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The 3-Letter Word that Can Transform Your Finances

LearnVest
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Can you guess what it is?

We love this quick behavior-change trick from Daniel H. Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind.”

Most of us, he says, fill our lives with excuses in the form of: “I would, but …” (Sound familiar?)

Changing your mindset—not to mention, how you behave—Pink says, is as simple as switching out the “but” for an “and.” It works because it moves you out of excuse-making mode and into problem-solving mode. In fact, it’s grammar’s way of saying, ‘Let’s make a plan.’

Want to see what change this could bring to your financial life? We chatted with a financial expert to help you tackle whichever money issue is currently causing you to make excuses.

1. I’d like to save for retirement, but (“and”!) I don’t know how to start.

When you insert “but” in that sentence, it gives you an excuse not to get started saving: not today, and not tomorrow. And the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to your retirement savings is procrastination.

Drop in “and,” on the other hand, and it’s a whole new ball game: Not knowing how to start saving is O.K. In fact, it’s common. “People often come into my office feeling guilty. But most people don’t get a great financial education in school, so lots of bright adults have unrealistic ideas about what retirement means,” says Barbara Chown, a Certified Financial Planner™ based in Santa Rosa, Calif. “There’s no reason to feel discouraged. You can learn.”

The first step is knowing how much money you make and spend each year. “Most people know their income offhand. But most don’t know how much they’re spending, and underestimate,” says Chown.

Once you’ve found ways to free up more cash for priority goals like retirement, you’ll need to figure out how much you need to save, and which type of account—such as a 401(k) or IRA—is right for you. Want to learn everything there is to know?

2. I’d like to buy a house, but (“and”!) it seems like I’ll never have enough for a down payment.

The “but” here isn’t necessarily a bad thing: It takes a lot of time to save up a down payment. After all, a house is one of the most expensive purchases you’ll ever make. And one of the biggest mistake many homebuyers make is underestimating how much it costs to own property.

Beyond coming up with a down payment, when you own real estate, you also have to be able to pay for property taxes, home insurance and any maintenance fees. “All together, your housing expenses shouldn’t be more than 30% of your income,” says Chown. “That’s tough to do these days unless you have a high income.”

That said, if buying a home does make financial sense for you, it’s time to drop in your “and” and get serious about saving. Try setting up an automatic deduction from your checking account to your savings account each week or month. When you don’t see that money, you won’t miss it or be tempted to spend it.

3. I’d like to budget, but (“and”!) I don’t have time to figure it all out.

Bad news: If you don’t have a budget, you’re not likely to make much progress on your money. That’s because most people don’t know exactly how much they earn, or where it goes. The good news is, thanks to digital tools, budgeting is now easier (and less time-consuming) than ever.

Replace your “and” in this sentence, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how automated budgeting can be. You can see how much you spend in certain categories of your life, set a priority goal to see how fast you can save up money, or pay down debt. In fact, in this example, you have nothing to lose but inertia.

4. I’d like to invest my savings, but (“and”!) it sounds hard and confusing.

Fact: “Anything that you’re not familiar with always seems more daunting than it really is,” says Chown. “But there are two things that will determine your quality of life in the future. One is your physical health. The other is your financial health. You might feel like you’ll be young forever, but one day you’re going to wake up and think, Who let this old person into my house?” That’s why it’s critical to think about investing now.

When you contemplate this “and,” ask yourself, are you ready to invest? For example, do you have six months of emergency savings saved up? Are you financially healthy? Once you know that the only thing standing in your way is fear, you can combat that.

5. I’d like a fun wedding, but (“and”!) our budget is tight.

Do you see the lack of logic here? As phrased, what you’re saying is that a wedding has to be expensive to be fun. But the only limit to the type of party you can throw is your creativity: “Low-cost weddings in backyards can be phenomenal,” says Chown.

Now it’s time for your “and”: You don’t have oodles to spend, and you want a nice wedding. First, figure out how much you can afford to spend on this event. “Remember that it’s one party that takes place on one day of your life,” says Chown. “Think about what you’re willing to spend on a wedding, and then calculate how much money you’d earn if you put that same amount into your retirement account. That’s the true cost of paying for a big wedding.”

Then, figure out where you can save.

6. I’d like to have an emergency fund, but (“and”!) my salary is so low.

O.K., so you don’t have a lot to put away every month, but this is where the old “pay yourself first” adage comes in handy. “No matter what your salary is, you can afford to put away at least $10 a month,” says Chown. “Ten bucks a month is better than nothing, and it will add up.”

The key to the “and” in this sentence is that it enables you to save a little now and watch that balance grow, as opposed to digging your heels in and deciding you just can’t do it on your current salary.

“Put that habit into place now, so it’s easier to keep it up in the future and increase the amount that you contribute over time,” says Chown. After all, your salary, too, may increase. Just don’t forget to increase your savings along with it.

7. I’d like to have a child, but (“and”!) I’m not sure if I can afford it.

This can be a difficult decision. You want to wait until you feel financially secure, but at the same time, women have biological clocks that begin to tick, so the decision can be time-sensitive.

The good news is the “and” in this case allows you to make choices about how you’d pay for expanding your family. The biggest question to ask yourself, says Chown, is how you’re going to afford child care. Will one parent stay home and give up an income? If one of you does give up a job while the kids are young, will that person be able to easily re-enter the workforce later in life at the same income level? Will you both keep working and pay for day care or a nanny?

Think about where you live. Do you have enough room in your apartment or home, or will you need to rent or buy a bigger place? Is your neighborhood safe for children? Do you live in a good school district? The answers to these questions might affect whether or not it’s worth moving first.

After that, consider the immediate expenses such as diapers, a crib, baby food and baby clothes. And then consider any long-term costs, such as college, but know that the cost of college doesn’t have to fall completely on your shoulders.

Reprinted with permission from LearnVest. This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information. LearnVest and SunTrust Bank are independent entities and not legally affiliated.

This material is educational in nature and is not an advertisement for a loan. It does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstance. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of the information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of the information.