You probably have a financial junk drawer — a hodgepodge of incomplete financial projects, goals and even a few secrets.
Lots of people have one, says Amanda Priebe, a certified financial planner and wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management.
But unlike that kitchen drawer filled with old packets of duck sauce and rubber bands, your money mishmash could be standing in the way of your goals. A common financial secret is making a purchase and lying about it, according to Kristy Archuleta, associate professor of financial planning at the University of Georgia.
Maybe it’s saying you bought something on sale even though you paid full price, or claiming a new purchase is something you already owned. “Hiding income, large credit card debt and having a secret bank account are bigger common financial secrets,” Archuleta said.
These are all forms of financial infidelity, according to a paper in the Journal of Financial Therapy.
Just like slamming a closet door shut on clutter, Priebe says, people can be just as tactical in steering others away from their financial realities. “Common strategies include not talking with partners or spouses [and] not seeking help from a financial advisor,” she said.
Priebe recommends making a list of financial things on your mind.
“Rank it from what you are most likely to talk about with a friend, partner or professional to what you are least likely to discuss,” she said. “What are the most anxiety-provoking things on that list?"
“Then, reverse the order,” Priebe added. “That is almost certainly the one that needs the most urgent attention.”
Stop keeping secrets
Once you’ve identified your most closely held secret, bring it out into the light of day.
“These are the things that will sabotage your financial success,” Priebe said, and possibly even your kids’ success. Sometimes children pick up on parent behaviors and emulate them later on.
“Whether it’s a financial planner or a therapist, advisor, CPA — even a religious figure — seek help,” Priebe said.
If you’ve been using a secret credit card, take a moment to reflect and ask why you kept this a secret. Try to figure out what made you think you could not share this with your partner.
“Then, admit it to your partner and rebuild trust,” Archuleta said. “This involves clear and regular communication about your financial affairs and not leaving anything out.”
Take small steps
“Most people don’t know that much about personal finance,” Archuleta said. And that, of course, makes financial projects overwhelming.
Instead, break down tasks into smaller pieces to make each task less daunting. “If you have credit card debt, start paying off one credit card at a time by paying more than the minimum balance,” Archuleta said.
Choose the card with the lowest balance and add as much as possible to the minimum amount. Continue paying off any other cards at the same time.
“Finding the extra money may mean a few lifestyle changes,” Archuleta said, such as eating at home more or taking lunch to work.
Set positive goals
Several things can get in the way of crossing things off your list from past years, Priebe says, but what it really boils down to is behavior. Whether it’s saving more money, getting a will written or changing jobs, Priebe says she’s noticed that the best way to achieve a goal is by embracing an action, not avoiding one.
In other words, you’re more likely to succeed in changing your diet if you decide to learn new salad recipes rather than vow to stop eating ice cream.
Priebe herself used this method to trim down her wardrobe. You might think saying, “I won’t make any new purchases” would make sense. Instead, she decided to shop her own closet. It worked, and she went an entire year without buying anything.
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