Rewriting My Money Narratives

In the world of social media buzzing with financial advice from every corner, it can feel overwhelming to navigate through the sea of information and find what truly resonates with our unique circumstances. Besides, we all hold deeply rooted scripts about money which influence our financial decisions, behaviors, and overall financial well-being. In this blog post, I decided to write about how I rewrote my money narratives, consciously choosing alternative beliefs and attitudes that align with my desired financial outcomes.

Narrative #1 – From “Micromanaging” to “Looking at the big picture”

Once upon a time, I was the epitome of frugality. Roughly around the time during my internship (my first experience of earning), I used to compulsively manage my money. So much so that I came up with a highly controlled system to manage my money. The rule was that after I buy something, I log the transaction on my phone and categorize it into rent, food, social life, entertainment, etc. Since I was not a full-time employee yet and the stipend was not a huge sum, the expenses were less and it was easy to follow this process. I was super proud of this. Every penny earned or spent had to be recorded and at the end of the month, I would check my stats. To be honest, it was fun.

This went on for a few months and I followed the system diligently. However, it was not long before I realized that I was being too vigilant with my money. I was micromanaging my expenses. Though it gave me a sense of satisfaction and kept me on track with my spending – it was not a practical system to follow in the long run.

Things took a turn after I graduated and joined back the company as a full-time employee. Now the salary was way more and the expenses expanded with it. The turning point was when I went on a trip to Thailand with my best friends. This was a HUGE dream come true for me and it was only possible because I had saved up some money from my internship. But at the same time, going on a foreign tour meant that a large chunk of my savings will be gone.

After returning from the trip, I had a major realization that recording every expense is simply not possible all the time. Being so conscientious with money takes a toll on your mental health. It makes you feel guilty when you set such harsh limits and spend more than the limit you gave yourself. So at some point, my question was – Why am I like this when people around me are such “free” spenders? I concluded that these money narratives are based on deeply ingrained thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions we have about money, often formed through our upbringing, societal influences, and personal experiences. So it’s going to take some effort to rewrite them in my head.

The first step was to cut out recording every little expense. I decided to stick to the basic rule of saving some x% of money every month. And I was free to spend the rest as long as I was not squandering. Overall savings is what is going to matter in the long run. So now, at the end of each month, I download my bank statement and calculate my monthly spends and savings. If it doesn’t look right, I look for ways to optimize them the next month. I take a rough glance at each transaction.

Hence, instead of closely monitoring and controlling every aspect of my finances, I have decided to focus on setting overall financial goals and establishing a general plan for my money. This approach allows for more flexibility, trusting that I have set up a solid framework that guides my financial decisions without needing to be involved in every single transaction or financial task. It’s about finding a balance between being aware of my financial situation and not getting overwhelmed by constant monitoring.

Narrative #2- From “Live below your means in your twenties” to “Make Calculative Trade-offs”

They say “Live below your means” in your twenties. So, I thought I was on the right track being very mindful about my spending.

The main reason people say this, is so that you can save up for your long-term goals. Buying a house, getting married, or retiring. Most major life events are costly, so the sooner you begin saving for them, the better. Savings aren’t just for major life events, though. They also give you the freedom to switch careers, travel, and purchase expensive items or experiences. Again, this was a deeply ingrained money narrative in my head.

At the same time, I don’t want to wait to go on my dream vacation! I don’t want to waste my twenties sitting in a box, making/saving a lot of money but having no work-life balance. I made up my mind that traveling was one aspect that I did not want to compromise on. Sure, I want to buy an iPhone, but I would trade that in for funding my trips. My thought process goes like “Buying an iPhone is equivalent to at least 5 domestic trips and 1 foreign trip”. I would choose the latter at this point in my life. If both options had to coexist, I will either have to increase my income or give up on something else that eats up my money; because saving is still on the agenda! So, in my rewritten outlook, it all comes down to priorities and making trade-offs between them. And that means that sometimes, I’m going to go off-limits. As long as it’s a calculative move, it’s the best of both worlds!

