Saturday 1 October 2016

Breathing space... Spending wisely

Financial freedom requires more than money

Published 07/07/2015 | 02:30

We need to examine our overall attitude to money
We need to examine our overall attitude to money

I've started drawing smiley faces on bills that I pay in restaurants, hotels and other service establishments.

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I realise it makes me look like a happy-clappy have-a-nice-day fanatic, but the benefits far outweigh the risks... and it's always good to convey customer satisfaction.

A smiley face represents abundance and it counterpoises feelings of scarcity. It's an attempt to change my attitude towards spending and break the exhausting habit of mental arithmetic every time I make a big purchase.

This new tack is loosely inspired by Kate Northrup, author of Money: A Love Story. She suggests that we start referring to bills - which are of course replete with negative connotations - as "invoices for blessings already received". This isn't one that I'll be saying out loud (I know at least one person who'd give me a kick up the arse if I did), but I get the principle.

Others advise adopting a money mantra. Motivational speaker Marie Forleo suggests saying "there's plenty more where that came from" whenever we click the pay button. My own money mantra - "I have plenty of time and plenty of money" - isn't terribly original but a few inward incantations of it alleviates anxiety when I get lost in the Brown Thomas shoe rooms.

Northrup and Forleo are among a new guard of money management experts that believe we need to examine our overall attitude to money as opposed to just our monthly outgoings.

These days, personal finance books are more likely to unravel what motivates our spending decisions than calculate how much two cappuccinos a day costs over a year. They remind us that personal finance isn't just practical, it's emotional.

Money stirs big, bold primal emotions. Windfalls emancipate us. Debt enslaves us. Money makes us feel secure, confident and even powerful when we have it; and insecure, anxious and even ashamed when we don't.

It's "emotional currency", writes Kate Levinson in a book of the same name. Experts like Levinson advise that in order to have a better relationship with money, we must first examine our emotional attachment to it. She calls this a 'money memoir', while Dr Brad Klontz, author of Mind Over Money, refers to it as a 'money script', so called because the same old lines tend to run through our heads: 'We can't afford that' / 'I'll never have enough money' / 'I'm so broke'.

Klontz adds that pivotal life events trigger these self-limiting beliefs and we need to trace our most joyous and painful memories of money to better understand our relationship with it.

According to Klontz, there are four main money scripts: Money Worship (these types think more money will make them happy and they tend to fantasise about winning the Lotto); Money Status (their self-worth equals their net worth and they tend to covet labels and brand names); Money Vigilance (they are prudent and wouldn't be averse to producing a Groupon voucher on a first date) and Money Avoidance (they believe money is the root of all evil). Once you establish your prevailing script, the next step is to ask how it has helped or hindered you.

Klontz adds that more than one script can run at each time. As a payday shopper, this is certainly the case for me. Women of my ilk - and let's face it, it's a disproportionately female issue - subscribe to the dubious 'I spend, therefore I am' philosophy. We're like greyhounds coming out of the traps on payday and we self-medicate with Friday night hauls in H&M.

Mercifully, I'm slowly learning that a cooling-off period between spotting an item and actually buying it helps (it has to do with dopamine) and I'm beginning to question if a new handbag is really worth a week of penury.

That's the crux of the issue: payday shoppers always encounter a shortfall at the end of the month. This leads to bad financial decisions, eg paying bills at the last minute and spending money before you have it. Crucially, payday shoppers are out of balance, just like hoarders and misers.

Underspenders and overspenders, like all polarities, have more in common than you may think. They both fear deprivation and they both use money to validate their sense of self. Underspenders gain self-validation by saving; overspenders gain it by acquiring.

Elsewhere, they both have an unhealthy relationship with money - underspenders know exactly how much is in their bank account because they check it at least twice a day. Overspenders rarely know how much is in their bank account because they're too frightened to look at it.

Northrup writes that "money flows to those who value themselves". If over and underspenders exhibit low self-esteem in the way they spend, do they, ergo, exhibit low self-esteem in the way they earn? When was the last time you reconsidered your earning capacity, or do you have your salary stamped on your psyche like a cattle tag? When was the last time you asked for a raise? Young people should be reminded that failing to hustle for an extra €1k-€5k in their very first job can cost them hundreds of thousands during the course of their career.

No amount of money can counteract bad spending habits. Don't believe me? Just look at the UK study that found that 44pc of Lotto winners had spent all their winnings after just five years, or the hundreds of cases of former Lotto winners filing for bankruptcy....

The trick is to master money before it masters you - and often this requires more than an analysis of your bank balance.

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