Whenever you browse Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, you’ll see them: Those cheesy life mantras that are meant to provide daily inspiration.
You know, things like "Carpe diem!" and "Do what you love!"
They're often laid over majestic images of mountains, dreamy sunsets or kittens with big, adorable eyes. And while their intention may be chicken soup for your soul, they can be bad news for your bottom line.
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That’s because being encouraged to always follow your heart may sound good for, say, a decision about your love life.
But for your money? Not so much.
That's why we’ve rounded up six popular sayings that often make the life-mantra rounds, and then took a navel-gazing look at how they could hurt your finances.
We also asked financial pros for their advice on how to get our head out of the clouds—and into a smarter money mind-set.
Cliché Life Saying #1: ‘Carpe diem!’
Whether you know this Latin phrase for “Seize the day!” from the poet Horace or as the inspiration for schoolboys in “Dead Poets Society,” the sentiment behind it is to live in the moment and not think about the future.
The problem with that mentality is that it can encourage impulse purchases that feel good in the short term, but make you pay in the long run.
Take that flash-sale cruise to the Galapagos Islands that you bought because, hey, you only live once! That last-minute trip of a lifetime could mean you just put a major dent in your already precarious budget.
The Smarter Money Mind-set: Mary Gresham, founder of Atlanta Financial Psychology, has her clients do a visualization exercise so they can better understand the impact of what they buy.
“I have them sit down when they want to make an impulsive purchase and ask themselves how they're going to feel about it in a week, in a month and in a year,” she says.
In a week, you can probably picture yourself enjoying that pricey tech gadget splurge. In a month, however, when you get your credit card statement, how will you feel forking over the money? Because of it, were you unable to pay for something else you needed? And, in a year, you’ll likely want to trade up, Gresham adds.
The purpose of the exercise is to slow down your purchasing thought process so you can determine whether you really need what you’re about to buy—or you're just in it for the dopamine rush.
“It's like any other thing that gives you a biochemical high, like drinking or eating too much," Gresham says. "It becomes addictive.”
Cliché Life Saying #2: ‘Money can’t buy happiness.’
The debate surrounding this saying will forever rage on. For every study that shows there’s no correlation between a society’s well-being and wealth, there’s another that says dollar signs can ramp up your happiness quotient.
But regardless of which argument you side with, there’s one thing that rings true: Financial problems can cause serious stress—and how happy are you likely to be with a lot of money worries in your life?
Money is, after all, the number-one stressor in the country—and has been since 2007, according to a poll from the American Psychological Association.
The Smarter Money Mind-set: The key to not letting financial worries overtake your mental health is to reframe the way you view money.
“Feeling good about yourself as a money manager is important for your happiness,” Gresham says. “It's not about the number of dollars [you have], but how well you manage them. It can give you a feeling of achievement.”
So even if you’re dealing with massive credit card debt or student loans that will take years to pay back, “if you have a strategy to pay off your debt, you immediately start to feel better as you implement that,” she adds.
And remember that you can still enjoy life without spending a pretty penny.
"A good exercise is to incorporate non-monetary activities into time with your family and friends, and openly acknowledge that you are trying to find a different place for money in your life," says financial psychologist Marie McNabb.
This way, your friends will understand why you would rather have a potluck meal at home than eat out at a pricey restaurant—and support you in your smarter decisions.
"Spending is a behavior, not a personality trait. It can be changed, like all behaviors."
Cliché Life Saying #3: ‘A leopard can’t change its spots.’
The underlying meaning behind this cynical saying is that you can’t fundamentally change who you are.
Unfortunately, that point of view makes you fall into the trap of thinking, "I've always been bad with money, so I’ll always be bad with money."
But that’s just an excuse to avoid having to kick detrimental financial habits, Gresham says. "Spending is a behavior, not a personality trait. It can be changed, like all behaviors."
The Smarter Money Mind-set: To shake that feeling of hopelessness when it comes to your finances, give yourself reasonable, small money goals you can achieve. In fact, focus first on just one goal so you don’t get overwhelmed, suggests Gresham.
"Maybe it's spending only cash for two weeks. Maybe it's keeping a spending journal. Or maybe it's deciding to sit down whenever you need to overcome an urge to buy something impulsively," she adds.
