Natalie can’t remember a time when she wasn’t stressed about money.
Growing up, she had four siblings and her dad had trouble keeping a job. Natalie was ridiculed at school for her ramshackle wardrobe. She couldn’t go to summer camp or take piano lessons like her friends because money was always tight.
To compensate, Natalie started working as early as she could.
She waited tables, answered phones, promoted a nightclub, and then started cutting hair. Eventually, she was able to start affording all the things her parents couldn’t. Things looked pretty good on the outside. But she was completely over-extended—working around the clock and spending a fortune at the chiropractor because she was straining her back. She didn’t have any savings, own a house, or have a retirement plan.
Natalie is no different from the people who make the lottery winner statistics. Research from the National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that 70% of people who had unexpectedly come into large sums of money ended up broke within 7 years. Why is this?
It’s because most people can’t grasp that money is really energy, and they’re in a hurry to squander it.
When we step into the natural flow of this energy, money flows through our lives and fuels our dreams. It requires a different physiological state, and it takes discipline and careful cultivation to get there. But it’s worth the effort.
Here are the questions you need to ask yourself if you want to harness it:
1. Are you living in survival mode?
Just like Natalie, many people live from paycheck-to-paycheck, spending money as soon as it hits their account.
We live in a debt-based economy where most of us don’t actually own much. We have a mortgage on the house, leased cars, payment plans on appliances. In fact, most American families are one to six months away from rock bottom if they were to lose their jobs or have some catastrophic illness or injury.
This is where we live our lives—and it’s the underlying reason we’re always stressed.
But money is energy, and when we put it aside, it grows. It takes on a life of its own and begins to generate abundance and interest. It becomes like a bank of potential energy that we have stored up and is available to us to use, instead of something we have to frantically chase to feel worthy.
Saving money takes discipline and cultivation. It is a state of mind and a state of being. And most people have it completely wrong.
But if you start to understand that money is energy, you’ll realize why it’s so important to take back your life from the debtors.
2. Why are you squandering what you do have?
A lot of times, our poor relationship with money stems from childhood trauma.
We moved around a lot when I was little. At the start of junior high school, I landed in a suburban area without any friends. I was ridiculed for not wearing the right clothes or watching the latest shows. It was awful. For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider.
In a desperate attempt to fit in, I begged my parents to buy me these trendy Oakley sunglasses. They thought it was ridiculous, but I wore them down until they complied. Finally, I would fit in. But the kids hardly noticed, and I was ashamed I’d coerced valuable money from my parents for nothing.
Most of us have experienced a variation on this story.
We’re all conditioned to feel incomplete and isolated if we don’t wear the latest fashion, drive the newest car, go to the hip new restaurant, or buy the hottest new game for our kids. This fosters an endless cycle of squandering our earnings to keep up. And we reward corporations at our expense.
The economy is just an idea, and so is money. Once you’re clear on this, you are unbound from the hold it has on you, and can craft the life of your dreams. But in order to get there, you have to first step back and assess your subconscious motivations.
3. Who are you, really?
In Eastern culture, there’s a strong emphasis on finding your strengths and pursuing your destiny.
Who are you, and what makes you happy?
Are you motivated more by power or stability?
Do you enjoy working in groups or solo?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Do you prefer intellectual pursuits or more emotional ones?
We avoid these questions in the West and become lost as a result. As teens, we choose a career that winds up defining us, and we are stuck cultivating this facade for the rest of our lives. We look for distractions, cures for our anxiety, self-help books, and spa vacations to take the edge off of this underlying feeling, but we aren’t addressing the issue.
Our true selves are lonely and waiting to shine.
Finding out who we really are underneath all the noise is key to finding meaning and purpose in life. When we tap into the essence of who we are through meditation, exercise, diet, sleep habits, relationships, and whatever else it takes, there’s no perplexing question that keeps us up at night.
When we feel whole, we’re less likely to squander money in an empty pursuit to fill the void.
4. Are you clinging to things that no longer serve you?
Once you address the underlying emotional factors that contribute to our poor relationship with money, you can come up with a realistic game plan.
Go through your things and honestly assess what qualifies as a need or a want. We accumulate so much stuff over the years, and most of it just sits there. Pictures and family heirlooms are cool, but what about that tennis racket you’ve saved since college? Are you really ever going to swing that again?
Clutter acts like stagnant energy that’s lodged in your system.
It doesn’t help and gets in the way. The garage could be turned into a dance studio or a gym if all that crap wasn’t in it. Why are you paying for all that square footage to hold junk you don’t need? Sell it off in a garage sale or on eBay, or donate it and write it off. Unload the extra stuff and declutter your life.
The money you get from unloading it will just be a bonus.
5. Can it wait?
If you really feel like you need to purchase something, it’s worth considering whether or not you’ll still want it after a few days.
To help, try this exercise. At the moment of purchase—when you pull out your credit card—ask yourself whether this is a need or want. You also need to take note of everything you buy and write down the price. At the end of the day, transfer that amount into your savings account and lock it down. Leave this money out of reach so your impulsive old habits don’t claw in. Soon, you’ll start to see your money increase, and you’ll realize that you’ve gone on just fine without the thing you didn’t buy.
The goal of the exercise is to learn how to refrain and eventually discover that abstaining really isn’t so terrible. What’s more terrible is worrying about money all the time.
When you step out of that trap, you’re free to enjoy your time and relax without the survival genes kicking in.
6. Do you have a budget, or are you just winging it?
A lot of people prefer to turn a blind eye to the topic of money.
They see money as stressful and dirty at best, evil at worst. But avoiding money doesn’t work because bills don’t pay themselves. Setting a budget gives you structure and order in life. It helps build discipline and gives you a framework to say “no” to items that are not in the plan.
A carefully structured budget starts with identifying your needs, like rent, mortgage, water, gas, electric, cars, taxes, etc. Once you’ve isolated these, go back and see where you can trim them. Can you stop watering your lawn? Are you leaving lights on in other rooms? From there, list out all your other expenses and look at what they do for you.
George Clason’s classic book, The Richest Man in Babylon, teaches a powerful practice that can change your life. Once you’ve set a budget and are paying attention to your in- and outflows, the key to success is to allocate 10% of your income to savings forever.
Then sit back and watch what happens.
Real freedom comes when you can walk away from a job you hate and know you can eat for a (long) while.
7. Are you investing in the future?
True happiness comes from reassessing what really matters, and using money for good—this is the way of the future.
Whenever you spend money, you’re giving power, energy, and influence to the people you give it to. Be very clear about this flow and start to control it on your end. If you want to see a better world, be a conscious consumer and buy only from companies with sustainable and ethical practices. There are all kinds of vehicles for positive investment are springing up right now, and they often have very competitive yields.
The more we align with the value we invest in, the more clarity we have.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless as an individual. But together, we can change the world. It’s not too late to pave a bright future for our children.
After all, you can’t take it with you.
This article was originally published on Quora.