Narrative #3 – From “Financial Guilt” to “Investing in Myself”

I still remember the time I booked my flight tickets to London – it was one of my dream trips. I had just started my career and was new to the self-earning game. It was an indescribable feeling of “Yay, I’m going!” mixed with a tinge of “Oh no, my wallet’s going!”. It’s a brief excruciating moment of watching that huge lump of money vanish just like that. I then envisioned the trip of my dreams to remind myself that it was going to be worth it, obviously.

Apart from that, there are online shopping sprees and questionable investment choices which induce financial guilt. We’ve all been there – guiltily clicking “Add to Cart” during late-night online shopping binges. The thrill of the purchase quickly fades, replaced by a nagging voice in our heads that reminds us of the consequences of our impulsive spending. Financial guilt weighs heavy on our shoulders, making us question our choices and eroding our confidence in our ability to manage money responsibly.

But what if we could turn the tables on this guilt? What if we could view those purchases not as frivolous expenses, but as investments in our own growth and well-being? Off late what I have noticed is that whether it’s spending on external appearance, embarking on a life-changing adventure, or seeking professional development, investing in ourselves can yield priceless returns. So I’ve reframed my mindset so as to transform those guilt-inducing purchases into empowering personal investments.

Narrative #4 – From “Money can’t buy happiness” to “Money can buy happiness but…”

There has always been a voice at the back of my head that would say “Money can’t buy happiness”. But after I started earning, I was able to examine how money impacts our relationships with family and friends, and how a healthy approach to financial matters can strengthen these connections. While money cannot guarantee everlasting happiness, it undeniably plays a role in our overall well-being. It’s not about accumulating vast fortunes, but about how we choose to utilize our resources. Money can bring comfort, open doors to enriching experiences, empower us to make a positive impact and grant us the gift of time.

When used wisely and with intention, it can indeed bring joy and fulfilment. Whether it’s treating ourselves to life’s little pleasures, investing in self-care and relaxation, embarking on transformative experiences, or spreading happiness through acts of generosity—money can play a pivotal role in our pursuit of happiness.

However on the other side, in a world obsessed with consumerism, we often find ourselves chasing the latest trends, hoping they will bring us happiness. We splurge on gadgets, fashion, and shiny toys, only to discover that the initial thrill quickly fades. How often do we find ourselves surrounded by material possessions, but still lacking that genuine smile? The irony lies in our mistaken belief that acquiring possessions will bring us lasting joy, when true happiness lies in cultivating experiences, meaningful relationships, purposeful pursuits, and moments of authentic joy. Money may talk, but it’s our ability to listen to our inner desires that truly leads to fulfilment.

So maybe money CAN buy happiness, but there are many ifs and buts that should be taken into consideration!

Narrative #5 – Frugal vs. Fancy

If you are like me, you would know the struggles of being a frugal person who wants to lead a fancy lifestyle. Fancy is subjective. To me, a fancy lifestyle means going on trips, exploring new places in my city, trying out different restaurants, partying with my friends, and trying out new hobbies. I do fancy some stuff on the materialistic side of things too like electronic gadgets, bags, and footwear. It is basically like saying “I want to have great experiences and buy some cool stuff but I’m also conscious about spending my money”.

I’ve started to realize that frugality is not about following a rigid lifestyle, but about assessing the bigger picture and having the patience to cash in on simple savings strategies. 

According to me, there is no point in just saving up money and not using it to enjoy life. At the same time, it is also important to be mindful about spending money. An ideal situation would be to lead a fulfilling life without spending wastefully. By rewriting my money narratives, I was able to transform my relationship with money, turning it from a source of stress and guilt into a tool for personal growth and fulfilment. Having said all that, I’d like to leave y’all with the big question – What are your money narratives?