Change Your Money Mindset, Change Your Life

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Snoop Dogg may have said it best: laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind

Money becomes so intertwined with every feeling, thought, and action we take that you may hardly even notice its influence at this point. Why did you buy that new pair of shoes? Why did you order the pasta instead of the lobster? Why did you stay late to work on that presentation? 

While money may not be the cause, it certainly has an effect. You develop tendencies that can influence your decisions, for better or worse. Instead of being oblivious to these habits, you can identify them and ultimately identify your money mindset.

To help us tackle the topic, we called on a money mindfulness expert: Dyalekt. Dyalekt co-hosts a finance podcast, speaks publicly about financial wellness, and teaches the youth—through rap—about money and life. He is a self-proclaimed “Money Monk,” and he’s here to share some wisdom.  

What’s Your Money Mindset?

Pocket Your Dollars: Some people might not be familiar with the term “money mindset.” What does a money mindset mean to you?

Dyalekt: Your money mindset is a really important thing to talk about and it’s very slept on. 

A lot of people think about money as a set of facts and figures because it’s math. I disagree with that premise. I even think that teaching money in the context of math is barking up the wrong tree. It deals with numbers, but that’s not the important part about money. Mind you, there’s a couple of math tricks that people do with money. 

It’s the emotional connection that we have to money. We all have a relationship with money. Our relationship with money, according to a behavioral psychologist, starts around six or seven years old. I’ve straight up had a six year old girl come up to me at a workshop and say, “Are we talking about money? Oh, I’m bad at money.”

Isn’t that wild? It’s a little heartbreaking. You are observing money and the systems involving money and even if you’re not having a conversation with your parents, you’re hearing what they’re saying about it and you’re seeing them being able to afford things or not being able to afford things. So we all have some sort of understanding of it, and it affects how we make our decisions.

There are a number of studies that show the way we spend our money has to do not only with our relationship to money, but also how we value our relationships and how we value what we think we need to do in life. So one of the things that we’ve done with Pockets Change, the education group I work with, and also Brunch and Budget, my wife’s business, is this money personality test. We didn’t invent money personalities, but it’s sort of like those Buzzfeed quizzes, where it’s determining tendencies, which are really important.

Identifying Tendencies

Dyalekt: Tendencies are the things that are sitting on your shoulder, always nagging at you, telling you to do things. If we can come to an understanding or at least be aware of our tendencies, then we can make decisions without being influenced by them, or at least with an understanding of their influence. The idea is to get a hold of these tendencies so we can make better decisions, because the reality is, we can learn all the facts and figures, we can be told every step, we can be told the best practice in every way, but if we’re not going to do it, we’re not going to do it.

It’s sounds like I’m oversimplifying it, but it’s like when you ask somebody, “Well, why didn’t you send that email, all you got to do is send an email? It’s like the two sentences.” And they’re like, “Ah, I don’t know.” Or when you ask a teenager, “Why did you hit that other kid?” They go, “I don’t know.” We are often prompted by our bodies to do and not do lots of stuff that our brains might not understand. It’s not that we’re too stupid to understand what our body’s doing, it’s that we’re a little bit too smart.

I think we outsmart ourselves a lot of times and we tend to rationalize these things rather than directly address them and deal with them. So the thing of it is, we’re not going to be able to handle our finances, to take a step in changing our finances, until we can look at what we’re doing and what led us there. It’s very similar to fitness and nutrition and all of these types of things where they’ll tell you, “Here are the right ways to do things.” But our bodies are different; certain steps and certain activities don’t work for every body. If it doesn’t work for our body, we’ll try it once and then give it up.

What Are Your Wants?

Pocket Your Dollars: It sounds like while math is of course part of the money mindset equation, there’s also a healthy dose of self discovery and exploring your relationship with money that drives your behavior. Is that about right?

Dyalekt: Yeah. What I think is really great about discovering your money mindset is you not only pay attention to what you’ve been doing with money but you also paint the picture of what you want to do with money. I don’t think that we get to talk about that enough. 

People trick us into spending money in unhealthy ways by shaming us. Then people also try to get us to stop spending money in unhealthy ways by shaming us. So we’re often told to get your needs and not your wants. We don’t talk enough about our wants, but the wants are so very important.

