Challenging Your Money Mindset – Part 1

Old TV Money Face

This is the first in a series of three posts I am writing that explore the unexamined ideals about money, which many of us hold as truths. These are typically passed down from our parents or other authority figures, beginning when we are young, and we have accepted them with little or no analysis. Unfortunately, these monetary topics tend to be the ones causing the most strife in a person’s life.

When encountering a new concept, we often get defensive because we feel defined by our mindset. To grow as a person, you must open your eyes to different ways of doing things, and you must put away any defensive attitudes toward the dogmas that you hold dear. Putting your ego aside when you are learning enables you to truly understand new ideas. This approach will either validate your current beliefs or lead you to change your beliefs altogether.

Today, I am going to talk about what it means to be in the middle class in current times.

My Money Mindset Evolution

I myself went through the process of challenging my money mindset when I found out I was pregnant with my third child. In an overwhelmed haze, my husband and I discussed how our life was going to change, and we both agreed we would need a bigger house. As a middle class family, we always assumed we would upgrade our house because that is what you do. Our 1,600 square foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house would be tight for a family of five. We were convinced that moving was a necessity. Once we reached the decision that many parents of big families reach, I set out to make our move a reality.

I have always been a proponent of not carrying around debt, other than a mortgage and maybe a car loan. In order for us to move, it required us to amass a 20% down payment to get the best interest rate. Since this was just after the housing bubble burst, most banks were requiring it as well. Undaunted, I came up with a plan utilizing our current investments at the time combined with aggressive saving. In two years we would have enough to move comfortably – with the required down payment while also retaining our emergency fund. I sat staring at the amount that we would have at the end of those two years. I thought about the next step, handing over that big sum of money and taking on an even greater loan. I said, “No.” Out loud. To my computer.

We had a home. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. A bigger, fancier house didn’t compare to the power that came from saving. What that number at the bottom of the spreadsheet represented to me was freedom. It was a step towards retirement; it allowed us room to spend money on travel and on experiences. That was the turning point for me. That’s when I moved from being a money spender to being a money keeper.

I got excited. I read blogs about finance, I consumed information on reducing our tax burden, and I read books about investing.  I discovered that the way I had always viewed money wasn’t the only way, or even the best way. This was a catalyst for challenging other areas in my life.

Sometimes it can be hard to go against the grain. To ignore normal ways of portraying success is a difficult hurdle to get over. As is living in a smaller house, or not having as fancy things as your neighbors. Who ever said that life was supposed to be comfortable all of the time? In discomfort we find what we are truly made of.

So go ahead, expand that comfort zone! Now for some money mind-melding…

The Middle Class is not Getting Screwed

You may have heard that the middle class is getting screwed, squeezed out, on thin ice, etc. People also say the rich are getting richer and the middle class is getting poorer. Is this something you have heard?

If the middle class is getting poorer it’s because they are spending money like they are rich, or at least an income bracket or two more than they make.   They aren’t living like the typical millionaire, who is actually keeping their money. They are trying to live like their combined friend list on Facebook.  They don’t stop to think that Person One is taking a vacation but not buying a new house. Person Two is buying a new house, but having to skip vacations for a while. All they see is Person going on vacation and buying a new house. So they want it all.

We are also a bored nation. The typical family in the United States has few genuine challenges to worry them. Stores overflowing with food are on every corner, as are pharmacies with medicines to help when we get sick. We have bigger houses than ever in history to keep us safe from the elements. We have cars, planes and trains to transport where we need and want to go. We have computers and phones to help us to the point we rarely need to use our brain to remember anything. Sure, things aren’t perfect, but we are living similarly to how royalty lived just a few generations ago.

We live isolated from family and friends in our big homes. Our lives include limited socialization and limited passion. We distract ourselves from the monotony with television, video games and shopping.

Because of boredom and because of isolation, we buy. We buy big houses. We buy stylish clothes. We buy fancy cars. We buy the hopes that these things will fulfill us, and will prove that we are going somewhere, that we are successful.   These feelings never last and we are left with emptiness again, boredom. So we buy more. With debt, we spend future wages on something instant gratification convinces us that we need today.

