It's Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Your Finances

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Let's be honest. Most people would rather talk openly about their sex lives with a stranger than share the status of their finances.

While a variety of emotions, backgrounds and experiences contribute to our uneasiness to discuss money, feeling guilty and insecure about it generally boils down to a lack of clarity about what's going on with it and a lack of education as to how to fix or get it on track once we have identified the issues.

Ultimately, there's no sugar coating it. If you want to start making smart choices with your money, you have to take action. You won't lose weight by doing nothing; you won't earn a college degree by zoning out in the back row of your classes; and your finances won't fix themselves.

If you want to get rid of your money guilt and insecurity once and for all, follow these steps.

Determine Where You Want to Make Progress

The overarching subject of money covers a multitude of complicated and ofttimes stressful areas: budgets, net worth, spending patterns, insurance, retirement, credit and more. It's no wonder it's overwhelming to think about getting it all under control. How does one even know where to start?

Your first instinct may be to dive in and try to tackle it all in one go, but your best bet is to handle this as you would any other large undertaking: Break it down into bite-size pieces. Where is your attention needed most? Do you most need to get better at tracking spending? Has it been a while since you've checked in on your investments? Do you have too much money sitting in cash? Should you be saving more? Have you set up your retirement accounts? Is there a better strategy you could be using to pay down your credit cards?

Pick two or three areas that you want to make progress on first, and commit to working on those over the next few months. Once you've gotten those areas on track -- and on something closer to cruise control -- you can move on to others.

Create a Goal for Each Area

Once you've determined the areas you want to work in, set goals for yourself.

Never mind the general goals of "I want to pay off my debt" or "I want to start building my emergency fund." That's the same as saying "I'm going to lose weight." Great -– but how much weight are you planning on losing? At what rate? And by when?

It's hard to celebrate your intermediate wins when you don't have a place to measure progress. Skip the hassle of creating big-picture goals for yourself and drill down into what you specifically want to accomplish in each area and when you want to do it by. Your goals should be quantified and measurable so you can celebrate your progress. This workbook will walk you through goal setting.

Schedule Your Money Time

A good way to start kicking your guilt to the curb is to start paying more attention to your money. Schedule time each week to sit down and review your progress and evaluate areas where there may be room for improvement.

Set a recurring date on your calendar and include an agenda in the notes section. Your agenda may include the following:
  • Review expenses and savings. Which categories are you above and under on?
  • Track progress on goals and paying down debt. Did you add to balances, pay down debt or stay even for the month?
  • Make adjustments. Where do you need to change to stay on track?
  • Celebrate wins.
Establish Your Values and Priorities

Money guilt can stem from a variety of factors, but what typically brings on this guilt is the fact that we're not using our money to live a life we value. We know that by not tracking our spending or saving for retirement or even that big vacation, our money isn't going towards those things we value or prioritize in our lives.

There's a famous quote from James W. Frick where he says "Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are."

Think about your finances. Is it the tangible or intangible things that motivate you? Do you get excited about possessions or experiences? What are you saving for right now?
  • How will reaching your goals make you feel? Secure? Free? Powerful?
  • What's the ultimate reason behind your desire to earn more, save more or experience more? How does it translate into your life?
Keeping your "why" in mind will help to keep your finances in line when faced with the tough decisions.

Money is a tough topic to tackle, and it's OK to be uncomfortable with it. What's not OK is stick your head in the sand. Take small steps, schedule focus time, set clear-cut goals and you'll likely find that the more attention you pay to working through and out of the issues, the better and stronger you'll feel about your money.

Mary Beth Storjohann is a certified financial planner for Gen Y. She created Nine Steps to Workable Wealth to help you make smart choices with your money.

6 Financial Issues to Tackle in the Fall
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It's Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Your Finances
For many employers, open enrollment season for some benefits happens in October. This usually sneaks up on some people, who scramble to decipher benefits and make elections last minute. Although you won't be able to see the options until the enrollment period opens, take time now to review your benefits. Are you taking advantage of any 401(k) matches? Are your fully funding your Flexible Spending Account? What about employer offered life and disability insurance? (A fun infographic from the Council for Disability Awareness shows your risks). Maximize your benefits and don't leave any money on the table.
Back-to-school time can be expensive if you're not prepared. Money is spent on clothes, books, supplies and technology -- and that's before the doors to the classroom have even opened. Before hitting the stores, do these two things:
  • Conduct an online search for "coupon code" along with the name of any store you'll be shopping at. Typically you can find some great online deals.
  • Get a list from you class or teacher of specific type of notebook, calculator, etc. required. If you can't get child's "must haves" from ahead of time, buy just the bare minimums until school starts and the list is available.
It's hard to think about the holidays when we're just making it through summer, but now is the time to build up a financial cushion. Set yourself up with an automatic transfer to a separate savings account and participate in the Holiday Fund Money Challenge to build up a savings of $450. How much do you need for the gifts, travel, parties, entertaining, food and other holiday activities you anticipate? Planning will help to ease the stress that comes around the holidays.
In lieu of scrambling at the end of the year to make contributions to retirement accounts by Dec. 31, double-check your contributions now and determine if there's room in your cash flow to allow for an increase to possibly max out by year end.
Summer is a typically a time of transitions. There are weddings, moves to new homes, possibly a new family addition and more. If summer is the time when these events take place, fall should be the time to take stock of how they're panning out. If you're recently married and haven't already, now is the time to have the money talk with your spouse and make decisions about spending plans, merging (or not merging) accounts, beneficiary updates and more. If you've moved, check out how the new location has affected your cost of living spending in terms of activities, gas costs, groceries and more. Ultimately with any transition, you need to review your spending plan and determine what areas (if any) need to be adjusted.
If you're lucky enough to live in one of the states that actually experiences seasons, fall is the time to prep for energy savings by caulking and weatherstripping doors and windows, turning your thermostat back for a fixed period each day and insulating your attic, basement or outside walls.
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