I entered my long, often-fraught, 12-year relationship with my husband after a six-year, often-fraught relationship with my first real boyfriend. After my husband and I split, I wanted a time-out from dating, a chance to learn how to build a healthier relationship with another person before falling in love again.
I’d like to say that romance is the only area in which I needed a conceptual overhaul. But I’ve also had a long, often-fraught, not-so-simpatico relationship with money.
Conflict around money, in marriage and when single, is far more common than we might think, says Brittney Castro, a Los Angeles-based certified financial planner and owner of Financially Wise Women. “We think we’re alone with our money issues, but everybody really shares the same thing. No one is born with more financial education than anyone else. Everyone needs help.”
Times of transition such as divorce can send a pre-existing dysfunctional relationship with money into the toxic zone. Not only do we have to face our own money issues without the buffer (or distracting accusations) of a spouse, but we also have new challenges, ranging from learning to live on less and gaining clarity about what we actually have and/or owe, to establishing a money philosophy of our own.
The first step to developing a passionate love-affair with your financial life? Pay attention to it.
“I see money like another relationship. If you want to have a loving, healthy relationship with someone, you have to invest time and energy into it to improve it,” says Castro.
Challenges around money can be harder for women, says Castro, even today, when an increasing number of women are the head of their households. Castro founded her company, Financially Wise Women, a few years ago to help women learn how to use their money to live a life they love, rather than stress out about it, feel controlled by it, or hide under the covers from it. “There can be a lot of fear, like, ‘What am I going to do now?’ Maybe they weren’t working and they’ll get spousal support, but it’s going to end. Or they worry about what to do for work. I always tell people to hire a financial planner, look at everything, put a plan in place and know you’re not alone,” says Castro. “A lot of the work I do is saying, ‘Okay now that you’re on your own, what do you want? How can we create some realistic goals and not be afraid to say those goals out loud?’”
Here are Castro’s 5 tips for building a warm, positive relationship with your cold, hard cash—and with anything else you may have, earn, desire or owe.
1. Get in the game of money.
“Money really is a game, and the more you think of it like that, the more fun you’ll have,” says Castro. She advises women to develop a “strong money mindset,” a positive view of money. “The mindset is important, and I think it’s often overlooked. We all know we should budget, but the mindset is what motivates behaviors.”
2. Make a weekly money date . . . with yourself.
Slot in an hour every week on your calendar for a money date with yourself. Use this hour to update your budget, review how much you’ve spent of your 30-percent discretionary income, and look for upcoming events that will cost you money, such as birthday parties requiring gifts, or dinners out with friends. Checking in and planning ahead is how one stays on budget (apparently). “The whole point is to pay attention, week by week, so you don’t get to the end of the year and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, where did my money go?!’” says Castro.
3. Follow the 50-20-30 rule.
Take your net (after tax) income and create a monthly budget using this formula: Allocate about 50 percent to fixed expenses, such as rent or a mortgage, electricity, phone, and the minimum payment on any debt. Save 20 percent for goals, such as buying a house, going to college, or paying off debt faster. Keep 30 percent for things you want to do, like buying clothes, going out, donating to charity. (If you’re self-employed, you have to put aside 20 percent for taxes first.) These are ideal percentages, says Castro. “If you can’t save 20 percent, start with one percent. Every year, work on increasing that.”
Set up automatic withdrawal for as many of your fixes expenses and saving goals as possible. This frees you up from having to think about paying your bills, giving you more time to focus on that 30 percent of discretionary income—and a better shot at not overspending that.
5. Celebrate small victories.
The game of money should not feel like an endless chore with no rewards. Rather, we should celebrate the little financial victories, such as not spending money on lunch because there was a free lunch at the office that day, or biking to work instead of driving, and saving money on parking. We want to find joy in the progress we’re making toward financial literacy, or amazing wealth (or mere solvency). “I talked to a woman who bought a home recently. I was like, ‘Wow, congratulations! That’s amazing.’ She instantly responded, “Yeah, but I should have done it 10 years ago.’ She could not give herself credit for buying a home,” says Castro. Castro see celebrating victories as an important part of shifting your personal “energy” around money, and creating a positive inflow. Celebrating helps relieve the grip of anxiety around money and opens you up to more creative solutions.
This idea dovetails with the “upward spiral of positive emotions” theory of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, and my Principle of Parting # 7: Create Positive Moments. Happiness is not just the absence of the negative experiences and feelings, but also the presence of positive ones. Positive moments and the good emotions they create have an “undoing” affect on negative experiences and help us solve problems, connect with others and even improve our physical health.
As Castro puts it: “The more you celebrate, the more fun you have, and the more likely you will be to continue doing it. Anything in life, if you want more of it, it helps to have gratitude for what you do have. An abundance mentality or gratitude mentality brings more of it. I really think it’s true with money.”
Want to know more?
Certified financial planner Brittney Castro offers a six-month, one-on-one financial planning package for a flat fee, designed to build and implement a solid financial plan and teach money management skills. She also has a (much more economical) six-week, online money class that focuses on saving, budgeting, investing, and building a healthy relationship with your money. The class costs $497. Get more information and sign up here.
Certified Financial Planner Brittney Castro recommends these books to increase your money literacy:
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.