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Three steps to feel in control of your financial stress

How the "Four Whiskey's and a Heineken" test can help you trigger your brain's 'option thinking' center to find ways to help you spend less and earn more

There’s a definition of health I love – the absence of stress or worry about your body’s current or future state.  Wealth is similar – the truly wealthy are those who don’t worry about how to meet their financial needs today or in the future.  They know it’s taken care of, so they have no financial stress.

Most of us have financial stress in some form or another.  Like health, there are periods we think we’ve got it sorted, and then life happens.  Either because of the choices we make, or things we have no control over.

Because it will happen to all of us, there are 3 things you need to know to help you get you through Financial Stress.

1. Know your two Why’s

The first why you need to know is why you got there in the first place!  What caused you to make the decisions that put you under financial stress. 

This has to pass the “Four Whiskey’s and a Heineken” test – you need to ask yourself at least 4 Why’s and 1 How to dig deeper to find the real reason – not the good reason you tell yourself and others.  Even when the answer seems simple – your child needed medical attention after a car crash. 

  • I bought a new car.  Why?  Because my old one died.  Why did you need a new car? Because It was going cheaply.  How did you get suckered into it? The sales man told me the offer would only be available today.  And why else? Because it’s so beautiful and I’ve always wanted a brand new one.  Why?  Because we grew up with nothing, and I just wanted what ‘everybody else has’ and to show those back home that I’ve made it.

Then you need to ask the second why – why is it important to get through this financial stress so you can live your big WHY – your vision for your life. 

Again, 4 Whiskey’s and a Heineken. Dig deeply to uncover your deep values.  You’ll need this big why because usually getting through financial stress requires life to get harder before it gets easier. 

Once you’re clear on your values, check back to the first why.  Either you’ll see you acted in accordance with your values or this is a lesson for you to learn.  Commit to learning that lesson or I guarantee you, you’ll be back here again.

2. Know that there’s always a way out

Here you need to brainstorm a minimum of 20 solutions to your stress… the more the better.  But force yourself to get at least 20 down. 

This triggers ‘option thinking’, and a little piece of your brain called the Reticular Activating System to scan your world for options.  So be prepared in the days ahead for more options to become available to you, and jot them down – no matter how ‘out there’ they seem.  Your brain is designed to search for ways out of threat – and financial stress threatens our deepest needs of provision and protection of our family and ourselves.

Then, you need to deeply engage with those options.  When you find yourself resisting one of them, do the 4 Heinekens and a Whiskey test.  It’s usually a sign that there’s something you need to work through.The hardest choices are often where we can unwind our decision – like selling the car or house that’s the cause of the stress. Again, look at good reasons and real reasons you’re resisting that option.  Only once you understand the real reason, can you make the best decision.

The hardest choices are often where we can unwind our decision – like selling the car or house that’s the cause of the stress. Again, look at good reasons and real reasons you’re resisting that option.  Only once you understand the real reason, can you make the best decision.

The financial choices you face may need to be re-framed.  Although you may lose money by selling the new car, the decision to buy it is done, and you need to see that money as a ‘sunk cost’.  You can’t get it back.  Draw a line and look forward.  What’s the best thing to do for the future.  It may be that that financing cost moving forward will put you under even more pressure than taking the loss and downsizing the car to something you can afford.

3. Know this simple truth: Earn more or spend less 

The only way to get more money to save or pay off whatever is causing you the stress is to earn more or spend less.  Reflect deeply on that, and do not dismiss it.

If your why is big enough, it will open you up to the options on your list to earn more.  When my CEO dad lost his business, he dug deep and did ‘door-to-door sales’.  It taught me the most powerful lesson – that if you value providing for your family, you’ll do what it takes.  These days, there are so many options online that most of us have no idea about – do surveys, test websites.  Switch off the TV and earn more.

Spending less is like peeling the layers of an onion.  There are things you can cut quickly.  And then there are things that may take time for you to shift.  Either because they take time to put in place, or because right now you think they are non negotiables – until the pressure gets harder and then what was out of bounds becomes possible.

  • One of the biggest challenges of a house or car is not how much it costs to buy, but how much it costs to run.  And sometimes you need to downsize to change your monthly expenses.   

Once you’ve made it out of today’s financial stress

Like health, wealth is a series of decisions we make throughout the day.  All these tiny decisions compound over time, and we ‘wake up’ at 65 wealthy or poor.  Like health, there are big things that happen that put us under stress – but if we commit to the daily decisions to keep us in the best position possible, when those big financial hits happen, it helps to be in the best position possible to weather the storms. 

So when this storm passes, commit to every day financial health practices so you get through the next storm quicker and with more ease than this one.

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