My father always told me that “money can’t buy happiness, but it can sure prevent a lot of unhappiness.” While our beliefs and priorities don’t always align, I’ve found this to be a fairly true statement. Watching friends and family chase after money at the expense of their relationships, ethics, and even their physical well-being had for some time soured my own relationship with money. I didn’t want to be rich, and any money I made would either go to bills or my fun fund.

I eventually learned that the way I was treating money — as an expendable resource I could abuse to the nth extent because it “didn’t matter” and I didn’t care about it — was not any more healthy than needlessly chasing money in excess. A healthy relationship with money involves understanding your practical need for it both now and in the future, as well as the difference between what you need and what you want.

How Your Savings Saves You

For all intents and purposes, we’re going to define success in two different ways. First we’ll define it not as pouring money into your savings account, but as keeping more in your pocket.

A big focus of this article will be defining your wants and needs. I don’t think anyone will tell you there’s anything wrong spending your money on your non-essential wants, but there is such a thing as excess. I’ve found that excess comes from prioritizing things you don’t need as if you do need them.

You don’t need to get food from the most expensive places. Your social life doesn’t need to revolve around costly bars, restaurants, and activities. And frankly, your home doesn’t need to be filled with things. There may not be anything inherently wrong with collecting, but how much collecting do you do, and is it getting in the way of your actual needs? Food? Bills? Gas for your car? Do you have any extra in your pocket, or are you living paycheck to paycheck?

You need to have money for immediate hiccups and emergencies that come up. You shouldn’t be in a position where you’re always relying on your savings or credit and debt for immediate emergencies. Some people have an emergency fund, but even then, you never know what will come up and you should save that fund for the worst of the worst unexpected expenses.

Second, let’s talk about saving for your future. If you’re not putting money into a savings account at least, you’re sabotaging yourself. Whether the money becomes an emergency fund itself or gets used on a bigger purchase such as a vacation, you need to build one up so you never find yourself in a situation in which you are forced to go into debt.

Now of course, there may be moments when you need to take a loan. If your savings account doesn’t have enough money in it to cover what you need, then a loan may be completely necessary. But savings exist so those days are few and far between! For these reasons, it’s equally important to forego some unnecessary purchases and put money into savings. Trust me, your future self will save you.

Discrediting Credit Cards

Don’t get me wrong — a little credit is good. Taking out a loan on a house is nearly impossible without good credit. It’s recommended by realtors fairly often actually. For the house-buyer reason alone, it’s a good plan. However, if you ever do need to take out a loan for something you can’t afford with any savings or emergency fund, you’ll want some credit to back up your ability to pay it back and the trustworthiness of your word.

All that said, your credit card should not be any kind of a safety net for you, and it shouldn’t be a “buy whatever I want whenever” card because your next paycheck hasn’t come in. Think about your life like your business. Would you spend business credit on meaningless expenses? Of course not, your business would go bankrupt! Apply that same concept to your own spending so you don’t have to go bankrupt. I think it’s generally a good idea to only use your credit when you can pay it back relatively soon or when you already have the money to pay it back.

Me, personally? I keep my credit card in my sock drawer (don’t tell your sketchy cousin). I’ve seen too many people have to go through vigorous steps to repair their credit. I saw how attractive quick borrowing was to me when I put $500 down on something I didn’t need, then ended up with a car bill that maxed out my credit card. I still use it occasionally to build up credit, but in general I try to keep away from that stuff. I recommend you do the same.

Most people don’t need more than one credit card. Go ahead and cancel all of those extra suckers and chop ‘em up. Second, I would recommend allowing yourself a smaller amount of cash to spend per outing. That way, once you’re done, you’re done. Of course you may find yourself needing a debit card for emergencies, but as a rule for yourself, try to only spend a small amount of cash. Rules like this can save you a lot of trouble that we naturally get into with wanting things and tendencies toward excess, as well as build up your credit for a better future.

Defining Success as Long Term

The thing you have to understand about saving is that it’s a permanent choice. Your success as a person means being smart with your money for the rest of your life — that’s a long time! But you need to understand, this will ultimately help you in the long run.

How do you make something new into a long-term thing? You can’t exactly put a ring on intangible concepts. However, you can do the same thing you did with your poor spending choices — you can make your good spending choices into habits.

So much of a healthy relationship with money is understanding that it’s there for you in the long run — to keep you fed and secure. To create a habit around something, you have to change your mindset around it. Practice changing your mindset around money by catering your words and conversations about it in a more responsible fashion. Hopefully your actions will follow. As you talk differently about it, make concerted efforts to be better at spending. Those two things working together will hopefully turn your relationship with money from something toxic and draining to something beneficial and secure.

What is your relationship with money like? How has it changed and evolved? How would you recommend someone with an unhealthy relationship with money to get out of it? Let us know in the comments below!

Devin Morrissey is a writer stationed in Boise, ID who crafts pieces about money management (for individuals and businesses) and personal health. When he’s not writing, he enjoys hiking, riding his bike through the dirt paths of the Boise foothills, and camping with his dog Scrummy. 

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