Money. The topic of much stress, avoidance, conflict, and sleep loss. Sound familiar? We spend far too little time talking about the role of money in our lives and creating a healthy relationship with our finances. As parents, we often spend too little time educating our children on the value of money. As educators, we fail to teach basic financial skills that are critical to our well-being as adults. Money is considered a taboo topic in our society, which further adds to avoidance and distress. And to some extent, after our survival needs and some comforts are met, it doesn't matter how much money we have or make.
All of this means that there is an opportunity to do things differently. To become aware of what money means to you personally. To know what you've been taught about money, both directly and indirectly. To make choices about money that are based on your values, not on fear. To develop a healthier relationship with money.
Would you rather talk about anything else except money? Does thinking about money bring up fear or discomfort? As with anything in life that we try to avoid thinking about, the more we try to push thoughts of money away, the more distress we tend to experience. Check in with your own experience about this...
If avoiding the topic of money and reminders of your finances doesn't seem to work, are you ready for an alternative approach? - Being open and honest with yourself about money and being willing to expose yourself to your finances. Exposure therapy is excellent for many fears! And the same behavioral principles apply to fear and anxiety that can come from how we relate to money. Generally, distress is mostly caused by avoidance, or not wanting to "go there" - which makes whatever is there - in this case money - much scarier than it needs to be.
The first step is choosing to take a different approach. Then it is putting it into action. In this case, it is exposing yourself to your history with money and current financial situation and relationship. What were you taught or told about money throughout your life? Did you grow up in a family where money, or lack of it, posed a real threat and subsequent panic? Was there never enough and no one talked about it? Or was money something that mysteriously flowed and met all of your needs and provided some luxuries? Perhaps your parents spent time educating you on how to balance a checkbook, or how to get a job, but didn't talk to you about their own philosophy and relationship with money. See if you can identify themes in your experience around scarcity or abundance, or around money as a taboo topic of conversation.
After your've identified some patterns around your history with money, take some time to reflect on your current relationship with money. What old patterns do you carry with you? Do these patterns seem to fit with the rest of your approach to life? And are these patterns working for you? What are the benefits of your current relationship with money? And what are some of the downfalls?
Now, are you willing to to a complete look at your current financial situation? Things you might look at include how much money you have coming in, how much is going out, what you are spending your money on on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, what you are saving or investing, how much debt you have, what your actual budget is - not just what your budget is in theory. Try to do this in a mindful way - being present to the current situation without judgement. This is about first allowing what is there to be there without changing anything.
Identifying your Values
This is where the idea of "money as life energy" comes in. This concept is courtesy of a book that I highly recommend called "Your Money or Your Life" by Dominguez & Robin. It's simple: you trade your life energy for money. You can figure out what you make per hour minus all of the expenses related to your job and calculate what your life energy is currently worth. Then you can ask yourself two main questions:
- Is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy?
- Am I using my life energy in a way that is consistent with my values?
I'll focus mostly on question #2 for the rest of this post...
Take some time to orient yourself to how your values influence your relationship with money. You may want to do some values identification and clarification work and can check out my previous post on values for more information and resources on how to do this. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started include:
- What are the top 3 things that are important to me in life?
- Is the way I am using money consistent with how I want to live life and who I want to be?
- Are there certain areas where I am spending money or using my life energy in a way that is not consistent with what is important to me?
Once you've sorted through some basics of how your values relate to your relationship with money, you can make a plan and perhaps set some goals to "live out" these values. It's all about choices - each day, or even each moment, choosing to live out your values or perhaps choosing to do what you've always done or what is comfortable. No matter what your values, it's helpful to take a mindful approach to your finances - meaning slowing down and noticing - so that in each moment you can make a choice. Often times we make choices while on autopilot, which takes away the intention and consideration in making choices. See if you can empower yourself by bringing intention and consideration back! Here's some steps you can take:
- Track your financial situation - all incoming and outgoing funds - on a daily basis. You can use an App on your phone or computer to sync all of your accounts. Then all you have to do is click "refresh" to bring awareness and empowerment to your choices.
- Set one small financial goal based on your values. There is no right or wrong goal - the most important thing is that it is consistent with your personal values. For example, you may notice that you enjoy the experience of eating out when it's dinner with your partner, but also realize that you spend more money than you'd like on convenient (but not very enjoyable) fast food lunches while at work. A goal may be to bring a lunch to work most days and put the money that you save toward eating out with your partner.
- Try to set one goal at a time and integrate it into your life before adding more goals. Remember that changing habits works best when goals are specific, intentional adjustments to your life done gradually over time.
- You may also think in terms of question #1 - is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? This may prompt you to think more about goals you can set to get more for your life energy!
Sticking to it
Change is difficult. Even when it is an intentional change that will better your life. It's normal to feel some resistance or ambivalence. See if you can make some room for whatever thoughts and feelings arise. And continue to stick with your values-consistent plan. If you're a woman in the Chicagoland area and would like assistance in sticking to your goals and learning some more ways to respond to your emotions around money, contact me or schedule an appointment.