How To Use Negative Feelings About Finances to Your Advantage

I have never been one to dwell on problems. Time is a limited resource, and I want to use it in the best possible way. Dwelling is a waste.

I also have little patience for sweeping things under the rug and pretending to be happy when I’m not. Ignoring a problem is a great way to ensure it will come back to haunt you later.

But it is certainly easy to give in to both. You can dwell on negativity, and you can simply ignore it as well. Neither really accomplishes anything — in fact, they make things worse. Money is an emotional topic, and we’ve talked before about how it is about mind more than math. Still, even though our emotions are delicate and can cloud our judgment, we can channel them to make them serve a purpose.

Here are some examples of how I use negative financial feelings to my advantage.

Feeling defensive about financial advice
When I was paying off my student loan, I was frustrated and stressed. My mom, the ultimate saver, tried to give me some advice. She told me about a friend who sold her car and took public transportation in order to reach a financial goal. It worked for her, but I rolled my eyes, because there was no way I could sell my car and take public transportation. It just didn’t make sense on paper for me. Her advice was inapplicable, I thought. And for some reason, it annoyed me.

But I was completely missing her point. She wasn’t telling me to sell my car — she was urging me to think outside the box and look for my own opportunity to cut back.

I’ve since learned that sometimes I can use those defensive feelings. Of course, I occasionally come across advice that truly doesn’t apply to me. In those cases, I ignore it and move on. But sometimes I come across advice that hits a nerve. I feel like it doesn’t apply to me, but, instead of moving on, I get upset. I feel misunderstood. I feel blamed. For whatever reason, I take it personally. But when this happens, there  is usually a reason, and identifying it can be a big help.

I’ve learned to recognize the defensiveness and change my thinking when I feel it. Instead of rolling my eyes and getting upset, I think:

  • Why is this upsetting me? For example, I didn’t feel it made financial sense for me to sell my car and take the bus.
  • Is it possible I’m missing the point? My mother wasn’t actually telling me to sell my car. The lesson of her example was to find a high-cost area of my budget and see if I could reduce it.
  • Is there a way this could actually apply to me? Yes. My big expense was rent, so I moved back in with my mom until I paid off my loan.

Instead of dwelling in self-pity and anger, I ask those questions and reroute my defensiveness into something productive.

Money shame
I enjoy being frugal, but I especially enjoy what I get out of frugality — i.e., the freedom to splurge on the things I love. By living below my means in every other area of my budget, I am able to use my hard-earned money on things that make me happy and fulfilled, like travel.

This works for me and for my finances, so I shouldn’t care what other people think. Still, I can’t help but feel a little ashamed when I tell a friend I took another weekend trip and she raises an eyebrow, or when I tell my parents I might move into a better place and I detect a smidgen of judgment in their voices.

My choices may be justified, but rather than brushing off this feeling of being judged, I use it to my advantage. It’s a spot-check I use to keep my spending in order. When I am confronted with the side-eye, I ask myself:

  • Do they have all the facts? Many of my friends don’t really know how frugal I am. But my parents do, so that tells me their judgment might be worth considering.
  • Do I trust their judgment? Yes, I trust my parents’ judgment when it comes to smart spending and saving.
  • Should I give this type of spending more thought? In the case of moving to a better apartment, yes. I sat down and talked about it with my parents to get their full perspective.

There is nothing wrong with giving your spending a little more thought. And if someone doesn’t know the full scope of my financial situation, I simply ignore the side-eye and continue to enjoy my weekend trips. I don’t blame them because it does look extravagant, especially if you don’t know how much I cut back in every other area and how much I save. But instead of dwelling on the shame, I rethink my spending choices when it’s appropriate.

Market dips
All the experts say you should ignore market dips because it’s not about timing the market, but rather your time in the market — that is, the longer you stay invested, the better your odds of success.

But tell me your stomach doesn’t sink, at least a little, when you check on your portfolio and it has plummeted. It’s only natural! Some people give in to that feeling and end up selling their assets. This is a bad idea. Some people sit with that feeling and simply try not to look at their portfolio. But there’s something productive you can do with that sinking feeling: use it as a reminder to invest.

When the market dips, as it has recently, I look at my retirement savings and see whether I can add more to it. Why not buy when prices are low? The idea is that you invest at a discount, and over time, you enjoy greater returns. So when the market sucks, I use that feeling of nausea as a reminder to invest.

I use negative financial feelings as alarms. Ignore them, and they only get worse. Dwell on them, and you go nuts. When those alarm bells go off, I can decide whether it’s a false alarm or whether it’s trying to make me aware of something I ought to consider. Either way, rerouting these feelings serves a purpose for me, and it’s a much better use of my time.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice.