“What do you do?”
After your name, it’s probably the most common question people ask – I know I do.
During my career as a full-time actor I would state my profession, either dreading or anticipating the inevitable follow up – “So, what are you working on?” If I was doing a show, I’d excitedly humble brag about it, and if I wasn’t, things would get a little awkward.
When people ask, “What do you do?” these days, I no longer feel that uncomfortable angst, I just find myself responding, “Where do I begin?”
Eventually all the pieces of my professional life emerge – personal finance writer, author, speaker, actor, etc. – and people, understandably, want to know how they all fit together. More than anything, they want to understand how a musical theater actor becomes a personal finance entrepreneur.
Though my two occupational pathways are on seemingly opposite ends of the professional spectrum, the discovery and evolution of my personal finance career could not have been more natural – or necessary.
How Personal Finance Empowered Me
Growing up, I was one of those kids who did well with lots of things- school, music, gymnastics, theater. Not because I was particularly exceptional, but because I understood what I needed to do to get ahead and was able to execute. Unfortunately, that kind of formulaic approach to success no longer applied when I found myself floundering in the real world.
It was hard to accept that efforts and results were not always equal and that so very little of anything was within my control. After five years or so stumbling between epic highs and painful lows, I started searching out more sustainable approaches to success. I turned to the things I could harness some power over and poured my efforts into those endeavors, leading to the surprise discovery of two of my greatest passions – running and personal finance.
While I couldn’t control much of what happened in between the time I’d leave an audition room and the time I was offered or passed over for a job, I did have control over my money, however limited – how I was spending it, even how I was earning it – though it didn’t always feel that way.
I slowly began to realize the power of the choices I was making every day – how I was prioritizing my spending, how I was choosing my income streams, etc. Understanding that I had ownership of my financial life, I became passionate about personal finance, and soon after, empowered.
I developed new income streams by chronicling my empowerment journey and eventually stumbled upon a career path that empowers me each and every day, without needing permission from anyone else or reinforcement from an external “employment status”.
Personal finance changed my life in more ways than one. It empowered me to realize the tremendous opportunities available through smart financial habits, intentional goal setting and a positive money mindset.
How Personal Finance Empowers Others
In sharing my story of empowerment through personal finance, I’ve been lucky enough to hear from others who’ve experienced similar life changing liberations.
Jennifer Bright Reich, cofounder of www.MommyMDGuides.com, felt empowered to leave her bad marriage after improving her knowledge of personal finance fundamentals through a financial education course. “It completely changed my way of thinking about, spending and budgeting money. After a year following the program, I had financial independence, knowledge and courage to leave my marriage. And just a few months out, I know I can make it with my boys on my own.”
Amanda Bowles wrote to me from a rooftop bar in Istanbul after three weeks of island hopping through Greece –all part of fulfilling her dream of an around the world trip. “Years ago I set up a savings account, linked it to my checking account and set up automatic transfers every two weeks on the day after my paycheck hit the account. I set up a few different sub-accounts (long term savings, taxes and insurance, fun money, etc.). As I received annual raises year after year, I upped the amount that moved into those savings accounts – leaving my take-home amount flat. I was thrilled to see how quickly the savings were building up.” Those years of small, dedicated savings empowered Amanda’s realization of her travel goals.
Jordette Singleton harnessed control over her finances by cutting back on discretionary expenses and putting those resources toward launching her own online dress boutique, bootstrapping her way to successful entrepreneurship. “I had a business background and degree, lots of ideas, not the greatest credit and no money. I stopped going to the salon, cooked for my children everyday instead of eating out and dropped my husband off at work whenever I could to save money on gas. I started to purchase dresses wholesale out of each paycheck and hired a freelance web designer to create my website.” Adapting frugal spending choices freed up the money Jordette needed to get her business off the ground, empowering her entrepreneurial desires.
The stories of financial empowerment are varied, but they all share common traits, most notably, a shift toward understanding and using money as a tool, rather than a hindrance or excuse.
If you find yourself subscribing to negative financial scripts – “It’s hard to make money” or “I’m bad at math” or “I don’t have enough money to worry about managing my money” or anything else- challenge yourself to realize your own fiscal control.
How to Empower Yourself Through Personal Finance
Let Go of Limitations. What limiting money beliefs are you holding onto? For the longest time I subscribed to the idea that my job title, degree, employer and a host of other external factors were the reasons for my limited income. As soon as I identified that limiting belief, I was able to bust it, realizing my own capacity to generate earnings on my own terms and tripling my annual income.
Identify the negative money scripts that stand in the way of achieving your goals so that you can challenge and change whatever destructive financial patterns you’ve adopted and replace them with positive, empowering alternatives.
Make it Tangible. Connect your goals to your finances by breaking them down into next actionable steps and costs. By putting big, abstract dreams into tangible terms, i.e. numbers, you begin to put yourself in a position of power by knowing exactly what you need to succeed.
Knowing how the numbers directly affect your ability to live out your dreams – be they starting a business, traveling the world or enabling independence – can help keep you motivated and on track in your financial journey.
Build a Vocabulary. People are often intimidated by personal finance, shutting down before they even begin for fear of not understanding. Don’t fall into that disempowering trap. The fundamentals of money are actually quite common sense – you just need to develop your vocabulary for understanding them. Jargon is everywhere, but when you take it upon yourself to learn the basics and give yourself a context for understanding those terms, you quickly realize how simple and empowering financial planning can be.
Find Community. The money talk taboo has certainly overstayed its welcome in mainstream society, but you can find community by seeking out individuals and resources that share your financial values. I spent last weekend at a financial blogging and media conference with over 900 other attendees – all of whom were as honest and open about their financial triumphs as their fiscal challenges.
Find your tribe, in person or online, the people that speak to you and support your money mission. I walked away from the conference last weekend feeling inspired and ready to conquer the world – no limiting money script has a chance of standing up to a community that makes me feel empowered in that way. Find yours.
Ultimately, personal finance is personal, not just in the sense that values vary from person to person, but also in the sense that it’s up to each individual to decide how they think and act around money. That’s not to say that external circumstances can’t and don’t make things challenging, but realizing that the money choices we make in response are up to us is hugely empowering.