In recent years, I’ve started measuring my success by how well I feel I know myself. Instead of comparing what I’ve achieved or how much I’m earning or how ‘far along’ I am in life or career, I try to value my understanding of myself more than any of that stuff. 

While I do think our self-understanding evolves as we get older, I still believe a lot of that knowledge of who you really are starts to develop in your twenties – and the better you know yourself, the better you can manage your money.

Money is emotional. Sure, it’s currency, it’s tangible, it’s numerical, but we’re not. We live in a society where money is far more than a number, and for that reason, we tie a lot of our self worth to our net worth. That means we operate in our own belief system, much of which relates to how we spend our money, why we spend our money, and why we feel the way we do about money.

Ask yourself these five questions and prepare to uncover a better understanding of who you are and why you see money the way you do.

What was your experience of money growing up?

This question is commonly associated with money mindset work, but for me it’s an important one. I grew up an only child with a single parent, and experienced a state of somewhat financial security suddenly being taken away. It’s definitely impacted my belief of how in control of my money I am, and probably made me struggle to hold onto it for fear of losing it. 

Where on this scale do you feel you sit?

Identifying where on this scale you sit can give you clarity on whether you’re a spender, a saver or somewhere in between. I definitely sit further to the left of the scale, but do have an element of the right side of the scale creep in when I’m making a big purchase. What this helps me identify is that I can easily spend small amounts, but struggle with higher value purchases. This relates a lot to what I believe I’m worth, and how easy I find it to waste away small amounts when compared to bigger purchases that actually serve me more. 

What, to you, feels like a lot of money, and why? 

This is an interesting one and may change with age, but it helps you quantify your perception of money and how your idea of what’s a lot compares with the amount of money in the world. Asking yourself why you think that amount is significant can unlock desires or goals you weren’t aware of, because there’s a good chance that number would grant you a choice you don’t feel you currently have. 

If you won a prize that meant you would be financially comfortable for the rest of your life, what would your lifestyle look like?

Notice the importance of lifestyle here. It’s not a question of what car would you go and buy or who’s mortgage would you pay off first. Ask yourself how you’d live your life if money were no object. Would you still want to work in some capacity? Do you see yourself living off-grid? Doing volunteer work? Splitting your life between two places? The productivity-driven world we live in really clouds our understanding of what we really want, because we’re so confined to having to work a certain way and rely on our income to make choices. The point of this question isn’t to say that you’ll necessarily end up living this way (though I so hope you do!). It’s more to lift the cage of financial constraint and dig into what you actually want. Then, you can try to fuse some of the values you identify here into the lifestyle you do strive to create.

If you’re being really honest with yourself, what do you really like doing, and really not like doing?

We often get caught up in things that are supposed to be enjoyable, and social media has only inflated our awareness of what’s ‘cool’. Spend some time thinking about the things you really do like, and even more importantly, the things you don’t. Often the things we think we want can impact our financial choices and even our money beliefs, but if your approach to finances isn’t aligned to what you truly want, it’ll never get you to where you want to be. 

For me, I spent a lot of time thinking I wanted to be one of those people who ‘loves to travel’. In truth, I’m pretty low key. I don’t want to be exploring all the time, I really like pottering around ground well-trodden, and doing stuff I’ve done before. I also hate festivals. Hate ‘em. They look cool on Instagram, but they’re just not for me. Knowing this about myself gives me so much clarity when I’m thinking about goals, what success means to me, and the life I’m trying to create for myself. 

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