On one hand, wants are often things that feed us emotionally. The whole don’t buy a coffee because if you save that $5 for the latte you could save it up and yada yada and get rich. That’s probably unlikely to happen, but what may happen is that you’re not getting your latte or you’re not making that purchase that makes you feel like you. You’re not paying for that pedicure. You’re not buying those sneakers or that video game or that frivolous thing that everyone says you don’t need, but you know you emotionally need. When you’ve saved up enough, you finally explode and then blow all the stuff that you’ve done. You’re building a saving habit but it doesn’t feel like you. 

Generally, it’s good to buy that thing that feeds you emotionally, the thing that makes you feel like yourself. If that is the pedicure or manicure that you get every couple of weeks, if that is the coffee, if that is a pair of shoes or if you need to get your hair braided up a certain way and it just makes you feel like you.

Building Better Habits

MC Dyalekt: In my education work, it’s been a very big thing with me to make sure that I get folks to understand who they are in a situation. A great teacher once told me that if you ask a student, “Do you think it’s okay to cheat on a test?” They might say yes. If you ask a student, “Are you the type of person who cheats on a test?” you’re more likely to get introspection.

We get people that we’re coaching to understand where they’re at with money. We come to an understanding of the relationship and their tendencies and also create the narrative of the relationship and tendencies they would like to have so that we can build habits. 

Habit building is simple repetition. If you are playing a game like basketball, habit building is dribbling a basketball a thousand times. I always like to equate it to brushing your teeth. Nobody loves brushing their teeth but you brush your teeth because you want to have healthy gums and not have nasty breath.

But remember when you were six? I remember when I was six and they were like, “Go brush your teeth.” I’m like, “Aaah,” and I’d stick the toothbrush under the water and let it run. It would take like as long as it would take to actually brush my teeth. But being a kid, I’m obstinate. Eventually, I get to the point where I’m around my peers and I don’t want to have bad breath, so I start brushing my teeth. Nowadays, I don’t think about it. I get up, I brush my teeth. I don’t even remember I did it most days. I just know that I do. That’s what habits are. Habits generally go from, I hate it, to I don’t hate it, to I don’t even know I’m doing it.

The Different Money Personalities

Pocket Your Dollars: How do you make learning about money fun?

Dyalekt: Word. How do you make learning about money fun? So first of all, it has to be personal. This ties very much into your money personality and having your relationship with money because for you to be able to get money, it needs to be relevant to you. It needs to be relevant to you on a very personal tip. 

Pocket Your Dollars: How many money personalities are there?

Dyalekt: We’ve got four—it’s basically a matrix. We have four quadrants and it goes from top to bottom, proactive to reactive and the horizontal axis is net worth and cash flow. 


The Complicator

Dyalekt: The first one, the upper left quadrant is the Complicator. The Complicator is the one who tends to look at their finances a lot, possibly to the point of analysis paralysis, or the one that makes the spreadsheets.

The Complicator is the one that likes spreadsheets and thinks about money but is always very stressed thinking about money. They’re the people who need to find a way to be able to let go and not micromanage as much because micromanaging either is a time waster or will lead to negative decision making. 

I think that my wife is a Complicator. One time she paid the mortgage and she didn’t get a confirmation email in about 15 minutes, so she paid it again. She called up the place and said, “Hey, I accidentally paid twice,” and they said, “Yeah, thanks.” Because that’s what it is. They don’t give it back to you.

This type of thing tends to lead to stress, leading to stress-based decisions about money. 

The Contemplator

Dyalekt: The next one is also on the Net Worth axis, but instead of being proactive they’re reactive. We call that the Contemplator. The Contemplator is someone who, just like the Complicator knows all the bills, knows when they’re due, knows all the numbers. But instead of staring at spreadsheets all the time, they’re keeping it in their head because they don’t actually want to deal with them—they tend to avoid. 

Their thing is, “I’m good at reacting.” They can handle situations and emergencies much better than a Complicator, but they are not really paying attention to what’s happening in the bills. 

