by Jan Shultis
You’ve probably heard it said that to get to the “right” information, you have to ask the correct question. Makes sense, but when it comes to money, what exactly are the questions?
No matter what the current state of your relationship with the green stuff, there are nine questions that will empower you to be a more secure, confident, self-aware master of your financial fate. Revisit them often to re-tool and update your goals and keep your outlook grounded:
1. What is the role of money in my life?
Money is a tool. For many people, however, there is so much emotion tied up in having money, or the lack thereof, that all aspects of financial life are laden with emotion and fraught with tension. It is extremely difficult to make calm, rational, clear decisions when emotionally saturated, and wealth management is no different.
Before you tackle any other questions, first ask yourself – what role does money play in my life? How much time do you spend thinking about it? Worrying about it? Dreaming about it? When you have thoughts about money, are they tense, frustrated, disappointed thoughts; how do you feel? Do you dread making that monthly budget?
Write it all down in a notebook or on a scrap of paper, and notice how your physical body reacts to your thoughts about money by tensing or relaxing. Commit to noticing how you feel, and working toward being as relaxed and neutral as possible each and every time you think about money.
2. What did my role models teach me about money?
You’ve learned attitudes about everything from politics to personal hygiene from those who raised you, and your attitude about money has also been heavily shaped by those who cared for you during formative years. While you can, and likely will, develop your own approach as you mature, your immediate response to stressful or new situations will be drenched in “what my parents thought.”
Take some time to identify their attitudes so you know on what foundation yours are built – how important was or is money to them? Did they talk about money openly and easily, or is it something secretive? Did they offer an attitude of abundance and gratitude for what they had, or were they constantly seeking more?
3. To what degree does money control my happiness?
Money may not be able to buy happiness outright, but it sure can buy a lot of things that contribute to happiness and well-being. There is always more than can be had, however, and in our modern technologically connected world, it is easy to become acutely aware of what we lack.
Do you wake up with a smile, independent of your financial status? Do you have faith in your ability to work your way out of, and be delivered from, financial troubles? Can you appreciate a gift that is of low monetary value? Are you comfortable giving gifts of low monetary value, if that is what you have to give? Can you enjoy a date arranged on a budget, or a shoe-string vacation, or does everything have to be “five star” for you to have fun? If you lost your job, would you still be able to define yourself?
If your answers lead you to conclude that money is a vital part of your happiness and sense of self, commit some time to figuring out who and what you are, without the dollar signs. You can appreciate and enjoy money and all that you can experience with it without having your financial status become a core part of your identity.
4. How do I react to financial stress, disappointment, or fear?
No matter how much money you have, or don’t have, there will be events that cause you to experience financial stress. There will also be disappointing times when you take a gamble that doesn’t pan out, or when you fear for your ability to provide for a child’s education or an aging parent’s medical needs.
During these times, does your stress take over your life? Do you lash out; do you sabotage what you already have? Or, do you take a deep breath and develop a plan to acquire more resources, get back on track, or whatever action is required? If you are in need of new ways to cope, try turning off the television and avoiding advertisements, all of which compete to rearrange your priorities. Consider your answers to the previous point – what and who are you without money?
5. Do I know what I want?
Once your basic needs of food, shelter, water, and so on are met, what are you earning money for? Be specific about both your current needs – do you want to own a car? Do you dream of being able to provide for a family when it’s time to have one? Do you reasonably anticipate needs such as children or parental care? Do you want to share your home with pets? Are there places on the globe you want to trot around? Would you enjoy daily life more with more leisure time or if you had more funds for a favorite hobby?
There is no point in earning money simply to earn it – you can’t take it with you when you kick the bucket. So why, exactly, are you earning it?
6. If not, what am I doing to determine what I desire?
You may not have ever paused to think about why you care about money and what you are saving for, and that is entirely understandable. If you don’t know what you want, acknowledge that fact and dedicate time and energy to figuring it out, at what point will you be able to sigh, relax, and say “I have more than enough?” What does life look and feel like at that point? Write it down if you need to, or create a vision board.
7. If so, do I expend resources in a way that is aligned with what I desire?
If you are able to clearly and specifically articulate what you desire and believe will transpire when you reach a certain financial point, to what degree are your resources of time and energy aligned with that financial goal? If you are working toward an ambition, are you spending the money you have today in a way that will help you reach that goal?
If, for example, you want to own your own business, do you know what your financial launch point is? Are you spending time educating and preparing yourself to leave the conventional work force? Or are you watching a lot of television, spending money on expensive nights out, and daydreaming more than taking action?
8. Do I know how to budget, plan, strategize, and get to what I desire?
Once you have identified what, exactly, you want, be honest with yourself about how much you do or do not know about how to get there. There are many ways to budget, invest, save, spend, and handle money as there are stars in the sky, and there is always something to be learned about financial management. Do you know what it will take to reach your financial goal? If not, what are you doing to better inform and prepare yourself? Are you seeking out mentors, studying online, spending time conducting research in the library, scouting out online forums, attending classes? There is a way to get to your desired end point, you just have to figure it out.
9. How much, and in what ways, do I give?
Finally, what good are you doing in this world? If you are able to contribute financially to a cause or to help others, are you doing so in a way that reflects your values, morals, and personal areas of interest? If you are not able to contribute financially to a cause, are you sharing your time or wisdom? It’s not all about money, and it’s not all about you; your satisfaction with the human experience will increase exponentially when you give to others.
Jan Shultis is the owner of All Xena’s Horses, LLC, an innovative horse business in the Houston, Texas area, and the founder of The Xena Project, a non-profit dedicated to helping veterans in the saddle. She is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy who served around the world and in Afghanistan as a Public Affairs Officer. Learn more at xenahorse.com.