Most conversations we have about work and finances center on what we're not doing. Other popular topics include: what we should be doing, what we wish we were doing, and what our parent or partner or slightly judgmental acquaintance would like for us to be doing. It's hard to talk about goals and ambitions without feeling like what we have now — from the cash in our bank account to our job title — is somehow lacking. How do we pat ourselves on the backs for all that we've achieved, while still acknowledging where we'd like to go?
With all this in mind, we asked career coaches and finance professionals the following question: "Money may be able to give us opportunity and freedom, but it is also something that stresses us out more than anything else. What are some ways to not 'feel bad' about your career and your savings, while still keeping goals in mind?"
Their responses are smart, candid, and a far cry from the self denial-based financial advice you might be used to hearing. The best part? They reveal that even the most financially literate among us struggle with feelings of shame and confusion when it comes to planning and budgeting. Read on to hear what they have to say, and prepare to feel inspired to live your best life.
Don't compare yourself to others.
"Everyone is on their own journey. It's easy to see other people who are successful (financially or otherwise) and feel like you are falling behind, but don't let yourself become anxious or overwhelmed. You'll have your moment too. Just keep working and building toward the life you want." - Lauren Lyons Cole, certified financial planner
Break the ice.
"The most common feeling around money is shame. Tons of us go what I call the Hot Mess Shame Spiral, which goes like this: Many of us are taught that talking about money is a no-no. As we run into adult money problems, our silence stops us from asking questions and learning more. And since no one's talking, you feel like the biggest Financial Hot Mess you know, which buries you into deeper shame... and so on.
The only way to shatter this shame is to talk about it — share your money woes with your friends, your family, your colleagues. You may not feel confident enough to scream about your paycheck from a rooftop bar, but you can start with a softball question next time you're hanging with friends. Ask them: 'What's y'alls very first memory of money?' or 'Do you remember what you did with your first paycheck?'
If you feel comfortable, be the first to flat-out admit that you feel totally lost about money, and watch everyone around you sigh in relief that they're not alone. Breaking the money ice amongst your people not only empowers and educates you — it can have a ripple effect for everyone you invite into the conversation." - Berna Anat, producer, speaker, and "financial hype woman"
Develop a money mantra.
" I — like many of my clients – am prone to falling into an anxious, “scarcity” mindset when it comes to money. One tactic I recommend is intentionally re-wiring our thoughts. Replace anxious thoughts with reassuring ones — a “money mantra,” if you will. Some examples: My worth as a human being is not limited to how our capitalistic society values my labor. I am savvy and resourceful, continually learning, adapting, and doing my best; just as I have always made things work financially, I will continue to do so in the future. I recommend saying your 'money mantra' to yourself, out loud, twice a day (morning and night), and then ask yourself, 'What can I do today to get myself one step closer to my financial goals?' No step is too small!" - Cynthia Pong, career coach
Be specific about your goals.
"I talk often with driven, ambitious women, usually in their early-30s to 40s, and by the time we’ve met they’ve almost all come to a breakdown point — a disconnection with their day-to-day lives and their priorities or goals. The focus they’ve had on the building their careers has started to take over their personal lives and their professional ambitions and personal priorities no longer intersect. They’ve lost sight of, or not reassessed their original goals.
Because money is undeniably interwoven into all facets of our lives. I encourage them to think about what they want their life to look like — work, relationships, personal goals, big dreams, all of it — and to understand the role their relationship with money plays into, or against, their happiness.
You can start by asking these questions: What do I want more of in my life? Why are those things important? What’s one thing I can do now to move forward? In short: Get super-specific about your goals and priorities and regularly reflect on what you’re grateful for right now." - Aja Tahari Marsh, financial fitness coach
Learn to separate your self-worth from your net worth.
"Re-program your mindset so you're not associating your identity and success with the number in your bank account by finding examples of goals or accomplishments you've had that are not associated with money, spend time with people whose views on money support your new mindset, and even write out a money intention that you read/say out loud each day.
And one last thing to consider — if you're obsessed with money and your career goals are based on that but you're not where you want to be, maybe it's worth separating the two and seeing what happens? Working hard at something that's not serving you and hoping for different results is more akin to working hard vs. working smart." - Lauren McGoodwin, Career Contessa founder and CEO
Pair your budgeting time with your favorite form of self-care.
"If you're like me, you're working against 20-30 years of thinking, "Money? UGH." That's a lot of emotional baggage to fight against once you decide to get your money right. I always advise clients to treat money-care like self-care, and pair your budgeting time with a feel-good action that you already love.
If you set aside one hour every two weeks to look at your spending — which already sounds like a drag to some of us — what else can you do in that hour to make you actually look forward to it? Can you budget with a face mask on and your feet in that foot massager you haven't opened since Christmas? Can you budget while listening to your favorites off of the Hamilton soundtrack, pantsless? Can you budget in a full face of makeup and your fanciest outfit?
And can you recreate this consistent, personal, fun ritual every time you have a money moment? (Answer to all of the above: Why the hell not?!)" - Anat
Plug through your history a bit.
"The most dangerous money myth is that you're struggling financially simply because you don't know stuff. There is a ton of hidden historical and cultural context that may point to why you might feel ashamed, distrustful, or generally crappy about money — and none of it has to do with your intelligence.
For example: Did you know that women in the U.S. couldn't access credit or loans without their husband or father's permission until 1974? Makes a little more sense why many women feel behind in understanding credit — we've only had control over our own credit for half a generation.
Or did you know that the first U.S. bank created for freed African slaves, the Freedman's Bureau, went bankrupt because its white president gambled their cash on a bad investment, and everyone lost their savings? (And that's just the first of hundreds of similar instances affecting black and brown banking in the US.) Makes a little more sense why, for example, 60 percent of black people in the American South don't have a bank account.
Dig a bit into your identity's history with money; if you're a child of an immigrant, like me, ask your family what money was like for older generations. Not only has it helped me understand where my own money habits came from, but it helped me realize that not all of our financial barriers are personal. Some were, and still are, based on straight-up systemic discrimination." - Anat
Spend on what matters most to you.
"At the end of the day, how you spend your money is a reflection of what's most important to you. The biggest mistake I've seen individuals and couples make is to compare themselves to others (family, friends, colleagues) without asking themselves what truly matters to them. For example, if having a family is important to you, focus on the joy that family brings you rather than the stress of not having the fanciest car because you're paying for daycare. Give yourself permission to not have to live up to that image! And if you're unsure about what matters most, try talking to friends and family who have the kind of lives you want. Ask them what goals they focused on and use their experience as a way to map a path forward." - Aditi Shekar, Founder & CEO of Zeta