Working with my clients’ finances over the years has given me a bit of a crash course in human behavior. Often, I’m floored by the generosity I see displayed by many clients — even those without significant means.
Other times … well, I think that we all could use the reminder that our human flaws show up very clearly in our family’s finances. The fact is that we ALL lie to ourselves, from time to time, about what’s really happening in our wallets.
Really, this comes down to being a matter of the heart.
It’s so easy to pull the trigger on more expensive choices because we convince ourselves that “we deserve it”, or that rather than wanting this nice thing (whether it’s as simple and perhaps-trivial as a clothing item or a dinner at a fine restaurant) — we *need* this new thing.
The too-recent financial crash of the late 2000’s wasn’t just a pure “Wall Street” phenomenon. The fact is that people who live in the real world of “Main Street” sometimes convinced themselves that the house with the jumbo mortgage (and on a 3/1 ARM) was absolutely necessary … when the more modest house could have been just as sufficient, and, even, enjoyable.
So, I’ve compiled a short list of ideas on how to address these matters of the heart, as it relates to our finances … and some simple ways to put guardrails in place so that we can train our hearts to more clearly align with good stewardship and wisdom, when sometimes we aren’t used to practicing it.
1) Understand why you are purchasing what you are purchasing.
Sometimes the real reason we are buying something isn’t actually the reason we might think we are buying something.
Are you buying your child a new bike because they need a new bike? Or … are you feeling guilty because you don’t feel that you are devoting enough time to spending with that child? Is that piece of jewelry you are purchasing for your wife because you simply love her … or are you wanting to show her something about who YOU are.
These are hard questions, but they need to be asked. Which leads to the second idea…
2) Decide on and actually operate from a budget.
All the budgets in the world might align themselves into your family computer, but they are worth absolutely zero if you don’t actually use it. There are loads of great apps and utilities to choose from (Like YNAB, or PowerWallet among others), and they can make it much simpler to determine whether or not that you actually should buy something.
Sure, it may be that Macy’s is running a killer sale … but if you go past your budget, you could be doing damage to not only your wallet, but your heart.
3) Ditch the bad (expensive) habits and add ones that work even better.
Too often, shopping is used to ameliorate and numb our feelings of distress or pain. Recognize this within yourself when you have the space to realize it (i.e. when you are NOT facing immediate distress or pain!), and look for ways to encourage your own heart and soul to re-program your response to pressure.
Instead of popping into the car over to Kohl’s on a rough day, go out for a jog or take a walk. Read a book to your children, or even pop over to the local coffee shop for a spell. Sure, those $4 lattes are expensive … but they’re cheaper than a new set of golf clubs or a new dress.
The point is to create new neural pathways for our brain when under pressure.
4) Give yourself a limit for each purchase.
It’s a great idea to establish parameters with your spouse for what you can term a “slush spending amount”, i.e. an amount of money that you agree that you can spend without calling each other and checking in. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to things such as gas, groceries and other necessities, but it can provide exactly the kind of trigger and accountability to retrain your heart into healthier spending habits.
5) Practice the art of gratitude.
The ancient greeks called this practice eucharisteo — and it can be a powerful remedy for the unhealthy practice of buying more “stuff” as way to feel better about oneself. The fact remains that you have much to be grateful for, no matter your current life circumstances. It mostly requires a willingness to see.
Dealing with our hearts when it comes to our finances is a tricky proposition. But it’s a necessary first step to a healthy family financial picture.
And remember: we are here to help!
“Any man can win when things go his way, it’s the man who overcomes adversity that is the true champion.” – Jock Ewing