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You and Your Money: Mastering the Emotions Behind the Numbers

Hall, Alvin

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Bad money habits? Financial guru Alvin Hall shows how to break them, make smarter spending and savings decisions, and glide down the path to economic security.

We spend a lot of time examining our personal relationships, but what about the one relationship that may hold the most impact of all -- our relationship with money? In the groundbreaking You and Your Money, bestselling author and television personality Alvin Hall offers brilliant money management advice grounded in a spectacularly simple concept: our emotions determine our financial success or failure. If you've ever felt confused, guilty, or anxious about your finances, you know instinctively that money is about far more than cold numbers. Hall explores our lifelong relationship with money and discusses the way money becomes embedded in all our other relationships, with parents, children, spouses, and peers.

You and Your Money will help you understand your money management style and break those deeply ingrained bad habits. Even more powerfully, it will enable you to balance your financial and emotional lives and free yourself from conflict. Get a fresh feeling for your money issues and transform your financial life once and for all -- for a future richer in every way.

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About the Author:

Alvin Hall has been training and counseling a wide range of financial service companies and institutions in the United States and around the world for the last twenty years. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Money and Yourself

TEST YOURSELF. Is the relationship between yourself and money a healthy one, or is it a potential source of trouble? To find out, answer the questions below -- and be honest!

How Do You Score? There are no passing or failing grades on this quiz (or on any quiz in this book). But every "no" answer indicates an area on which you need to focus to get your financial relationships in order. For helpful advice and guidance, read on.

Know Yourself

As a TV money educator and the author of several books of money advice, I've learned that everyone needs to develop his or her own style of financial management. My way of earning, saving, spending, and investing money won't necessarily work for you, and vice versa. The first step is being comfortable in your own skin: knowing and accepting who you are, what you want, and what money means to you.

Success with money isn't matter of having a big bank account (although that doesn't hurt). The real key is your attitude toward yourself and toward the money you have. The wisdom of ancient Greece -- "Know thyself" -- remains as powerful today as ever. It's at the heart of being a smart money manager. And although it sounds simple, even obvious, "knowing thyself" can be surprisingly difficult to achieve.

Getting to Know You

Here are eight specific exercises you can do that will help you get to know your own money habits and tendencies better. You don't necessarily have to perform all eight; instead, you can pick the two or three that seem most relevant to you, and see what they can teach you.

1. Keep a diary of your spending and the emotions that go with it. Buy a little notebook especially for the purpose, and carry it with you everywhere you go for a month. During that time, write down everything you buy, no matter how big or how small. List each purchase and its price. Include items for which you pay cash (like your morning coffee and newspaper) and items you buy with a check or a credit/debit card (like a new CD or a piece of furniture).

At the end of the day, take a moment to add a brief note describing how you feel about that day's spending. Do you feel joy? Guilt? Regret? Disappointment? Contentment? What you write will vary from day to day, of course. One day you might write, "I'm so excited about the new shoes I bought today. They'll go perfectly with the outfit I'm wearing tomorrow. I can't wait to see what my friends in the office say!" Another day you might write, "I feel bad about spending so much money on snacks and drinks today. I really meant to save that cash for the weekend. Hope I can do better tomorrow."

There will be times when keeping the diary feels like a total bore or a nuisance. You'll be tempted to quit. Don't! A full month's worth of notes will tell you a lot about your money habits, good and bad, and help you understand the ways in which your money habits bring you happiness and grief.

2. Examine your sources of income. On a sheet of paper, list everyone who provided you with any money during the past year, along with the amounts you received. A few of these sources will be obvious: the salary paid by your employer or the income from your own business, for example. Others may be easy to overlook. Did you receive any payments from the federal, state, or local government? Did your parents or other family members give or lend you money? Did you receive money from a romantic partner, an ex-spouse, or a friend? Did you do any part-time work for which you received a formal or informal payment? Did you get dividend or interest payments from stocks, bonds, or mutual funds that you own, or money from a trust account? Did you win money from a lottery, a contest, or gambling? Did you receive money as a result of a lawsuit or an insurance claim? List everything.

Once you've created the list, consider what it tells you about your present and future sources of income. How secure are the past year's sources of income? Which sources are likely to increase in the future -- and which are likely to shrink or disappear? What new sources of income can you develop? An honest evaluation of this list can help you figure out whether your future prospects are bright, or you have been living on borrowed time.

