let's get real about money: common sense is *not* common practice

Money In this era of "BIGGER! EXTREME! UPGRADE! MORE MORE MORE!", I feel a serious need right now to simplify and declutter. I'm not exactly hopping on the minimalist bandwagon yet, but this December has felt like the perfect time to purge. (Sidebar, I always feel kinda weird using that word given its very specific meaning in the eating disorder treatment world I live in. I digress; it's the word I need.)

I've been cleaning out my pantry, freezer, bookshelves, and home office over the past few days. Last week, I cleaned out my work office and rearranged my desk. I started working on my 2015 "Create Your Shining Year" goals workbook, and was slightly annoyed when I got to the section about financial goals.

I don't want to think about money! Money gives me anxiety that makes me want to crawl back in bed. That's not why I bought the workbook, after all! I just want to explore my goals in more fun and exciting parts of life, dammit.

Yep. Classic Ostrich Approach. So much happier with my head in the sand! ...until those days that I have to peek one eye open, and get anxious and frustrated about the state of affairs.

So what did I do? After some initial avoidance (just turn the page!), I made a decision to shift my annoyance about this particular interruption to my sparkly, fun goal-setting process. I realized that at this moment in my life, money IS the biggest obstacle to me feeling truly free. Stupid workbook knew exactly what it was doing.

2014 was a pretty kick-ass year for me, but I have just never been great with money, and this year was no exception. (Plus, even with help from parents, the wedding added on more-than-average expenses.) I have gotten better overall than I used to be, especially at not buying stupid crap (like $25 eyeshadows) or way more (low-quality) clothes than any reasonable person needs, but I have a ways to go.

I am a pro at creating budgets (noticed I said "creating," not following) and setting up accounts on things like Mint with the best of intentions (Momma always said the road to hell was paved with good intentions), but then tend to go back to Ostrich mode pretty quickly. I've also read and listened to a ton of material on personal finance, having followed Suze Orman and Ramit Sethi's work on and off for years now. But alas, as the adage goes... it's not what you know that matters; it's what you do. Common sense is not common practice.

What Scarcity & Gratitude Have To Do With It

Like most people, I don't like to feel restricted. Telling me I can't/shouldn't have a $4 latte just makes me really want a $4 latte. (That's one reason why Ramit's advice is so good -- he focuses a lot on the psychology and behavior change elements of personal finance.) It's all connected to our scarcity culture, fear of deprivation, and comparison/fear of not measuring up (gotta keep up with the Joneses, right?) As Brené Brown writes, "We wake up in the morning and we say, 'I didn't get enough sleep.' And we hit the pillow saying, 'I didn't get enough done.'" In one way or another, we believe that we never are enough, and that we never have enough. And of course, the opposite of scarcity is a mindset of abundance and gratitude.

Whenever I intentionally practice gratitude via  journaling or meditation, I usually (and understandably) focus on the most important things -- my family, my friends, a good job, a roof over my head, my health. And obviously it's important to be grateful for all of that. But I wonder... if I were to practice gratitude for the "stuff" in my life, perhaps I can develop more of an abundance mindset and be less threatened by the thought of scarcity or not measuring up that leads me to wanting more "stuff"?

It might sound silly, but go with me here: If I can practice gratitude for my breadth of education and my good collection of books (many of which I have yet to read!), perhaps I will feel less of an urgent need to educate myself further through expensive training courses and buying more and more books. (Ironically, Tara Mohr's new book, Playing Big, has helped me see how I use constant education-and-credential-seeking as a way to put off actions to play bigger NOW in my life.) After all, that is what most of my discretionary spending has been on in 2014.

The Power of Commitment + Action

For some reason, I feel more energized than ever right now to turn my knowledge about personal finance into real, life-changing action. The time is right, and I'm grabbing it. I've taken several actions already -- i.e. deleting all credit cards from my Amazon account and asking my husband to stow my cards away somewhere (most of them have $0 balance, but I want to put some serious obstacles in my way to overspending).  I made a commitment to myself that I'm not putting another dollar on a credit card for the foreseeable future -- maybe ever, but at least for a few years. And I'm now making that commitment here, too. The research is mixed on whether making a public commitment toward a goal helps or hinders it, but a great piece on this topic from Scientific American posits that, "The more you publicly commit to an attitude, the better able you are to resist any attempts to change it, and this is largely due to those increases in confidence and perceived importance/centrality."

So there it is. Some vulnerability and honesty that, while I have my shit together in a lot of ways, I also have some serious work to do in this area. And I'm guessing some of you reading this know what that's like. It's one of the topics we most want to avoid talking about, even with close friends and family, which means it's probably exactly what we need to talk about.

If any of this resonates with you, I invite you to join me! Take your head out of the sand, get clear and current with your finances, and talk to someone about it. Ain't nothin' to be ashamed of. And if you want to share your own questions, worries, or reflections in the comments, I'd love to engage on this topic.

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.