I am here, right now, because I want to to talk about freedom. I don’t give two sh*ts and a bitcoin ’bout talking about money for money’s sake, but I do love to talk about financial health and how it ultimately pertains to your freedom. (And my freedom! That’s why I started this blog.)
According to a survey by the Center For Financial Services Innovation, 57% of Americans struggle financially and 43% can’t pay their bills. And these folks don’t simply inhabit the “lowest rung” of the socioeconomic stratum—they are our besties, our neighbors, our parents, that guy with the incredible travel Instagram feed, that coworker whose put-togetherness shatters your self-worth daily. It could be any of us. Americans are literally and emotionally trapped by debt, spending into a life of constant material upgrades, and scared for their futures. We often react to our fear by burying our feelings of shame and resentment, neglecting to address our financial woes.
When we bury problems, it is difficult, if not impossible, to become financially free.
To change this and to encourage people to open up and redirect their financial destinies, I am going to suggest something radical:
Begin with gratitude. Yup, gratitude. Gratitude for something that you might hate, find intolerable, or that scares you.
Why? Because happiness and action follow gratitude, not the other way around.
No matter where you exist on the spectrum of financial health and whether you think improving your personal financial health sounds petrifying or as appealing as a big helping of vanilla/missionary/raw almonds, I believe that developing a grateful mindset makes the process of navigating personal finance infinitely more tolerable. Now, don’t go thinkin’ I’m one of these hyper life coach types that gets a lady boner at the mere thought of a killer life insurance lesson; I won’t pretend like it’s not a damn chore to learn and implement this stuff, ‘cause it is.
But holy sh*t, at least the option exists for us.
I doubt I need to coax anyone into believing that feeling good about money is life-changing. The more interesting questions are, How do we get there? How do we get motivated to make a change? How do we get ourselves to care about something so boring and intimidating?
A younger Dumpster Doggy detested thinking and talking about money, but I now write you from a place of gratitude. 27-year-old me never saw it comin’! And while lecturing about gratitude makes me feel like a cheesy, contentious a-hole, I hope that in sharing how I was able to engineer my way out of this mental traffic jam, it motivates you to do the same. (And let’s be real, we all have to get motivated eventually.)
Leaving finance forever, or so I thought
When I quit my job in the investment management industry, I thought I was leaving the finance industry forever. I hated corporate finance bro culture, slow-roasting under the fluorescent lights, and old dudes whining to me about their riches all day. I hit a mental breaking point, so I concocted a financial exit plan. Within eight months, I successfully escaped the heat of the Broaster Oven and was on my way to travel Latin America for a year. NOW DONTCHU WORRY, I didn’t come here to brag about some cliche epiphany I had while meditating at Machu Picchu; I ain’t gonna play u like dat.
Ultimately, it was the darker side of travel that changed my perspective on saving and investing. In every country I visited—Brazil, Honduras, Bolivia, Cuba, and so on—I met and witnessed people who were wonderful and hardworking, but with no way to improve the qualities of their own existences. While we all understand this to be the nature of our complicated world, I struggled to witness firsthand how work becomes slavery when there is little hope that things will get better. In more places than not, there is no saving money. There is no such thing as retirement. If you are so unlucky as to be born poor into a developing country in Latin America (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter), your fate is often sealed—especially if you are a woman. My guilt was devastating.
Embarrassingly, gratitude was a novel concept to me back then—not exactly on my twentysomething radar ‘cause I was very focused on binge drinking and coasting my daily hangover to the closing bell. But I dedicated myself to the idea—mostly out of selfishness. I wanted to feel better, and everything I was reading at the time encouraged gratitude as a precocious way to improve one’s quality of life. This was also crucial for me as a solo traveler. When you spend a lot of time alone, it’s easy to forget how lucky you are and fixate on your loneliness. (Oh wow look over there at that super cool glacier/artifact/sunset. TOO BAD I HAVE NO ONE TO SHARE IT WITH BOOO HOOOOO ME.)
There was nothing particularly unique about my gratitude practice; each morning, I listed three things I was thankful for. Recurring topics of my gratitude included (but were not limited to): My dear family and friends, my working legs/eyes/ears/insides, musical and written works, my education, my adorable tittays, etc. It’s a mind-blowingly effective habit, sure, but in practicing gratitude every day, one’s well of ideas tends to run dry. (Can only be thankful for mum so many times before it provides no marginal benefit to well-being.) The daily routine forced me to get creative and explore remote portals of my life experience in search of raw material for gratitude practice.
I reluctantly found myself admitting thankfulness for having learned so much at the investment firm. Bringing the microscope into even finer focus, I conceded to being thankful for the sheer opportunity to save and invest and most of all, retire. I’m reticent to admit that the poverty of others led me to thinking Thank f*cking God I/we don’t have to work forever, but I’d feel far more rotten not acknowledging this privilege and not expressing my sincerest gratitude for it.
I can honestly say that I no longer feel annoyed when I think about saving and investing. That’s not to say that I’m never scared about the future, but there is peace in accepting the journey (and knowing exactly what steps I must take to achieve financial freedom). This practice of gratitude—along with observing women at a consistent financial disadvantage throughout my travels—are two of the primary reasons I made my *grand* return to finance. I felt my work in this space wasn’t done. So here I am!
Implementing your own practice
Achieving financial health isn’t easy and requires much grit, but I believe this fortitude can be cultivated if you focus on the ways we can win and can achieve within what feels like a broken or rigged system. There’s no shortage of news stories and think-pieces that spotlight our dishonest and catawampus financial system, and I don’t disagree with them—but focusing every calorie of energy on how the system has failed us is NOT going to help us achieve money freedom. We achieve freedom by focusing on the ways in which we can read the system and use it to our advantage, by educating ourselves about money, and by putting plans into action.
And to be bloody honest with ya, I simply don’t wanna be an old, scared granny looking back on my life and thinking, f*ck I was a whiny turd. I shoulda just been grateful and done more.
Integrating gratitude into your financial health practice may help spur motivation in newcomers and reinvigorate those in a rut (which will happen to everyone). To get you started, try repeating something along these lines:
I am grateful to be born into and live in a place where I can work for a better future. Saving and investing are not burdens, but an incredible feature of living in the United States.*
Now say it every day. Seriously. Try it for a month. See how you feel. Remind yourself often that at least the option exists for us.
Do I always buy into this? Obviously not. Sometimes I’m pissed, sometimes I’m unmotivated. But for the most part, I believe in this notion as much as I believe in the power of gratitude to transform not just our thoughts, but our actions. If we truly appreciate the shot we have to build wealth and achieve freedom, we’ll be so much more motivated to prioritize our financial health, to educate ourselves, and to stick to long-term plans (for the most part). Only when we believe in money’s ability to help us achieve freedom can we actualize that goal.
And on that, I’ll leave you with a quote that helped shepherd me through some confusing times on the road, from Mother Teresa: “The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.”
How does gratitude affect your life? Do you have a daily gratitude practice? Have you seen positive benefits? Have you seen none? Would love to hear success (and failure!) stories!
*I know that some of you might not feel we live in a free society, and my goal is not to downplay your feelings of political, cultural, or economic oppression. I also know that not everybody’s problems are equal. I will fight beside you for this country to do better and be better every day; It is quite literally why I am here, educating a demographic (young women) that have historically been marginalized. But again, if we only focus on our headwinds, we miss the opportunity to succeed, and that’s what I want most.