At the most rudimentary level, there are only two things people need to remember when it comes to personal finances: 1) spend less than you make, and 2) invest the rest.
If only it were that easy! Most literature on personal finances offers ideas and strategies on how to cut back on spending, eliminate debt, and invest in the future. However, few assist people in first understanding the “why” in order to change the “how” of their spending. Topics such as the effects of trauma, the growth mindset, and the power of gratitude can assist people to better understand the voids in their lives, how they try to fill such voids (possibly with the purchasing of “things”), and how to live within one’s means by learning to be grateful for what they have.
Trauma: a sinister root cause of debt.
Many people have a void in their life, and trauma can exacerbate this void. The adverse childhood experience (ACEs) study found the greater number of ACEs, the greater the risk for an array of poor physical, mental, and behavioral health outcomes for people over their lifetimes. The ACEs study provides additional understanding as to why millions of people around the world use biochemical coping methods (i.e., alcohol, drugs, food, sex, tobacco, violence, and even the purchasing of “things”) to escape intense anxiety, fear, anger, or depression.
Consequently, related to one’s personal finances, important questions to ask include: “Do I spend a considerable amount of money on biochemical coping methods to escape intense anxiety, fear, anger, or depression that could be rooted in past trauma?” And, “Do I try to fill the void in my life by living beyond my means, like buying things I cannot afford in the hopes of addressing the unfulfilled needs in my life?”
If one does not first address the “why” of their spending, then their efforts to change the “how” become insane; or doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Growth mindset and finances.
Right thinking is the raw material for right actions. People’s actions will naturally reveal the direction of their thoughts. Therefore, how has your thinking or mindset affected your current financial reality? What beliefs do you hold about yourself and your future that do not align with you being the best, healthiest version of yourself? What lies do you believe about yourself that are holding you back and making you doubt that you can be debt free and financially strong? Simply changing how you spend your money will not be enough. You will have to change how you view money, yourself, and your future. You will have to change your mindset.
Carol Dweck (2006) reveals years of research in discovering two very distinct mindsets: the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. As Dweck has found, taking new action is at the heart of a person with a growth mindset because they embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as a path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the successes of others. All of this motivates them to take new action.
Conversely, taking new action seems to be the antithesis of a person with a fixed mindset because they avoid challenges, get defensive or give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. All of this motivates them to be protectors of the status quo. Consequently, developing a growth mindset will be paramount in a person’s ability to change how they spend their money.
Enough is a feast.
Throughout time and place, there are many trappings in the world which try to rob us of our peace, joy, contentment, and money. Materialism is one such culprit. Materialism and comparing one’s Monday-through-Friday life with other people’s highlight reels is fertile ground for living beyond one’s means. Consequently, to combat this debt-producing spending, one must learn to practice gratitude.
The core of gratitude is that it allows us to celebrate the good in our lives in the present moment. By identifying and affirming all the good, people are able to focus more on what they have, and less on what they do not have. The Buddhist saying “enough is a feast” is countercultural to the more and more seemingly materialistic prompting of our modern world. However, through deep, honest reflection many people would realize that they actually have “enough,” and that “enough” is truly a feast. When “enough” becomes a feast, the voids in people’s lives no longer need to be filled with the buying of “things” and that money can then be used for eliminating debt, investing in their futures, and becoming financially free.
This is why one must first understand the “why” in order to change the “how” of their spending.
Marc Barlow has 23 years experience in public education in instructional leadership, social/emotional supports, data-based systems analysis and reorganization, and overseeing state and federal budgets and compliance measures. Marc currently is a director of state and federal programs and social/emotional supports for a high school district. He is author of “Redesign the Reality of Your Finances: Understand the Why to Change the How of Your Spending“.