I just read a wonderful article by Dorlee Michaeli on PsychCentral. In it she talks about the power that your “money story” can have over your entire life. I can’t agree more. So much of what’s going on with you now, including money choices you make, may be about things you learned ages ago. Things you’ve digested and now accept as fact. Things that guide your relationship with money.
How we feel about money and how we deal with it (especially when worrying about not having enough) goes way beyond just wishing you could buy a new house or that car you always wanted. As Dorlee tells us, money matters can be a major stressor in our lives. I’ve seen that again and again with people I know, as well as oh-so-many people writing to me on this blog.
What the article tells us about who has money
Dorlee cites some key facts about money in our daily lives that may actually surprise you:
“Nearly half of all Americans are having difficulties covering their monthly expenses, making it difficult for them to build up an emergency savings fund, retirement fund or any kind of financial security (Gabler, 2016).”
“Half (56%) have less than $10K in retirement savings and over half (63%) do not have $500 to cover an unexpected expense (Kirkham, 2016; Wong, 2016).”
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who can pay your bills and have more savings than that, you may have mixed feelings about money. In fact, some people — especially women — have a palpable fear of money and finance:
Others may leave it to the realm of hope and good thoughts:
Messages you learn as a child carry forward
When I was a little girl, I had a small bankbook you could easily hold in your hand, where you could watch your money grow — just like the vegetables in our garden. Mom made it a fun thing to take me to the bank each month and see how much it was worth when the interest got added in.
In those days of 5% interest, you actually saw 42 cents (plus compounding) added each month for a $100 base amount. Over a few years, it really added up. But I think what helped plant the positive message most was that mom and I shared this delight. May seem small, but small seeds in childhood can have powerful affects later on in life.
I also watched her save. My parents were poor and they did not have fancy-schmancy jobs, but still mom found a way to set aside money for a rainy day. And later on for that first house and help with my college tuition. I learned that money was something to be treated with respect and a good friend to have by your side when things went wrong — even though I was angry at times that I couldn’t have what I wanted in the moment.
But not everyone feels friendly toward money
We may not even realize how deep the messages about money are inside of us. I never really thought about it, but the positive message I carried — although this was never said to me directly — is that somehow, some way I will always find a way to make money. More about me than the money.
Even when I was down to almost no money in a scary time of illness and no job for almost a year, something inside told me I would find an answer. And I always did, even if I had to take jobs “beneath” my level of education or experience. I became great at answering phones and cheering people up when I was a temp. And eventually, though it took a few steps to get back up the ladder, I got myself back to my career level again.
But others may have negative unconscious feelings about money like “Here we are again. No money. It will always be this way.” or even “I don’t deserve to have money.” Though the same person might tell you “Of course I deserve money.” It’s a deep, complicated relationship.
So what can I do now to make friends with money?
Again from Dorlee’s article, she asks: “Which money messages would you like to adjust to better fit the person you are as an adult, and the goals you would like to achieve?” So perhaps a great first step is awareness — recognizing where your doubts and fears are.
While I’m not a therapist (and for some folks therapy might be a useful exploration), here are some suggestions as to where you might start changing your relationship with money:
- Think about the messages you tell yourself about money. “I need to buy that now.” “I need to own things to feel good.” “I need the latest fashions.” “I need to spend as much as friends do.” “People who have money are greedy or bad.” (Many good, kind people have money)
- Also think about other messages you tell yourself. “I’m stupid.” “I don’t belong.” “I say the wrong thing.” “I can’t learn.” “I need approval.” “I don’t deserve.” “I always have bad luck.” “I fail at things.” “Not worth trying.”
- Get a notebook and write down the messages you tell yourself over a period of time — let’s say a week. Even ones you aren’t quite sure apply.
Spend some time thinking about how the messages may relate in some way to how you feel about money (and your own self image), as well as your right to not only have money, but manage it gently and with love. No, this isn’t about love of money in and of itself. It’s about love of yourself and your right to have money always be there for you as a friend and helper when needed.
Picturing the future with money
With all that in mind, I’d now like you to spend some time imagining a future where money flows to you and actually sticks around. Don’t be shy or embarrassed to let your mind play with the positive image of money and you hanging out together, walks in the park, watching TV, long chats into the night, or whatever feels friendly and warm.
See yourself checking your bank account numbers and smiling as they grow, perhaps giving birth to new bank accounts of their own. Also see money flowing toward you from different sources — ones that feel good and right. See yourself comfortable in retirement, knowing that you have made all this happen for yourself. (Repeat often, as needed.)
After that, look at what you’ve written again and all those lovely future thoughts. Ask yourself “what one or two things can I do now to start changing the future picture for myself?” Taking action is key, even if you begin with the smallest of steps.
A few more thoughts
I know change like this isn’t easy. And it takes time. But the results can go far beyond your bank account. How you see yourself. Jobs you never thought you could get. A feeling of financial security that expands into the rest of your life.
Of course, this may not be the whole answer. Nor will it for sure get you major results right away. But truly wanting to make friends with money and taking a few steps in that direction is a great start. Good luck!
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