They’re like, “I know it’s due on the 1st, but it’s actually not really due until the 3rd and then it’s not late until the 5th. Then it’s only a $5 fine until I get to the 15th. Then it’s winter so they’re not going to shut off my power.” Instead of the Complicator, who treats everything as a priority, Contemplators make nothing a priority. So the priority is whoever’s banging at the door the loudest, which doesn’t allow a lot of room for control.

The Money Monk

Dyalekt: The next one is the Money Monk, who is also reactive but more focused on cash flow instead of net worth. My money personality is Money Monk. I’m one of those “Money changes you. I don’t like to think of it as my money, I like to think of it as the money and I’m in charge of where it goes next.”

Money Monks  tend to not trust money and not trust money-type situations, so we tend to undervalue ourselves when we’re asking for money. I also have a threshold where at a certain point of thinking and stressing about money, I’ll just abandon the thing entirely.

Paper Chaser

Dyalekt: We have on the other end, the Paper Chaser, who is more proactive but now more about cash flow and less about net worth. The Paper Chaser is a very familiar profile. I think a lot of people know the Paper Chaser. 

The Paper Chaser is the person who is spending the money in their head before they even get their paycheck. They rarely have savings because their idea of paying for things is like, “Oh, I’ll get this extra gig, I’ll work this overtime, and this is the way that I’ll be able to make sure that I have everything fine.”

That’s cool when the money’s coming in. But all the money personalities are cool when the money’s coming in. What happens when that $10,000 check is now four months late? This happens to freelancers all the time. Even people who get a check every two weeks—when that payroll goes down or some mishap happens, they often don’t have the savings and aren’t really prepared for that.

In Case of Emergency: Pay Yourself

Dyalekt: The Paper Chasers are the ones that we really talk to about paying yourself first. I think a lot of people are confused about the whole pay-yourself-first thing because it doesn’t really make sense on its face. You think, “Well I got to pay bills what do you mean pay myself? I already have the money.” But you actually need to consider your savings a bill, like any other bill, and if you pay yourself first, you know you’re able to take care of yourself later.

When we talk about habit building, it’s really important to understand that it’s going to feel stupid at first. It might not be $100 a month for you. It might be $25 and after three months you have $75 in your bank account. That’s going to feel stupid. Even if it’s $100, after three months, you’re going to have $300 in your bank account.

You’re going to look at that and think, “That’s nothing. That’s not real money. I should go out and party with my friends. $300, that’ll make a nice evening out.” This is where the habit building comes in. You’re going to hate it. You’re going to look at it and be like, “Ugh, why am I even doing this? I’m not building anything.”

But then after six months it’s going to be $600. After a year, it’s over $1,000, and eventually you’re not even going to notice that it’s happening. It’s just a bill that goes out and you don’t feel it and now you’re building your savings. A thing I like to cite is the average emergency in America costs about $400 and roughly one out of two people can’t handle that. Feels good about have $400 in your savings.

I’ve been at the point where I didn’t have hundreds of dollars in my savings. It feels good to have $400 as a floor. My new floor is this $400. I tell people if they don’t know how much they want to save or what they want to save for, start with that. That’s the “rainy day fund” people talk about. Once you have that, double it, make it $800 or make it an even thousand if that feels good. That’s how you build the habit. That’s how you build the muscle of it. That’s how it becomes just something you do.

Pocket Your Dollars:  I recall who said it, but the phrase was something like, you need to find more joy in saving than you do in spending. Once you do, then you’ll be really happy with that $400 or $800 in the bank versus buying the thing that cost $500.

Dyalekt: Wow. I really feel that. I love that quote. 

It’s tough because there are no social cues for saving money. There’s no positive reward you get from your friend group. The only time people talk about saving money or brag about saving money is when they say, “Hey man, I saved $50 on this jacket I bought.” You didn’t actually save money, you just spent less than you thought you were going to spend. So it becomes very difficult to be motivated to save.

I think that counselors, coaches, and we, as money-spending people, need to remember that folks have a vested interest in using these social cues, using the shame, using desire for status, and fear to get money out of you. 

How Do You Identify You?

Dyalekt: Self efficacy is so, so linked to identity. I worked with thousands of students and the biggest thing wasn’t to get them to pay attention or to wake up or stop daydreaming or be better at learning. It was getting them to believe that they’re a person who could do the thing that I’m asking them to do, and then they could do anything.