When the dust settles, our future selves look at the mountain of debt that was built and feel wronged. Frustration over the unfairness of life consumes us, just as we consumed our future. Instead of casting the blame where it belongs, which is ourselves, we attack things like taxes, businesses, rich people and the shrinking middle class. It’s everyone else’s fault that we can’t have everything we deserve. It’s easier to give up our power over our situation, than to take ownership of it and realize that it was our fault all along. We stole from our own future.

Be Thankful

The best way to combat the feelings that you don’t have enough is to practice gratitude. Be thankful for what you do have.

You know what helps me when I get frustrated with our small house? I work on it. I plant new plants, I paint it, or I fix something that has needed to be fixed for a while. Every time I pour love into my house, my love for my house returns in equal measure.   Take care of what you already have before rushing to buy something else.

Just as the journey is more important than the destination, life is more important than stuff. The family inside the house is more important than the structure.   The person inside the clothes is more important than the fashion. The idea is to strike a balance and make sure you don’t short-change the things that are the most meaningful.

If you still struggle, remember this: People really don’t care what you have. They don’t care about the car you drive or your house or your clothes.   Your stuff is a fleeting thought that flashes through their mind as they do a quick comparison. Then they move back to worrying about themselves! 

Get Smart!

These are just a few of many topics regarding money. They represent my humble opinions, obtained from lots of reading and research.   I am not a financial expert; therefore, before you take any action, do your own research. It’s your money, so it’s worth it. If you take anything away from this, I hope it is the following:

  1. Harness your power over your finances. You decide how to spend it or how to save it. You are not a victim.
  2. Address the core cause of your boredom, or whatever pushes you to make poor money decisions. Get a hobby, be more social, or get out of your comfort zone (this one in particular is a big rush after you take the initial scary step).
  3. Be thankful for what you have. Not just with words or thoughts, but with actions. Lovingly take care of something or fix something. Polish something that’s tarnished. Your rekindled fondness of it will surprise you.

To challenge this part of your life further, here are a few great places to start: www.budgetsaresexy.com, www.thesimpledollar.com, and for a real kick in the pants, www.mrmoneymustache.com.

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Comments

  1. Great and timely post! This is something I realized several years ago after having the big house with the pool, game room, pool table, etc. I thought having all of this would make me and my family happier and impress everyone. Not only was I not happier, but now I was even more stressed and anxious. It was higher mortgage, higher utility bills to heat and cool a big house, maintaining the pool, more money to spend on any problems that come with a bigger home. Now we are back to a nice, small, simple home. We squeeze every mile possible out of our cars before buying new ones. We save a lot of money, but we still enjoy nice things. However, we spend more of our money on experiences than we do on actual material goods. The best part is knowing that if one or both of us is unemployed for any amount of time, we can still maintain our lifestyle without worrying about how we are going to keep a roof over our head.

    • Julie M. Mulligan says:

      I agree with you 100%. Experiences are so much more important than stuff. Plus, like you said, the best part is the peace of mind that comes from knowing you could handle bumps in the road, like losing a job. Sounds like you are doing great!!

  2. Dipa Patel says:

    I absolutely agree!! We made a similar desicison a couple years back. We bought our house during the housing boom about ten years ago. During this time, houses were overpriced, and even small homes in decent neighborhoods were becoming unaffordable. We decided upon a three bedroom modest home. A few years back we re-evaluated whether or not we should upgrade to a bigger home. We decided that for our family the answer was: NO. It didn’t seem worth it to incur more maintainance costs, property taxes, and a higher mortgage when we were already in a comfortable home in a great area. Who would we be doing it for? Not us that was for sure! I think the only way we would move now is if our job situation took us out of the South Florida tri-county area.
    We follow this philosophy beyond just our home. We prefer not spend our money on high end cars, brand name purses, clothes, and shoes. But rather to save for experiences and family vacations and as well as a comfortable retirement.
    Thank you for your post!!! It’s nice to see and hear that there are those out there who share the same philosophy!!!

    • Julie M. Mulligan says:

      It’s important to surround yourself with friends that have the same philosophy!! I agree, we probably won’t move unless we relocate from the area. We will just keep pouring our effort and care into our current home.

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  1. […] second in a series of three posts I am writing that explore the unexamined ideals about money.  Part 1 covered the middle class and not spending your future earnings in a search for […]

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