I have been on what can be described as a journey towards being smart with money over the last couple of years, and to say it has been like riding a roller-coaster would be an understatement.
I already wrote about the fears that come with quitting a job, temptations that come with raking in big money, moving to a cheaper house etc. These experiences have led to an evolution of my relationship with money.
When I used to make around 90K a month, I had a lot of fun spending every last penny. However, as is always the case, I called myself to a meeting and after some serious shouting and condemnation, I decided to toe the line.
To me, the next logical step was living a frugal life. I cut out almost all my indulgences and followed all my spending with a pen, paper, plus rows and rows on spreadsheets.
Read Also: 8 Ways to Track Your Spending
This lasted for a year or so and I am now in a ‘winging’ it phase. A sort of intuitive and fluid approach when it comes to my money.
Don't get me wrong, winging it could mean going all out so let me try and explain.
Following my frugal phase, I decided to take myself off the leash for 3 months in a sort of experiment to see if past experiences and routines had left any meaningful lessons.
I kept track of my spending and still operated on an airtight personal budget, but on any given sunny Saturday, I’d ball out. I’d whip out my debit card, go online and spontaneously buy a tool set that just made my heart all warm and fuzzy. (You know your age is on the higher side when a tool set generates this much excitement).
One time, I even just woke up (still on sunny Saturday), fueled up (kindly note that this was back when fuel didn’t cost as much as the car) and just drove, only to find myself in the breathtaking hills that can only be found in Timau. As fate would have it, the Canola plants were in full bloom and all my eyes could see was a sea of yellow stretching right to the horizon.
It was one of those trips that just live with you forever, just by flashing back to this point I can already catch the scent of those canola flowers.
Anyway, after three months of balling out, I decided to go through ‘my books’ with a fine comb to see just how far I had pushed it.
To my surprise, I was still living well within my means. That’s when it hit me, maybe letting go was just what the doctor ordered.
I realised that I had now come full circle, from my early carefree, what-is-a-budget lifestyle, to my frugal phase and now I find myself somewhere in between. A balanced sort of approach that leaves some room to just let go of control.
Read Also: How Embracing Minimalism Can Make You Money
Now, if I was asked to point out what I did to get to this particular point, I’d probably zero in on 3 or 4 specific things.
Let me run through them now that we are already this far along in my story.
Back when I was obsessed with tracking every single shilling, I did it with military precision. My dad worked in the banking industry for over 3 decades and he had already been instilling these lessons from day one.
This made it easy for me to adapt to a frugal lifestyle, and it got to a point where I was obsessed with my spreadsheet. However, knowing where every cent was going and cutting back on my indulges didn’t make me feel like my relationship with money was thriving, or even healthy.
Now I know that this kind of thing is a personal journey for each and everyone. I have very good friends who are obsessed with numbers, living with monk-like discipline when it comes to money and loving it. Others seem to be winging it on a permanent basis but still in the green zone when it comes to financial health.
But, for me – someone who has often been described as creative and fluid, the spreadsheets’ frugal approach felt constrictive. I needed to find middle ground.
Just to be clear, I’d still recommend that you obsessively track where every shilling of yours is directed to for at least 6 months without any sort of breaks. This is because this would form a sort of foundation in your subconscious. It’ll help you understand not only your money, but yourself as well.
I still use a budget, I still track my money but just not on a daily and obsessive basis. I’ve learned that I can still stay on track with my spending even without tracking where every last cent goes each day.
Read Also: 13 Tips to Live Cheaply But Not Look Cheap
I don’t intend to sound like a broken record but if you go away with only one thing from this article, this should be it. Balance is everything.
However, in order to find balance, you must first lose it.
In other words, one can only appreciate balance after going through a period with none. As American rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson once said,
Sunny days wouldn’t be special, if it wasn’t for rain. Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain.
Going from tarmacking while earning inconsistently via odd jobs, to self employment and raking in good money, to getting employed to quitting and going back to inconsistent money has made me so appreciative to have a job where my paycheck is always consistent.
