Part of my initial assessment as a psychotherapist for gay men examines their current financial security, goals, fears, risks, and rewards. Our finances contribute to how we perceive our external environment, and they affect mood, feelings, behavior, and relationships. Since starting in practice as a gay men’s specialist therapist in 1992, I have observed certain “true-isms” about guys who have it together financially – regardless of their income bracket. What is the connection between good financial habits and coping with depression and anxiety? Here are some time-honored tips:
1) Plan your career – No other factor I’ve seen is more important to long-term financial security than your choice of career, and managing that career from the start of your working life until retirement. It’s important to choose work that interests you, but the reality is that some fields just pay better than others. Ask yourself, What you do better than most people you know? That is probably what you will enjoy and make money at. Studying those skills, going to school, getting training, and finding mentors are critical elements. Help from a career counselor or therapist can help you clarify your values, identify your aptitudes, and sharpen your vocational skills to maximize your lifetime earnings.
2) Keep a budget – To avoid the financial anxiety of being deeply in debt, you must know how much you earn and how much you spend, always spending less than you earn. Don’t use credit cards except for an emergency – if you can’t afford something, save up until you have enough money to buy it. Don’t buy it on credit on the hopes that you will “someday” pay it off – many people never do. If you always earn more than you spend, you raise your self-esteem by developing emotional intelligence skills such as delayed gratification, impulse control, and working toward a rewarding goal.
3) Save for your future – Putting a percentage (usually 2-10%) of your salary in your employer’s 401-K retirement program can build savings quickly. Ask your Human Resources Department at work if you have one of these, and get investment advice from the plan’s advisor if you do. You could also choose a specific amount each month to put into a bank savings account (perhaps via direct deposit of your paychecks). Saving for your future is critical for your retirement years that come sooner than we think. The interest this money will accrue over decades in your working life will really add up, and the sooner you start, the dramatically better off you’ll be. Even if you’re only 18 or 20 years old, it’s critical to try to save a standard 10% of your income. Financial management books as far back as the 1920’s suggest that if you save just 10% of everything you make, you will likely have a comfortable retirement. You can relax knowing that your future is secure.
4) Fix money leaks – For one month, make a list of everything you spend. Look at the big expenditures. Are there wasteful “money leaks” that you need to fix? Reduce your monthly fixed costs by finding cheaper ways of getting things, like using coupons at the supermarket, finding stations with cheaper gas, or changing phone companies. Cut back on areas that take more than their fair share of your budget.
5) Be “fiscally fit” – If you have a bad credit score from missing or sending late payments to credit cards or utilities, learn how to fix it. There are books such as The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke by lesbian author, Suze Orman that can help. Keep your financial commitments by “paying yourself first” each month to your savings, and paying all of your bills on time and in full every month. Fulfilling your commitments and keeping your word are great ways to raise self-esteem. By taking responsibility, you build self-confidence, improve relationships with others, and feel good in the knowledge that you are respected and reliable.
6) Build protections – Getting in trouble with the IRS by not filing your taxes can lead to fines and even jail. Jail is not like the pornos; you really want to avoid that. Protect your assets by carrying insurance – such as car insurance (liability and collision, to protect you from being sued and have a car to drive), renter’s or homeowner’s insurance (in case of a fire or robbery), health insurance (in case of a sudden illness or accident), and disability insurance in case you can’t work your regular job. Make paying the appropriate insurance premiums a priority in your budget. Long-time gay men’s advisor Jacques Chambers (www.helpwithbenefits.com) can advise you on what you need based on your specific life circumstances. Having insurance against the most common risks for your sex, age, and profession minimize your anxiety, provide reassurance, and restore hope if unfortunate events ever happen to you.
7) Give back to the Universe – Inspirational and motivational author Jack Canfield, in his classic book, The Success Principles, suggests that we “tithe” our income – which is to set aside a certain percentage of your choosing (such as 5-10%) for giving away to charities or causes you care about. This creates a wonderful good feeling of altruism, “karma,” and can give a sense of pride and self-esteem by helping others who are less fortunate. People who do this often report amazing stories of great things happening to them, as if the Universe is taking note of your generosity and taking care of you in return.
Like all financial advice, you should see a bank or professional financial advisor before making any important decisions. There are many other ways to become financially successful, but these seven tips are among the most practical. Putting all these in practice can help you to have the life you want.
For more information on therapy and coaching services with Ken Howard, LCSW, and the other clinicians at GayTherapyLA.com, call/text 310-339-5778, or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com.