We live paycheck to paycheck, rack up credit card debt, buy too much house, have multiple cars (complete with loans), late payments, bad credit…I could go on and on. To point to the worst of these mistakes would be fruitless.
We all make money mistakes, but to really narrow it down to one mistake that is worse than the others is close to impossible.
But there is one simple mistake we tend to make that could make a huge difference in our financial lives. It is a simple question we tend to ask ourselves when things aren’t going our way: Asking “WHY?” instead of “HOW?”
Why don’t I make enough money to pay the bills? Why can’t I ever save any money? Why did I buy this house? Why do unexpected bills always come at the last minute? Why can’t I afford a new car (like my neighbor)?”
Take a look at those questions and see how productive the answers are.
The answers to “why” questions are typically vague and futile. If I ask myself, “Why don’t I make more money?” doesn’t help me make more money or find a solution to my problem.
While asking “why” is our attempt to search for answers, the number of potential answers can be scattered and ambiguous.
Answers to “why” questions can also create feelings of worry, criticism and blame.
For example, asking “Why can’t I ever save any money?” can produce self-defeating answers, like “because I don’t make enough money”, “because I spend too much”, or “because I make bad money decisions”. These self-critical answers tend to keep us feeling stuck and powerless.
*Note: Not all why questions are bad. Some types of why questions give us insight into our behaviors and a reason/motivation to move toward change (which is a good thing, for sure!), here I am referring to the “why is this happening to me” type of why questions.
Instead, ask “How?”
Tweaking the wording to include “How” rather than “Why” changes everything.
How can I make more money to pay the bills? How can I start saving money? How can I make this house work for me? How can I handle unexpected bills? How can I afford a new car?”
Asking “How” forces us to think about solutions. While “why” places the responsibility of our situation outside of our control, asking “how” puts us in the driver’s seat and gives us the power to find solutions to our problems.
“How” creates a picture in our head of where we want to be and how we plan to get there. It creates a results-driven answer and stimulates goal focused thinking.
“How” forces us to find the tools we need to get to the goal successfully.
For example,“How can I save more money?” helps us think about all of our options. We may think about automating savings, areas where we can cut spending, selling our “stuff”, earning more, side hustling, and the many other options we could choose that would allow us to save more money.
A change in mindset
Changing the wording of your financial problems to “How can I…” is really just a shift in mindset. It is a positive way to help you see that you have choices and solutions are available. Though the answers to your “How” questions may not be easy, asking them can be the beginning of meaningful change.
The next time you find yourself asking “Why?”, try changing it to “How?” and see what a difference one word can make!
When do you ask “Why” and “How” questions? How do you think about your money problems?
Here are some tools I use myself that you may find helpful:
Want to painlessly save more each month (without even lifting a finger!)? Try out Digit. I really thought I was saving all I possibly could. Digit proved me wrong. See my review and updates on how much I’ve saved here.
Personal Capital tracks your expenses for you for free! Have all your accounts in one place and utilize their free expense tracking tool! I use their free net worth and expense tracking tools. Sign up for a FREE Personal Capital account.