This year I came to the startling conclusion that I’m actually not bad with money. I’ve always been told I’m terrible at managing my finances, and I’ve always believed that to be true because until about four years ago I never felt like I had enough money to live on. This was even the case when I was working in advertising and earning a pretty fat pay cheque.
However, a few months ago I was discussing life with my therapist, and she asked about money. I told her I’m bad with it, and she asked why, and we talked about my current habits. “They sound very healthy,” she told me when I explained that I earn enough to live on comfortably and have a reasonably well-stocked savings account. “But I’m bad with money,” I replied, “I always have been. Everyone I’ve ever lived with has told me I’m bad with money.”
We then went on to discuss the people I’d lived with throughout my life and the various criticisms they levelled at me in the financial arena, and that was when she pointed out that for the whole time I’ve been working, I’ve been living with people who spent all my money and then blamed me for it.
Except that five years ago I stopped all that. The first year afterwards was very difficult financially, because I’d quit my job and gone self-employed, and starting out like that is usually a bit rocky. But ever since then it’s been picking up, and now I’m comfortable for the first time in my life, probably because no one else is spending my money. Not only am I comfortable, I’m apparently also sensible.
Of course, hearing your therapist tell you something positive about yourself is a different kettle of fish from actually believing it, so I was still convinced that I was probably terrible with spending money after all. With that in mind, last year I signed up to Sarah Von Bargen’s Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is course, which helps people to organise their finances and make sure they cut down on regrettable spending. The idea is that you take the money you were spending on regrettable items, and instead redistribute it to things that make you happy, hence the course’s title.
While I was reading a book of Robert Frost’s poems a few weeks ago I came across this gem, which sums up how so many of us feel when it comes to finances:
I think most of us have had that creeping dread when you’re approaching a cash machine and don’t want to check your balance. Or the will-it-won’t-it horror of not being sure whether your card will be declined when making a purchase. Or the rising panic when you realise you actually have to look at your bank statements for some reason and can’t just ignore them forever.
There’s something about finance that gets right into the depths of the emotions and mixes them all up, making it a really hard subject to do anything about. It’s outside the scope of this post to try to work out why that might be, but it’s true for so many of us that it has to be addressed by any course that’s going to try to change people’s financial habits.
Luckily Sarah thought about this before putting the course together, and she’s gentle with her students, understanding that scrutinising your cash flow isn’t something most people find easy. The course is theoretically six weeks long, but can be done as quickly or as slowly as you like, with no judgement. My access details sat in my inbox for thirteen months before I finally got around to opening it up, but once I did I completed it in about two weeks.
It’s a video course that works on either a computer or a phone (or presumably a tablet), though some of the features are a bit buggy in the phone version (or at least they were on my Android), so using your computer is probably your best bet. If, like me, you have an irrational hatred of video content, you can easily just leave it playing and listen to it without watching the videos themselves. There’s also a handy PDF workbook which comes along with the course and helps to guide you through the various exercises. Or perhaps you’re more like me and prefer to do things in a notebook; either way works, but putting pen to paper is quite an integral part of it.
I won’t give too much away because I think you should definitely do the whole course – there are all sorts of useful gems scattered throughout it that will help you to curb your spending, or just to redistribute it more happily. One of the most fun parts happens towards the beginning, when students are encouraged to make lists of things that make them happy. This can be quite hard to do, so there are prompts and hints and tips to help you out. You then narrow these down into a ‘short list’ of little things you can do to make yourself happy that are easy and cheap or free; Sarah recommends that you stick this list somewhere and turn to it on stressful days. I plan to have mine above my desk next year, once the office space has been put together.
You’ll then be taken through your finances with a fine-toothed comb, highlighting the regrettable vs. happy vs. necessary purchases in different colours. Sometimes this will throw back results that swiftly and amusingly demonstrate where you might need to make some changes:
Sarah is encouraging and helpful every step of the way. She’s done the course herself, so she understands how helpful it can be but also how difficult it is to hold a mirror up to your own life and try to change your habits.
If money is something you believe you’re bad at managing, or if like me you might not be bad at it but you’re certainly not confident about it, this is a great way to help yourself get a handle on things. And since we’re coming up to the new year, why not make it a resolution to at least do all the exercises in the course?
The course is $197, which may sound like a lot but is one of those investment-style purchases that could end up saving you a load of money (and stress) in the long run. You can find more details of this and all Sarah’s other courses on her website, Yes & Yes. That link is an affiliate link: if you click it and buy something, I’ll receive a percentage of the sales price. Sarah didn’t ask me to review her course, I just wrote the review because I enjoyed it so much and found it so helpful. I paid full price for it and I absolutely don’t regret it. I don’t think you will either.