And if your goal is to boost savings, “try saving small amounts and paying attention to how that makes you feel,” suggests McNabb.
Many people have a hard time setting aside money for a goal they won’t reach until far in the future, but getting used to the feeling of saving by starting with small amounts can make you miss the money less as you commit to stashing away more.
Cliché Life Saying #4: ‘Do what you love.’
Sure, it would be great if we all had a real passion for what we did in our nine-to-five jobs, rather than just doing it for the paycheck.
After all, who wouldn’t want to take care of baby pandas or illustrate children’s books for a living—even if you’re not bringing in the big bucks?
But the fact is that there are times when you can’t hold out for your dream job, especially when you’re in a phase of life when financial responsibilities require a higher income.
“Do what you love is a great goal, and working in something that you have passion for makes life more meaningful and fulfilling,” says career and executive coach Donna Schilder. “But often our priorities can conflict—like when we want flexibility, stability or job security.”
The Smarter Money Mind-set: Stop thinking of your dream job as a do-or-die prospect. Instead, let your timing and financial priorities help guide your career decisions, Schilder says, and understand that there will be seasons when you can more directly pursue what you love.
The most flexibility you’ll have will likely be when you’re young and have fewer financial responsibilities and no dependents—or when you’re older, once the kids leave the house and you’re ready to try on a second-act career, she says.
But as long as supporting a family is your primary goal, you’ll likely want your earning power to take priority. “The good news is that if you pursue a more lucrative position, you can often shape your job to bring more of your personal values or passion into it," Schilder adds.
If, for example, you have a heart for philanthropic work, build a mentorship program internally, or propose that the company get involved with a charity, Schilder suggests. Additionally, you can initiate job duties that help you feel more connected to work.
“When I was a corporate trainer, I had to do a certain amount of technical training, but I also proposed—and got approved—new programs that helped employees reduce stress and be healthier,” she adds. “That allowed me to impact people’s lives on a more personal level.”
Cliché Life Saying #5: ‘Good things come to those who wait.’
While the point of this mantra is that patience is a virtue, you could also twist this advice to give yourself a pass for putting off important financial to-dos—which can be detrimental when it comes to, say, saving for retirement.
"The money that you put toward retirement in your 20s will be significantly higher when you retire than the same amount put away later in life," Gresham says, explaining the positives of compound growth.
Gresham suggests that everyone—no matter if you’re single or married, have children or not—should start an estate plan as soon as they become financially independent.
The Smarter Money Mind-set: It may not seem like it, but saving for your later years in your 20s and 30s is easier than you might think.
Even though your salary may be lower earlier in your career, you tend to have more discretionary income, as well as a greater tolerance to live a pared-down lifestyle, says Gresham. Think about it: Living in a small apartment at 25 will seem more bearable than it would be at 43.
This gives you some prime years to start socking away for retirement before the mortgage, insurance, child care costs and overall lifestyle inflation kick in.
If you need a first step, figure out whether your employer offers a 401(k) match, and then start contributing enough to meet the match percentage—increasing your retirement contribution with every raise.
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Cliché Life Saying #6: ‘Cross that bridge when you get to it.’
It’s true that it doesn’t help to stress over something that hasn’t happened yet.
But waiting until a tragedy occurs to get an estate in order, for example, could be too little, too late. Without a proper estate plan, your personal wishes for your health or your assets may not be fulfilled—and could lead to unintended conflict among family.
The Smarter Money Mind-set: For starters, people need to get educated about what estate planning really entails. “It’s not just financial," Gresham says. "It's also about who is going to take over your finances or make your health care decisions for you."
Gresham suggests that everyone—no matter if you’re single or married, have children or not—should start an estate plan as soon as they become financially independent. “In other words, as soon as you have a job, a checking and savings account, and a retirement account,” she says.
A good place to begin? Update the beneficiary designations on your insurance and bank and retirement accounts, so you can help ensure that your money will go to whoever you intend it to should you pass away. You should also decide who would act as your health care and financial powers of attorney in case a medical emergency occurs.
“People often forget that these things need to be in writing, in a legal document,” adds Gresham. “If you know who you want [for these roles], there’ll be no conflict—if you have the documents.”