Have you ever gone months without a budget? What about years?
Well, that was me a few decades ago. I went on through the milestones of life feeling frustrated with my finances like I was constantly at odds with money. If you had asked for a snapshot of my financial life 30 years ago, it’d look something like this:
I’m crumbling under a huge weight of debt and I don’t know how to pay it off.
I’m hardly getting by paycheck to paycheck and I just can’t seem to ever catch up.
I feel like I hardly ever spend money, but at the end of the month, there’s nothing left.
And that was all before I filed for bankruptcy. So, yeah, it got worse.
It was the literal day I declared bankruptcy that I realized I needed to change everything. Of course, I had absolutely no clue what to do or how to do it. I realized that before I tried to change anything, I’d better figure out what specifically needed to change.
Why generic financial advice doesn’t work
I knew I needed something specific, because all the advice out there — make a budget, pay down debt, save for the future — felt way too vague and generic to be useful to me.
I tried budgeting, but I was left with questions like what kind of budget should I make? How much should I budget for each category? What budget categories should I even include?
Budgeting was not as clear cut as everyone made it out to be. And, I had the same questions about paying down debt and saving. How much should I pay in debt every month? Should I pay down loans or credit cards first? And what if I don’t have any money left over to save?
Trying to apply all that generic advice to my life made me feel awful about myself. I thought I just didn’t understand finance and would never be able to harness its power the way other people did.
What generic advice have you been given? Has it worked for you?
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The importance of getting brutally honest
I stopped trying to do what all the “experts” said I should. Instead, I started thinking about how I got to this point in my financial life. For me, it all started with my money story.
It was too much to keep in my head (and too many emotions to sort through), so decided to write it all down: my entire money story from childhood to the present. It brought up a lot of strong feelings!
As a child, the feast or famine mentality of money. Money used as a leveraging tool. Anxiety around money. Fear of being homeless. Hoarding food for when money became scarce and the cupboards were bare.
As a young adult, thinking of the mountain of debt I had taken on during college made me feel ashamed, guilty, and embarrassed.
I knew I had to face my money story, change my actions moving forward, and give myself some grace in the process.
What was honest for me was…
I was crumbling under a huge weight of debt because I wasn’t budgeting.
I was hardly getting from paycheck to paycheck because I was living above my means.
I felt like I was hardly ever spending money because I wasn’t tracking my purchases.
I was broke at the end of every month because I spent every dollar I earned — and more.
What does brutal honesty in your financial life look like?
Dreaming of financial freedom
Are you afraid that facing your money story will make you feel worse? You are not alone. I was terrified!
But, I did it! Writing out my money story lifted a huge weight from my heart and eliminated the stress in my mind. Seeing all of the patterns and habits written out made me realize how much I had I absorbed from my family without realizing it.
It showed me how much fear and anxiety I had associated with money. These kinds of insights are what turned that generic advice (make a budget, pay down debt, and save your money) into meaningful, specific advice that I could actually use.
I was crumbling under a huge weight of debt because I wasn’t budgeting — and I wasn’t budgeting because I never learned how to make a budget.
I was hardly getting from paycheck to paycheck because I was living above my means — and I didn’t track my purchases, because the family had always swooped in to save the day at the last second.
I felt like I was hardly ever spending money because I wasn’t tracking my purchases — and I didn’t know how to calculate my balances, because I was never taught.
I was broke at the end of every month because I spent every dollar I earned (and more…) — and I spent every dollar because it felt unsafe to keep money sitting around.
Getting honest with myself about my finances is what put me onto the journey that led me to where I am today: debt-free, perfect credit score, savings up the wazoo, and a homeowner!
Now I never have to worry about money. Just kidding! But, I no longer feel trapped or lost. I feel in control and capable of handling financial adversity with a sense of peace and calm.
You can absolutely feel this way too!
Rewrite your money story
Writing down your money story is not about assigning shame or blame. It’s about getting honest with yourself to evaluate how you’re living and why.
You need to embrace your money story before you can compare it to how you want to live and determine what changes to make in your financial life. New financial habits just won’t stick without taking this step.
Writing down your money story should be done with love, compassion, and even a sense of wonder about how things can change. Pay attention to patterns that emerge, because just by knowing they exist you’re taking control over them.
Get excited about how your financial dreams and future can look! Writing down my money story was the turning point in my financial life, and it’s been the catalyst for my coaching clients to make incredible financial strides.
I’m confident it can do the same for you. Just remember to be honest and compassionate with yourself.
With love and belief in YOU,