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Take Control of Your Finances Part 1-A: Become Aware

This article was written by in Money Management. 5 comments.


Who are you?

For any one human being, the number of answers to this question approaches infinity. There are many aspects that are included in the definition of self. The most common response is to answer with the collection of sounds used to nominally identify yourself: “I am Joe.” Our names, generally given to us by our parents, influence our identity to some extent. In a world with billions of practically identical members of the same species, names help us identify each other quickly.

You might also answer with your occupation: “I am a plumber.” Many adults spend most of their lives training for a certain job or career and exchanging their time and effort within that career for compensation in the form of money. This trade is permission to survive, and in some cases, prosper. It is not surprising that a person would choose to identify herself by the activity that consumes her life and provides the opportunity to continue living.

If you do not have an occupation, you may answer with the way you are considered by the people most important to you: “I am a father.”

This only scratches the surface of who you are. There is more beyond this top layer. How do you view the world? What is important to you? What topping do you like on your pancakes?

I want to focus on “What is important to you.” The details of your finances probably aren’t that important to you. You live, work, and pay your bills. You may be in a comfortable situation financially, or you may not be. Is there a need to fix something that isn’t “broken?”

Most likely you only pay attention if your finances start impeding your life. In other cases, you might keep denying bad situations until you hit a point at which no further decline is possible — rock bottom. At rock bottom, there’s a good chance that the accumulation of poor circumstances or choices force you to suddenly become aware.

In terms of finances, it’s much less damaging if you become fully aware of your money and everything that is tied to money in your life before the worst occurs. Whether you call it Enlightenment, kensho, epiphany, or a revelation, it pays to move towards awareness than let it happen to you.

The first part of becoming aware is understanding your role in the greater economy.

  • Assuming you are not a slave or independently wealthy, you trade your time and effort for money.
  • You trade the money you earn for food, shelter, and possibly some extras.
  • If you are lucky enough to earn more money than you need to survive, some of your money will be diverted to programs that help society in general.
  • Companies make money by convincing you that their products are worth spending the remainder of the money you earn, and in general, companies are smarter than you.

I don’t mean to insult anyone with the last point. Successful companies spend a large amount of money to understand the way people think and behave in a consumer society. If you watch television, the commercials you see are targeted specifically to people just like you. These commercials are tested, and only the most successful ones make it to the airwaves. Companies spend money on advertising because they know they will regain that money through new customers as a direct result of that advertising. Advertisers are getting smarter and are adapting to new consumer behaviors, like time-shifting television programs and skipping commercials. It is very hard to outsmart advertising experts who rely on scientific studies of financial behavior. Understanding your role as the consumer in this relationship is the first step to being able to control your finances.

What are some of the creative ways companies try to convince you with your money?

Now that you’re aware of your role, you can begin to quantify your financial identity and place it in context. The next step in taking control of your finances is to expand the definition of yourself by discovering your financial identity.

Image source: Swami Stream

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published November 10, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kate

I completely agree: marketers are very savvy, and marketing works, even on you. We tend to dismiss this idea and think of ourselves as exceptional: exceptionally impervious to the influence of marketing. We’d serve ourselves better by admitting that we’re not exceptional, and that marketing does influence us, even if indirectly. And by recognizing that indirect influence can be very powerful. We may not want to run out and buy the exact item they’re shilling, but advertising definitely raises our general level of covetousness, making it much more difficult to curb our spending impulses.

If we really were smarter than the marketing corps, we’d kill our televisions and give up the lifestyle magazines. The only way I’ve ever found to beat marketing is to cut it out of my life as much as possible. Yes, there are still billboards, and even public radio has ads now. But tv and magazines are the worst (read: most powerful) venues for advertisements, in my opinion.

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avatar Mr. ToughMoneyLove

Two traits that I am known for cynicism and skepticism. Although many people consider these to be negative characteristics, they sure do come in handy when confronting full-blown attacks by the marketing pros. If you constantly question the veracity and motivation of the people who are trying to sell you something, you will be a better consumer.

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avatar M Dasko

My favorite part about marketing these days is that even though every show has about 7 minutes of commercials, there tends to be product placement in every show.. Product placement is the worst because you know a commercial is a commercial, but once the show starts we tend to turn our bs detectors off… just my opinion

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avatar Michael

Ironically enough, my wife and I have paid more for TV by having a DirecTV DVR. However, since we watch all our TV on the DVR and fast forward through commercials, we find ourselves buying less and being happier.

Another thought on the finance end is to use budgeting programs that you pay for – like your own homegrown spreadsheet, Quicken Desktop, YNAB, PearBudget, etc – with no free membership with supported advertising. When we used advertising supported “free” budgeting software we found ourselves spending more on credit. Programs such as Mint, Wesabe, etc. are in essence free but supported by advertising that may cause you to spend more money but give you the false impression that you are living within your means. When we used these programs we were living within our means and not spending more than we earned. But, our savings dramatically suffered. Since we switched to our own homegrown Excel budget spreadsheet and Quicken on our PC, our use of credit cards has dramatically dropped and savings increased. Great article, Flexo!

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avatar ABC

Looks like an interesting series.

I like your point about “only pay attention if your finances start impeding your life”. Your finances are like your health – it doesn’t matter if you don’t enjoy exercise or good diet or asset allocation – you have to suck it up and just do it.

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