For me to get to this point of relative balance, I went through a period of over-spending, accruing debt that all went to nothing meaningful, heck, I even lived beyond my means during a certain phase – but that’s a story for another day.
My point is that I had to go through some really rough phases to get to a point where I’m even comfortable sharing this with you. It all comes down to your mindset and how you take in failure.
I know I will likely go through phases of financial success and stress in the future, but I know that through each of these periods, I come to an even stronger sense of balance.
Tyrion Lannister – An outspoken character in the multi-award winning TV series Game of Thrones, once said; A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.
Now when it came to examining my attitude and beliefs towards money, there was no shortcut, I had to read up.
This was purely aimed at gaining varying perspectives on this singular thing called money. From the basic introduction Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, to Midas Touch by Kiyosaki and Donald Trump, to Your Money or Your Life by Joseph R. Dominguez and Vicki Robin, to The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma, to The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho… you name it...I gobbled it all up.
I engaged with friends to get their perspective on the same. Now I know that money is often a taboo topic in most circles and it was in mine as well, but I made a point to socialise and expand my circle to include those who have, simply put, made it. Individuals who are allergic to mediocrity and never shy to call you out on your crap.
Your circle is very important as it can either lead to growth, stagnation, or the end of you.
The books I read, coupled with countless blogs and endless conversations heavily influenced my attitude towards money. It helped me see my own flaws.
I can’t stress reading finance books or blogs enough as a way of expanding and evolving your subconscious beliefs around money.
As much as I would like to be in the ‘it’s not about the money’, or ‘money doesn’t matter yote ni vanity’ phase, I am not quite there yet and money does matter to me right now as I am setting down foundations for my future.
It is so important to take an inward look at your emotions and feelings about money. Do you have a scarcity mindset? That little voice in your head that keeps telling you that you don’t have enough money so many times that it has now become your truth.
It’s not all doom and gloom, by constantly examining my beliefs towards money I have been able to control that voice. The little voice in my head saying, “don’t spend” is slowly being tempered with another voice saying, “spend, but spend wisely.”
Spend on the things that make life more comfortable, less stressful. Release the grip on a shilling or two because, in the long run, it’s a small cost to pay for peace of mind.
Letting go of that constant fear of running out of money means I carry less anxiety over spending. I may still be marching towards my goal of financial independence and early retirement, but I’m definitely getting more joy during my path there.
Personally, my relationship with money has improved tremendously from putting in the energy to read, write, and talk to people who care enough to listen.
Of course I messed up, Who never messed up hands in the air… no hands? - Ghanaian rapper Black Sherif.
Yes, he didn’t say ‘messed’ but I believe that that was what he meant in that context. In any case, what I am trying to bring out is the fact that everyone has fumbled the ball at least once in their life. We are imperfect beings, constantly in pursuit of perfection in most cases, or in mine at least.
I took failure very personally, I still do, but back in the day that thing used to haunt me to a point where I couldn’t even function. It was only until I learned that failure can be ok depending on one’s mindset that I finally started opening up.
Reading up on the same helped me come up with questions I always ask myself when I ‘mess’ up financially...What are the likely results of my blunder? Am I going to be homeless? Am I going to starve? How badly have I injured myself? Will this even matter five years from now?
I always make it a point to remember that I did the best I could at the time. When I ‘messed’ up, I had certain financial tools, knowledge and emotional skills that resulted in making the decision I made. Hopefully, I now have better tools, understanding and skills.
Will I ‘mess’ up down the line? most likely. Will I forgive myself? Definitely.
Word of advice, if you ‘mess up’, get it off your chest. Talk to someone about it. This alone will diminish at least 80% of the shame you carry – don’t quote me, I just know.
I think those 4 things really stand out when it comes to my journey towards being smart with money. They may be unique to me but they could also be customisable.
There are so many ways to approach your relationship with money. Give yourself room to experiment and grow...You know what they say about omelettes, go break some eggs.