Perhaps, like many South Africans, you’re working on achieving financial freedom. You’ve picked up some critical financial tools, downloaded nifty apps, and read all the bestselling books — and yet, it seems the harder you try, the harder it gets to save money.
It’s possible that the problem isn’t in your saving skills. It could be that you’re struggling to set boundaries with others or even with yourself.
Personal boundaries and financial freedom are more closely related than they appear to be. Healthy boundaries define what you are willing and unwilling to accept from yourself and others, providing an internal infrastructure that maintains the integrity of your identity and well-being in your relationships. Healthy boundaries can help you define what inspirational speaker Simon Sinek calls your “why”.
In your relationship with your finances, boundaries can help you master greater control over your money in a way that creates a sense of empowered financial freedom and alleviates certain financial burdens. Financial boundaries can be set for yourself and others, though it’s in setting boundaries with the self that common challenges can arise.
Symptoms of a lack of interpersonal boundaries
- Not keeping promises and commitments to yourself. Do you feel as though you often back out of promises you made to yourself? Reneging on your monthly savings goal once in a while is only human, but consistently failing to stay true to your own commitments can constitute a kind of self-betrayal.
- Chronic people-pleasing. Prioritising other people’s needs over your own, even when it’s not in your best interest, is a common symptom of a lack of boundaries. It’s not a bad thing to care for others, but when it depletes your resources (like your time or money), then it’s probably time for an internal audit.
- Frequently feeling guilty, resentful, or powerless. A lack of boundaries results in an ill-defined sense of self, which in turn can cause people-pleasing behaviour and self-betrayal. This can cause you to feel guilty about having your own needs, resentful of those who are drawing on your resources to meet their own, and powerless over your time, money, and life.
- Loss of a sense of self. A lack of boundaries can disintegrate the sense of self, leading you to absorb other people’s emotions, roles, and lives. You could even unconsciously be absorbing other people’s financial struggles.
What effect does a lack of interpersonal boundaries have on my finances?
If you are prone to self-betrayal and people-pleasing habits, this can hurt your financial goals. Self-betrayal can look like promising to save 15% of your monthly income but withdrawing it halfway through the month to pay for unnecessary expenses.
People-pleasing can look like an inability to say no to invitations to social events that aren’t aligned with your expense management plan or lending money to friends and family members without limitations because denying them would make you feel guilty.
Steps you can take to improve your interpersonal boundaries
- Clearly define your financial needs and wants first. Having your own needs and wants for your money is not selfish. Be as honest and objective as you can about defining your financial requirements, because this will empower you to help others out of generosity rather than guilt.
- Set financial boundaries for yourself. What financial behaviour are you willing and unwilling to accept from yourself? Perhaps you are committed to opening a retirement annuity, or maybe you are no longer willing to accept buying coffee en route to work.
- Reflect on this question and answer it honestly and realistically: What adjustments do I need to make in my life — daily, weekly, and monthly — to help me maintain my financial boundaries with myself?
- Hold yourself accountable (gently). The temptation to give in to unplanned expenses is powerful, but it will pass. Practise waiting on expensive financial decisions for a few days before you act on them — this can help you figure out if it’s something you really want or if you can do without it.
- Maintain boundaries with others. Having boundaries doesn’t mean that you have to stop extending financial help to friends and family altogether, but ideally, they will help you continue to do so without impeding your own financial wellness. This can look like telling your sister that you can afford to help her out with 25% of her rent and then sticking to that amount. It’s not rude, and it’s not selfish — it’s simply what you can afford without betraying your own financial needs and wants.
Healthy boundaries and savings start with ourselves
Making prudent financial decisions like saving is difficult without setting clear and healthy financial boundaries with yourself. When you know what you are and aren’t willing to accept from yourself and others, you become more resolute about your personal and financial goals — which ultimately frees you from the vicious cycle of instant gratification.
If you feel as though you could use more time, space, and energy to focus on yourself and your goals — including your financial goals — practising daily, weekly, and monthly boundaries with yourself can be a productive place to start.