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Stuck or challenged? Frugal or broke?

Attitude matters. Try phrasing your PF goals -- and even your setbacks -- in an affirmative way.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 9, 2009 11:14AM
A few days ago I felt pretty good about my finances: bills paid, rent mailed, a chunk of money left to add to the pot for my next quarterly tax payment.

Then came the final disposition of my three-year scholarship. Because tuition has gone up and my other two educational grants have expired, I was left with a truly spooky balance due: $666.

My first reaction: "Oh, man, now I can't use that extra money for taxes!"

My second reaction: "Would you listen to yourself?"

Here I was solvent enough to pay what I owed and I was feeling picked-on. This was in direct opposition to a recent vow to frame my life -- even what I perceived to be its setbacks -- in more upbeat terms.
It started one evening in spring quarter, when I came home weary and stressed. Wondering how I'd get through my homework, I started to say out loud, "I'm so tired." On a whim I changed it to "I'm so...glad to be home and fixing supper."

As impossibly corny as that sounds, it did perk me up a bit. Later that evening I started to think, "I just don't know if I can do this." Instead, I made myself say, "I am doing this."

I'm no Pollyanna, but...
Not to go all Norman Vincent Peale on you, but I'm finding that these attitude changes help me handle situations that used to leave me glum. Big unexpected expense? I'll use a rewards card and get some frequent flier miles. Economy still lousy? I'm lucky to have a couple of part-time jobs (and I better get that stuff over to the food bank).

Even my to-do list gets a dose of affirmation. I have to clean a vacant apartment is rephrased as "I get to earn some extra money by cleaning a vacancy." There's so much left to do! might morph into "How can I make my Living With Less deadline, clean that vacancy and still turn John Moore's cancerous spleen into an interesting three-page paper?"
Understand: I am not saying that an attitude adjustment is the answer to all -- or any -- of your problems. For example, simply adopting a more positive outlook won't make unemployment or debt vanish.

What it might do, however, is allow you to look at such problems more clearly by speaking them aloud and in less dire terms.

Not a fix, just an assist
For starters, redefine your problems as "challenges." A problem happens to us. We're victims of it. We're immobilized by it.

A challenge, on the other hand, is more of a cosmic kick in the pants -- the universe saying, "What are you going to do about it, tough guy?"

Well, what are you going to do about it? Maybe you'll come up with some strategies, such as looking for extra work or training for a new career. Or maybe your particular challenge can't be solved that easily. Your only strategy might be a difficult one, such as accepting help from a charity or social service agency.

In all but the most extreme cases, we always have choices. They are not necessarily great choices. In a bad economy, your only options may be "Go hungry, or take a minimum wage job and go hungry some of the time."

It would take an act of true willpower to rephrase that as, "At least I'll have some work until times are better." But it can be done. I've heard people do it.

Faith is a choice. We are rarely out of options, however unpalatable. Perseverance is a choice, too. It's just not the easy one.

Related reading:
•    In case of layoff: A financial fire drill
•    Money bullies
•    Get your taxes done for free
•    Finding wealth in a frying pan

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