Since we are in the time of Covid19, I’ve been thinking a lot about money (and end of life planning) lately. Oddly enough, in March, at the beginning of the pandemic and up until about a month ago, I was spending, a lot. Instead of panic shopping on loading my cupboards with cans of beans and jars of pasta sauce, I bought ‘stuff’ for my apartment.
Panic Shopping During the Pandemic
I reasoned that my desire to spruce up my living space was because I would be spending way more hours in the space than I had done, well, in forever. So, there I went, new skillet, new toilet brush, new shower curtain liners, new fake plant, and on and on. Then, like many people, I need to make my workspace cute. I already had a desk, but I wanted to add more “personality,” so I bought some frames and had photos printed, a new desk lamp – purely for aesthetics because I honestly get plenty of natural light and have a large light above my head.
I was in spend mode, with full justifications for all of it! I had a long list of other things that I “needed”. At the time, I didn’t recognize that my need to buy a bunch of stuff was probably more about a need to be in control of ‘something’ during a time of such intense uncertainty and fear. I was not alone in this. I mean seriously, I couldn’t even find a nail file or bedroom curtains to buy for months!
Overspending Reality Check
Two things happened to give me an overspending reality check. The first was my friend, who happens to be a lawyer, asked me if I had a Will. It wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned it and it wasn’t the first time I’d skirt around the issue. I didn’t want to talk about death and dying, especially during the pandemic. It was too scary a thought.
The second thing was an Instagram post that involved a question from someone who asked what they should be doing with all the money they saved during the stay at home or shelter in place orders. Wait, what?! There were people out there who managed to actually save money. Mind blowing.
The light bulb went off and I asked myself, how much did I ‘not’ save and take a closer look at where I spent my money and what goals were not being achieved because of it. Just as importantly, I had to think about the Covid19 virus and the potential of long-term health issues or possibly death.
How could I take this moment to put myself in the best position possible to deal with either of these scenarios? The answer was pretty evident, I needed to focus on putting in place better money habits pronto!
Road to Developing Better Money Habits
Step 1: Seeing the Big Money Picture
My first step was to set aside some time to finally complete a personal financial inventory / net worth statement my friend had given me ages ago – took me a few minutes to locate it.
The inventory allowed me to gather and review banking and other important information – savings, loans, credit cards, assets, pension, life insurance etc. This exercise turned out to not be as scary or tedious as I’d originally thought. Instead it was a bit therapeutic in a way.
By taking the time to write everything down in one place and seeing a big picture view of where I stood financially, however bleak that position was, came with a sense of accomplishment and optimism. It was good to know exactly what I would be dealing with and then to develop of plan.
Step 2: Doing a Money Deep Dive
The next step was that I needed to go deeper and examine my debt and come up with a plan of attack. I turned to Melissa Leong’s Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right and Enjoy Life and re-read some of the pages I had highlighted the first time around. Such a great resource btw. She’s got a wicked sense humour and brings the kind if practical and mindful approach to personal finances that I need in my money life right now.
Here’s the thing you should know about me, when it comes to thinking about or talking about money, I always want to cover my ears with my hands and sing loudly, “La-La-La-La-La-La.” Super immature. I know. I wish I loved saving and, in the words of 50cent, love to watch my money pile up but the fact is that my aversion to talking about money and my expertise in spending it runs deep. I’m a Spender. I’m sure it’s in my DNA. It most definitely runs in the family and examining this bit of reality will require a separate post and probably several years of therapy to unpack it all.
Step 3: Getting My Mindset Right
Anyhoo, I’m not a complete mess when it comes to developing healthy money habits. I’ve always been committed to educating myself on personal finances – not obsessively but I’ve read books, blogs, and articles. I’ve used apps and I’ve tried different budgeting resources over the years to try to break bad money habits I’ve inherited.
Some of the personal finance books I’ve read in the past:
Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right & Enjoy Life (Melissa Leong)
Smart Women Finish Rich (David Bach)
The Wealthy Barber Returns (David Chilton)
It’s been a lifelong journey so far and one made up of struggles (think unemployment, underemployment, student loan debt, living in an expensive city, no family financial support and not to mention stats on race and gender and the wealth gap).
I know enough to know that my relationship with money and my money habits well, there’s a lot to unpack and blaming myself or thinking I’m a bad person for not being able to do better is unhelpful and not healthy. I prefer to put things in context, consider my background and know that other factors are at play that have influenced my mindset and behaviour when it comes to money. But I also take great comfort in knowing that, as Melissa says in Happy Go Money, “[w]herever you are in life right now, this too will change. You can look back at your choices and decide that going forward, you will choose differently.” Words to life by.
The Personal Finance Money Management Road Ahead
Learning about money habits and my relationship with it is a lifelong journey and not always pleasant one, but one I’m willing to take if it means at the end of the day (read: retirement), I’ll be doing just fine. I’ve been slowly unlearning negative money habits and getting better over time at forming healthier ones. I recognize that my family history around money has played a big role too.
I also acknowledge the many setbacks throughout the years have been simply a part of life’s journey, while at the same time understanding the importance of picking myself up again and trying, each and every time.