There isn't a single person who hasn't been affected by the financial meltdown. Each of us is being asked to think differently about money, reflect on how much we have and need, why we need it, how we can make more in today's world.
Money is not only an actual "thing." Money is an emotion. Money's emotional best friend is fear. Money is supposed to be where we find our safety, and yet it has done the opposite effect. When we think about money, most of us feel unsafe.
We have been told to put our security outside of us, in something -- a currency -- that we can't actually control. We have been told to put our self-worth in something outside of us. We have been told that if we aren't being paid for something, then it's not considered work. If we don't keep accumulating stuff, then we aren't becoming more successful or getting ahead in life.
Our security needs to come from something else in these times of change, from something inside of us that is permanent. Our self-esteem, our character, our faith.
Money problems always magnify who someone is. So if someone is a generous person, they will continue to come from that place. If someone is an angry person, any change in her financial situation will make that anger come up even more.
So, with that said, how do you make a fresh start in the area of your finances? How do you feel safe again? How do you change your primary association of fear to something less traumatic? How do you even start taking control of this area of your life? Many of us have the feeling of being paralyzed, some of us are unlucky, while others have no idea where to start to get back on track! There are a few things we can all do, regardless of whether we have a dollar to our names, a million or if we're submerged in debt.
1) Stop avoiding the problem and start with getting honest. Open the envelopes, call -- or even better -- go visit your banker or broker. Be realistic. So many of us are living in the illusion of total scarcity. Look at what really did happen in the last few months. Get some help. You aren't supposed to be an expert in this area. Most of us feel ignorant when it comes to money, but the truth is we were never given a proper education about it. You're not alone. Everyone feels intimidated to some degree. Your money isn't something you can avoid, however. It would be like saying, "Learning to walk is too difficult, so I'm not going to do it." Learn the basics. You will feel more grounded. And if your banker or accountant makes you feel worse, hire one you feel good about. They must make you feel comfortable no matter what.
2) Get organized. Know where your accounts, credit card statements, insurance documents, will, etc. are. Most of us feel overwhelmed because we just don't know where all of this stands. It's not the lack of money sometimes, it's more the general level of uncertainty and messiness around this topic.
3) Look over your statements. Get a feel for what you are spending. Where is your money going really? You may often find some errors and double charges. Look at hidden fees from all the bills you pay. Confirm that some of your regular income is going to a savings account on a monthly basis. If you have an investment account, take a close look at what you have--stocks, funds, bonds, cash, gold. Know what you have and then ask yourself how it feels. You don't need an MBA or a finance background to know whether your money situation is letting you sleep at night. Trust your feelings. They are trying to get your attention. Maybe you don't want to be in the market. So you may just want to stay in cash for the time being. Everyone has different needs.
4) Get back to basics. This applies to every area of your life. Do you need to be spending so much on margaritas? Do you need another pair of jeans or shoes? Do you need to take a cab or can you take the subway? Do you have to go to a fancy restaurant? Do you need a gym membership in a hot club you never use? Everyone knows where they are "leaking" money. For some it's in clothes, for others it's food and for others it's in personal beauty/appearance treatments. Ask yourself what changes you can make here, that no one else other than you will even notice.
5) Find another source of income, in addition to your regular job. Look around you. Can you find a way of creating something, consulting, writing, translating, editing, babysitting, taking care of an elderly person, promoting something, organizing something? The possibilities are endless. Here's a clue -- look for a way to take away someone's pain, or problem. That's what people will pay money for. What are you really good at? What is easy for you? Stretch your identity of what else you might be able to do, other than your regular job. And if you are the creative type, which deep down we all are, maybe think of writing an e-book on a subject you know a lot about. There are plenty of sites to put it up on for free. You can then be making money while you sleep. That's the goal.
6) Ask for discounts and special offers on everything. Your cable and phone companies, clothes, restaurants, any work-related deals, negotiate from the heart. Come from a place of authenticity, kindness, ask sincerely. You will be amazed what you can receive.
7) Look around for things you own that you can sell. Clothes, products etc. Your cast-offs are worth something to someone else. You have thousands of dollars hidden in things you don't really want or use anymore. Yes, this takes a bit of time but the payoff in terms of money and also less clutter, freeing up space for something new to come into your life is well worth it.
8) Not that this is a must, but if you had to radically downsize your life, ask yourself already today, how would you do this? Would you move? Would you cook more or grow your own food? What would you do? Just knowing this will let you live differently, with a higher level of consciousness.
9) Take a look at your beliefs and emotions around money. Most of us picked these up from our parents. One of them was probably fearful or was always worried. Maybe one of them over-spent or was in debt. Think about it. You are now an adult and don't have to be loyal to their beliefs around money. If you do feel anxious around money, take a deep breath and ask yourself, where have I seen this before? At home? Most likely.
Commit to making a fresh start, starting with what you keep telling yourself about money. Whatever it is for you that that inner voice keeps telling you -- "There isn't enough"; "I am a failure"; "I am ashamed" -- choose to think differently. All of this self-talk is an illusion. None of it is true.
10) Be grateful for what you do have. We have so much more than 95 percent of the planet. We really do. Bless what you have. Find ways of giving. Something. If it's not money, give your time and your heart. The more you give, the more life finds ways to give back to you.
Ariane is an eternal change optimist, author of The First 30 Days; Your Guide to Making any Change Easier and founder of www.first30days.com, a site that helps people transition through dozens of life changes. For specific information on handling your finances, check out the First30Days Finance channel.