It was only a few years ago I started learning how money works.
Like a lot of Americans I was very late to the game, in large part because there’s no formal system in place to teach us how to manage our money. There are tons of invisible forces working against us, and the end result is that being good or bad at money is sometimes viewed in moralistic terms or as a measure of someone’s character.
And that’s nonsense! Personal finance management is a concrete, learnable skill, just like driving a car or throwing a baseball. We just have to get beyond the structural and cultural roadblocks that prevent us from talking about it.
That’s why today we’re launching Personal Finance Week here at Smarter Living. Every day this week we’ll publish an article to teach you about managing your finances, with everything from tools to help you budget to a look at the psychological impediments that prevent us from addressing our problems in the first place.
To kick things off I’ve invited Kristin Wong, author of “Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford” and S.L. contributor, to talk with me about taking those first steps toward financial literacy.
Tim Herrera: So, uh, why are so many of us so bad at money?
Kristin Wong: So many reasons! It’s an intimidating topic because we have no idea where to start, and it’s hard to talk about money because it’s such a taboo topic. We’re discouraged from bringing it up at a young age, and we’re taught that it’s impolite to ask how much someone makes or how much they have saved. It’s hard to learn about something when no one talks about it openly. Combined, this all makes it easy for us just to ignore money altogether.
TH: What’s the first thing you’d tell someone who knows they’re bad at money and wants to get better?
KW: Ask yourself why you want to improve in the first place.
Most of us approach it this way: We’re getting older and it’s time to be a responsible adult, which means getting our financial lives in order. I think it’s more effective to actually ask yourself specifically why you want to be better with money.
Do you want to travel more? Move into your own apartment? It’s important to frame your relationship with money this way, because otherwise it’s just a chore. The first step is a mind-set one — figure out your why. From there, the first practical step is to track your spending. And I don’t mean just budgeting, but actually writing down every single thing you spend money on for, say, a month. Most of us think we know what our spending looks like, but you might be surprised at all the stuff you’re tempted to buy when you force yourself to write down your purchases. If you’re really struggling managing your money, contact a company like 7Wealth financial planning services in Melbourne, Australia for some help and advice.