How Changing the Way You Talk About Money Will Help You Reach Your Goals

Photo: Getty Images/Jamie Grill
If sitting down to deal with your finances sounds like an absolute nightmare, at least know that you're in good company. For plenty of us, the act of making smart, responsible money decisions conjures mental images of sitting alone at home, eating ramen over the holidays, or passing on countless brunches with friends. No matter how much you say you're leaning into JOMO, when you decline invitations in favor of saving funds, major FOMO is about to be tapped.

Perhaps that's why it's so common to simply opt in to social engagements with the intention of worrying about balancing your personal books later. In the moment, this zest-for-life way of living may well feel liberating, but soon enough, worry is sure to set in. You may end up thinking, “Will I be able to make my credit card payment? Should I have more to show for how hard I’m working? Will I ever be able to retire?”

Our fiscal lives often feel like a lose-lose. We know what we should do in order to be financially flush, but our actions don’t follow, no matter how hard we try—after all, balancing saving and living is tough.

Well, good news: There's a way to make this situation easier on yourself without changing a single personal-finance habit. Rather, just shift the language you use when talking about them. The way we speak about something changes how we feel about it, which in turn influences the actions we take. Beautiful cycle, huh?

Less beautiful is language many commonly use regarding money, which often skews restrictive and decidedly un-fun. Consider the statement: “I have to cut out that expense.” “Have to” makes it the choice feel forced upon us, and “cut out” feels like something is being taken from us. These are not good, happy feelings, so use the steps below to change that. By shifting how you speak about money, you may be able to change your relationship to it for the better—and meet more of your goals as a result.

4 steps to change how you speak about—and feel about—money.

Photo: Getty Images/Weekend Images Inc.

1. Become aware

Notice the language you use that feels restrictive. For me, the word "budget" is cringeworthy. Just like when I’m on a restrictive diet, all I can think about is ice cream, when I hear the word "budget," I just want to go shopping.

Start to take note of the "have tos", "cut outs", and "budgets" in your money lexicon.

2. Replace the restrictive words with something more powerful

We have the opportunity to choose different language, so replace those triggering "have tos" and "cut outs" with happiness and allocation. In fact, this new, powerful language is actually more accurate. Say you’re saving up to take a vacation you’ve been putting off or are finally paying down the credit-card debt that’s been stressing you out. Those are things you really want, and in many cases, you would choose to prioritize those goals over less important purchases. So by emphasizing these bigger goals rather than focusing on what you're foregoing spending on in the immediate present, you can stay true to your intentions without compromising happiness.

As such, a happiness allocation is a much more fitting term than budget: It involves deciding how to allocate money in the way that’s going to make us the happiest in the short- and long-term.

3. Put the habit into practice

Since you've been speaking about money in a certain way for so long, you've gotten pretty good at it. This means you can't expect your language habits to change overnight. So, start with one word or phrase at a time. When you hear it come up in your thoughts or in conversations, take note and then replace it with the new, powerful, fun language. It'll take some practice but will become second nature over time and then just be part of your vocabulary.

4. Share with friends

It’s so much easier to catch each other using restrictive language than it is to hear ourselves. Do this exercise with a friend or a colleague, and call each other out when you hear the restrictive language. You may be shocked by how often you’re using it.

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Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is the founder of the financial coaching service Fiscal Femme and the creator and author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse. For more, sign up for Ashley's weekly Money Musings to get a regular download of money knowledge in two minutes.

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