The basics of personal finance:
Spend less than you earn. Stick to your budget. Start investing for retirement now. Always pay your credit card balance in full each month.
These sayings are popular because they’re short, simple, and tried-and-true.
While there are nuances behind each individual’s personal situation, all of the information you need to build wealth could fit on one side of a 3×5 index card.
So if personal finance is so straightforward, why isn’t everybody wealthy?
Part of this is due to personal circumstances, true.
But for many people, one of the first big roadblocks separating them from financial independence is the disconnect between one’s current behaviors, goals, and values.
If any one of those three “inputs” is out of line, you’ll find it difficult to reach your desired financial destination – or at the very least, you’ll find you waste a lot of time, money, and energy throughout the process.
What drives your beliefs about money?
Money. You use it. I use it. We both wish we had more of it.
But even though money is something we all have in common, we may have different experiences, values, and goals that shape our financial and long-term goals.
Is money important to you because:
- You want to become a millionaire and enjoy the “finer things” in life?
- You’d like to retire early so you can spend more time traveling?
- You need to help provide for your parents who are approaching retirement age?
- You’ve started a family and you’d like to be able to provide a future for your children?
As you learn more about your own personal finances, you’ll discover that it’s really hard to “have it all.”
An extravagant lifestyle, financial security, early retirement, multigenerational wealth. Any one of these is attainable to you, but you’ll find you have to make trade-offs to get there.
Perhaps you grew up wanting to join the millionaire club. You envisioned buying an eight-figure home and spending a weekend each month on an international trip.
Now you’ve realized that becoming a millionaire before retirement age might just require you cut cable TV and take leftovers to work for lunch.
If your goal is to become a millionaire but what really drives you is the idea of driving your own Lamborghini, you’re going to feel like it’s been a real bait and switch!
Personal finance is personal
This is why it’s important to reflect on your own financial values.
Working at the same salaried job for 40 years may not be right for you. Even a big raise at work may not be enough to make you happy.
Saving 70% of your income so you can retire at 32 may not be right for you either.
While there may not be a path that’s true for everyone, you can use universal financial principles to travel down the path that makes the most sense for you.
You’ll have to figure out some of it along the way, but it helps to understand your current relationship with money.
Your relationship with money is driven by a variety of factors. It’s not just your goals for the future, but how you’ve handled money in the past and what your financial behaviors look like today.
- What experiences have shaped your perspective on money?
- Do you feel confident that you could make a major financial decision today?
- What does financial success look like in your future?
Understanding these financial values – influenced by past, present, and future – will help you remain consistent with handling your money well over the long run.
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Ask yourself these questions about money
Grab a sheet of paper or open up a blank document on your computer. You might need to give yourself a couple days to reflect on these questions… just make sure you write the answers down.
(If you want a PDF version of these questions, scroll down to the very bottom!)
- What types of financial education (school classes, parents) did you have growing up?
- Which of your past financial decisions are you most proud of? Biggest mistake?
- Can you explain where all of your money comes and goes every month? Why or why not?
- If you had a sudden, unplanned expense of $1000, where would you find the money?
- How do you feel when it’s time to make a major financial decision?
- Are you spending money on items or experiences that have meaning to you? Why or why not?
- What beliefs do you have about money that might be holding you back?
- What’s your greatest financial worry for the future?
- What does financial “success” mean to you?
- Where do you want your personal finances to be in one year? Five years? Ten years?
- What is your plan for reaching retirement?
Of course, these are just a few questions to get you started. These questions may not be able to completely reframe your financial past or provide complete clarity for the future (should you focus on spending less or earning more?), but hopefully, they help you understand that your relationship with money is a complex and evolving one.
If there’s a specific question that’s given you a financial epiphany, I’d love to have you share it in the comments!
During college, one of my marketing professors would always tell us:
“Change your questions, change your life!”
Sure, it was cheesy… and perhaps a gross oversimplification of just how easy it is to make major life changes.
But asking the right questions may just help you:
- Make peace with your financial past
- Identify which habits you might need to change
- Understand what money means to you
- Motivate yourself to achieve your greatest financial goals
Until you have clearly defined your financial goals and values, it will be difficult to measure your “success.”
If you’re just starting to take your personal finances seriously after years of mindless spending or keeping up with the Joneses, reflecting on the questions above (and similar ones) may provide just the clarity you need to start building momentum!
(Side note: If you’re still struggling to define your financial values, watching these TED Talks on money could help!)
If you found this post insightful, you’ll want to sign up for our email newsletter to receive our FREE “Breakthroughs for Beginners” email course. You’ll get a PDF version of the questions included in this post as well as other helpful printables!