How to Harness Your Emotions for Financial Success

[It’s typical for a financial advisor or money coach to tell you to “Leave all of your emotions out of financial decisions!”?… Well, today’s guest, Christine Luken, encourages us to consider the opposite! Instead of ignoring our money emotions, we can learn to harness them and use them as a tool to improve our financial situation!]

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Harnessing Your Emotions for Financial Success

Money is emotional, and I should know. In my mid-20’s, I crashed and burned financially, despite having an accounting degree. I possessed the head knowledge, yet my emotions hijacked my financial common sense. (You can read all about it in my financial confessional post right here on Budgets Are Sexy, “I Was a Collector-Dodging, Check-Bouncing Accountant.”)

And this goes beyond my personal experience. Science has proven the moment of decision happens in the same part of the brain that processes emotion. So, it’s literally impossible to make a purely logical money decision.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard more than one financial professional say, “Leave emotion out of it! Just make logical money decisions. Crunch the numbers and let them dictate your financial decisions.” When people aren’t able to follow this advice, they feel like a failure and money shame sets in. So, if emotion fuels our actions around money, does this mean we’re at their mercy? Not if you learn how to harness their power!

I am a huge fan of martial arts. I took 2 years of karate lessons in high school, love movie fight scenes, and even attended a live UFC event in the 10th row (and got my picture taken with Dana White)!

The martial arts practice of judo emphasizes utilizing your opponent’s weight and strength as weapons against him, while preserving your own physical energy. You are essentially using their force to achieve your goal — winning. The great news is you can do the exact same thing with emotion to achieve your personal finance goals!

3 Ways to Harness Your Emotions to Win With Money

Before you can harness your emotions around money, it’s important to start being aware of them on a regular basis. Whenever you are earning, spending, saving, or managing money, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” It’s helpful to make note of your emotions in different financial situations. Then you can examine WHY those particular emotions are surfacing.

Amp Up Your Excitement to Achieve Major Money Goals

Make your financial goals and dreams as exciting as possible, so you actually want to do the work to achieve them. How? Fuse them with as much positive emotion as possible so nothing will stand in your way!

My #1 financial goal right now is paying off the mortgage, which has a balance of $41,300. My husband and I are hyper focused on it and talk about it constantly. We don’t just want to pay it off to be mortgage free. We focus on why we want to get rid of it and what opportunities it will open up for us. Our ultimate goal is a new house with an in-ground saltwater swimming pool. The real estate market in our area is really hot right now (housing selling in hours, not days), so being mortgage free means we can build our dream house with a pool, exactly the way we want it.

Paying off our current mortgage really means: a beautiful and relaxing backyard with a pool for me to peacefully float around in whenever I want. It means a brick ranch home with the perfect floor plan, including my dream work-from-home office with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I supercharge this dream by envisioning myself living this new reality via meditation for 5- 10 minutes per day. Whenever I go swimming, whether it’s at a friend’s house or my dad’s country club, I float on my back, close my eyes, and pretend I’m floating in my pool. By supercharging our goal with so much positive emotion, my husband and I become excited every time we pay extra on our mortgage. “One step closer to owning our home with a pool!”

Channel Your Anger to Destroy Debt

Did you know you can use negative emotions to help you achieve money goals? I did this shortly after I hit financial rock bottom. When I looked at the list of debts I need to attack, one stood out, mocking me. My Dillard’s bill had a charge on it for my Valentine’s Day present that my ex-finance “bought” me (he was an authorized user), and now I was stuck paying it. I got pissed off every time I saw the statement!

I decided to put my anger to good use and focus it on paying off that debt first. My Dillard’s bill didn’t have the highest interest rate, the smallest balance, nor the largest balance of my debt. It was simply the one I hated the most. I now refer to this as the “Volcano Method” of debt reduction and frequently use it with my financial coaching clients, especially women coming out of divorce. Is there a particular bill you hate, maybe because it’s baggage from a previous relationship or it reminds you of a stupid money mistake you made? Go ahead and attack your hated debt first! You can always transition back to the debt snowball or the debt avalanche method after it’s gone.

Use Positive + Negative Emotions to Achieve Your Retirement Goals 

One of my favorite uses of emotionally charged money goals is retirement. I know you are probably already FIRE’d up about early retirement! But people outside of the FIRE movement typically find it hard to motivate themselves to save for retirement. It seems so far off and they have a hard time getting excited about it.

