Now that I’ve written a couple of posts about why people try to buy happiness—even knowing it doesn’t work—I decided it was time to tell a personal story. Although I now understand that true happiness comes from doing what I love with people that I love on a regular basis—and attempting to live SMART 365, I certainly used to act otherwise. In fact, at one time in our lives Thom and I could both be accused of trying to buy happiness just like most people in our country. But fortunately that changed for us at one point—and perhaps in our story is a lesson that others might find useful.
When Thom and I got together nearly 35 years ago we both knew how to work, make money and pay bills. But just like most people our age we also liked to spend money and enjoy ourselves. A big difference between then and now was there was very little credit available to young people so if you wanted something you had to figure out ways to go about earning enough to pay for it. We had no savings, but neither did we have any debt.
Then in the 80s and into the 90s we started making more money (thank goodness!) and started qualifying for credit. We bought a house, then another property, and before long were living on income derived from real estate—and juggling it all with credit cards. Finally we were able to buy things without having any real money to purchase them. Like most people along the way, we made some good choices—and some not so great choices. By the time we were in our middle thirties, the debt was growing and starting to get uncomfortable. And even though we were getting by and held occupations where income could hopefully be generated in large lumps, the stress and anxiety of juggling debt was taking its toll.
While I don’t think we were “addicted” to spending (does anyone?), I think we must have bought into the mind set that we could somehow beat the system and make fast and easy money and somehow get caught up. That, and perhaps we believed the fantasy that we were unique and special enough to make scads of money without really having to do much to earn it. Probably the most misguided assumption was the idea that we could be rich without even knowing ourselves—what we valued and didn’t value, what benefits we offered others, and what talents we brought to the world. In other words, our view of money (what it was and how it worked) was extremely immature. Looking back it is no surprise that that we had money issues. Our money issues were in many ways a reflection of our lack of self-awareness and understanding.
Okay, so maybe this is all more complicated and personal than you care to know. But the point I hope you do get is that what pulled us out of that cycle of over spending and then slaving to pay off debt was the gradual growth and deepening of self-understanding and self-control. I know it isn’t easy because it took quite a long time for us to make the transition—and we are still a work in progress. Even hoping a person could do it quicker, faster, easier would feed the mindset that there is a way to get around the necessary steps in consciousness that it takes.
What are some of those steps? To repeat some of the ideas I got from author James Roberts (I quoted him in the part one of this series), here are several things any one of us can do to help “grow our money consciousness”:
1) Work on personal self-control; Just because you can buy something doesn’t mean you should.
2) Realize that if you’ve overworked your self-control on any given day that you’ll have less available until you’re rejuvenated. There have even been studies that show that if you’ve spent the day exercising your self-control, eventually it will be worn out and very difficult for you to resist temptation—so if possible, try not to put yourself in that type of situation.
3) Don’t shop or spend money when you are tired or stressed. Not only is your self-control lessened, but you’ll also convince yourself you need the “perk” of spending.
4) Have concrete and consistent money and life goals that will keep you on track—and perhaps more importantly—show you when you are off track.
5) Work on your self-awareness. If you know what you value and what is ultimately most important to you, then you can make much more informed decisions.
6) Avoid alcohol and drugs. Clearly, your self-control will be challenged if you are not able to think clearly.
A few other tips I think are important in terms of growing your money consciousness are:
1) Realize that any money you spend on enhancing your awareness and understanding of yourself is some of the best money you can spend.
2) Avoid buying anything to impress anyone else.
3) Try to remember that the pleasure you get from buying anything will wear off very quickly. Try to project that in your mind before you buy something in order to help you make the decision about the purchase.
4) If you don’t have the available cash to buy something you crave—wait until you have the cash in hand before you buy.
5) If you are able, pay off your credit cards every single month. Do not fall into the trap of carrying a balance.
6) Strive to become as debt free as possible. Such a position allows you the freedom to live the experience of happiness as fully and completely as possible.
I suppose that if someone had sat me down when I was in my mid to late 20s and explained these things, it may not have made a bit of difference for me. While I don’t regret the steps I took learning my present understanding of money—I could have saved myself a lot of worry and grief if I had.
A huge part of living SMART 365 is living sustainably (the “S”); and responsibly (the “R”). Sustainability in finances means that we find a way to give to the world that allows the world to give back to us. Another way of thinking of it is, “you can’t fool the Universe.” Which sort of means that you might think you can cheat the world into giving you what you don’t earn or create—but it will eventually catch up to you. Likewise, responsibility in finances means that you pay your debts to the best of your abilities—and we all do our very best not to put ourselves in a position where we can’t. Finally, once we learn that money and shiny objects don’t equal happiness, we can discover the true richness of a simple and full life—365.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’” ~Stephen Covey
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