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Our relationship with money is emotional. How to make the most of your cash

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Updated April 14, 2022 at 6:54 PM ET

It doesn't take an expert to know that money is so much more than dollars and cents. Our relationship with money is emotional. Hopes and fears, guilt and shame — they can all play a significant role in your financial life.

And those feelings can be tied to lots of things: our upbringing, our environment, plus, y' know, all the money messaging in the world and the media.

But honing those feelings and creating your own strong, secure financial voice? That takes some expertise.

Tiffany Aliche, better known as The Budgetnista, is a financial expert, educator, and author of the new book Get Good With Money (out March 30). Her book is a super practical guide to getting your financial house in order to achieve what Aliche calls financial wholeness. It's based around ten pillars: budgeting, savings, debt, credit, learning to earn, investing, insurance, net worth, getting your financial team in place and estate planning.

Her book dives deep into each of these topics, but Aliche says this process begins with understanding your own financial identity and the many feelings and environmental forces that shape it. "For me, money is more mindset than dollars and coins," she says.

We can all, says Aliche, get good with money — we just have to get good with our feelings, first. Read on for tips for accessing your emotions around money, and learning to strengthen your financial voice. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Andee Tagle: You talk about how you used to live in the state of financial fear, and you say that financial wholeness is the cure to that financial fear, or to financial trauma. I love that idea. How do you define that term?

Tiffany Aliche: I define financial wholeness as when all aspects of your financial life, and there's ten that we lean into truly — when all of these aspects of your financial life are working congruently for what I like to call your greatest good, your biggest benefit and your richest life. I would say financial freedom is for the few, but financial wholeness is for everyone. It doesn't matter how much you make. It doesn't matter what you do for a living. It doesn't matter how old you are. Financial wholeness can be achieved by everyone. And so it's just a holistic view of what to do with my money and how to maximize and make the most of it.

I want to talk a little bit about the emotions behind money. I loved what you had to say about being aware of the influences in our life that might affect our habits and our financial voice. I know in my own life, for example, I immediately thought about how my dad was always super, super frugal. You know, he asked for discounts wherever we went. That's a really valuable skill, but as a kid, I just remember feeling so embarrassed. And so now as an adult, I just have zero haggling ability and, you know, probably I'm worse off for it. How do we break those habits?

So one of the things I illustrate in the book is one, acknowledging that you see that habit. So that's first. You can't break something that you don't acknowledge and see: what is the habit that I'm seeing in myself? Then, two, exploring where it came from. And so, bravo to you again, Andee for recognizing, 'OK, this is from Dad,' you know. And then three, practicing in a safe environment.

So what I would tell you, is don't worry about the financial haggling for now. You know, if you are not haggling financially, you might be someone that's uncomfortable with asking the waiter for extra cheese—

Oh, one hundred percent. I can never send a sandwich back.

Okay so that's a baby step. So it's like, sending something back or maybe just asking for something additional like, 'Oh can I also get that,' because what you want to do is you want to practice advocating for yourself. Because it's hard to jump into the financial application if you're not able to advocate for yourself in small, little ways.

That's great advice. I want to talk a little bit about mindful spending. Can you break down the different priorities people should be thinking about for us?

Absolutely. It's: Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I like it? Do I want it? We already know needs: food, shelter, clothing, water. Things you must have to maintain your health and safety. Second, are your loves. Loves will continue to give you joy six months to a year from now. Likes give you temporary joy, in under six months you might not remember. And wants are fleeting.

So what I want people to do is to lean into the first half of the equation, your needs and your loves. So you need to take care of your health and safety and loves that give you lasting joy, and less money toward likes and wants — not no money, but the more money you spend on likes and wants, the less money you have for needs and loves.

You tell this great story in the book and it's about saying no to brunch with your girlfriends for a very specific reason. Can you share that story with us?

Yes, so friends of mine would go to brunch every Sunday and it was maybe, say, 30 to 50 bucks every time. And one day I realized I wanted to go on vacation, but I didn't have any money.

And then when [my friend called] and was like, 'Hey, girl, you want to go to brunch?' I thought to myself, that's where my money is going! And I realized brunch is not a love for me because I don't even remember what we ate last week. I was spending my money on her loves.

Now, it's not her fault because she was doing what she was supposed to do, spend her money on her love. But she was convincing me to do so as well. So I stopped going and I almost made it like a drinking game. Every time somebody said "brunch," I put that money in my savings account.

And then when I had enough, I used it to go on my first solo trip. I wanted to go to Albuquerque because it's the hot air balloon capital of the world and I've never ridden a hot air balloon. And so now I learned that I'm not saying no to brunch, I'm saying yes to Morocco. I'm not saying no to brunch, I'm saying yes to India. I'm saying yes to Monaco. And so I always encourage people to do the same. I want you to use your money to live an actual richer, more joyful life. I want you to make sure you're not using your money towards someone else's idea of love.

So, Tiffany, you came from a household where you were talking about money all the time. But what about people where that where that wasn't the case? How can we get comfortable talking about money?

You're right. I think the average person did not have these conversations at home. So how do you naturally do that? You have to find a safe environment to do so. It might just be a group of your girlfriends where you've said, like, 'I would love you to be my accountability partner and I'm just going to talk about money with you.' And if you don't know anybody in your own physical real life, there are digital folks that you can lean into and virtual people that you can lean into.

I speak freely in front of my friends about money on purpose because I'm always trying to create a safe environment: 'I'm not going to judge; I don't know what's right or wrong for you, I'm just here to present you with as much knowledge as possible so you could choose the right choice for yourself.' So make sure that when you're looking for these safe spaces, that that's the energy you get.

This piece originally published on March 28, 2021.

The podcast version of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.

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Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.