you feel truly rich.

Practice the art of Benchmark Buying.

While researching and acting upon return policies is a must as well, sometimes the act of making a return when it’s finance related (hello, buyer’s remorse!) can reinforce that poor person mentality we’re trying so hard to break. The act of allowing yourself the option of a return is without question vital, but there’s gotta be something more to halt sub-par spending in the first place. Enter what I have coined Benchmark Buying. Whether it’s something you’re currently coveting (like a pair of shoes), an experience-related cost (a yoga class), or a regular expense (your groceries or gas tank), use its cost as a way to gauge if the purchase you’re pondering will end up causing you turmoil. Is that shirt really worth the price of your once-a-week cocktail hour with the girls? Comparing and contrasting the ways you spend your money not only encourages you to slow down your impulses, it empowers you to feel control over the direction in which your bank account is going.

Breaking out of financial fears is not about a specific number in your bank account, a figure on your paycheck or a lucky winning lottery ticket. It’s about being tired of the control the mere thought of money has over both you and the people you love. Be your own positive example of what a healthy relationship with George, Abe, Alex, and Andy looks like. You might not have any plans to be a CFO or accountant – but you can work to be a modern-minded, money-spending, money-saving spirit who has shifted from a daily mindset of financial fear to worth and abundance. No matter what the ebbs and flows of your finances look like, the act of feeling in control is something that only appreciates in value. That’s a richness that cannot be taxed.

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