Why We Don't Save #6: "I'm just bad with money'."
Welcome to our series: Why We Don’t Save – a breakdown of the six most common reasons people put off starting their financial journey.
Are they legit? Do you feel personally attacked? Stay tuned for a new post in this series every month!
This is probably the single most common excuse I hear.
“I’m not like those type-A budget freaks who know where every cent goes. They’re good with money. Great even! But I’ve tried before and it didn’t go well.
I’m just bad with money.”
Look, I won’t lie to you.
Some people are bad with money. You might be one.
But you were also bad at reading once. And walking. And even talking.
Did you stay bad at those things forever? Maybe. Probably not, though.
Being bad with money is no different. Some people start with advantages like wealth-conscious and nurturing parents. Others face disadvantages like gambling addiction and systemic poverty.
You probably fall somewhere in the middle. And that’s okay.
Being “bad with money” isn’t a death sentence – it’s a springboard!
So let’s dive right in.
It’s not you. It’s them. 👋
A lot of financial advice is couched in culture. Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman are popular among evangelical Christians, and it’s not by accident. Ramsey even holds his workshops in church basements.
They speak directly to the values their audience shares.
Similarly your household might have had different cultural standards for common financial practices such as:
- Unilateral decision-making
- Talking about money casually
You probably learned a few lessons – but they may have come with some hang-ups. And if your family wasn't represented by the dominant culture in your community, your insecurities may loom larger than your strengths.
Maybe you come from a family of expert negotiators. Whether you’re argumentative or strategic is a matter of opinion.
It’s easy to equate different with worse.
You need to belong before you can learn.
Many traditional cultures also haven’t historically respected the autonomy of all their members. Folks on the margins of society – women, racial minorities, LBGTQ+ – can find themselves isolated from their communities.
And if you’re separated from your culture you might not be in a position to reap the benefits of generational knowledge.
Being young can also be a disadvantage. Reaching out to older generations for advice can feel incredibly awkward – and your peers are usually in the same boat!
When you’re isolated, it’s even harder to ask for help.
When we talk to each other, we share information. The more information we have, the better informed our decisions (and spending!) will be. This goes hand-in-hand with aligning our spending to our values, too.
Finding Your Financial Community
And it all comes down to values.
Growth mindset. 🌱
The “growth mindset” movement started as an oversimplification of the research findings of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck.
According to Dweck, folks with a fixed mindset believe their month-to-month qualities (intelligence, talent, etc.) are intrinsic and cannot be developed. They believe success is the result of innate talent.
People with a growth mindset believe that their talents can be developed through effort and hard work.
Similarly, when things go awry the fixed mindset folks blame external forces and avoid taking responsibility. They’re quick to complain and quicker to give up.
But those with a growth mindset recognize their internal efficacy and will rise to meet a challenge. They may fall down – but they get back up.
People who describe themselves with fixed descriptors (i.e. “bad with money”) are playing up their fixed mindsets. Some growth-oriented alternatives might sound more like this…
- I’m out of practice.
- I haven’t learned it yet.
- I’ve been distracted lately.
- My parents never taught me.
…these may sound like excuses, but they’re also easily banished.
No time? Schedule it. Never learned? Find a free course!
Sit down and do a little as early as you can – whether that’s first thing in the morning or right after you get home from work. Dinner can wait 5 minutes!
Even if you can only do a little bit each week, the task will feel easier and faster over time.
Why We Don’t Save #5: “I don’t have time to budget.”
Of course, there are caveats…
“So, everything is my fault?”
Don’t get stuck in the weeds. Maintaining a growth mindset is all about recognizing your internal locus of control – that is, changes that are within your power. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can (try to) control your reactions.
And of course – be forgiving. Growth is hard.
“I’ve always been open-minded.”
I doubt it. This is called a false growth mindset, essentially rose-colored glasses that obscure the difficulties we faced in the past.
To forget that we’ve ever faced challenges sets us up to think that future hurdles will be cleared easily. Every individual is a mix of fixed and growth mindsets, continually evolving with experience.
“It’s simple – just praise effort instead of success!”
Easier said than done.
It’s normal to fall into insecurity or defensiveness when faced with criticism or failure. This can trigger your good ol’ fixed mindset. Instead, try to approach failure with an open mind – and if possible, see it as a badge of experience.
Optimism is - surprise! - a learned skill, not an innate quality.
How to become “good with money” in 3 steps. 🎯
The only person who can doom you to being “bad with money” forever is you.
When you’re ready to tackle your ineptitude and turn things around, start with this simple plan.
1. Embrace growth.
To change your skill level, you’ll first need to change your attitude. Learning isn’t easy – it’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. But you should do it anyway.
Swap out these fixed-mindset excuses for their growth-mindset counterparts.
|✘ Fixed Mindset||✔ Growth Mindset|
|“I’m bad with numbers.”||“I need to take my time when doing math.”|
|“I’m too busy.”||“I need to schedule the things that are important to me.”|
|“I was always bad at school.”
“We never did that in my family.”
|“This is new to me, and I’m excited to learn.”|
|“I’m too poor.”||“I will manage the little money I do have.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t like it. It’s not fun for me.”
|“I need to keep myself motivated.”|
|“I’m disorganized.”||“I do best with simple systems.”|
|“I’m stupid.”||“I need time to process new things.”|
|“It’s too stressful.”||“I will take things slow and reward myself for working hard.”|
|“I’m not good with computers.”
“I don’t have any of the right tools.”
“I don’t have a bank.”
|“I’m not familiar with this technology, but I can learn.”|
And if you’ve been following the entire Why We Don’t Save series, here’s a rundown of previous reasons:
- “I’m waiting for a normal month” → “I’ll start now and just do my best.”
- “I don’t make enough money.” → “I need every dollar working it’s hardest.”
- “I make enough, I’m not worried.” → “I want to plan for an even better future.”
- “My partner won’t budget.” → “I need my partner to respect what I want to do with my money.”
- “I don’t have time.” → “I need to schedule it so that I won’t forget.”
It’s tough to change the way you think about yourself, so try to be patient with yourself.
2. Create an action plan.
Start by crafting a simple definition of success. What does it mean to be “good with money”? Pick one new-to-you item from this list:
- Save up an emergecy fund (monthly expenses x3)
- Maximize your employer 401(k) match
- Keep a monthly budget
- Track your expenses
- Save 5% of every paycheck
- Stay one month ahead of your bills
Tackle this new goal with vigor and determination! Write down three action items that will set you up for success. For example:
Goal: Save up an emergency fund
- Log into online banking and check spending from previous month. A rough total is fine! Multiply by 3 to get your goal number.
- Decide where to keep the fund – likely your savings account.
- Determine a minimum monthly contribution goal. $50, $100, etc.
Bonus: Set up an automatic transfer from your paycheck or checking account.
You might not be able to complete it in one month – and that’s okay! But if all of these things are already easy for you, I’ve got great news.
You’re already great with money.
3. Follow through.
Once you’ve completed your new goal – pick a new one! Continue to learn and grow until you can proudly say you’re good with money.
A good rule of thumb would be to scratch off three items, but it’s all about your level of confidence.
The hardest thing about debt is that it’s a marathon – not a sprint.
You need to build accountability so that you can still execute the plan, even when you don’t feel like it. That means you need to confront the icky, uncomfortable part of your debt – telling others.
Debt-Free By December
Still feeling hopeless and doomed to fail? Let us know in the comments!