In the past two years, we’ve survived incredible uncertainty and unexpected changes. When it comes to financial news, we’ve seen it all: escalating home prices and steep increases at the grocery store; news of the Great Reshuffle (a.k.a. the Great Resignation), remote work, and the changing workplace; and questions about education, student loan debt, and how to prepare for a rapidly evolving world. It seems that there’s always another crisis around the corner, and we’re constantly bracing for a new round of question marks.
If you’re stressed out by the dizzying ping-pong game of financial details you hear every day, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. We endure a constant flood of information, and what we hear one day seems to contradict what we hear the next.
Here’s the good news: there’s a stream of data you can rely on, clear information you can track. It’s not contradictory, confusing, or hard to understand. It’s the truth of what’s happening in your own life—in your own bank account. It’s what’s happening at your house.
Here’s what I mean: you spent money last week. You spent money yesterday. Maybe you spent money today. What do you have left? When is more money coming in and how much? How is money flowing in and out of your life? What bills are due this week? What is the source of your frustration when it comes to money? Are you underearning? Overspending? Do you know? What are your goals and dreams? What do you hope to achieve and create?
This is the data of our own lives, questions only we can answer. The practice of turning inward and inquiring about our beliefs, habits, and behaviors can help us build confidence and stability in the face of external chaos.
Here’s the best part: we can start small. The first step? Simply pay attention to what is already happening—what you are already doing—in your own life. Become curious. Keep records. Take notes. Open up a digital document or grab a sheet of paper. Write down everything that’s happening in your life with money: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Keep track of your expenses, even the tiny ones. Keep lists of things you want but can’t afford. Keep track of all the ways money bounces around your life: what’s coming in, what’s going out, what you want, and what you need.
I call this practice “keeping a money update.” My money update lets me know where I am and where I’m going. It’s part budget, part journal, and part wish list. It’s where I crunch the numbers and make plans. It’s how I learned to push back on my assumptions that my financial situation was hopeless, and that I couldn’t change my behavior. It’s how I became familiar with my own habits and decisions. Even before I figured out how to transform my finances, the simple act of keeping track of my behavior gave me a sense of personal agency.
Personal agency is the degree to which we believe that we can influence our own experiences. There are many things outside of our control, systems that have an impact on how we live and what we have access to at any given time. Even so, the question is worth asking, “What do I have control over right now, in this moment?” We can become curious about what we’re doing and keep track of our choices. It’s a simple practice with a powerful outcome.
As you take in the news of the day—not only from your favorite media sources, but from your employer, clients, customers, colleagues, friends, and family—it can be hard to remain grounded. It’s enough to make your head spin. Just remember: if you narrow your focus, just for a while, and zero in on what’s happening at your house, you’ll be engaged with something you can control. You might discover that you have some cleaning up to do, but the effort can yield great results.
So, whether for an hour or a day, unplug the glaring, flashing neon signs around you, the narratives about what you should think and why. Look at the quiet, incontrovertible data offered up by your own life. Start there. The hard choices that follow may not be easy, but they are doable—and they are yours to make.
Brigitt Thompson is the author of Trust Yourself with Money: Build Financial Confidence through the Simple Art of Saving.
Learn more: www.trustyourselfwithmoney.com
Buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/author/brigittthompson