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Good intentions aren’t enough: Here’s what we get wrong when thinking about money

If only good intentions were enough.

We’d all be thin, rich and fabulous.

We’d eat our vegetables and walk 10,000 steps per day. We’d swear off sugar and drink water instead of lattes and margaritas.

We’d log every penny in a budgeting app and save (rather than borrowing) for planned expenses.

We’d meet regularly with our financial planners to review our investment portfolios and track progress toward our goals.

Our wardrobes would be curated with stylish, classic pieces. Our shoes would be polished, every hair in place and cosmetics artfully applied.

But most of us like lattes and don’t enjoy going to the gym. We find it boring to track our spending and saving – and we prefer comfortable, budget-friendly clothing over fussy, high-maintenance outfits.

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This first-world struggle is real.

In certain areas of our lives, we struggle because we have a legitimate knowledge gap. We don’t know how to lift weights properly or prepare nutrient dense meals. We don’t know how to measure and track what comes in and out of our bank accounts. We lack creative vision for what looks great on our bodies and in our homes.

The good news is that a knowledge gap can be addressed if it’s something we really care about. Humans are capable and resourceful creatures when properly motivated. We can learn the basics via a public library card, an internet connection and the help of trained professionals.

The deeper underlying problem is that being human is messy.

Let’s talk about money, for example.

What we get wrong about money is thinking that it’s about the money.

News flash: It’s not about the money.

It’s about us. It’s behavior, emotion, desire and motivation. It’s knowing ourselves and starting with self-reflection about what makes us tick. It’s connecting the abstract concept of money to things that truly matter to us.

Self-help books and therapy can be helpful in gaining knowledge and delving into the deeper layers of oneself. However, improving our personal finances doesn’t have to be complicated.

That’s another thing we get wrong about money. We think it has to be complicated.

Rather than succumbing to a sense of helplessness and overwhelm, let’s start with a question:

What one small thing can you do to make your finances just a little bit better?

It could be as simple as paying some bills or looking at a paystub to better understand gross versus net income. Enrolling in a workplace 401(k) or making sure the beneficiaries are up to date are examples of small financial tasks.

Look for low-hanging fruit and give yourself some easy wins.

Then up the stakes a little. Pick a skill to work on.

What one skill can you build and develop step by step, inch by inch, to make your finances better?

It could be learning to use a budgeting app to track cash flows. Scheduling a weekly date to monitor progress toward financial goals or taking a personal finance class are some other ideas.

Then practice, just like a pianist who plays scales and arpeggios daily until they’re easy. Get really good at that skill.

As you become better at making and keeping financial commitments, those skills will have a compounding effect. Your finances will improve over time.

Yes, it really can be that simple.

As a financial planner, I have seen clients overcome tremendous hardships, grow material wealth, give generously, help their families and more.

These personal wins were rarely due to mere luck or a big trust fund.

More often, these clients developed habits that grew into a way of living that became completely normal to them.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and this incremental approach can lead to powerful financial outcomes.

The skills and confidence gained often extend into other areas of life, as well.

The macro starts with the micro.

What is your one small thing?

You’ve got this: Now get started!

Kelly Stiefel Arias, MBA-IM is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional and a member of Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City. She is President & Financial Advisor at Alegría Wealth at 10955 Lowell Ave., #400 in Overland Park, KS 66210; (913) 712-0027. Securities and Advisory Services offered through Cetera Advisors LLC, member FINRA/SIPC, a broker/dealer and Registered Investment Adviser. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity.

Do you have financial topics or questions you’d like answered by a CFP professional? If so, submit your question or topic to KCFPA@gmail.com and your topic/question may be featured in a future article.