While many people think of financial planning as a dull but necessary activity, Kathleen Grace, managing director of United Capital Financial Advisers in Boca Raton, Fla., and author of "Prince Not So Charming: A Romantic Tale of Financial Independence," says fiction can be a fun way to guide people and their financial decisions.
"We're all emotional creatures, just like the characters in classic fairy tales," says Grace. "If you understand how you make decisions then it's easier to step back and see whether you're making choices based on your emotional mindset or based on a smart financial plan."
Grace says she uses her company's "Money Mind" quiz at HonestConversations.com as a jumping-off point with new clients to explore their emotional approach to money. The quiz identifies which of three emotional characteristics -- commitment, fear, happiness -- tend to drive your financial decisions.
"I've learned that what someone tells you is the most important thing to them isn't always really the most important thing," says Grace, "So this quiz and some other specific questions and conversations are a great way to get people talking."
The Truth Behind the Fairy Tale
The people who are best at handling their money have a balance of all three money characteristics, Grace says. However, most people are usually driven by one factor more than others.
Grace cites Cinderella as an example of someone whose mind is skewed to commitment. "Cinderella is the type of character who wants her marriage to work above all else and will make financial decisions on that basis," she says. "For instance, if Prince Charming wants an exotic palm tree that's too expensive for their budget, she's likely to just pay for it herself with a credit card because it's more important to her to keep her husband happy than to be realistic about their finances."
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Prince Charming, on the other hand, offers an example of someone whose money mindset is focused on happiness. "Most people think of women as shoppers and spenders, but a lot of men are spenders too. They may spend money less frequently, but their purchases tend to be bigger."
Grace says her own mindset is a mix of fear and happiness. On the fear side, she's terrified of debt, which stops her from overspending; but on the happiness side, she sees a new car that's pretty and fast and wants it no matter what the cost. Finding the balance of these two parts of her money mindset allows her to step back and look at the worst-case scenario to decide whether she can afford a particular car.
Pros/Cons of Money Characteristics
Each of the three personality traits Grace identifies has both positive and negative implications for your financial decisions.
Commitment. If your primary trait is commitment, Grace says you're a giver who wants everyone else to be happy. This can be negative if you aren't taking care of your own finances and are putting everyone else first; on the other hand this trait indicates that you're generous, attentive to others and family-oriented. "If you can mix in a little fear with this trait to keep your budget on track, then you'll have a nice balance in your life," says Grace.
Fear. People who are fearful often live below their means, says Grace, which is a very positive trait. However, they're also slow to make decisions, which could be detrimental to their financial well-being. "If they won't reallocate their portfolio or are too risk-averse to invest, it could be a problem," she says.
Happiness. "People who have a happiness mindset are decisive and can make decisions quickly," says Grace. "They tend to enjoy life and live in the moment, which is fine if you have plenty of money. However, if you're living paycheck to paycheck, that's not so great."
In Prince Charming's case, his happiness mindset is probably not too detrimental to his overall well-being since, presumably, as a prince he has unlimited royal funds. Most people, however, share more traits with the commoners in fairy tales and must face reality with a balance of money traits.
Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.
10 Easy Ways to Pay Off Debt
Your Money Mind: Are You Prince Charming or Cinderella?
"Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess," writes Trent Hamm, founder of TheSimpleDollar.com. "Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month." Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much?
Remove all credit cards from your wallet and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she writes.
If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don't need. So clear that information. "If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account," Hamm writes.
Reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. "The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated," Bakke writes. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. "If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months," Bakke writes, "give yourself more than a pat on the back."
“Establish a budget,” writes Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. “If you don't scale back your spending, you'll dig yourself into a deeper hole." You can use personal finance tools like Mint.com, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs.
Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. "By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards," writes Mint.com spokeswoman Hitha Prabhakar.
To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. "Paying the minimum -– usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance -– only prolongs a debt payoff strategy," Prabhakar writes. "Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments." Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more.
If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Hamm recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. "You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate," he warns. "If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way."
Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. "Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price," Karimi writes. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible." Any profits from sales should go toward your debt.
If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. "Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase," Karimi writes. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.