We are all leaders. We may not be in charge of a team, or have people that directly report to us, but we all have at least one person that we are responsible for leading. Ourselves. We are the only ones that can change our attitude, our situation, or our outcome, and this change only happens when we lead ourselves well. Leading yourself well starts with setting the bar higher for yourself than someone else would, pushing yourself further than anyone thinks you can go. So what does this have to do with finances?
Looking back at the 25-year-old version of myself, I see someone who was less confident, trying to gain traction in my finances, doing too much at once without seeing much progress – expanding my emergency fund, paying my student loans, saving for retirement… I was moving in ten different directions and feeling frazzled. I finally realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. In order to get a different result, I needed to change. I could see my brother’s face from two years earlier after opening up the book he got me for Christmas. He was smiling at me and had this look of someone who knew something that I didn’t. Looking back, I realize that he had the look of a person who was leading himself well. So, I found that copy of The Total Money Makeover that had been sitting on my shelf collecting dust and sat down to read it. About a week later, I finished the last page, closed the book, and set out to make a difference.
Instead of focusing on many things and seeing little progress in each area, I laser beam focused in on one thing at a time. Luckily, my emergency fund was sitting at just over $1,000, so I moved on to debt payoff. Because this was my focus and nothing else, I stopped contributing to my 401(k) (temporarily!) and I stopped adding money to my savings account. I was in a pretty big hole of student loan debt, so I dropped all extra expenses and picked up two part-time jobs to increase my shovel. Because I decided to take control of my situation and change what I was doing, I started getting a different outcome. My student loans were disappearing! It wasn’t because of magic or because someone else decided to pay them off for me, I was taking control of my situation and leading myself and my finances well.
That change in attitude set a new bar for how I handle my money. Am I perfect? Of course not…I’m human! But have I now created some good habits and some filters to apply to my spending? Absolutely. Every dollar in our budget has a name. My husband and I talk about all large purchases before making them. We work together! We make saving for the future a priority. We don’t let lenders take all of our hard-earned money. Now, the 35-year-old me is picking up the 25-year-old version of myself and doing a jumping-hug-happy-dance with her! Because I took control of my situation and changed my behavior, I developed a new sense of confidence and learned how to lead myself well financially.
The great thing about this story is that it’s available to anyone. Your journey and results may look different than mine, but each of us has the opportunity to be intentional about how we handle ourselves, specifically with our money. The new characteristics we gain by this intentionality can have a ripple effect and you may just change someone’s financial future because of it. My brother sure did.