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Every year, people make New Year resolutions to save money, improve their financial situations, get out of debt and pay all their bills on time. However, by the end of January, some find that they're still struggling, the bills are mounting up again and they lose confidence in their ability to deal with their money worries. By February they've lost the motivation to keep those resolutions, and the whole ghastly cycle of living hand to mouth starts again.
Contrary to commonly held beliefs that financial problems are due to wilful neglect and irresponsibility, psychologists believe that these problems are frequently the outward symptoms of deeper issues that need to be addressed.
In her article "Money Talks" (Monitor, January 2008, Vol 39, No. 1, p.36), Sadie F. Dingfelder writes that many financial advisers are now trained to help clients eliminate underlying psychological obstacles, in order to help them work through their financial problems and achieve long term security. She quotes Brad Klontz, PsyD as saying, "Psychologists are really well-positioned to treat problematic financial behaviour. We need to step up and offer this service - it's much needed".
Suze Orman, an expert in personal finance, writes compassionately about chaotic influences on children growing up that can include emotional poverty, a lack of self-worth and a failure to develop the belief that they can be successful or valuable. Such destructive emotional baggage can lead them to sabotage, albeit unwittingly, their efforts to take control of their personal finances or to believe that they deserve to earn enough to live on when they reach adulthood.
In her book The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom (Crown Publishing, 1997) Orman presents useful strategies for disconnecting the destructive emotional hardwiring. She believes that identifying the negative influences that can become manifest in fear- and avoidance-driven behaviours can enable people to make huge changes in their lives, and to develop positive and confident attitudes towards personal solvency. Unlearning those destructive strategies takes time, but in the same way that any other habit can be formed, healthy and responsible habits in dealing with personal finance can become as natural as breathing.
These new habits can be learned with cognitive techniques, either with a psychologist or cognitive behavioural therapist. Alternatively, online or book coursework can be very productive, with the additional help of a GP who can monitor emotional health and can refer for professional help if and when difficult issues need addressing.
Orman suggests that during the process of eliminating harmful self-doubt, people can absorb new thoughts and attitudes that underpin a new self-worth and confidence. Eventually they can acknowledge their right to personal financial stability and self-fulfillment. She recommends daily affirmations that begin with the words "I deserve", and include such things as the right to a full and happy life, the right to earn enough to be comfortable, and the right to be financially secure for life. Such affirmations can consolidate the cognitive learning taking place, celebrating the abandonment of old patterns of behaviour as though draining and refilling a stale, brackish pond with fresh spring water.
Once new and healthy attitudes towards money are in place, financial planning practices can be pressed into action, leading to financial independence and security. Liberated from harmful self-doubts about ever becoming debt-free and solvent, people discover that they know perfectly well how to balance their budgets, save money and organise their financial commitments and investments. They knew these things all along from all those years of trying to apply the principles, but failing because they were unable to stop sabotaging their efforts to use them.
It can be a very emotional experience for people taking their first steps towards being in control of their money for the very first time. Not only do they have a new sense of financial confidence, they're also finally free of the emotional baggage that dragged them down for years and prevented them from being financially secure. When people have lived for years as prisoners in their own personal jails, freedom is a beautiful thing.