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5 Misconceptions About Financial Health

There are some common myths about what it takes to be good with your money floating around. To avoid being fooled by them, here are 5 misconceptions about financial health.

The idea of being "rich" might conjure images of lounging in an Olympic-sized pool in a McMansion. To get there, you might feel like you need to inherit a windfall of cash from a rich relative or strike it rich in the tech world.

Here's the thing: Being financially healthy and working toward improving your money situation doesn't need to wait until you've amassed a large chunk of money. And whether these beliefs stemmed from what we learned in childhood or what popular culture is feeding you, they might cause you to hold off on making positive changes to your money situation.

For April Fools' Day, we'd like to share a handful of these misconceptions. Don't be fooled by them, as they might lead you astray and get in the way of making positive changes. Here are a few common misconceptions about what it takes to be financially healthy and steps you can take to better your finances today:

You need a ton of money to improve your financial situation

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to land a huge job promotion or get a generous inheritance to work toward your money goals. One thing to remember is that income is not tied to your wealth.

So, what is tied to your wealth? It boils down to your net worth, which is how much money you have in your savings, retirement funds, and assets such as your home or car. In a nutshell, your net worth is what you have left over after you submit your liabilities, such as your debt from your assets, which is your savings, the value of your house, and so forth.

Should you get a raise at work, or you job-hop and get a higher salary, you might run into lifestyle inflation. This is when your living expenses balloon to the point where it eats up that "extra" money you would've had if you kept your living expenses relatively the same.

Or let's say you don't have a lot of "leftover" money after your living expenses have been accounted for. Maybe your income has remained the same or even decreased in the last year. If that's the case, one thing you'll want to do is try to find ways to lower your living expenses.

It might feel overwhelming or nearly impossible, especially if you've already been living lean. Start with one area—clothing, food, transportation, entertainment—and see how much you might be able to save. Next, automate your savings. Whatever money you're able to save by cutting back, put toward your savings.

You need to start out big

You might think that you have to start big when working toward goals such as paying down debt, building up savings, or tucking away money toward retirement, explains financial coach Garrett Philbin.

"But just like with dieting, if you try to go too big too early, it's incredibly hard to stick with consistently," says Philbin, who is the founder of Be Awesome, Not Broke. And just like with trying to improve your physical health, motivation or intention will only get you so far. That's because motivation can go up and down. And without structure or discipline, you won't get too far.

Philbin suggests starting small and setting systems that make it easy to save. As they say, make it hard to do the wrong thing and easy to do the right thing. "Start saving $10 a week toward an emergency fund, or $25 a month toward retirement," says Philbin. "By setting up those systems to automatically save and already setting aside money in your budget, it becomes much easier to increase that amount down the line."

You need a budget to be successful

50/30/20 budget. The zero-sum budget. The no-guilt budget. In the realm of money nerds and personal finance litany, there seems to be a handful of different budgets you can go with. And most personal finance coaches and gurus emphasize the need for a budget. And while this might be controversial, Philbin feels that getting nitty-gritty with where your money goes is not for everyone.

"A budget is an amazing tool that can help you prioritize your spending and put you in control of where your money goes," says Philbin. "But I've seen many people who, when they don't track their budget perfectly, get frustrated and give up."

Further, you might lose sight of what's really important: making headway on your goals. One way you can go about it, in lieu of a traditional budget where you track every expense, is to pay yourself first. First, set aside money each month toward a goal. Whatever remains, you are free to spend.

"If you're able to set aside money every month toward a goal—paying off debt, building up an emergency fund—you're paying off your bills, and you have enough money for discretionary expenses, you're doing all the big things right," says Philbin. "You can always choose to get more granular and detailed, but make sure to give yourself credit for getting the big things right.

Thinking you'll never be good with money

You don't need to be a math whiz to be good with money. As Philbin explains, everyone can be good at managing their money. "If you aren't good at it currently, it's likely because either no-one ever taught you how, or you have a challenging relationship to money due to messages and conditioning you received growing up about money," says Philbin. "Both aren't your fault. Nothing is wrong with you."

It certainly takes effort, but no matter where you are, you can take steps to improve. Start by understanding your money story and where it might originate from. Your money story is your beliefs, experiences, and perceptions that shape your financial habits and decisions. "If you can make peace with where you are right now, that you're not a failure, and work through the guilt, shame, anxiety, or fear that often shows up around money, you'll be able to both start feeling financially confident and in control of your money," says Philbin.

People who are good with money always make logical, rational choices

No matter how logical someone might seem, the truth is that often our personal choices around money are rooted in emotion. In turn, our choices aren't always rational. We might know that we should save for our emergency fund rather than buy that expensive gadget, but we might ignore what's practical and splurge instead.

Understanding your money story can help you gain self-awareness. And self-awareness can help guide you towards developing different habits and making better choices. What's more, sometimes you need to just hold space for the fact that you might occasionally do something wacky with money.

If that's the case, what can you set up for yourself to protect your finances? For instance, can you "hide" a cushion by setting up a savings account in a bank that's different from your regular checking? Or maybe you're notorious for spaving, which is spending on a deal only to go hog wild and spend more than you typically would. If so, then call them what they are: splurging on deals and set aside some money to enjoy these mini sprees.

By being aware of these five myths about building financial wealth, you'll be able to see through these misconceptions. In turn, you can realize you have what it takes to manage your money, work toward your financial goals, and ultimately improve your financial wellbeing.

Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Business Insider, and GOOD.