Be utterly honest with yourself

You don’t have to be a math fiend to get in the swing of playing on paper with your monthly or yearly spending plan. You know, what if you spend a little less here, then it will free up a little more for there? It’s almost like putting together a dream baseball team or at least playing a mental chess game.

Remember, regardless of your income level, your goal is to gain control over your expenditures. A good spending plan is crucial in coming face-to-face with what you can actually do with your resources. Done right, it’s about how to best meet your life’s biggest dreams or ambitions.

As you run the numbers, be realistic. Here’s a place where a money-buddy or discussion group can be especially helpful. What are you overlooking? If this is a best-scenario projection, how will you account for the inevitable surprises and adjust for them? Are you building sufficient margins into the plan? Are you relying on wishful thinking anywhere — you know, something like winning the lottery or my dream of having a book become a best-seller?

Are you trying to impose a lifestyle on yourself that will leave you uncomfortable? One that’s too spartan or too ascetic? What do you need as a source of joy or pleasure?

If your spending plan fails to fit your reality or if you fail to stick to your guidelines, then the bills and debt will still control your life, rather than the other way around.

Paradoxically, self-imposed limits can be liberating. Zen Buddhists and old Quakers could both explain how strict discipline can lead to freedom. Those mystics can be surprisingly down-to-earth, as we’ll see.

Is there a current expense you can do without altogether?

What limits are you willing to abide by?

Is there an inexpensive source of joy or pleasure in your plan?

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What are we dealing with?

Money is a means of exchange. It is not inherently good or evil. We project onto money our yearnings for status, power, security, love, identity, freedom, and much more. We need to withdraw the projections that keep us from a healthy relationship to money.

Agree? Disagree?

Tweak your plan of attack

Well, Tweet it, too, if you want.

Identifying your big goals, dreams, and life projects can help you modify your spending plan and the way it works for you.

But the thinking also trickles down to individual categories. Just listen to what others have shared.

Under “Savings and Investments,” one woman found it easy and effective to have a percentage of her paycheck deposited directly into her credit union savings account each week. “The best part is, you never even miss it,” she asserted.

Under “Food,” another told of the joys of a local co-op, for price or quantity, and the farmers market, where freshness is an advantage.

“Clothing” may lead you to a consignment shop filled with barely used designer labels at bargain prices. Where we live, yard sales often have great deals, especially when the sellers are more interested in moving the goods than in getting top dollar. (Do I get to brag about my $300 Brooks Brothers hand-knit Irish sweater we got for $2? You have no idea how many people insist on looking at the label when I wear it … and I’ll let them think I paid full for it, if they wish.)

Penny Yunuba, a Boston Quaker who used Joe and Vicki’s plan to achieve her own financial independence, divided Clothing into “necessary” and “feel better” columns, and her Recreation cluster had “eating out,” “vacations,” “movies-videos,” and “other.” Eating out isn’t food? How curious. Her other quirks were just as instructive. She placed “vitamins” under Health, rather than Food — possibly because she bought hers at a pharmacy or health food store, rather than the grocery. At the top of her page were two quotes from George Fox, an early Quaker leader: “Walk in the Truth and the love of it up to God,” and “Wear it as long as thou canst,” which supposedly was the advice he gave William Penn about a ceremonial sword. Penny’s application, of course, was a reminder to get maximum use of the clothing itself.

Penny’s spread sheet was adapted from a Mennonite accounting model in which the first 10 percent goes straight to the church, as does anything that’s left over. Since the Mennonites rely heavily, and in the past totally, on a lay ministry, this model encourages additional contributions for educational assistance, care of the elderly and orphans, disaster relief, missions work, and similar forms of community nurture. Some people might consider a basic modification that would keep the first 10 percent for the church and place whatever’s left over in a “donations and gifts” category. Others might put the first 10 percent straight into donations and gifts or some priority field.

Be creative when you look at your spending plan, and identify categories that are uniquely yours.

What kind of accounting form or system are you using? Paper or digital?

Where did you find it, and why did you select it?

How have you modified it?

Check it out how Money would listen to you

Lu was right. If you were Money, would you hang around someone who talked like most of us do? Of course not! They don’t deserve it!