3. Analyze one credit card bill from the past year. Identify each item you bought (if you can) and measure how much pleasure it gave you. Do you remember the item? Do you remember why you bought it? Do you still have it? If so, do you still use it? In retrospect, was it worth buying? Count up the number of items you bought that were smart, satisfying purchases, and compare this to the number of items you now wish you hadn't bought. What patterns do you notice? What types of purchases do you consistently regret? Are there particular kinds of items you tend to waste money on? Which kinds of purchases consistently bring you lasting pleasure? When do you stop or cut back using the credit card, and what causes this change?

4. Count the number of purchases you made last year. A relatively easy way to do this is to request the year-end summary of your spending that most credit card companies will provide. Also review your checkbook register or checking account statements, and try to list most or all of the items you bought using cash. How many purchases did you make altogether? How does the number compare to the number of days in the year? Did you buy something every day, every two days, every three days? Is it hard for you to go through a day without spending money? If so, do you know why?

5. Examine your unconscious forms of spending. On a piece of paper, list all the automatic purchases on your credit card: gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, or any other automatic deductions. If you use an automatic banking service that provides for direct debits for regular monthly expenses, list these as well. Automatically deducted expenditures can be an inadvertent trap that can help make it easy for you to spend money without thinking about it. How many of these can you reduce or eliminate?

6. List the things you hate to spend money on. Some of these may be needless expenses you can eliminate by making a change in your life. For example, if you hate paying the costs of driving to work, perhaps you can set your alarm clock for half an hour earlier, making it possible for you to walk (if your job is close by), use public transportation, or carpool. Not only will you save money, but you might meet some interesting new people who could change your life or career.

In other cases, avoiding particular expenses may be shortsighted. I have a friend who hates to buy food in restaurants because he dislikes leaving a tip for the waiter. It's a problematic attitude, because sometimes you have to pay to get good service -- and a person who refuses ever to visit a restaurant misses out on the fun of eating out with friends. My coauthor, Karl, hates to spend money to get things fixed around the house because, as he puts it, "There's no fun in it." But if you put off patching the roof or servicing the furnace, you may end up having to make a more costly repair or replacement in the long run.

Listing your own pet hates when it comes to spending can show where your emotions may overrule your reason, leading to short-term and self-defeating thinking.

7. List your best and worst expenditures. Make a list of the five things you did with money last year that enhanced your life the most. Then make a separate list of your five worst mistakes -- money decisions that were a setback or damaged your life. What were the reasons behind each of these decisions, good or bad? What lessons can you derive from them?

There's no single right or wrong way to compile these two lists. One person's brilliant choice may be another person's disaster. For Susan, spending $3,000 on a week's holiday in the Caribbean may have been just the break she needed to clear her head after a tough year at the office, energizing her to start looking for a better job upon her return to work. For Cynthia, the same holiday may have maxed out her credit card, speeding up a dangerous spiral into excessive debt that ruined any pleasure she might have taken from her days in the sun. Only you can define your best and worst uses of money.

8. Test your money self-discipline. You can also learn more about your money psychology by experimenting with short-term behavior changes. I am testing my own self-discipline right now through a simple but surprisingly tough challenge: for one year, I am forbidding myself to buy shirts. (I have sixty shirts of all kinds and I love to get new ones.) In the past, I have tried other, similar experiments; for example, I once locked away my credit cards for a month, forcing myself to pay for everything in cash. I found that this act of self-discipline made me more aware of my own cash flow and forced me to reevaluate what I spend.

Among other benefits, such limited acts of self-denial help you to appreciate more the good things you have and increase your self-confidence by demonstrating and strengthening your ability to determine what's needless and do without it. Most important, they help you know yourself more intimately. What kinds of money behavior have the greatest hold over you? Which money habits are easy to change? Which changes really hurt? Above all, who is in control: you or your money?

The Bottom Line

Most people have only a vague awareness of how they relate to money. They spend little time reflecting on how they get money, how they use it, and what sort of emotional impact money has on their lives. Devoting time to becoming more conscious of your money decisions is a crucial first step toward improving your relationship to money.

The goal of all eight exercises is the same: to help you better understand the role of money in your life. How does money bring you happiness? How does it cause you regret, anxiety, or disappointment? Which of your money habits would you like to...

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