My financial literacy journey: Choosing progress over perfection
As a recovering perfectionist, I've learned my fair share of lessons.
The biggest lesson, and one that I continue to put into practice: Progress beats perfection, every time.
Looking back at my life from the “other side," I see how constantly striving for perfection meant I was always coming up short. I used to measure myself against unrealistic ideals, and inevitably felt like I was never good enough, smart enough or successful enough. Yikes.
As I eventually learned, always expecting perfection can lead to avoidance, rigidity and an all-or-nothing mindset.
For me, this meant avoiding many financial decisions because anything related to money felt outside of my wheelhouse. I didn't study finance or economics, and I wasn't a money expert, so my all-or-nothing mentality caused me to turn a blind eye to important decisions that impacted my financial wellbeing. I held a considerable balance owing on a high-interest credit card, and didn't invest wisely, opening a TFSA only to contribute a total of $25 for many years.
One of the most common challenges for people when it comes to their finances is lacking knowledge — and many don't want to invest because they lack information," says personal finance expert Barry Choi.
If you feel like you've been holding back in certain areas of your life because you're afraid or don't feel like you know enough yet, I see you – in fact, I was you.
As a woman with young children and a demanding career, I was constantly afraid of not doing it right. I was always trying to be the perfect mom, wife, colleague, friend and more. I would either say yes to too much and end up utterly exhausted or I wouldn't even try if I didn't think I could achieve “perfection." Both led to stress and eventual burnout.
And while I don't recommend hitting burnout to make lifestyle changes, it forced me to come to terms with how perfectionism was holding me back. With the help of a life coach, I was able remove my “perfection blinders" to be open to receiving new ideas, getting different opinions, seeking advice, and looking at things through a new lens.
From a financial perspective, Choi agrees with a model of progress over perfection. “Starting small is essential," he says.
"It doesn't require much to start. If you can set aside a small amount first, say $25, that's a good start. And from there, you can gradually increase your monthly savings."
As that small amount begins to grow, you may feel a boost of self-confidence.
One of the small steps I took to help me gain confidence in my finances was calling my credit card provider to ask for a lower interest rate. Knowing that more of my payment was going to the principal balance instead of being lost to additional interest amounts helped me feel in control of paying off debt. That paved the way toward accumulating savings for the future, instead of worrying about it.
And while I still wouldn't consider myself a finance expert, I've picked up a number of beneficial habits. For instance, I used to shy away from saving and investing money, but now I have automatic withdrawals set up to add a few hundred dollars to my TFSA and RRSP each month.
Small things have also helped, like reviewing my subscriptions quarterly and cancelling the services that aren't being used.
I think the biggest change however, has been how I view and feel about money. Accepting imperfection means that I'm always learning, so I don't have to be afraid of the unknown.
As Choi notes, “There have never been more resources available to help people learn about their finances. There are blogs, books, articles, and podcasts dedicated to personal finance. It doesn't matter if you're investing for the first time or ready to retire. You shouldn't have any issues finding a resource that appeals to you."
Looking back, I've realized that I didn't know what I didn't know. As I continue to learn and move through life as a recovering perfectionist, I now find comfort in asking for help. With my new model of progress over perfection, I can seek support, grow my financial literacy, and contribute to my family's future little by little.
It's not perfect, but that's the point.