A personal brand is how others perceive us, says Karen Carr Brady, CFP®. But if you’re spending too much to cultivate your personal brand, it’s time to revisit your budget.
A personal brand may sound like something only celebrities and tech startup founders think about, but it’s quickly entering into the mainstream vernacular. Think about it: When you apply to a job or pitch a new client, the first thing a hiring manager or potential partner will do is Google you, so it’s worth thinking about what she will find.
But your personal brand goes far beyond career prospects; it’s all about how people around you see you. There are so many different aspects of who we are: our job, where we live, the things we love, how we carry ourselves in our day-to-day life, what we share on social media, and even how we spend our money all melds together into our personal brand.
Take a minute to consider how your friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers perceive you. Are you the fashionista of your office? The go-to family member who always has the latest tech gadget? The foodie friend who has the best restaurant recommendations?
Naturally, we want people around us to say we’re kind, fun, driven, and other superlatives, but we also want to be seen as unique, recognized for the things we love and what we care about. In other words, we want to communicate our personal brand effectively.
Spend Consciously Toward Your Personal Brand
There are so many ways to show who we are. Not all require spending your hard-earned cash, but it can be easy to get caught up in consumerism as communication (and blow up your budget along the way).
Have you ever walked into a coffee shop on a Saturday morning that was full of people typing away on their sleek, silver Macbooks? They may be hard at work on personal projects, a gig for a client, or an entrepreneurial idea. On seeing them, have you thought, even for a moment, I should probably buy a Macbook, grab a latte, and get to f@#$ing work?
From my planning appointments, I can tell you: Many Grownups have been there. On one hand, it’s great to feel motivated from positive peer pressure; on the other, you could start working on your long-abandoned novel with the PC you already have at home.
But if no one is there to see it, did it even happen? That’s the temptation of personal branding.
Blogger Holly Trantham on The Financial Diet provides another example: She’s spent far too much money branding herself in different ways (and often to impress a guy). After purchasing Wes Anderson’s entire filmography on DVD, she wrote, “Do I actually like Wes Anderson movies? Yes. Did I need to purchase the Criterion Collection edition of Bottle Rocket? Questionable. But college freshman Holly did not see this as a choice. How would guys understand I had ~quirk~ if I didn’t have physical evidence of it?” In this case, her spending didn’t completely match her values. And when it comes to personal branding, authenticity matters.
I myself have fallen victim to this trap. I had been reading about capsule wardrobes and loved the idea of them. Spending more on a few high-quality clothing items that I truly loved (rather than sifting through ten Zara sweaters that I kind of hated every morning) seemed to make sense. Also, once I had perfected my capsule wardrobe, obviously people would talk about my simple-yet-chic personal style for years to come.
So, what did I do? I sifted through my closet and donated garbage bags full of old clothes. I searched high and low for relaxed, cool girl staples that were also investment pieces: a leather jacket and a classic black handbag. The perfect v-neck white T-shirt. A new pair of jeans. My rationale? If I bought these pieces now, I wouldn’t have to shop for at least six months.
Do I still wear a lot of this stuff today? Sure. Do I have an Instagram-worthy capsule wardrobe that makes getting dressed every morning a breeze? That would be a resounding no. Not only did I end up spending a lot more on my capsule pieces at the start, I also wasn’t able to completely eliminate shopping from my life going forward. Turns out, I just like to shop every now and then, so I was better off building that into my budget, not trying to eliminate it.
Let Your Values Drive Your Spending
Wanting to show people who we are isn’t a problem on its own—in fact, it’s part of what makes us human. However, when Grownups feel the need to project a version of themselves to others, or to try out a new identity or brand, it can easily get out of hand and become a financial burden.
The best way to avoid letting your personal brand wreak havoc on your finances is to build a budget that’s in line with your values. Here are a few steps to get and/or stay on track:
- Audit Your Spending. Take a look at your transaction details from your checking account and credit cards over the last two to three months. You can export the transactions into a spreadsheet or simply print out the statements. Categorize each transaction into a few categories (15 or fewer works well).
- Identify the Spending that Really Reflects You. Choose five or even 10 instances in the last two to three months where you spent on something you truly valued (not because it looked a certain way to others). It can be anything: a great restaurant, a gym membership, a professional development class, whatever you choose. Once you’ve identified these items, rank them from most important to least.
- Build a Better Budget: Needs. Determine the amount of income you take in each month. Next, list your monthly needs: rent, utilities, groceries, transportation to and from work, and minimum debt payments. This covers everything that absolutely needs to get paid every month. Your spending audit from Step 1 can help with this! Subtract monthly income from needs (ideally this number would be 50 percent or below, but every Grownup budget is different).
- Build a Better Budget: Priorities. Take a portion of what’s left over after your needs are covered, no matter how big or small, and allocate it for a financial priority: saving for an emergency fund, paying more toward your debt, investing, or some other goal.
- Build a Better Budget: Wants. The remainder of your cash, once needs and priorities are taken care of, can be used however you see fit. In order to get the most out of your spending money, start by spending on what you ranked most important in Step 2. Once the cash you’ve earmarked for “wants” is exhausted, there’s no more room for additional spending.
Know Your Personal Brand’s Bottom Line
If you’ve found yourself overspending on your personal brand (or anything else for that matter), a good budget can help you get back on track. With some self reflection toward spending your time, money, and energy on the things you value most, your personal brand will be just fine—and may even better reflect who you are.
Karen Carr Brady is the founder of Simplie, a financial planning company that offers virtual appointments with CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals. Karen is a former member of the Society of Grownups planning team and is now based in New York City. When she’s not writing about personal finance or meeting with clients, you can find her roaming around NYC looking for the best place to eat.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.