Why do we feel this way? Why don’t we feel we deserve to have enough? We weren’t born that way, for sure. We picked up these beliefs in the course of our life. It’s insidious. Since we are not supposed to talk openly about the money in our lives, we probably were not directly taught much about it. We watched our family dealing with it and heard what they said about money. The attitudes we have today are an amalgamation of all the bits and pieces we picked up. Consider what the child is learning in the following scenes:

  • “My parents started giving me a weekly allowance when I was eight, but after a few weeks, they forgot about it.”
  • “I never knew how much money my family had, but I thought we didn’t have much because I couldn’t afford to get new shoes for school. Later I realized my parents belonged to the country club, though.”
  • “My father had a lot of fun with his money! He gambled and drank and had lots of friends. Mom didn’t have much money to run the household with, though. She was always scrimping and saving to get by.”
  • “My father was a minister, as was his father before him. We were always taught that it is better to give than to receive and that money is the root of all evil. It always seemed important to our family that we always look like we didn’t have much money, even though we always had enough to eat.”
  • “Whenever I wanted something when I was a child, I really had to beg for it. They usually told me, ‘We can’t afford it.’ But they always seemed to get what ”they wanted.”
  • “I had after-school jobs from the time I was twelve, but everything I earned just went into paying household expenses. I never got to use any of it for myself.”

These messages aren’t all that unusual. Bet we’ve all used the excuse, “We can’t afford it,” instead of clearly explaining the choices we make. The damage is done, however, when the child observes the inconsistency and decides that the real reason she can’t have her allowance or shoes or a toy is because she doesn’t deserve it. She’s not good enough.

This is a really insidious message, one that is often reinforced by actions and behaviors in other areas of our life experience. The work we do on “deserving” issues enhances our recovery in many aspects of our lives. It helps to really look at which messages we heard—and are hearing—and to try to identify what we have decided about our self-worth as a result of those messages. We can get clues to what those decisions have been by looking closely at our excuses for why we don’t have enough money in our lives.

What spending says about your lifestyle — or at least mine

The exercise of identifying my top five ongoing life projects in the light of my past 30 years brought its own surprises.

For one thing, I don’t have a “hobby” on my list. No, the practice of writing is serious. Ain’t no hobby, no way.  As are singing and dancing. And whatever I do in the yard and garden are in support of my home and wife, not as the recreational activity many men seem to delight in.

Social life — going out with friends or hosting big parties — is not on mine either, though my wife and I do hope to get back to having monthly dinner events again.

There’s no gym membership, though I have added laps in the city’s indoor pool to my daily routine. But keeping healthy is not on that top-five listing.

Nor has the outdoors — as in hiking and camping, especially — ever really materialized. It’s more like walking around town or up the community trail these days.

Retirement has allowed me to devote more attention to my writing, but hasn’t opened up as much time as I had expected. But I way underestimated the amount of time needed for home and family.

Compare your top-five list to mine. What goals are high on your list?

Would you say you’re “livin’ the dream”?

Are you depriving yourself?

Ask yourself:

Do I deserve to have enough money in my life?

And pay special attention if your answer goes something like this: “Sure, that sounds good, but it’ll never happen. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to earn enough. If I charged what my work is really worth, no one could afford to pay for it. People would think I’m money-hungry. I already have trouble collecting what people owe me! Anyway, I know people who have a lot of money, and they aren’t really happy! No matter how much extra I make, there’s always some crisis that soaks it all up. I have my family to take care of, you know, and the kids are always needing something.”

Do you deserve to have enough?

For more pages of personal help

When I joined in this discussion three decades ago, the idea of viewing personal finance from a psychological or theological perspective seemed pretty eccentric.

Not so today. Good voices have found ready audiences. Still, the message needs to be even more widespread.

One of the classics that has survived is Louise Hay’s Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook. It leads the reader through checklists, exercises, affirmations, and power points for many different aspects of our lives, such as money and prosperity, health, work, fears, and intimacy.

If you haven’t already, check it out.

What other authors, columnists, bloggers, newsletters, or books have you found helpful?