I remember graduating from college as a smug 21-year-old Economics major. My thoughts about money didn’t run deep. Money is simple! Seriously, how could people mess this up?
My first few articles about personal finance years ago were equally as condescending. Luckily they never saw the light of day because Jordan tactfully suggested that perhaps my tone felt a little “off”.
Fast forward to me being confronted with real life. Bills, budgets, a paycheck, a lack of a paycheck, $120k in student loans, an expensive wedding, buying a house, having a baby, moving every two years, buying cars, thinking about retirement figuring out how to combine money with Jordan.
I came to realize that money is a lot more complicated than the graphs I drew in class. Or the financial statements that I looked at every day as a CPA.
Money can be a sh*t show.
I used to roll my eyes at the idea that psychology – or mindset – would have an effect on your money. Now I 100% get it.
In business school, I took my first behavioral economics class and a light went off. I suddenly understood how money itself isn’t difficult, but the world that is created around it is.
Some of this isn’t our fault – marketing is a real force. We are not set up day to day to make smart money decisions. The world is built for money to fly out of our wallets way too easily on things we don’t want or need.
But some of our struggles come from the internal talk track that we have constantly going in our heads (psychologists call this self-talk, and no, you aren’t the only person who does it). What that talk track says can have a profound impact on our mood, our confidence, and yes, our money.
One tactic to overcome this negative talk track is to replace it. Our brain has an automatic selective filtering system that looks at what we’re saying about ourselves and scans our life for things that make it true. So if you say, “I’m terrible with money” your brain is going to filter out all of the ways that you are great with money and focus in on the one bill that you forgot to pay.
How do you use that automatic selective filtering system to your advantage?
You learn to say something different to yourself.
If you think there is no way you have a negative talk track about money, take a look at some common negative comments or thoughts below. Do any of them sound a little familiar? If so, how you can change this to say something different to yourself?
In full disclosure, I wrote this list thinking, “oh I’m glad I don’t have any of these thoughts anymore.” Only to realize that yes, I sure do still struggle with one of these and guys, it isn’t pretty.
“I’m bad with money.”
This is such a common self-criticism, especially with women. We’ve been sold this lie over and over, even though women are better investors than men.
Think about it: women in media are often portrayed as shopaholics who can’t manage a checkbook and aren’t involved in big financial decisions for the family. Before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, women faced a myriad of questions and significant discrimination when they wanted to do something crazy like open up a credit card. If a woman was single, widowed, or divorced she would need to find some random dude to co-sign the card for her.
The (incorrect) message was clear: women aren’t good with money.
And this stereotype isn’t without real consequences. There is a financial literacy gap between men and women. Because of this gap, you may not know everything you are supposed to know about money. But rather than see that as a setback, view it as a positive. You’re not overly confident about your knowledge of money and investing, which can work in your favor. And what you don’t know, you’ll learn.
But you are not bad with money.
I can’t tell you how many evenings I walked around the mall after work because I hated my job. I worked hard. Things were stressful. I deserved to let off some steam and shop. I deserved to buy that shirt that was so cute and would look perfect with so many other things in my closet. I deserved it all.
When it came time to move out of my apartment I stared at my FULL walk-in closet and my less than impressive savings account and wondered how things got so out of control.
Here’s the problem with spending money because you think you deserve it: throwing money away on things you don’t really want or need won’t get you anywhere.
I worked hard, yes, but I deserved more than these impulse buys and so do you. You deserve a great life, you deserve financial security and independence, you deserve to make yourself happy. You don’t deserve to litter your bank account with random half-thought purchases. Buy whatever it is because you love it, you can afford it, and it will add to your happiness.
“I’m broke” or “there’s never enough.”
You may not be where you are financially, but you are likely not broke. I know people from business school that are earning significantly into the six figures and they complain regularly that they’re broke. Or there are people who make salaries that others would only dream about, only to consistently worry that they will never have enough.
Here’s the problem with that thought: it makes you feel powerless. Rather than thinking “I’m not where I want to be financially just yet, but I’ll get there” you’ve resigned yourself to a powerless place. And this powerless place is going to leave you stuck.
A study from Stanford showed that when people feel more powerful with money, they make better financial decisions and actually save more. Don’t leave yourself powerless by thinking that you’re broke or you’ll never have enough. You may not be where you want to be financially just yet, but you’ll get there.
“I don’t want to be greedy.”
How many times have you sat down to negotiate your salary or set your rates and find yourself worrying about what the other person will think of you? I’ve interviewed and talked with a lot of women about negotiation. And a common hesitation is not wanting to look greedy.
I get it. You don’t want someone to think that all you care about is money. You care about your career, your performance, and your coworkers. But you also care about money and that’s OK. In fact, that’s more than OK. It’s downright responsible of you.
Think about it like this: being paid well is one of the things that makes you feel valued. When you feel valued, you perform even better. So when you are asking to be paid fairly it isn’t greedy. You’re making sure that both sides (you and your employer) are getting what they need.
“I’ll never make that much”
(this is the mindset I am currently struggling with)
I have a tendency to under-charge. It’s not that I don’t believe in my work or that I think setting higher rates will make me look greedy. For a while, I blamed it on my lack of experience. Then I blamed it on the type of clients I was getting. But then finally, I realized that it wasn’t either of those things, it was just my mindset.
This clicked for me when I was reading about someone who did similar work and had a few more years experience than I did. They shared how much they made and my initial response was, “I could probably eventually get up to make about 60% of what they’re making. That feels realistic.”
Why did I automatically discount myself a full 40%? Why did I put an income cap on myself by thinking that I’ll never make as much as someone else does, but I could potentially make 60% of what they make? That’s like daydreaming about your future house and instead of picturing something from MTV’s Cribs, you’re daydreaming about the kind of crappy house down the street with shag carpeting.
You don’t have to want to make endless sums of money. In fact, chasing that higher payday without a purpose may lead to dissatisfaction. But you shouldn’t automatically discount yourself, your work, and your worth, just because.
Is there a mindset that you’re struggling with? Or have you changed a past mindset that was holding you back? Let me know in the comments below.
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Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.