This is why I use both positive AND negative emotions to inspire people to retire with dignity by imagining the best- and worst-case scenarios. First, we want to get crystal clear on what retirement will look like, so we can get amped up about it. For me, it means retiring on Maui, near Wailea. My husband and I know exactly which beaches we’ll go to for snorkeling, what neighborhood we’ll live in, and which golf courses we’ll be yelling “fore!” on. But sometimes imagining our ideal retirement isn’t quite enough to motivate us to max out our retirement contributions. So, we also need the contrast of the worst-case scenario: What happens if you don’t save enough? 

I’m not sure if you’ve recently visited a nursing home in your area that accepts Medicaid. Several years ago, I undertook the unpleasant task of nursing home shopping for my mother-in-law who was dying of cancer. There was one in particular that made my skin crawl from the moment I walked in the door, but I proceeded with the tour. (Thankfully, we found a wonderful place for my mother-in-law to spend her last days in comfort.) But I’ve never quite rid my brain of the horrible nursing home I toured. And that’s okay, because I use it to my advantage!

Whenever I consider adding extra money to my IRA, I dream about Maui, but I also remember the horrible nursing home! Maui pulls me closer to my goal, but the horrible nursing home uses my fear and dread to shove me in the direction of my dream. It’s important to remember that people take action for one of two reasons: to increase pleasure or to avoid pain. Sometimes, the second one contains a greater emotional charge! So, why not use both positive and negative emotion to motivate you to take action on your financial goals?

I challenge you to start paying attention to your emotions when you’re spending, saving, investing, earning, paying debt, and managing wealth. Which money emotions are strongest for you and how can use them to your advantage with the three techniques I mention here? Are there other ways you harness the power of your emotions to achieve your financial goals? Please let me know in the comments!

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Christine Luken, the Financial Lifeguard is a Certified Financial Coach, author, and founder of the Financial Dignity® Movement.  She empowers couples and divorcing women to break the money-shame cycle and achieve lasting financial health.  You can download the first 3 chapters of her book, Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart from Hijacking Your Wallet at www.MoneyIsEmotional.com.

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6 Comments

  1. Papa Foxtrot August 15, 2020 at 6:54 AM

    I like your volcano method, but I try to apply that to everything.

    I tell people to think of someone coming into your home and your life and ruining the lives of yourself and your loved ones. To think that the person will force you and your loved ones to work and do things they would rather not do. It would be hard not to be angry at that person.

    Then I tell those people. “Now imagine that person is a piece of paper, a debt that says you have to pay a certain amount.” Then I say “does that debt deserve any less than your full fury?”

    I know that sounds intense, but it works. Plus you were writing about using emotions for finances, you all but invited someone to talk with this intensity.

    My wife and I used this to pay off our federal student loans in little more than a year. Then the government told us we still had around $15,000 in student state loans. Do you have any idea of how angry we were about that? To give you an idea, that debt lasted months after we heard of its existence. Not a little more than a year, not a year, just months.

    And just fyi I was a PhD student at the time making $27,000 a year before taxes and health insurance. Granted my wife was working too, but for about the same as what I was making.

    Reply
    1. Christine Luken August 17, 2020 at 8:58 AM

      I love that you are applying the Volcano method to all of your debt! Kudos for knocking out that student loan debt!

      Reply
  2. Impersonal Finances August 15, 2020 at 4:28 PM

    I love the term and attitude involved in the Volcano method–eliminate the debt that angers you the most. Brilliant. Then again, I love all those cheeky debt terms (https://impersonalfinances.com/debt-avalanche-or-debt-snowball/) haha. Makes a ton of sense from a psychological standpoint, while accomplishing goals financially. There’s a lot of discussion about which debt payment strategy is best, but the real answer is that the best method is whichever one will motivate you to actually pay if off.

    Reply
    1. Christine Luken August 17, 2020 at 9:32 AM

      Yes, pick whichever debt method is most emotionally motivating for you! And isn’t it funny that they are all meteorological terms (snowball, avalanche, volcano)? Maybe we can invent some new ones (tsunami? tornado?), lol!

      Reply
  3. Dollartrak August 16, 2020 at 9:15 PM

    You can also train your self to work up emotions in a beneficial way. I do this by really thinking through the opportunity cost of spending. It helps me to stop enjoying consumption. when it’s not fun you lose that desire to do it, which makes prudent financial decisions easier.

    Reply
    1. Christine Luken August 17, 2020 at 9:34 AM

      Yes, I use the opportunity cost to motivate both my clients and myself! Right now, my hubby and I are super focused on paying off the mortgage. So every time I think about spending money, I ask, “Do I want this more than be mortgage free?” It’s definitely motivating!

      Reply

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