Planning

4 Money Rules That Will Give Your Financial Life a Boost

At the risk of sounding like my adolescent daughter, “Who needs rules anyway?”

Well, you do. I do.

Rules, whether they’re traffic rules or stock trading rules, not only save us from societal chaos, they make our lives easier. Having too many choices, and that is essentially what a life without rules provides, is both time consuming and emotionally fraught. Having lines to color in is simpler and easier. It makes us happier and produces a better result.

That, in a nutshell, is why we need Money Rules. Last week I published a book by that title, Money Rules, which includes almost 100 rules. “Why do you get to make the rules?” I can hear that daughter of mine asking.

Well, in this case, I’ve got twenty years on the job accumulating them. But I didn’t “make” them all myself. Some are maxims I’ve gathered through the years, words I’ve found that are truly helpful to those who hear them. Others, are borrowed from sources I find myself turning to story after story.

I thought I’d share a few of them in the hope that they can give your money life a boost (or at least give you something to cling to the next time you need a little financial fortitute). And I hope that once you’re done reading them, you’ll take a couple of minutes to share your Money Rules with the folks here at MintLife and with me.

Money Rule #1: Personal Finance Is More Personal Than Finance.

As you make your financial decisions, do it as if you’re looking in a mirror. That’s because, when it comes to your money, you have to make the decisions that are right for you and your family – not right for your best friends or your siblings or even your mother.

That may mean leaving cash in the bank because it enables you to sleep at night while the “experts” are telling you to invest that money so it can grow. It may mean making a lateral move at work because you think you’ll enjoy the work more than what you’re doing now.

Money Rule #2: Your Retirement Trumps Your Child’s tuition.

You know when you’re on an airplane and they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting a child? Saving for long-term financial needs is the same. If you don’t save for your own future first, you won’t be able to help your children when they need it. Worse, they may be forced to help you just when they’re trying to put their own kids through school. There is no financial aid for retirement but there is plenty of financial aid for college. Don’t feel guilty about this.

Money Rule #3: Don’t Shop Angry, Sad or Hungry

Remember the scene from Groundhog Day when Bill Murray abducted Punxatawny Phil, got behind a wheel, and told the little varmint, “Don’t Drive Angry.” Well, just like you shouldn’t drive angry, you shouldn’t shop angry. You shouldn’t invest angry either.

Why?

Anger makes you more optimistic and more of a risk taker than you’d naturally be. That means you’re more likely to say “what the heck” to unfortunate purchases, to spend or invest money on a whim. Bad move. Similarly…

Don’t shop sad.

Feeling sad – because your team just lost the big game, or you just suffered a disappointment at work – makes you eager to buy just about anything, research shows. Sadness feels like a big hole or void and you want to fill it up so you’ll do whatever it takes and if you happen to have a credit card in your hand, so be it. And…

Don’t shop hungry.

This is not just a rule that applies in grocery stores. You know why they ply you with samples at warehouse stores? Because exciting your mouth – literally making you drool – makes you spend more money not just on food, but on everything. It primes the same part of your brain that responds to the rewards you really want.

So maybe you went to Costco to load up on Ziploc bags and paper towels. But then you snacked a bit, which activated your brain and then what happened? You bought the tent. I should also tell you: we don’t camp. That shopping trip is a legend in our family.

Oh, and when your favorite little boutique offers a special evening sale with wine and cheese? Steer clear.

Money Rule #4: Give back.

People who spend money and time on charity are healthier and happier. They sleep more and exercise more and that puts them in a better frame of mind. Grateful people are less likely to be felled by depression or stress-based ailments Giving back—doing something for someone else, whether you write a check, volunteer, or give away your unwanted things—gives the human psyche a boost that’s hard to replicate in any other way. And I truly believe that practicing gratitude is also the antidote to materialism.

Think about it: Materialism is focusing on what you want, obsessing on what you desire. Gratitude is being thankful for what you already have.

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s Today and a columnist for Prevention. She is the author of the new book Money Rules and is on Twitter at @jeanchatzky.