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Painless Financial Advice for People Who Hate Dealing With Money

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Let’s say an old friend comes to town and is dying to visit some new cool restaurant. You check out the menu ahead of time and see that plates start at $20. You have exactly $7.43 in your bank account but say yes anyway. You know you’ve blown your budget, but you don’t want to know how bad it is, so you avoid looking at your online transactions for a while. If you can’t see the problem, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist, right?

Or maybe you can relate to a different scenario: You’ve been at your job for five years, your boss loves you, but you’ve never received a raise. Not once. You know you should research salary information for your industry and initiate the conversation, but you really don’t feel like dealing with all that. You’re a hard worker, you tell yourself, and that’s what really matters. Besides, you get along fine on your current salary.

Both of these are examples of classic money avoidance. According to financial psychologist Brad Klontz, it’s one of the four scripts, or behavioral patterns, most of us follow when it comes to money. (The others are vigilance, status, and worship.) On his website, Klontz explains, “Money avoidance can be associated with trying to not think about money, ignoring financial statements, overspending, enabling others financially, [and] having difficulty managing a budget.” For some money avoiders, the resistance to personal finance can get to a point where their financial life becomes a mess that’s impossible to ignore.

If any of this is hitting a nerve, here are a few tips that might make dealing with your own finances a little more bearable.

Start With a Goal

If you hate dealing with money, just — don’t. Deal with a goal instead.

Your goal could be to buy your dream home. Or maybe it has to do with travel. Maybe you want to fund a scholarship or start a new business. Whatever it is, figure out a specific plan for how you’ll fund it. You might need to save $50,000 for a down payment or pay off a $15,000 student loan so you can start saving for a $3,000 trip to Belize. Slap a number on your goal, and start thinking about the steps you’ll take to make it happen (SMART goal criteria can help with this).

When you have a goal for your money, you’ll be more motivated to start doing money-related things like budgeting, being frugal, and negotiating, because now you have a reason to care. Managing your finances becomes less about money itself and more about accomplishing the things that actually matter to you.

Challenge Yourself

One way to make money feel more approachable is to turn it into a game. I know, I know — games are supposed to be fun, and personal finance sounds about as fun as finding out you need a root canal.

Gamifying your finances, however, can be an engaging way to learn about your own habits. You might challenge yourself, for example, to spend only $100 on restaurants for the month or to save a little bit whenever you splurge on something. Money challenges require determination, motivation, creative thinking, and novelty: Running out of restaurant money? Looks like you’ll have to find a new, cheaper spot for Friday night dinner. And when you nail that challenge, it can be kind of fun, or at least rewarding — you see progress and want to keep going. The 52-week money challenge, for example, is a popular one for starting the new year. The idea is that you save a dollar more each week, starting with $1, and by the end of the year, you will have incrementally saved $1,378.

When you take on something like this, you’re less focused on the money and more focused on trying to win. And sometimes feeling like you’ve “beat” your finances, even in small ways, is exactly what money avoiders need.

Pay Attention to Your Language

If you’re a true money avoider, you may have been scanning this list thinking, “Pfft, I can’t do that. That one doesn’t work for me either. Nope, I know that’s not going to work, because I suck at money.”

When you regularly tell yourself things like “I’m just bad at money,” it’s like giving yourself permission to ignore your financial situation.

Money avoiders look for any reason to avoid handling their finances (and there are plenty to choose from) and will often use language to amplify their distance from money. Try this exercise: For a week, pay attention to and write down some of your most common thoughts and statements around money. You might be surprised at how your language reinforces your avoidant behavior. It might not seem like a big deal, but words matter: When you regularly tell yourself things like “I can’t save more” or “I’m just bad at money,” it’s like giving yourself permission to ignore your financial situation.

Take the exercise a step further and look for replacements to these statements. You don’t have to get over-the-top inspirational with it. If statements like “I am a money master and abundance flows within me” make you want to barf (totally understandable), start with something simpler: “I might suck at money now, but I’m learning to be better with it.” “I can’t do this thing, but I’m going to find something that I can do.”

Find a Book, Blog, or Podcast You Like

If reading about money bores you out of your mind, that can make you want to avoid it even more. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal finance books out there, and they all say pretty much the same thing: Stick to a budget. Be frugal. Negotiate. Open a retirement account.

An author’s voice and unique approach, rather than the advice itself, will be what sets a book apart. So find a voice that speaks to you. For example, if you’re dealing with common Gen Y issues and want straightforward talk, you’ll probably like Broke Millennial. Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich is an irreverent, no-excuses take on personal finance. (And if you want a laid-back, not-too-serious guide to personal finance, you might like my book, Get Money).

Or maybe a podcast works better with your schedule. “Find resources that fit your lifestyle and listen while you’re working out, running errands, or just wanting to procrastinate something else,” says certified financial planner Bobbi Rebell, who hosts the podcast Financial Grownup. “A good one will motivate you to start paying better attention.” Rebell’s podcast, for example, focuses on small, quick financial tips from experts and could be a good fit if you’re always busy but want to squeeze in some financial advice during a pocket of downtime. Other recommendations: Farnoosh Torabi’s So Money podcast takes a deep dive into different financial topics. Gaby Dunn’s podcast (and forthcoming book), Bad with Money, follows an interview format, where Dunn asks experts how she can improve her own finances.

Sell Something

Money avoiders sometimes steer clear of dealing with their money issues because they feel powerless. One quick way to feel a little more in control is to make some money, even if it’s not a huge amount.

Making money from selling something can give you the same endorphin kick you might get from buying something instead.

“You wouldn’t expect it, but selling something online — whether it’s on high-end websites like The RealReal or more mainstream sites like Poshmark, eBay, or even Etsy — will give you the biggest rush when you get that check or see the credit online,” Rebell says. Even a good old-fashioned garage sale can do the trick. “It’s like a little shot of happiness to know you have money instead of a ‘thing’ you just weren’t that into.”

In other words, making money from selling something can give you the same endorphin kick you might get from buying something instead. “It’s like feeling better after having the smoothie instead of the doughnut,” Rebell adds. “That energy will motivate you.”

Find the Right Tech Tool

“I’ve found embracing some technology can make dealing with money more interesting, engaging, and easily accessible,” says Todd Kunsman, founder of the personal finance website Invested Wallet. “I know other people who have never been into monitoring their finances [who are] now tracking and getting more interested” because of apps or other online tools.

These tools can also make it easier to manage money, and for money avoiders, that can be encouraging. If you’re in debt, for example, you might like an app like Unbury Me or Tally, both of which analyze your debt and help you formulate a plan to pay it off. Robo-advisers like Acorns or Betterment help people get their feet wet with investing. For basic budgeting, you can’t go wrong with Mint, which helps track your finances by automating your budget.

Kunsman also recommends You Need a Budget, which shows you where every dollar of your income goes. “You do have to pay for [it], but it’s really cheap for how much time and money it can save you,” he says. While the level of detail YNAB provides can be intimidating for some money avoiders, others find that it’s the kick in the pants they need to take control.

Whichever platform you use, tech can take much of the legwork out of money management. Ultimately, though, the real work will come down to you: Being good with money has less to do with budgets, tracking, and spending and more to do with mindset and behavior.

Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, ELLE, Travel + Leisure, and Glamour magazine.

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