Pocket Your Dollars: How do you do that? I imagine a group of young people sitting in front of you and they come in maybe a little sheepish and maybe with that baked-in shame that a lot of us have and you’re there and you need to change their mindset. What is the process? How do you get them to see the light and go, “I can do this?”

Dyalekt: The first and most important thing is to listen. As an educator, you have to be better at listening than you are talking. You’re not going to be really good at talking if you don’t know what you’re talking about. When it comes to the students, it’s really important to be student-centered and to find out what’s important to them. What are the things they think they can do and how do they identify now?

I’m a Hip Hop educator in pedagogy but often use the arts directly because that’s a great way to learn about my students. I remember I was doing a rap program. We did Lincoln-Douglas debates through freestyle rap, but it was also a job prep program to get them to understand how to code switch and to look people in the eye and talk about their strengths and interests. I had these two students, they’re 14 year olds, they were twins and their rap names were The Evil Twin and The Evil Twin. At 14 years old, society had told them they were bad people, and they decided they were going to be the best at being bad.

Kids will be the best at what their surroundings allow them to be. The first thing I had to do with these bad kids was to get them to understand that I understand. I know about the world not liking me and not trusting me. I shared my story with them since it was a rap class. The first thing I did was just start freestyling. I started telling them about how I grew up where they grew up. A lot of the hood folks they looked up to were the kids I went to school with, and I got to relate to them a little bit.

Relating to kids can’t be a gimmick. It’s you letting them be themselves, observing what’s stopping them from being them, and then sharing with them what stopped you from being you. In this particular program, we worked on how we identify ourselves. Do we identify ourselves by our background? Where we come from or what we look like? Our name, our nation of origin, the language we speak?

Do we identify ourselves by our environment, folks around us, the neighborhood? Do we identify ourselves by our activities, our proclivities? When we find the balance in that, then we’re able to find how we learn. Then once again, once we learn how we learn, we’re good with anything.

Identity, Worth, & Work

Dyalekt: Our ethnic identities, our sex and gender identities, our class identities, our education identities – people love to use these as reasons to not ask for more money. If you know you’re undervaluing yourself, Whatever number you have in your head when you’re asking for a raise or you’re negotiating salary or you’re setting a rate, take that number and double it. Double it before you share it. It always makes me nervous to say that because I understand the power of that. 

People always ask me, “Well, what if people say no?” I usually yell at the top of my lungs, “Good! Don’t work with them because they don’t value you!”

When you ask for less money than your work is worth, you not only get less money but you get less done. It works out worse. You’re less likely to be asked back.

When I don’t ask for my rate, when I cop out, I get there and they haven’t even told the staff that I’m going to be there. It’s a mess. None of it works out right. The thing that I was trying to do, the thing I told myself was more important than the money doesn’t even get done. I’ve seen that in my work. I went from working for a billion people for a cut rate because I was trying to help out folks to working only with the people who are willing to pay me my rate.

Not only am I able to make more money and take care of myself and get the projects I want to get, but I also have the time and bandwidth to decide to work pro bono for people and organizations who couldn’t afford my rate. 

Pocket Your Dollars: It sounds like it’s really important to train people to treat you the way you want to be treated. 

Dyalekt: Yes. I really love what you said about train people to treat you the way you want to be treated. Please, let’s listen to each other about how we want to be treated. That’s fantastic. Thank you.

About MC Dyalekt

Dyalekt is an MC, educator, and playwright, usually all at once. He is based in Brooklyn, NY and has been a part of the NYC Hip Hop scene since 2003. He toured his first solo work, Square Peg Syndrome, throughout Europe, which led to him being named to The Public’s Emerging Writers Group in 2013. The album/one man show is also a 6-week curriculum on identity and literacy, piloted in 2008 in his hometown, St. Croix, USVI. He is the Director of Pedagogy for Pockets Change, a Hip Hop + finance youth organization, and has taught thousands of students. His most recent work, the Museum of Dead Words, is a Hip Hop theater show on communication and empathy in the age of the internet. He is a podcast host for the Race & Wealth Network and keynotes on how art, culture, and media are used to perpetuate racial wealth inequality.

Opinions & perspectives expressed in this article are those of the guest contributor and not necessarily Pocket Your Dollars.