3 Mindset Shifts You Should Make When Managing Your Money
Be honest: Have you ever said the sentence "I'm just bad with money"? I have. And given how many people express financial anxiety, there's a pretty good chance many of us have and do feel that way. Among that group: Gaby Dunn, author and podcast host of Bad With Money (of which both the book and podcast are titled). She's spent the last few years exploring the concept and trying to better her understand and relationship with her finances. Here, what she's learned along the way:
1. If it feels like you're learning a new language, you are.
"It's like picking up Duolingo, trying to learn Spanish, and then thinking you're a moron because you don't understand it right away," says Dunn. "You're not! You just need to learn it!" Anytime you learn something new, there is going to be a learning curve. Say you started yoga: You're not going to get every pose or flow right when you first pick it up. It takes repetition, commitment, and time. But for some reason, when it comes to money, we forget that practice makes perfect.
But when it clicks, it can feel incredibly empowering. "A friend asked me what this complicated term meant, and I knew it, and I felt so good about myself," says Dunn. "Two years ago, there's no way I would have known that, but knowing the terms and language that go around money can feel really powerful." It also makes you feel like you have control of the situation. "I had this accountant that I did not like, but I stayed with him because I kept on telling myself that 'he must know better,' eventually though I started doing research, looking around and found one I really liked. Eventually I felt this flip in me that was like, 'You know what, maybe they know more, but I can go with my gut.' That control was life-changing."
2. If you don't address it, nothing will change.
"I felt so shameful about money, because I didn't know what was going on with my own finances, how other people could afford things, or how the system worked," says Dunn. "I'd cry about it every time I thought about it. But money is such a ubiquitous part of life—you're never not going to be dealing with money. And you can't cry every time you think about it! It's like crying when you think about air."
For Dunn, things didn't start falling into place until she started talking about it. "Once I started talking about money was when I started getting more specific advice that made sense to me," she said. (This is a good reminder: We can give you as much general advice as possible, but finances are often deeply personal and require nuance. Sometimes, you will need individualized advice.) And for Dunn, not avoiding the topic is really the one true sign of a healthy relationship with your money. "You don't have to have the fear attached to it and surrounding it. People have said to me, 'Oh now that you've made more money, are you still bad with money?' That's not what it means! Being bad with money means you have your head in the sand, that you never think about until you have to, and that you are purposely avoiding learning about."
This isn't just about personal finance, either; it's about addressing societal issues, too. "I've been able to learn that these are systemic problems. There are reasons that society is like 'Keep it to yourself!' because the problem isn't that we're idiots; it's that the system is often set up incorrectly," she says. "Not talking about it is how the status quo stays the same."
3. Always play the long game.
"I have to take full evenings, with a notebook, pen, and highlighter and look through my account, taxes, all my stuff—I'm lucky because I've turned this into a full-time job. But I know for people with other jobs, like a teacher, doctor, or you work in retail, you have to come home to a second job! Managing your money is full time!"
So there's a lot of incentive to skip it, put it off. That's understandable: We have stressful lives, who wants to go home and do something that's actively anxiety-inducing? But, says Dunn, "it's less painful in the long run. It's a few hours of your life now to be able to help you later." I liken it to therapy: Sure, you may dread it in the moment—you may even find it anxiety-inducing as well—but it's better for your mental health long term.