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Live Well, Slash Debt and Build Wealth With a ‘Thrive List’

Hate budgeting? Take the misery out of money management by focusing on bliss rather than bills. One woman saved hundreds in a week!

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After my layoff, I listed all of my monthly bills and the recreational things I spent money on, and I started crossing nearly everything off. My bare-bones money plan left me watching basic cable and eating turkey sandwiches for lunch and dinner. I was miserable.

The ‘b-word’ can be tricky. A recent survey indicates 93 percent of people believe they need a budget, but 69 percent admit they’ve taken on new debt despite having one in place. It can be difficult to transition to a new spending plan and stick to it. Instead of considering it a helpful tool, many people perceive a budget as a barrier to keep them from enjoying life, even if they’ve been living beyond their means.

Maybe that’s why one-third of Americans don’t bother budgeting at all. The same survey asked women who don’t monitor their spending why they fail to do so. “I don’t earn much,” (38%), “too time consuming,” (25%) and “I have budgeted, but only for special occasions,” (15%) were top reasons.

Whether you’re trying to stick to a spending plan or you’re currently avoiding creating one, there’s a simple tool you can use to better manage your money. It’s called a thrive list. Tara Newman, an organizational psychologist expert and coach, told Money magazine earlier this year that developing a thrive list after her family’s business went bankrupt during the recession was like a mental reset away from scarcity and toward abundance.

As she and her husband tackled $100,000 in debt, she’d gone into full survival mode, avoiding invitations to dine out, holding weekly garage sales to help meet mortgage payments and jobhunting. As she got back on her feet and launched a business, the personal and professional growth expert realized that the mentality we adapt when drastically slashing spending to survive can block the energy and risk-taking we need to thrive.

Instead, Newman now advises pondering what do I need to grow? And that’s where creating a thrive list can help. While, like a budget, it can help you eliminate nonessentials, a tally of what you need to thrive rather than survive helps you spend wisely by focusing on outcome rather than income.

To create your thrive list, think about 5–10 long-term goals that will help you or your family prosper and what you truly need to achieve them. Write each down in vivid detail. For example, “I am breathing fragrant mountain air while on a five-mile hike with friends. Sun streams through the trees. I feel strong, fit, pain-free, happy and calm.” As a result, if exercise and being outdoors with others is critical to your wellbeing, you may leave a gym membership or yoga class in your budget. You may instead cut an expense like a high-maintenance hairstyle that’s not gym-friendly or a streaming service.

Once better aligned with your vision of your best life, it’ll be easier to avoid what once seemed like meaningful purchases. Every time you pass up on an unlisted expenditure, set that money aside for savings. Newman saved at least two hundred dollars in a single week by doing this.

“A thrive list allows you to think beyond today while maximizing your income in a way that satisfies you beyond paying bills,” says Marsha Barnes, owner and founder of the Finance Bar. And focusing on desires rather than deprivation can take the pain out of putting your earnings, expenses and savings on paper. That’s right, you’ll still need a traditional budget, but now you’ve got real incentive to stick to it. “It’s all connected to the way we think about planning for our needs and our greatest desires,” says Barnes. “Budgets were never meant
to restrict us or to only provide for our essential needs. Let’s think about it, all thriving businesses operate on a budget or they fail.”

During my own belt-tightening, though I couldn’t afford to pay for impromptu takeout meals and the cable access to watch Power, I invested in a new laptop. Initially, I felt irresponsible because I was using the savings that I was living on to make a big purchase, but I knew that laptop would be my gateway to making more money. It functioned properly, unlike my clunky, scratch-screened relic, and I could use it comfortably. I pumped out proposals on it and within a few weeks, I’d picked up freelance projects to increase my income. I didn’t know it then, but I’d started my own thrive list of sorts.

Having a thrive list in addition to a traditional budget means that you’re not simply managing cash. You’re mindful of how you spend time and talent as well as treasure. Psychologist Newman shared her list with her husband, saying “This is how we’re going to budget,” and “If it’s on this list, we are going to spend on it financially, energetically and time-wise.” Focusing on how we want to spend our days, not how we spend our money, is a spiritual exercise that flexes and strengthens our abundance mindset.

As you flex those muscles, you may start to notice, as I did, that opportunities come your way. You may find you have more energy and ambition, helping you to make meaningful connections. You’ll have conversations around your vision of a well-lived life. Sticking to your money goals can also help you feel calmer and healthier. Financial stress can cause insomnia, impaired decision-making, increased anxiety and worry and back and neck pain, among other conditions. An Associated Press-AOL health poll indicated 27 percent of respondents with a high level of stress from debt had ulcers or digestive tract problems compared with 8 percent of those with low levels of debt stress, and 44 percent of those with high-debt stress had headaches or migraines compared with 15 percent of the people with lower stress levels.

Another way that women can move beyond a scarcity mindset is by recognizing our individual financial truths as opposed to what we have been conditioned to believe during
our upbringings, says money pro Barnes. “If I was raised on the belief that having a job that allowed me to pay my bills was a good job (and I should be thankful) in comparison to one that allowed me to thrive financially in life, then my belief as an adult will mirror that. This
affects our finances by allowing us to believe that enough is the benchmark opposed to striving for wealth creation that spans beyond ourselves.” Making the shift mentally can help us to build wealth that allows generations to thrive, she explains.