You want to get your financial shit together and you don’t know where to start.
There is an endless amount of contradictory advice available to you in the depths of the internet. Most of it is mindless, thoughtless bullshit about your 401(k) and it overwhelms you.
There are so many different moving parts. And each part feels like something you should do, but you don’t understand why or how it relates specifically to your human life.
So before we ugly cry about how we’re failing at our money stuff, let’s tackle the only subject that might be more terrifying than our money: the inner terrain of ourselves. Ah, yes.
Inner inquiry and self reflection is where the ignorant go to become wise. So once you learn how to do this heavy lifting, the math part and the part about learning the rules some dudes made up about IRAs and brokerage accounts and taxes, all of that won’t seem so frightening.
Alright, cosmonauts, the following inquiries will help you unpack your shit. This is an exercise. It’s also a framework to guide you through understanding yourself and your relationship to your cash.
Who are you?
What are you about? What do you really, truly value? How you spend, earn, save, invest and risk your money are a reflection of your values and who you are.
If you say you value travel, but the job you work at has a shitty vacation policy, the salary can’t support your vacay aspirations and instead of saving money in a travel fund, you spend it on shit you don’t need, can you really say you value travel? Maybe you don’t actually value travel and you just say you do because that makes you seem worldly. Or maybe you do and you need to make some changes.
Get right with yourself and your values. Spend time reflecting on the work you do, the company you keep, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on. All of this will help you understand if you’re acting in accordance with your values or if you’re mindlessly doing things (like touching your cell phone an average of 2,617 times a day).
Remember, your values will change. You will evolve. And you’ll continuously need to reflect to stay aligned.
What do you get weird about?
The other side of the same coin of knowing yourself is understanding what you’re weird about. What money triggers do you have?
Do you hate yourself a little bit because your whole family is crazy rich? So you spend everything you have so you can feel better; like you’re getting rid of your privilege by spending it.
Or maybe you get anxious when you go to a group dinner because your friends thinks it's totally chill to split the bill equally even if some people didn’t drink any of the many bottles of wine ordered.
Try to observe yourself to see what you get weird about so you can go into situations with a bit of awareness (see image).
If you can learn to see this about yourself and understand yourself, the hope is it’ll help you understand other people. And this understanding of other people will help you if you ever find yourself in a marriage or a business partnership or any type of relationships where you have to navigate money.
What motivates you?
Finding this answer will be the key to getting shit done. Period. Mic drop. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
People are not born being good with money. Some people who are good with their money understand how to motivate themselves to do the things they ought to do. Because using your smart brain is not good enough.
You are an emotional creature who does stuff because it feels good and avoids other stuff because it feels bad. You need to understand what motivates you so you can trick yourself. Whether it’s building your business everyday, saving money for taxes, not constantly eating Cheetos or forcing yourself to learn about money and finance, you might have to trick your smart brain into doing it.
Some people make savings a game in order to actually motivate themselves to save. Some people think about their cute and helpless little baby and that helps them not overspend. Some people are in competition with themselves or their neighbors or they’re still trying to get love from their dad, so that’s what drives them to be disciplined.
Here’s the rub, though: Motivation works, but not always. Habits are better. So if you’ve watched yourself form a socially acceptable habit, like running everyday or drinking more water, try to unpack that. How did you trick yourself to run on days you weren’t motivated? What kind of self talk got you through your diet coke withdrawal headaches?
There are entire sections in bookstores dedicated to the science behind motivation and habit building. There is also the deep well of your inner self that you can search too.
What do you suck at? What are you great at?
You can’t know everything and you can’t be great at everything, therefore, you’re gonna suck at some things.
Knowing what you suck at can help you protect yourself from crippling failure and disappointment. There are only so many times you can dust your face off because you’ve fallen on it trying to dunk a basketball.
I know we (millennials) were told we can do anything. But anything is not everything. You suck at some things; I suck at some things It’s cool. Just know what you suck at so you can get help and stop fucking things up more than you already are. Know what you suck at so you don’t set yourself for failure.
For example, if you’re disciplined and good at being organized, you might be a good candidate for a god awful budgeting app. Great, have fun with logging every penny you spend. If you’re like me and you’re only organized when people are paying you to be organized for them, you might be better off having a separate checking account for all your bullshit spending.
What the hell do you want to do with your damn life?
I think normal people refer to this as goals, but the word goals has a feeling of achievement that I’m not that into right now. Think about the process because that’s really how you’ll be spending your time.
Some people know the answer to this question. They have a solid idea of themselves and how they want to want to pass the time. My wife has always known she wanted to be an interior designer. Some people have always known they wanted to raise children. I hang out with musicians who always want to to be in the process of songwriting.
Some people don’t have have as much of a choice about how they’ll spend their lives because of circumstances that are more powerful than they are. And that sucks.
Some people flail around for years. That’s totally ok as long as you are still trying to figure it out or you are totally fine with flailing around.
For some of us, a big part of our identities are wrapped up in what we do for work. The thing that makes you money is the thing that defines who you are because you have to spend so much time doing it. We’re in the heyday of capitalism where entrepreneurship is totally fucking cool. We have all these outside forces pushing on us.
So what do you want your life to look like? But more importantly, how do you want to feel?
How can you get there?
This is where we bring in the math and where we can start to ask better questions. Here are some examples.
How much will it actually cost to live where you want to live? How much do you need to save for the downpayment if you want to buy a house in 6 years? Is that realistic given your current job?
If you take a job working as a social worker because it’s in line with your values can you cope with sacrifices the salary cut will force on you?
You want to work for yourself, but the company you want to start is capital intensive; you want to own a bakery with farmland. What are all your options?
You want to retire at 40. How much money do you need to save up to make that happen?
Should you invest all your own money into a short film you want to make or keep doing commercial production work? How do you balance the two to fund and create your life’s work? How does this make you feel?
It’s hard to map out where you want to go if you don’t first truly understand what you’re working with, what your limits are and how you can leverage your strengths and weaknesses.
Just looking at the numbers doesn’t give us the full picture. The numbers don’t ask us if that’s how we want things to feel. And to ignore that piece, the part that feels, is to ignore a huge part of you… unless you’re a robot. Then please, only use logic and reasoning.