You know how when you go into T.J.Maxx for a new pair of sandals, you walk out with three shirts, an ikat throw pillow, a leopard-print ottoman and a set of owl-shaped coffee mugs?
It’s not really your fault. You were just giving in to your basest instinct, a primal urge deep in your gut that said, “Must. Have. More. Stuff.”
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When it comes to finances, we all have primal urges, inner beasts that can thwart our ability to make good budgetary decisions, save money and just say no to things we don’t need.
Luckily, there’s something you can do about it. First, you have to recognize which inner beast you’re struggling with — then Katie Brewer, CFP®, based in Dallas, Texas, and a member of XY Planning Network, is here to tell us how to help tame those innate tendencies in no time.
1. You May Be a "Lemming" If ...
You run out and buy the latest Jason Wu handbag or Hickey Freeman shirt because your co-worker/best friend/fashion editor at Elle/some male model in GQ owns it.
What it looks like: Lemmings fall prey to group behavior. “This can also be known as Keeping Up With the Joneses,” says Brewer. “If all of your friends are buying $400 wedding gifts or taking expensive vacations, you may feel the pressure to do so as well so you’re not seen as a cheapskate or different from your social group.”
How to help tame the beast: Find a new measuring stick. “We often look to people that we perceive as doing better than us financially for a comparison—which is always going to make you feel like you don’t have enough,” says Brewer. “But if you look to friends who are being responsible with their money, they can help calm your instinct to ‘keep up.’”
Also, remember—you never know what’s really going on in someone’s bank account. “Those friends that are flying across the country every weekend might not be able to afford it either,” she says. In other words, they could be falling into massive debt—don’t let them drag you into it too. “Make a budget that works within your financial parameters and stick with it,” says Brewer, “even if it means not doing what all your friends are doing.”
You May Be an "Ostrich" If...
You drive past your mailbox at 90 miles per hour in order to avoid seeing your bills.
What it looks like: Much like the long-necked, flightless bird, you stick your head in the sand to avoid financial problems you don’t want to face. “I recently had a client who avoided her tax debt for years,” says Brewer. “It just kept building up, and every year that she ignored it, it was that much scarier to deal with.”
But like most other problems in life, money issues don’t just go away because you pretend they don’t exist. “Especially if it’s the I.R.S.!” says Brewer. And the longer you avoid them, the more problems you’ll gain. Ignored debt can affect your future credit score, your ability to buy a house, even your relationships.
How to help tame the beast: Take your blinders off. Much like ripping off a Band-Aid, this is not going to be a pleasant experience, says Brewer. “But you have to first see where you are, how much you owe, how big the problem is, before you can create a plan to fix it,” she says. Once you’ve acknowledged the problem and taken responsibility for how you got there in the first place, she says, then you can consider seeking the help of a financial adviser or credit counselor to help you come up with a manageable strategy to tackle the debt.
You May Be a "Camel" If ...
You inherited $250,000 from your great aunt—and have it sitting in a low-interest savings account.
What it looks like: Just like Depression-era Americans who put their life savings in a mason jar in the backyard (and those cute desert dromedaries who stockpile months' worth of nourishment in their humps), "camels" hoard their money, often at the expense of really making it grow.
“This behavior is common in older women who have lost a spouse and have no idea what to do with their money—so they don’t do anything,” says Brewer. “But I also see it in clients who are just ignorant about what their options are. For instance, I once had a client who had $75,000 in a checking account. At the bare minimum it should have been in a basic interest-bearing account.”
How to help tame the beast: Research your options. A lot of people may feel intimidated by financial decisions or the stock market, or be embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, says Brewer. But knowledge is power. “Getting the advice of a financial adviser can be a good first step to making sure your money is working for you,” she says, “and can help you feel less paralyzed.”
You May Be a "Peacock" If ...
You turn in your luxury vehicle every year for the latest model, always upgrade to first class on flights, or have a wardrobe that rivals The Duchess of Cambridge.
What it looks like: Peacocks like the finer things in life — and like to show off that they have them. “This usually isn’t a problem if you have the cash flow to accommodate your high tastes,” says Brewer. “But all too often people with champagne taste have a Bud Light budget.” And if you don’t have the means to support your high-flying lifestyle, you’ll be racking up debt faster than you can say St. Tropez.
How to help tame the beast: Tally up your expenses for the past three months. “Most Peacocks have no idea how much they’ve been spending,” says Brewer. They may think they’re staying within a certain budget and then be shocked to find they actually spent $2,000 on clothing in one month, she says. “Then, you need to sit down and figure out what’s important to you—and how it can fit within the reality of your budget.” You don’t necessarily have to say goodbye to your shopping sprees—you may just have to have them less often, or save up for the things that you really can’t live without.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.