As many people do, I struggled with my finances after graduating from college. Newly married and in debt, I felt like I didn't have anything to show for my spending. Bills, debt repayment, and the expenses of everyday life seemed overwhelming. Every time I turned around, there was something new to spend my money on.
One day, I woke up and realized that I had so much useless stuff sitting in the house that I could have taken a pretty decent trip to Europe if I hadn't blown everything on those frivolities. I wanted to feel good about my finances, not feel like my money was in control of my life. At that point, I started changing how I approached money entirely. Here are the steps I took to turn things around in my money life:
1. Figure out what you value
Often, we spend on things we don't care about because we haven't thought about how to connect our spending to our values. Think about what really matters to you. What's important in your life? What are the things—and people—that you want to take care of? Do you prefer experiences to things? Do you wish you could pay down debt faster, or give more to charity?
Before spending money, ask yourself if you need to make that purchase. If you don't need to make the purchase, ask yourself if it will help you reach your goals, or if it reflects your values. Carl Richards, the author of The Behavior Gap and the One-Page Financial Plan, recommends pausing before making a purchase and saying to yourself, "that's interesting."
Notice your spending. Start putting money toward the most important things in your life and cut out the stuff that doesn't matter to you. Just spending on things that reflect your values and goals can help you feel better about your finances.
2. Mark your progress
Money problems don't fix themselves overnight. I spent years working to turn things around and making up for my mistakes. It's easy to become discouraged if you don't acknowledge how far you've come at checkpoints along the way. Pay attention to where you are now, compared to your situation six months ago, or a year ago. When I realized I was moving in the right direction, making small changes to my financial habits every day, I began to feel better about my finances. Create a plan to guide you on your new path, and to celebrate the progress you make.
3. Just meeting the Joneses? Ignore them.
Stop worrying about whether you're buying a house at a certain age. Don't look at the way others use their money and assume that you are "supposed" to do the same thing. It doesn't matter whether or not you have the "right" car, TV set, house, or food. And it doesn't matter if you buy these things according to someone else's schedule. Do you really want to live someone else's idea of a good life?
The Joneses shouldn't be your model for life. (Besides, they're probably in debt.) If you know what you value, that's the model for your life and your spending choices. Get back to what matters to you. You'll feel much better about your finances when you know you are using your money to live the life you want...