Secrets to Financial Happiness

The psychology of money, now known as behavioral finance, has a positive side. It turns out you can use psychology to increase your financial happiness by reducing your money stress.

Fortunately, this psychological formula is simple: Stress down equals happiness up. So how do you cut the stress? Try a new mindset: Stop blaming "them," take responsibility and then take positive actions. What's happening "out there" is no excuse for whining. You can't change them, but you can control you:

Yes, Washington's spending is out-of-control, and we've got debt piling up for many generations. But that's no excuse for you to be overspending and piling up debt. Yes, Corporate America's cutting back on insurance and retirement benefits. But that's no excuse for putting your family at risk with no savings or insurance. Yes, Wall Street is making mega-bucks while your little portfolio is barely breaking even. But that's no excuse to stop investing regularly.

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No matter what "they" do, win or lose, you're stuck. "They" may be taking advantage of you. "They" may be greedy bums protected by lobbyists and political hacks. So what? Life's unfair.

Since April is National Financial Literacy month, why not start now and take charge of your financial life with a positive attitude. And we have a great checklist of the eight not-so-secret rules that'll help you regain control, reduce stress and increase happiness.

So if you want more than a quick fix, if you're ready to make a commitment to action for the long-term, let me introduce you to Jean Chatzky, a lady with heart, a determined coach with some simple, easy-to-read, easier-to-follow personal-finance messages guaranteed to reduce money stress and increase your financial happiness, one step at a time.

No quick fix on a long-term journey

But a word of caution, her book titles can be deceiving. Maybe too comforting: "You Don't Have to Be Rich: Comfort, Happiness and Financial Security on Your Own Terms;" "Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day;" and "Talking Money: Everything You Need to Know About Your Finances and Your Future."

Titles like that can be real tranquillizers, lulling you into a false sense of security. Like a quick skim reading and you think you know it all, like you're almost "there," like she's going to do it for you. So you snooze on cruise control (again!).

Wrong! Warning: You are still responsible, you need to take action. But that's what I like most about Chatzky's system ... she's now online. You'll find a tutorial and a step-by-step action plan. One you go back to, check in, get the reminders, do what you got to do, come back tomorrow, update, no excuses, take charge, reduce stress, get control and increase your feelings of financial happiness.

This is the new way of getting a financial adviser, but there are no fees and 24/7 online access. So get into action with this eight-step process:

1. Learn to want less

The advertising media has programmed America's brain, and not just to blindly buy stuff. We've been cleverly programmed to believe more is never enough, we must have "the latest." These unconscious brain commands are the main cause of America's low savings and high debt. Master your mind, you'll master your money.

2. Get organized

You're on overload, reacting from crisis to crisis. Multitasking isn't working. You do what's easy, immediate. What's crucial, what's distracting? No plan? Stuff piles up. All that "clutter costs you time, money, and stress." Get on top of the paperwork, master your fate, start today!

3. Set goals

A few decades ago Yale polled graduating students about goals. Twenty years later they discovered that the ones with clear goals made more money and were happier than all the others put together. Define where you want to be in 2026!

4. Plan your spending

Spending more than you make? Problem is most of us don't even know. You need to "find out how to track your spending, boost your savings, eliminate high-interest debt, and ultimately live within your means — and enjoy it!"

5. Invest sensibly

Here's another equation to hardwire in your brain: Nothing saved equals nothing invested equals no retirement. Yes, the world's scary, getting scarier. But you keep saving. Keep investing. And build a well-diversified portfolio that'll weather the storms.

6. Protect what's yours

Chatzky's work came from a Roper Center survey of 1,505 Americans and the habits that breed financial happiness. The happiest people are often the ones that protect themselves and their families with insurance, wills and trusts. Which reminds me of Warren Buffett's two rules: One, never lose money. And two, never forget rule one.

7. Start talking about money

We keep too many secrets about money. We talk more openly about sex, religion and politics than money, Yet money's the hot button issue most likely to lead to spousal wars. Open up, talk about money honestly, and get your kids in the game early.

8. Find work that fits

Chatzky says happy workers also make more money. In "The Millionaire Mind," George Stanley goes one step further: "If you are creative enough to select the ideal vocation, you can win, win big-time. The really brilliant millionaires are those who selected a vocation that they love." Yes, it does "pay to be happy!"

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