I know, I know. Talking about one’s personal finances can be about as fun as trying to open a can of snow peas with a disposable Bic raiser. All that looking into your own numbers can range from tedious to mind-melding. I certainly get how that can be for some people.
Yet, if you have read any of my other money-related posts, you know that I believe strongly in paying attention to one’s finances. As a professional musician and as a married man, knowing where I’m at financially comes in real handy every single day. If this discussion feels like you are being forced to sit through a talk about the taxonomy of deep sea snails, I certainly understand… and I suggest that you get over it, and learn to face your own finances. Someday you may be glad that you did!
So what exactly is integrity in one’s money situation? First, let’s define integrity. Here’s a definition I found on Google that I like for the purposes of our discussion:
Integrity: the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction.
In the world of daily living, integrity to me is about “planning your work, and working your plan.” It’s about creating a plan that inspires you, and then following through with the plan. It is about aligning your actions with your principles of who you say you are. For example, if you say you are someone who lives below your means (meaning you don’t live off credit debt, and you don’t spend everything you earn), then going out one weekend and spending $10,000 on your credit card for drinks is probably not in integrity (unless you saved for that expense well ahead of time, and probably only if this was an event that you really felt merited such a splurge).
Integrity is an individual thing for sure, because it depends on you defining what is important to you. Who do you want to be in life? What do you value? When it comes to your money, what do you value? Your answers to these questions will start to reveal what your own personal financial integrity looks like. It isn’t for me to tell you what that is.
However, this being my blog, here are some questions I have written that I believe can help towards personal financial integrity:
- Are you managing your money responsibly and holistically, so that you are allotting money for each of these three things: unpaid past expenses (ie debt) if any, present expenses (ie bills), and future expenses (ie retirement)?
- Are you following through on your financial commitments responsibly and consistently, allowing no “leaks” in the boat (such as out-of-control debt or spending, unpaid bills, or other broken agreements)?
- Do you know what your most important financial goals, and are you making regular progress towards meeting them?
- Do you manage money so that you can have fun with it in the present AND know that you are meeting long-term goals?
- Does every dollar you make have a job? Do you know where every dollar goes? In other words, are you regularly tracking your spending and money allocation?
- Is your net worth consistently rising?
- Do you have open and empowered communication with those adults with whom you share financial responsibilities (ie spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, business partners, or other family members involved in a family trust)?
- Do you feel that you are earning enough money to responsibly pay for your current lifestyle without excessive stress or strain?
- Do you honestly feel empowered, excited, and enthused about your financial life?
Here’s a suggested approach to these questions: For each question, answer “always,” “sometimes,” “rarely,” or “never,” and then elaborate on why you gave each answer. After you answer these questions honestly and completely, it is very important that you do something. FORGIVE YOURSELF. If you are already a financial wizard, handling all these areas perfectly, you probably are not reading this blog post. If you want to make progress in your finances, the first thing is to commit to being nice to yourself. You want to start by accepting where you are at without judgement. This is extremely important. You cannot become great at something unless you are first willing to be not great at it, and you cannot bring your finances into complete integrity until you are willing to look at where you are without making it wrong.
Once you have fully accepted your financial situation, ask yourself, “For each question above, what is one action I can take to make an improvement in this area?” No action is too small! Just one action.
That should get the ball rolling.
The point is, a big project like living with total financial integrity is a long-term process. Don’t expect it to just fix itself instantly. Give yourself time, and allow yourself to start to examine your situation without judging it.
As I said, one day you may be glad that you did!