Money. This one word can be very emotionally-charged. You nay think you don’t have enough of it, or that other people have too much of it. Money triggers jealousy, greed, anxiety, fears, stress, love, gratitude, feelings of freedom and so many other emotions. Some people spend their whole lives in pursuit of it, and no matter how much they have some people still live in fear that it isn’t enough.
A friend once confided that his father had investments worth in the eight digits and still worked 60-80 hour weeks because he didn’t think it was enough. Feelings of lack like that cause stress and anxiety and affect our mental health…not to mention the toll taken on our emotional, mental and physical health from working so many hours. And PsychCentral in the past has written about the correlation between money worries and depression.
But financial wellness, like any other kind of wellness in our lives, comes about when we critically assess our situation, deal with the emotional baggage surrounding it (by identifying its sources, searching its “truth” and then letting it go) and by creating a plan that puts us on the on which path we want to journey.
So if you feel like you could be healthier financially, here are some tips to get you started:
Run Your Numbers (net worth and budgets) Knowing what your monthly income is and your monthly expenses helps you figure out what the extra is that you can save or spend as needed. This information s also what you need to set up a budget.
Net worth, according to Investopedia is defined as the difference between what you own and what you owe. Net worths tend to fluctuate over time, based on stock markets, inflation, housing markets, etc. But understanding where you currently are and where you want to be, and then checking in every year to recalculate the numbers allows you to evaluate your progress, celebrate your successes and plan for the future.
Understand and Manage Lifestyle Inflation Have you heard someone say that regardless of the amount of physical space we live in, we tend to fill it? The same concept applies to money: the more you make the more you spend. Economists call this lifestyle inflation. When we get an unexpected sum of money, say a bonus or win on a lottery ticket or get an inheritance, often our first thoughts are, What can I buy with this money? Money tends to burn the proverbial hole in our pockets.
But people who really understand money, people like Warren Buffet, don’t spend more because they have more. Take Buffet’s house as an example. He lives in the same one he bought in 1958 Buffet has been quoted as saying he’s happy there, but he also knows that accumulating more and bigger stuff, doesn’t make us richer.
Spend mindfully Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment that we’re in. And in the present moment, we almost always have everything we need to live. There’s nothing wrong with desiring something, but we need to be honest with ourselves about why we want said thing. Is it a need or a want? Money spent on needs is more imperative than money spent on wants, especially if spending on the want is going to create a shortfall in paying for our needs. Giving in to impulses sometimes causes added stress and anxiety (and maybe buyer’s remorse) than acknowledging and accepting the discomfort of “I can’t afford to buy that right now. It will have to wait.”
Build and maintain an emergency fund. The Balance reports that as of February 2018, the average American household credit card debt was $8182. And that though many people think that amount of debt is from binge shopping, that the number one cause of bankruptcy is actually healthcare costs…and that people put those unexpected medical bills on their credit card and then can’t pay them off.
Financial experts stress the importance of saving three to six months worth of living expenses to cover emergencies, such as health care emergencies, household or homeownership emergencies, car repairs or anything else that could crop up expectedly. Build up this coffer and if you have to draw from it, don’t be hard on yourself or feel badly, just work to build it up again. Put it in a place where it is accessible (like a savings account at a bank) but not too accessible so you aren’t tempted to borrow from it for non-emergencies.
Save for retirement regularly If you are an employee of a company, the best way to save for retirement is by contributing as much as federally allowable by law to your 401K or other employment-sponsored retirement account. If you are self-employed, set up an Individual 401K or a SOLO 401K; because you are the employee and the employer, the federal government allows you to sock away both portions (employee and employer) each year.
As I write in my forthcoming book, Creating the Freelance Career:
“In 2018, the maximum an employee can contribute to a 401(k), 403(b), 457, and SARSEPs retirement plan is $18,500, and that is the total amount they can deduct as taxable income. (Meaning if you make $68,500 in 2018, and put $18,500 in the retirement account, you pay taxes like you made $50,000 worth of income). The maximum your employer can contribute to your account is $36,500, for a total of $55,000 being put into your retirement plan for the year).
“When you are self-employed, you are considered both the employee and the employer. So if you set up a SOLO 401(k) or an Individual 401(k), sometimes called an I-401(k), you can deposit both parts yourself into the account and lower your taxable income by up to $55,000…as along as you have enough income. Financial adviser Aaren Strand, of Paracle Personal Financial Management, explains that if you’re self-employed and work for someone else as an employee, you can contribute to both, within the income limits of the $18,500 of “employee” contributions in both retirement accounts, while still adding up the employer profit sharing portion ($36,500) to the SOLO account (2018).”
While none of this information may seem that new or earth-shattering, the fact is we don’t always follow it. Warren Buffet said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.” But we do have to create some kind of plan and follow it, and in that, there can be peace of mind.