I once had a mentor tell me that my emotions were like the dash lights in a car: each one means something different is going on under the hood. In the same respect, our emotions give us an idea of what is going on in our hearts, minds, or bodies. It is important to remember that humans are inherently emotional beings and that emotions are morally neutral. There are no good emotions or bad emotions, just different indicators of what is going on with us. The key to emotional health is not what sort of emotions arise from your being, but rather how you respond whenever various emotions do make their way to the surface.
When it comes to finances, there is one emotion that most people think of first and that is anxiety (some folks would use the word “stress” instead, but I think we are meaning the same thing). We encounter stress or anxiety whenever we have something in mind that we want or need and we feel insecure about our ability to get whatever that thing is. It is the unknown that illicites our emotional response.
So, how do we address the stress and anxiety that can come up so often when it comes to our finances? How do we keep ourselves from going in and out of these terrible financial mood swings based on how we are feeling in that particular moment? We must do three things: Plan, Prepare, and Persevere.
In order to make sure we are not tossed back-and-forth by our financial mood swings, the first thing we have to do is create a plan. Creating a good financial plan is always going to include a few central elements: we need to evaluate where we are, we need to decide where we want to go, and we need to determine our very next step to get there.
Evaluating where you are in your finances can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. The basic things you need to cover are figuring out:
Once you get these questions answered, you will have a better handle on your finances that the vast majority of your peers and it will help you to figure out what your next step should be. For example, if you answer these questions and realize that your monthly cost of living is higher than your monthly earnings, your next step should be to either increase your earnings or decrease your monthly cost of living. But do not leave it that general, it is so important to pick a specific next step so that you know when you have accomplished it. Instead of, “I want to lower my expenses,” try starting with, “I am going to cancel my least-used subscription service to save $10/month.”
Now that you have put a plan in place and you know what your next step should be, it is time to prepare yourself for the inevitable financial mood swings to come. One of the best ways you can prepare for those stressors to come up is actually for you to move through the steps in your plan because every time you complete another step (canceling a subscription you do not need, meal prepping at home to save money, asking for a raise at work, etc.), it means there is one less item to create stress in your finances.
Another way you can prepare yourself is to create an emergency fund. Some people like to create multiple categories for things they know will cost them money (like a vet fund, vacation fund, car repairs fund, etc.), but it can be great to start with one and grow from there. If you are able to slowly accumulate money and put it into an emergency savings fund, that will allow you to face financial stressors when they do arise. For example, last week I had a surprise $170 visit to the vet for my dog when she scratched her eye, but having money set aside in an emergency savings fund allowed me to cover the expense without too much stress.
This can be the hardest part but is also the most important: perseverance. As much as I would love for you to win the lottery and have no more financial stressors, that is most likely not going to happen. We persevere in our healthy financial habits in faith that our financial stressors will lessen in intensity and frequency over time as we get more and more of our financial lives in order. We make our plan to take the next right step, we prepare for the unexpected, and we persevere to a bright financial future.