Money is third on the list of taboo subjects in polite society. (Source: the world according to me. The first two being sex and death since you ask.)
We learn fairly early in life that it is a necessary evil and comes with inherent contradiction – we need it to live but must not covet it; we should strive for as much as possible as a marker of success but we must not be explicit in this intent.
Money is nothing if not confusing. And stressful. Money is still one of the biggest reasons cited in divorce proceedings, which is another indication of how divisive and contentious a subject it is.
Money and Beliefs
Most people have intrinsically held beliefs about money that are difficult to change. If your parents were big on saving (mine weren’t), it’s likely that saving will come relatively easily to you (it doesn’t).
If your parents lived from month to month using the credit card to pay the bills (not wholly but quite a lot), it’s possible that your relationship with money is one of worry or fear (not wholly but quite a lot. Notice any pattern?)
Whether you think money is good or bad, it influences – both directly and indirectly – almost all aspects of our lives. The job we have, the relationship we’re in, the friends we hang out with, the house we buy, the car we drive, the holidays we take, our hobbies and interests… the list goes on.
Regardless of whether you believe money dictates these things or that these things dictate how much money you have, it’s hard to dispute that money and lifestyle are closely linked.
Why is it some people seem to be good with money whereas others seem to have a really tough time with it? Is it simply that some people are hardwired to earn a lot/spend a lot/save a lot or do they learn what to do from others?
While we all have our natural inclinations and behaviours around money, it’s probably fair to say that the biggest factor in how we view it comes from how we were introduced to it and taught to interact with it as children.
When we’re young, we have yet to make the connection between what something costs and what its value is. We may be given pocket money in order to kick-start this association, but how freely this is given and the circumstances associated with it (in exchange for chores or only to be spent on X) begins to shape how we view it.
What do you want to believe about money?
Money can be seen as a positive enabler that facilitates other aspects of our lives or as a blocker to being able to have the things we want. I
t can be seen as a useful commodity or as a harmful glass ceiling, accessible to only the chosen few. It can be used as a motivator to work to acquire something special or as a threat to take things away.
It’s important to recognise that the topic of money is always associated with positive or negative feelings, but that money itself is neither good nor bad. It’s just a tool we use to represent something else – value.
The beliefs we hold about money are integral to how we interact with it and whether we think of it as a positive or negative influence in our lives. This starts when we are very young with the beliefs instilled in us by the grownups around us.
Often, we forget that we can question these handed-down beliefs when we become adults ourselves. But it’s a good thing to remember, especially if money is one of the biggest causes of stress in your life.
How do you feel about money and where does this come from? Where do you get your information now that you’re not dependent on others for it?
How do you test its reliability or know the information you receive about money is in your best interest, not just someone else’s?
I can’t tell you what to do so that you wake up tomorrow with all your money worries solved. It’s different for everyone.
Depending on your beliefs around money, how you were brought up to use it and how much you rely on money for happiness, the magic answer of how to establish a positive relationship with it will be different for each person.
As with any relationship, a strong foundation needs to be laid in order for anything to be built on top of it; good intentions rarely overcome shaky foundations.
Learning about money
Given that few of us ever receive a proper education around money – one where we’re taught formally how banks and budgets and the like all work.
It’s pretty much left to chance as to whether we’re given good or bad lessons about managing our cash. It’s at this point that it can be useful to know that just because you didn’t get a decent financial education growing up doesn’t mean it’s too late.
Many people are afraid of money because it can seem complicated and they worry they won’t understand it, so they don’t try.
Much of the terminology can seem like a ‘new language’, but you don’t need to know it all to start to change your relationship with money. You certainly don’t need to learn it all at once – just the bits that are relevant to your situation.
I’m not a finance expert and although I don’t have any debt, that wasn’t always the case. Student loans from two degrees, credit cards and an overdraft all mounted up and it took a few years to pay it all off.
I’m not exactly swimming in savings now and if I didn’t have regular work, I’d soon be homeless (or, more likely, having to live with my parents. At 38. Yeah, I know.)
I’m sharing this because I think it’s really ordinary. Ordinary to have been/still be in debt and not be sitting on a haystack of savings, pensions and investments.
Ordinary to know that if your main source of income was to stop for any reason, you’d be up the proverbial creek with not so much a stick, much less a paddle.
With many of the causes of stress, it’s very often some internal change of belief or behaviour that can help relieve it. This is true for money but very often, some external is needed.
If money is the thing keeping you awake at night, your health is suffering and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, then please reach out and ask for help.
Everything ‘money’ starts in your head
And if that’s not your situation, and the wolf is happily far from the door but you know that you have a few money gremlins cluttering up your thought space, again, look to others to help figure out your way past them.
I was fortunate to get a well-paying job that allowed me to pay of my debt within a few years but please don’t think for a second that’s all that was required. I could have just spent the extra income or racked up even more debt – plenty of people do.
Self-control and discipline played their parts (personality traits nowhere to be seen when I want to ‘save’ on calories or ‘spend’ on energy – typical) and I had to do a lot of work to challenge many of the beliefs I had been given and carried around with me since childhood.
But that’s exactly what I did. I wouldn’t say I have a perfect relationship with money but it doesn’t stress me the way it used to.
The thing that changed was I educated myself about money, how it works, how to spend it and how to save it. Some of this education was around learning what ‘proper’ finance terms meant, and becoming confident enough to set up things like an ISA.
Mostly, it was just about unlearning what I thought I knew. Lots of people would call this working on my ‘money mindset’ – call it what you want but it’s true that my relationship with money has changed.
I used to be scared of it.
I used to think I didn’t deserve to have any and I definitely believed that ‘people like us’ just don’t have money because if I looked around … none of the people who were like us did either.
Total rubbish of course but I believed it and if you have similar beliefs, it’s likely you’re trapped in a situation where you can’t imagine it being any different.
I can’t presume to know whether that’s true or not – I don’t know you. But I do know that it’s always worth asking the question, regardless of whether you get the answer you think you’re going to or not.
Because it’s when we ask the difficult questions and when we ask for help from people who know more than us that we can start to make a change.
Places to go for help and information
If you are in debt, or if money is literally keeping you awake at night, please do reach out. There are a few organisations that are there waiting to help you so why not visit their website or give them a call and see what happens. A couple of key resources are:
Useful online courses about money
If you’re interested in understanding money better and you’d like a short, comprehensive grounding in what it really is and how it works then check out the following free courses from Future Learn:
- Managing my money
- Personal financial planning and budgeting
- Managing the household balance sheet
- Managing my investments
Interesting blogs about all things money and finance
And last but not least, regardless of how much you do or don’t have in your bank account, money is so rarely talked about that we don’t realise how many different ways people use and treat the money in their life and trust me when I say it’s fascinating!
If you’re the sort of person who has ever thought about financial freedom, early retirement or just wanted to know how others think about it, these are some blogs from ordinary, everyday peeps that you might enjoy. I’m not saying you’ll agree with them but they’ll definitely give you food for thought!
- Financially Free By Forty – he is now financially independent at the grand old age of 34! (I wish!!)
- The Escape Artist – how to escape the financial ‘prison camp’ from someone who has done it
- Mr Money Mustache – the tagline is ‘Early Retirement through Badassity’. He pulls no punches – judge for yourself…
- Monevator – just a really good place to start if you want to learn the hard stuff in an easy (ish) way
How do you feel about money? Is it a positive, negative or neutral in your world? If you have any more resources that I didn’t include and that you think may help someone else, please share them in the comments below.