A few months ago, The Financial Diet published a post titled, Why You Need to Clean Out Your Junk Financial Beliefs (& How to Start), which really got the wheels churning in my head. TFD is a hit-or-miss publication for me because I find that a lot of the writers are immensely privileged and it’s hard to relate to a lot of their articles. But this one… this one really hit home for me and had me combing through my own belief systems, the way I was raised, and how it all affects the way I view my finances today.
As many of you know, I grew up poor and this was mostly due to the fact that my dad had a rather significant gambling problem. Without it, we could have lived a fairly comfortable middle-class existence, but as it was, we struggled to make ends meet on my mom’s preschool teacher salary. My dad’s paycheck (and sometimes, some of my mom’s…) was used to fund his gambling addiction. So, I grew up on free school lunches, eviction notices, and that survivor mindset. In my family, wealth was not something to strive for. Making it to the next paycheck without the lights getting turned off was. Things like 401ks, savings, and investments were not in the conversation. The biggest vacation we took as a family was when we went to Ohio. My dad drove the 1,200 miles from Clearwater to Toledo, and we stayed with relatives.
So all this to say… I have a lot of junk financial beliefs. I have had to work through a lot of shit, and I’m still working through it because it’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to feel like I’m finally getting a good handle on my money. But I still fall prey to my junk financial beliefs, so let’s talk about them, shall we?
Deep breaths. I’m about to get real personal about these.
Junk Financial Belief #1: Working a second job is beneath me.
I’m not talking about having a side hustle, like freelance writing. I’m talking about getting a second job, usually in the retail space. Whether that’s working at the local Starbucks or the mall, I cannot bring myself to “lower myself” to get a second job, even though I know I could pay down my student loans so much faster if I did that, not to mention I could have a bit of breathing room in my budget. But there’s something about doing that that feels like defeat. I’m a college graduate! I have a full-time job! I shouldn’t have to also work a second job. (Yeah, I have a bit of that millenial entitlement going for me, I guess.)
If I did get a second job, it would solely be to pay off my student loans faster and build up my savings. Which means I would only have to work said job for a handful of years. It wouldn’t be forever, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It would significantly eliminate my free time, and I’m not willing to give that up. I also think it would affect my mental health because part of my self-care routine involves lots of sleep and alone time. That’s partially why I haven’t tried harder to find more freelancing opportunities; it takes a lot of my mental energy – mental energy that’s already at a more limited capacity than most people.
Junk Financial Belief #2: I will always struggle with money.
I have a scarcity mindset when it comes to my finances. I never feel like I’ll ever have enough money, even though I actually do. I’m able to pay my bills, put food on the table, go on vacation. But I don’t save as much as I would like, I have credit card debt, and I always feel as if I’m working at a deficit when it comes to my budget. And it all feels very natural to me to have this unhealthy relationship to my finances. That’s the way I was raised, always fearing that one bill that could turn our world upside down, and that’s the way I live today, even though I don’t need to.
This belief about struggling with money has deep roots in my past, but also my present because most of my family also struggles with money to this day. And there’s this part of me that feels selfish when I think about not struggling – do I really deserve that feeling of peace and fulfillment when it comes to money? Have I earned it?
It’s a lot to think about. I know I deserve that peace. I know my family members also deserve that peace. And I know it ultimately comes down to getting honest about my budget, eliminating the things that are holding me back from ultimate financial freedom, and allowing myself to claim a sense of ownership over my own money situation.
Junk Financial Belief #3: Extra money is supposed to be spent, not saved.
Growing up, having extra money was like finding a unicorn on the side of the road. As in, we almost never had it. I still don’t know how my parents afforded Christmas gifts, but I suspect it was a very stressful time for my mom. Savings wasn’t part of my lexicon growing up, and it’s only been in recent years that I’ve realized that having a well-funded savings account is something I need. It’s not something that would be nice-to-have, but it’s something that would allow me to stop depending on my credit card when emergencies arise (like, say, if my tire blows out one morning on the highway).
I’m getting better at this, but I can’t lie. Sometimes when I log on to my banking account and see that I have more money sitting in my checking account than I thought… it’s hard not to immediately place an order on Thriftbooks or start perusing the Old Navy website. It’s a mindset shift, but I know that the pleasure of seeing four figures in my savings account will far outweigh the pleasure of getting that shipment notification in my email inbox.
Junk Financial Belief #4: It’s normal to use credit cards to buy the things you want.
Oy vey. This has been a belief that I’ve been working on dismantling for years now. It’s the whole “buy now, pay later” mindset, and it’s a very popular one. I know I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap. It started when I was given my first credit card at the tender age of 18. It had a $500 limit and I used it responsibly. I paid it off every month, using it to buy new items for my dorm room. Then, during my sophomore year of college, I stood in front of an Old Navy store, thinking about how I just really wanted some new clothes for summer, but I didn’t have the money to do so. I was talked into applying for an Old Navy credit card, and my jaw about hit the floor when I was approved and told my limit was $2,500. Within a year, that card was maxed out and I had no way to pay even the minimum payment. Eventually, I worked out a payment plan and paid off that card. But I never lost the shame attached to maxing out a credit card during the first year of my twenties, effectively ruining my credit. I had always told myself I was going to be better about my finances than my parents were, and here I was, my first time out as an adult, and I fucked it up royally.
That card is when I got into this mindset of buying now, paying later. And while I have worked hard to dispel myself of this… I have to constantly fight against myself. For example, just a few weeks ago, I spent an entire evening on ThredUp, throwing shirt after shirt into my cart and telling myself I “needed” these shirts because the dress code at work had recently changed. I didn’t have the money in my checking account, so I told myself I would put it on my credit card and “next paycheck, I’ll really get serious about my budget.” (<— anyone else do this? Sigh.) Thankfully, I came to my senses before I spent any money. I had to remind myself that if I don’t have money in my checking out, I don’t have money. It’s a mantra I have to constantly repeat to myself because it’s so easy to get caught up in buying things and putting it on credit. Part of it has to do with growing up poor and spending the first half of my twenties poor. I couldn’t buy things, ever, so now that I have the ability to, it’s so much harder to resist my impulses. But I’m trying and it starts by dispelling this financial belief that I can buy whatever I want using my credit card.
Honestly, I could probably write another 1,500 words on other junk financial beliefs I have, but I think this post has gotten too long already (maybe I’ll write a Part II in the future). These are some of my bigger ones, and it’s not easy to come clean about all of this. But it’s important. It’s important to talk about money and open up about the way our past has defined our present. It doesn’t mean I still abide by these beliefs or that I’ve thrown in the towel. No – I am actively working on dismantling them, so that I can have that elusive financial freedom sometime in the future. That’s all I can ask of myself.
Your turn! Tell me one junk financial belief of your own.