If you are like most Americans, you are probably watching your bank account closely. It’s no secret that food and gas prices have been steadily rising. Additionally, many women are worried about student loan payments restarting in October. Of course, the morning news is full of day and gloom about the economy. However, what is the real picture? More importantly, what you can do about it.
Perception is Everything
I am not an economist nor a financial planner. My advice is strictly psychological and emotional. However, unless you are truly poor, money is usually about perception and emotions, not reality. For example, I had an older relative who retired in 2008 – right before the crash. He was in a panic as he watched all his hard earned savings plummet in their investments. What he did not factor was that the market has ups and downs naturally. Obviously, a crash feels harsher but the concept is the same. Your retirement savings should last over a couple of decades. Having his numbers go down in one year was not predictive of his overall long term financial situation. In other words, he does not need all that money in the first year and his numbers would bounce back.
Younger people suffer from a skewed perception as well. I had a friend once tell me she did not need a will because she did not have any assets. I was gobsmacked: “What about your house, car, and 401K?”, I asked. Those are all assets.
People spend money on what they value. Some people invest in their health, others in travel and entertainment. For most people, there is some mix. Therefore, the idea of “I’m too poor to do XYZ” is more aptly about prioritizing. You may not have the money for a big trip but how often do you Door Dash? This is the perspective part.
The Most Important Question to Ask About The Economy
You can go down a real rabbit hole on this one. I’ll keep it simple for you. What is your actual financial situation? There, that is it. Simple. The economy is a huge, multi faceted topic. However, your personal situation is probably not that complex. However, It is important to actually know it. Start by documenting your monthly income and expenses. There are apps to do this or you can use a simple excel spreadsheet. Popular apps are You Need A Budget and Mint.
Shifting Your Economy Perspective
Now that you have an idea of your budget, you can get a more realistic perspective. Hopefully your income exceeds your expenses. If not, the apps mentioned above can help you shift things.
For those that do have enough income to cover expenses, you need to focus on what you do have. Yes, life is very expensive right now. However, can you buy food? Do you live in a comfortable, safe home? Note, I did not say a 3000 square foot brand new constructed house. Shifting your perspective entails developing gratitude for what you do have. This is key to feeling better about your personal place in the economy.
If you are struggling to feel more positive, try the following alternate thoughts:
Original thought: “I am so poor, I can’t afford _____”
Alternate thought: “I am so grateful that I have the money to go out with my friends this weekend”
Original thought: “The economy is so bad, I’m not going to be able to afford anything soon”
Alternate thought: “I am so grateful for my fridge full of food and my closet full of clothes”
Original thought: “ My student loans are ridiculous”
Alternate thought: “I’m so glad I got to live away at college.”
This may feel fake at first, but at least opening your mind to new thoughts will help you pause before giving into your habitual thoughts.
But the Economy is Really Bad!
This is true, a lot of people are struggling. Of course, having empathy for those with food and housing insecurity is so important. Having a clearer picture of your financial situation will actually enable you to be more generous with food banks and other programs. Once you see what you do have, you will feel more confident giving.
About the author: Sharon P. Fisher is a nurse practitioner and founder of Nurtured Well, LLC. She brown bags her lunch most days (41 years and counting!) and used the savings to pay off student debt and buy a boat.