Young and Prudent is all about becoming more mindful of your money, how you’re emotionally connected to it, and how it impacts various aspects of your life as a Millennial.
I’ve previously written about setting financial goals, shame around money, alternative ways to live and save, the differences between the generations, anxiety about my life path, and impulse-buying.
In the past weeks, I’ve touched on a lot of high-level aspirations and realizations, as well as ground-level experiences. However, talking about making a change is a good first step, but eventually everyone needs to take action.
So this week I’m bringing it down to Earth – giving everyone a foundation they can start with.
Here are five clear steps from Solomon Halpern, President of Highlander – A Mindful Finance Company, on how to be more mindful about your money and finances.
1. Be kind to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you.
This message is highly applicable to our financial selves. People often have a negative view of themselves from a financial perspective. Sometimes we dwell on the “wasted years” – on how we could have been saving more. We think we’re behind everyone else, and focus on some bad decisions we made.
But if you never get past all that, you can never make any changes. This kind of thinking can derail you, even before you get started on the path to seeing and relating to your finances more clearly. You don’t even take that first step, but instead get distracted by some colorful flowers on the side of the path.
Before you can take the first step forward, you have to decide to give yourself a big break – all the decisions you made in the past are okay. From this place, you’ll be able to see financially damaging habitual patterns more clearly – and then leave them behind.
2. Start saving, or save a little bit more.
“A general rule of thumb is to aim to save 10% of your gross income each year,” says Halpern. “But even more important than that number is to begin a habit of saving.”
Most people plan to start saving at some point in the future when conditions are more favorable – when they’re out of debt, have less expenses, make more money, etc. But if conditions actually change, what often happens is that you just get used to having that new amount of money at your disposal. You still feel like you don’t have enough money to spare for a savings account, and decide to wait until you have even more money.
The cure for this cycle is to start the habit of saving today, even if you can only put $5 away every month. Developing the habit and mentality of saving is the most important thing, whether it’s in a 401(k), a separate savings account, or some other combination. Halpern says that people who save a little bit over time tend to do better than people who wait for a large influx of money.
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I’ve found that getting a portion of any payment direct-deposited into a savings account in a different bank from my main checking and savings accounts has given me the best success. I don’t even notice the money that’s taken out.
3. Talk about your finances.
This is a great way to create some space around money, which leads to a more accurate understanding of it.
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of shame associated with managing money. We all think that we don’t know something that we should. Talking about your finances pokes a hole in this mental wall. This simple act gives you a chance to listen to yourself and become more introspective on this difficult area. There’s something about vocalizing things that you’re worried about that leads to activity and action.
Talk to someone you trust – like a parent or friend – or make an appointment with an accountant or financial advisor.
4. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to be a “fool.”
Most people know very little about how best to manage money. Talking to a friend will likely reveal that you’re on the same level, which may ease your stress.
Talking to a professional, though, can be incredibly empowering and will allow you to understand how your financial life works. Take the time to investigate how your mortgage works, or how different loans work. It’s not at all foolish to acknowledge what you don’t know – and to take the steps to learn.
“In my experience, after three to six months of asking questions that they think are stupid, most people know more than their friends,” says Halpern. “None of this stuff is really that complicated because the average person doesn’t need to use more complex processes.”
5. Practice meditation.
You don’t need to be losing your mind – frozen by neurosis – or looking for a spiritual path to start meditating. Practicing mindfulness-awareness, so you have more clarity and are wise about your finances or other ground-level aspects of your life, is completely legitimate. We do have to live in the practical world, after all.
The open, aware state of mind that defines mindfulness is the perfect container for the rigor and clarity that are necessary for good financial decision-making.