I’ve seen a lot of articles and videos that talk about “toxic” money beliefs and how those are standing in the way of achieving financial freedom and building sustainable, long-term wealth.
I’m not a fan of the term because it’s overused. But the idea that we have certain destructive beliefs about money is certainly true.
The most obvious destructive beliefs are “money is evil” or “I’m not good with money.” We all get that. Money is good if you use it to do well. And everyone can learn to get better with money.
But I’ve experienced that there are deeper, less-explored toxic money beliefs. And the first step to weeding them out is by being self-aware.
1. “I can start being happy only when I’m making more money”
So many of us are in this perpetual state of waiting. It seems like we’re always in the waiting room of Dr. Happiness. We assume that we will be happy if we achieve a certain income goal.
And while it’s okay to try to earn more, it becomes a problem when you start living in the future.
One of my team members, John, told me about a friend of his who’s into YouTube. The friend keeps talking about starting his own YouTube channel. But he only wants to start when he’s earning more money from his day job. “So things would be more secure,” the friend said.
Have you ever found yourself saying, “Oh, I’ll do [insert desirable activity] when I’ve got more money”? That’s living in the future.
When you live in the future, you’re always waiting for the moment to start living your life. You live in this empty space in between goals. And it’s not a good place to be in because you’re always anxious.
Seneca talks about this in On the Shortness of Life:
“It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil.
They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return… They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.”
Here’s a little secret: You can be happy now. “Even if I don’t have a million bucks in the bank?” Yup.
2. “You need a business to achieve financial freedom”
Some people want to retire by a certain age. A lot of people like the number 40 for some reason.
People have done the math. If you want to retire by 40 and want to spend $4K a month, you need at least $2.5 million in retirement savings. That’s a situation where you don’t have other passive income streams, that’s why the number is high.
But still, if you have passive income streams, you still need to build serious wealth to retire.
That’s why many motivational speakers advocate for being a business owner. Because “very few people can become millionaires by being an employee.”
But while it’s great to have a profitable business, you really don’t need to be a full-time entrepreneur. Financial freedom is all about having options.
For example, I have financial freedom from having multiple income streams:
- Sales from my online courses
- Book royalties
- Affiliate earnings
- I also own some rental properties
- Finally, I have money in passive investments, like the S&P 500 Index Fund.
Other people have done it differently. One of the most famous bloggers in this space is Mr. Money Moustache, who secured his early retirement from his salary.
There are more ways to achieve your money goals. Don’t let people on the internet tell you there’s only one way to do something.
3. “Money is more important than my time”
The adage, “being cheap is expensive,” is cliche but true. Everything we do has an opportunity cost.
I have a friend who went to a dealership 2 hours away to buy a second-hand car that was supposedly 500 bucks cheaper. First, he spent the whole day looking at the car to ensure it worked. Then he took another day to pick it up.
A week or so later, the car started acting up. And my friend had to spend several hours negotiating with the dealer to fix his car free of charge. Two months later, something else broke down. And the dealer didn’t want anything to do with it. “No warranty, buddy,” the dealer said.
My friend spent close to two grand just to save a few hundred. And think of all that time he wasted. We can all make more money. But time is very limited.
Seneca illustrated this dilemma well:
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
Prioritizing money over time is tough because it’s ingrained in our behavior. Even I have the occasional tendency to lean towards cheaper options just because they’re cheaper.
But that’s a harmful mindset. That’s also why I don’t recommend budgeting unless it’s temporary. We have to think of money as a means, not an end. It’s okay to spend money to make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable. Otherwise, what’s the point of earning more, right?
The catch is to not throw money at your problems. It’s common when we’re stressed or unfulfilled. Instead, try to be self-aware and find the root cause of these issues. That’s a better way to spend one’s time.
4. “Money doesn’t grow on trees”
That’s true but also not true.
The problem with this platitude is that it puts us in a scarcity mindset. But building sustainable wealth isn’t about holding on tightly to the small amount of money you make. It’s a matter of creating value.
As Zig Ziglar, author of the best-seller, See You at the Top, said;
“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
The truth is that you can generate money from nothing. As long as you have the skills to provide value that other people will pay for.
When I started my blog in 2015, I had just come back home to the Netherlands after leaving a London job that didn’t work out. I had to move back in with my parents to cut expenses.
My goal at the time was to become fully sustainable by creating a profitable online business. It took me two years to start earning well from my writing. And eventually, I started earning well enough to buy a rental property with cash.
I can still remember what my friend told me when he saw the progress I’ve made. “This is so awesome man. You turn the zeros and ones of the digital world into bricks,” he said.
I think that’s the beauty of building a profitable digital business. You create value in the digital world. And ultimately, that translates to the “real” world.
Keep challenging your beliefs
It’s easy to fall into a particular thinking pattern. That’s why I continuously monitor my own thoughts and behavior.
The other day, I was on a run and my mind was going through its usual stream of ideas. One of the thoughts was how much I enjoyed my stay in Curaçao, some time ago. That led to thoughts like, “I should earn more so I could travel more,” and “what should I do to earn even more?”
But I’ve practiced mindfulness for years now. So I can observe those thoughts without acting on them.
The goal of financial freedom, like many other things, is balance. It’s not about more, more, more. We don’t want to be too cheap or too lavish. We can be ambitious and grow. But at the same time, we also don’t want to overspend and live beyond our means.
The Roman poet and satirist, Aulus Persius Flaccus, said it simplest (and most beautifully):
“Live according to your income.”