I had some feedback the other day that recently I’ve been tending to focus on what people do wrong with money. Given that I use positive psychology a lot and emphasise the value of things like hope and optimism, that was a bit of a shock.
But I have to face it, it’s true. The last couple of posts have been about the idiocies of politicians, what people do that doesn’t make sense, and so on.
So I thought I’d put it right and talk about positive things that you can do to avoid debt, or control it if you already owe money.
Frame things positively. So think about what you want to do instead of being in debt. I say more about that in Taming the Pound but let’s take an example. Say you’ve got a debt (or are about to run up a debt) of £500. You can focus on that, which is pretty depressing, you’ve got to pay it off, it’s worrying etc. It probably makes you want to go for “retail therapy”!
So think positive. What would you like to do, what is a positive image? Maybe you want to take a holiday. Think about that, how much is it?
If you’re in debt, think of the figure of paying off the debt (say, £500), plus the amount for the holiday. Strange as it may seem, it’s easier to motivate yourself to pay off the bigger amount for the debt plus having the holiday than it is to pay off the debt alone, because you have the positive image of the holiday in your head. You’ve got the motivation because the human reaction to something scary (like a debt) is run away and not deal with it. But you’ll happily tackle something fun, like a holiday and take the debt in your stride. Remember when you were at school, you could feel too ill to go to school, but be well enough when you were invited to a party.
The same thing applies when you want to avoid spending money. Think about the really great use of the money you could do, like the holiday. If you focus on that, and consider how fantastic it will be, you are doing something fun to save your money up – it’s a great idea and you’re happy about it, so you save the money. People tend to get worried about saving, feel they “ought to” save, won’t have any fun etc. But if you turn it round to the positive image, it’s fun.
There’s also the point that the human mind doesn’t do negatives. If you try to think “don’t be in debt” you will immediately focus on debt. That turns your thoughts to worry, depression etc. If, instead you think about the good stuff you’re going to do, the pleasure you’ll get out of not spending money now and saving it for something you will really enjoy, you’re making it fun to control your money.
Work out what you really want. And think about what you need. You might quite like a new pair of shoes or some gadget, but do you need them as much as you need to pay your rent or to buy food? And do you really, really want them? One good trick is to think, “how much do I want this on a scale of one to ten?” And don’t buy it unless it’s at least an eight or it is really needed.
What you’ll find, if you are honest with yourself, is that the things you spend money on that you truly want and will enjoy are going to be in one of a few categories.
- They’ll be experiences, like holidays, social events, parties, having a trial pilot lesson etc. You’ll remember them when the “things” you bought are long forgotten.
- They’ll be bought for others. We’re social animals, and if you think about it you’ll find that it really is more fun to give than to receive. The pleasure of seeing the person’s face, of the feeling that you get lasts long after the stuff you bought for yourself is thrown away.
- They’ll be things you waited for. Funnily enough, although we live in an age of “instant gratification”, we get a lot more out of the “pleasurable anticipation” of things we really want, the waiting, the imagination, than we get out of the things themselves!
That last point might seem odd, but it’s the same principle Hitchcock used. There’s nothing so frightening as your imagination, so Hitchcock didn’t often show the murderer, he just let people got terrified by their imaginations. In the same way if you buy everything the moment you feel you want it, you’ll almost invariably be disappointed, but if you wait and savour the anticipation you’ll find that you get far more pleasure out of it, whether you eventually buy it or not. And, of course, you give yourself time to find out that you’re not really bothered after all, and then you’ve saved your money as well!
When you have decided what you really want and that will give you pleasure (which might be having a debt free Christmas and a New Year holiday), think about the things that will bring you pleasure and that don’t necessarily cost anything. Using your skills (like art work to produce your own cards, making presents for people etc.), being sociable (in person, on Facebook, by phone, whatever), or doing things for others will all make you happy. And they don’t usually cost much money.
When you know what you want to spend your time and your money doing, plan what you’ll actually do. You’ll probably find you have way too much to do that is fun and that you really want and need, and you don’t have time to get depressed or to spend loads of money you don’t have on things you don’t really want.
And then if you need to make economies, you’re doing them for a good reason, because you’re going to get more out of life. Checking your energy supplier charges, setting the thermostat down a degree or two, boiling only the water you need, resisting impulse buys and so on are actually fun little challenges to yourself when you know why you’re doing them. You get this great feeling of being in control of yourself, and you focus on all the great things you’re going to do with the money instead of wasting it.
If you are doing “responsible” tasks like that because you have to, they are boring, you won’t want to do them, you’ll give up when it get’s hard and it won’t work. But if you know why you’re doing them and make it a game with yourself, you can have fun and develop your skills – so you get more pleasure out of the things that need doing, and have more time and money to do the things you want to do.
Try it – and do let me know how well it works for you, because it will work.