When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And that’s not some new phrase I made up to prove how wise I am. It really is true, and it's how you can improve your attitude towards money.
It’s not because of some kind of magic, or cosmic intervention; it’s because when the student is ready, they suddenly look for, and accept, good information from a source to help them achieve their goal.
It’s kind of like how Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz had the power to “go home” the whole time. She just didn’t know it.
If you’re in that position, don’t worry. I was too, and I managed to rise above it.
How My Money Attitude Affected My Life
For most of my 20s and early 30s, there was probably nothing you could have told me about money that would have made me change my life for the better.
I was stubborn because of my comfortable finances. Having been born into a solidly middle-class family, I never wanted for anything. I had my college paid for, and was even given a car at 16 — a brand-new one at that.
I also thought that I was sailing fairly smoothly through the beginning part of adulthood. Although truthfully, if you read my journals from that time period, I was always broke and complaining that I didn’t have enough money.
It’s tough looking back and thinking, “If only I’d been better with money, I could have saved myself a lot of grief later on in life.”
Just because you “should” do something — get healthy or improve your finances — does not mean you will.
Unless you are truly ready, you might be amped to work at it for a few weeks. But you will lose interest very quickly.
For me, it wasn’t until I went through a job and financial crisis in my early 40s that I had my wake-up call and began to take my finances incredibly seriously.
I went from being a confused and financially unstable worker to a financially secure and independent person seemingly overnight. At first, it was mainly out of necessity. Then it was what I truly desired.
How to Change Your Money Attitude
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to get healthy about your finances. But even if that’s not the case and you somehow stumbled upon this site, I encourage you to really consider these five ways to improve your money attitude.
1. Avoid Costly Situations
For many people who are new to financial independence, it can be easy to go out with friends and blow a paycheck. If your friends like spending money, it could lead you to spend more just to match your peers.
But, as you might expect, careful money management leads to better financial outcomes, according to a report published in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning.
You might also like attending expensive concerts, taking trips to costly locations, or simply spending your weekends shopping Amazon or meeting friends at the mall. These are all situations that will lead to you spending money. It may not be a problem if these situations are rare, but if they’re daily or weekly, your budget will probably be put at risk.
Instead of hitting the mall, consider taking trips to the park. Rather than going to concerts or online-shopping, invite friends over to watch a movie. There are frugal ways to be social and enjoy your time without draining your bank accounts and they will save you from worrying about your finances in the process.
2. Stick to a Budget
Budgeting is an essential skill for the financially literate. It helps ensure that you don’t overspend on one area of your life, while neglecting others or spending more than you have.
Apps like Mint, Acorns, and Empower Finance help you log your expenses and set up a budget that fits your personal financial state. This makes budgeting easy, which means you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan.
There are several different types of budgets that you can choose to follow, so be sure to choose one that best fits your individual lifestyle.
Line-item budgeting, for example, involves tracking every single one of your monthly expenditures to ensure that you’re not overspending. Zero-sum budgeting, on the other hand, involves spending every dollar you have but allocating them toward specific goals — say, the rent, your favorite streaming service, and investments.
Another type of budgeting, the envelope budget, involves putting cash in specific envelopes designated for specific purposes. You don’t need to spend every dollar in these envelopes every month, but this system helps ensure that certain categories, like entertainment, won’t get in the way of your monthly food allocation.
Making a budget isn’t as tough as it looks. You can set one up yourself, or you can seek professional help. “Perform a financial needs analysis that starts with the end goal in mind and work backward to structure how you can get there,” says Michael Potorti, a certified public accountant and founder of Aurelius Resources.
“We look at a client’s current income and spending habits to point out unnecessary spending, set them up on a realistic budget, and get them on track to build wealth,” Potorti adds.
No matter what type of budget you set, it will take some grit and willpower to stick to it. But after a few months of setting specific goals and expectations, you’ll start to see your attitude toward money shift. You should start to see some changes in your finances.
3. Enlist Some Help
Managing your finances can be a lonely job. Given that only 24 percent of Americans feel comfortable asking their friends about their salaries, according to a poll by Lexington Law, trying to confide in someone else about your finances can be downright scary!
Tell a trusted family member or friend that you’ve set a budget and you’d like some help sticking to it. Perhaps you can both help each other, say by ensuring that neither of you dine out too often, or just by asking how things are going financially. This might seem like a minor step, but it can help to change your money attitude.
Your bank can also help you stick to your budget. Try to set up automatic payments for your monthly bills (rent, cell phone, electric, etc) and toward retirement.
“The main advantage of an automated saving arrangement is the ability to save directly for your retirement directly from your paycheck,” says certified financial planner Kenny Senour of Millennial Wealth Management.
“From a behavioral finance standpoint, this is one of the easiest ways to ‘pay yourself first’ and get over any inertia of setting aside money for retirement on a consistent basis,” Senour adds. “This is because you never see the money hit your account in the first place, as it’s already been contributed before you are paid.”
4. Be Willing to Reward Good Money Attitude
Improving your money attitude is hard work. If you’re going to attempt something that takes self-control, like personal finance does, you’ll want to ensure that you have some positive reinforcement to keep you from slacking.
Positive reinforcement is a behavior modification technique involving rewards in exchange for beneficial behavior and works more quickly and effectively than punishment, according to a report published in the National Library of Medicine.
When applying this technique to finances, rewarding yourself can be as simple as letting yourself splurge on a nice dinner at the end of the month after brown-bagging your lunch for four weeks.
Paying off debt is a very abstract goal to the average person, so offering yourself a concrete reward could help you come to terms with facing restrictions in the short term. Let yourself have big rewards after achieving a major goal and small rewards for day-to-day cost consciousness.
5. Learn From Your Financial Mistakes
Making a mistake like missing a credit card payment, miscalculating your budget, or forgetting to file your taxes on time could ruin your motivation to change your money attitude. Don’t let that happen to you.
Understand that you’re human. You’ll make mistakes.
Even financial experts sometimes overlook something in their day-to-day finances.
When you do make a mistake, don’t be discouraged. Look at ways to prevent that issue from happening again. If you missed paying a bill, consider automating payments. If you miscalculated your budget, look for an app or resource that can help you optimize it. If you forgot to do your taxes, set up a calendar alert for next year.
Don’t just dwell on the things that go wrong — learn from them.
The Bottom Line on Money Attitudes
If you want to improve your money attitude, don’t just wait until you’re broke, thousands of dollars in debt, or living paycheck to paycheck. Life is so much better when you are in control of your finances.
When you have money in the bank for emergencies, retirement, and other long-term goals, you’ll see improvement in your lifestyle. And the younger you are when you start improving your financial habits, the better. Take ownership of your life and money. Odds are, you’ll be happy you did.
Love, the former student — who is now the teacher.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
Additional reporting by Lukas Shayo.