Black Hills Woman Magazine | Finance | Starting Now

Starting Now
by Kathleen Fox

“I wish we had started this ten years ago.”

By “this,” my friend meant the goal to become debt-free and financially healthy that she and her husband are working hard to achieve. Like most of us, they have made their share of money mistakes and are now dealing with the consequences. Like many families with kids and credit cards and mortgages and school loans, they have gradually slipped into a stressful financial mess.

A mess they are cleaning up. Of course, it would have been easier if they had started out with better money habits and made some different choices. But they didn’t. And instead of feeling overwhelmed and giving up, they are on the move.

If you’re in a similar situation, it isn’t too late to clean your financial house. Like so many cleanup projects, the hardest and most important part is getting started.

Here are a few suggestions to help you make that start.

Focus on what you can do now, not what you could have done then. Beating yourself up with, “I should have started sooner” leads right into, “It’s too late to start at all.” Shift that self-talk to, “I might have started sooner, but I am starting now.” One way to help re-frame your thinking is to ask this: “Will changing my money patterns now make me better or worse off five years from now?”

Find a system to follow, then make your own plan. The fundamentals of getting out of a financial mess are pretty simple: stop creating new debt, create a budget and follow it, pay off debt systematically, and find ways to reduce your spending and increase your income. But you don’t need to build your own method from scratch; plenty of books, classes, and apps can show you how. Find a system, then adapt it to fit your needs and style.

Get support. A class or online group can provide a built-in support system. Or meet regularly with a couple of friends on the same financial journey. And protect yourself from friends or family members who try to sabotage your success.

For couples, work together. It’s essential to take on a financial cleanup as equal partners. Blaming and scolding just make things worse; sharing the responsibility and satisfaction of building a better future can strengthen your partnership.

Let the kids in on the plan. They don’t need details, but they do need the truth. Share what you’re doing—your positive example is a powerful way to teach them healthy money management.

Appreciate the positive unintended consequences. And yes, there will be some. Cutting the grocery and eating-out budget can result in healthier eating. Selling excess stuff to raise money can clear out clutter. Reducing expensive activities can result in more family time. Above all, knowing you’re taking action for a healthy financial future can reduce your stress and boost your self-respect.

Forgive yourself. Yes, at times you’ll probably slip back into old money habits, get discouraged, or make progress more slowly than you’d like. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you’re human. Take responsibility for your mistakes, but be kind to yourself.

Celebrate as you go. Notice and savor your accomplishments, even small ones. Mark milestones, like 30 days without using a credit card or the last payment on a debt. Put gold stars on a chart, do a happy dance in the living room, or just tell each other “we did it!”

Because each “we did it!” means you’re moving forward. It doesn’t matter when you started or what you could have done back then. What matters is that you’re taking action now.

Kathleen Fox is the author of Making the Best of Second Best: A Guide to Positive Stepparenting and the co-author with Rick Kahler, CFP®, of Conscious Finance.

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