Stephanie O’Connell wrote a wonderful article called ‘Yes and…’ Your Life about borrowing an improvisational technique used by actors and applying it to your life. “Yes, and…” requires you to accept whatever circumstances are presented to you as truth, incorporate them, and use them moving forward. She suggested using it as a way to get out of either/or thinking.
After reading Stefanie’s post I began thinking back to techniques I learned while studying acting. I wondered what other personal finance guidance might be extracted from the way an actor prepares. After all, actors study human behavior in order to portray roles as realistically as possible. Why wouldn’t there be other excellent parallels? Art imitates life. And life may imitate art.
Anyone who’s studied acting has been introduced to “The Method”. It was developed by Lee Strasberg at his famous Actor’s Studio in New York City. Method acting is popularly associated with Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Heath Ledger. The Method relies on the actor building the internal life of a character. He works from the “inside out” in order to feel the emotions of the character. The process is very intense, and some actors even take it beyond the confines of rehearsal or performance. A great example is Daniel Day Lewis, who chose to remain in a wheel-chair for the entire shooting of “My Left Foot” so that he would stay “in character”.
But there’s a lesser known acting technique which involves developing a character from the “outside in”. With this technique, the actor focuses on “doing” and not feeling. So don’t be a Method actor when it comes to your finances. What good is relying on your feelings to get ahead? Feelings can be fleeting, fickle, uncontrollable and undependable. But we can find ways to work around them. We move forward by taking concrete steps, not by feeling.
Let’s take a look at how our feelings get in the way of our finances. Have you had any of these thoughts?
- I’m not smart enough to manage my money.
- I don’t earn enough to save money.
- I don’t understand investing well enough to make decisions.
- Budgeting is too hard.
- Tracking my expenses is too annoying.
- There’s not enough time in the day to do all the things I’m supposed to do.
These are all excuses. These are self-sabotaging feelings that we allow to dictate our behavior. What I’m recommending is that we dictate our behavior instead, and hope that our feelings catch up. Concentrate on the doing, and not the feeling. So what do you do if you want to start saving and investing but you feel you don’t have the money, the willpower or the knowledge? You just do it. You don’t wait until you feel like it. You make a decision. You make a commitment.
Commit to setting aside $50 over the next month for saving. After you’ve saved $50 in a month, try upping it to $75 the next month, and so on. When you’ve had a few successful months of saving and you’ve accumulated $1,000 (and you also have a cash emergency fund) start thinking about investing it. You may need to shop around since brokerage firms have minimums. And if you want a step by step guide, try Mr. Groovy’s plan for how to work out your saving muscles.
Let’s try dictating our behavior now when it comes to cutting down expenses. Do one small action and see where it leads.
- Take your lunch to work for just one day next week, rather than eating out.
- If you get your hair styled at a salon every six weeks, try stretching it out to every eight weeks.
- The next time you’re on Amazon and have the urge to buy something, choose to “save it for later”. Give it a day or two before returning to your shopping cart to see if you still really want to make the purchase.
- Wherever you shop on line, don’t store your credit card and shipping information in your account. Force yourself to actively input all your data each time you make a purchase. The time involved might allow you to change your mind.
- Put a stop to those endless catalogs you receive in the mail by signing up for Catalog Choice. Out of sight out of mind.
Another helpful behavior is this—only discuss your finances and personal goals with people who support you and want the best for you. Talk to people with good money habits. Don’t talk to people who overspend, complain about their finances, and never take constructive steps to turn things around. These people inhabit a much darker place—they’re on a totally different path than you are. Chances are they’re not going to succeed in life and they will hope you fail too—even if they won’t admit it. This means put a zip on it. Treat your dreams and goals with kid gloves and keep them away from spoilsports. Your life is your creation and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
And finally people, in the words of Frugal Vagabond, “don’t tell me you can’t”. You may not have been born on third base, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to home plate. You have the power to make small changes and see where that leads you. Anyone with the will to do so can achieve financial security.