I originally wrote this article for the fabulous Young Adventuress blog, here.
Hello. My name is Berna Anat. And guys, I… am a recovering, terrible-at-money garbage fire.
Thank you for this support at this difficult time.
However, I have been to the “Holy shit, I kind of understand money now” promised land. Not only is it delicious, y’all, but it’s 100% accessible to you too. I swear!
You just have to learn to smell your shit.
Yup, I just went there.
But first, skrrrt, let me back up.
The reason I have any type of credibility in talking about this is because two years ago, I got tired of being a collector of debts, and I developed a plan to pay off my $50,000 in student loans and credit card debt.
How you ask? Very good question. I will tell all.
I used sheer will, discipline, and a really annoying Google Doc system. I call it Felicia’s Wallet, and I talk about in the video below.
And here’s what’s really wild: I actually did it. It worked. See below for obnoxious proof.
Here’s where you hate me.
I’m now traveling the world with zero debt. I repeat, for those in the back: ZERO DEBT.
It’s totally and completely possible! I have enough extra cash to do absolutely nothing but travel for a year. And I have a retirement and emergency savings waiting for me in case I completely screw this up; I’ve even invested in and sold some basic-ass stock. It is possible to pay off debt and travel the world.
Now let’s team up.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that the intimidating world of personal finance is simply a game – but if you’re like me and millions of others, no one told us the most basic goddamn rules. In fact, most of us learned to fear it, ignore it, and hope it somehow fixes itself.
I’m here to help captain your SS Struggle Ship. No more of that mess. Let’s sort this out now. All of this starts with one important step: Smelling your shit.
Smelling your shit is more than admitting your fear of money – it’s putting your actual eyeballs on those nasty numbers you’ve been avoiding for so long. Most folks I talk to cannot name exactly how much debt they’re in, and that’s where their problems begin.
Not knowing your numbers gives your debt all the power as this mysterious, haunting shadow-blob. Smelling your shit is how you get your first grip of power over your money.
1. Open an excel sheet/Google Doc/real piece of paper.
Doesn’t matter how you record it; just that you do it right now, and on something you won’t accidentally (on purpose) throw away.
2. Write down everything you have in each bank account.
Yep – this means doing the “Forgot Your Password” dance with your bank as many times as it takes.
Write down the exact amount you have today in every savings and checking account you have control over, in a grid that’s something like this:
3. Write down all of your separate debts.
Yep – this might mean calling customer service reps and literally asking, “How the hell much do I owe you guys, like, in total?” You might be like me and have 3 different credit cards and 10 different student loans, all with different balances and interests rates. Write them all down separately, and then add them up.
That’s your shit! Look at her. Read her backwards. Name her and understand her. She’s yours, for better or for worse.
It’s time to own it.
4. Put this somewhere you can see it.
Not on a iPhone or desktop note that you can sneakily minimize, you sneaky b. I know how it goes. Don’t even try.
Print it, write it out and stick it somewhere you’ll always see it. Tack it above your coffee machine. Stick it on your mirror and read it as you brush your teeth. Tape it on your door and whack it as you walk out, like you’re a hormonal linebacker in Friday Night Lights.
The idea here is to look at it every day and feel the sting over and over, until it stings less and less.
You freakin’ did it!
You might feel shame. You might feel gassy. GOOD. That means you’re doing it right.
You wouldn’t be having problems if your money garden was all sunshine and roses, right? I’ll give you 30 seconds to throw yourself a shitty pity party.
…. Nice. I felt that.
Looking my debt in the eye for the first time – and, in comparison, seeing it next to my teeny paycheck – was incredibly shitty. But it was my shit, and I knew its exact smell.
It’s all you, baby.
It was no longer this unknown monster shit blob, hiding in a cave where my imagination can make up how scary it was depending on how anxious I felt in that moment. My money monster had a name and a shape, and a smell, and it became way less scary.
Need more weird metaphors? It’s like playing Street Fighter and seeing exactly how much green your enemy has in their life bar, so you know exactly how long and hard you need to beat their ass.
You are the captain now.
Because I defined my money situation at its most basic level, I began to feel the teeniest bit of understanding. For the first time, I felt control. And for me, that tiny sense of control changed my life.
It kicked off my entire journey of learning that money problems can honestly, fo real, be overcome – no matter how much of a messy betch you think you are.
Because you’ve looked your numbers, you’ve done the scariest part; you’ve gone from total ignorance to understanding. Smelling your shit – defining your numbers – is not only the best way to fully understand your situation, but it’s the most gratifying way to feel that deep appreciation and joy when it starts to get better.
And, spoiler alert? It WILL get better. I’d bet on it.