"It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."
I'm standing outside in a foot of fresh snow. It's still coming down. It's the fourth snowfall in two weeks. Luckily, we have a small driveway and no sidewalks. "There's not much to shovel," I think, as I keep working. Recently our snowblower broke down and the cost to have it repaired was more than the cost of a new one. My wife and I had a conversation and I loudly make my point that I actually like shoveling and we don't need to spend our money on a new snowblower.
The mounds of snow are getting taller and taller, especially down at the end of the driveway where the snowplow comes; they are taller than I am. This makes it more and more difficult to heave the snow to the top of the pile. Plus, I'm not getting any younger; I get sore!
My wife helps me shovel and afterwards tells me that she thinks we should get a snowblower. What!? My mind jumps straight into the gutter and thinks about all the other things we could spend money on besides stupid piece of equipment we don't even need. I know how to shovel! How can she think about tossing our money out just like that; so easily?
Then, she reminds me that in addition to our driveway with the six-foot snowbanks, we shovel a very long path for our camper, which we keep in our yard and use to go winter camping. She very calmly tells me that one of the things she learned from me is that one of the best uses of money is to buy time. Instead of taking two and a half hours to shovel, I could use the snowblower and be done in 25 minutes. That's a savings of almost two hours per snowfall!
Crow doesn't taste very good!
In an instant I realized that I never took the time to find out why she wanted a snowblower; I didn't look for her point of view. I made some assumptions, and those assumptions turned out to be wrong.
Do you think this can happen with other money conversations? You bet it can!
Money Conversations Are Hard
Why is it so hard for so many of us to talk about money? On the surface this seems like a mystery, but if you take a minute and put any thought into it, it becomes very clear. Money is not natural to us. Our distant ancestors didn't have to worry about it. Money skills are foreign and most of us aren't prepared to deal with it. Money touches every area of our life. If you asked a fish about water it wouldn't have any idea what you're talking about. Money is our water. Money skills are the new survival skills.
When many of us think (or talk!) about money, a lot of negative emotions spring up. Emotions like shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety, fear, regret, and disappointment very quickly consume us. We have learned that alleviating these emotions helps us (in the short run) so when we think that a conversation might bring us negative emotions we tend to try to avoid it. After all, if we know bringing up money will lead to a fight, isn't it better to avoid bringing up money, so that we can avoid the fight?
How We Think (About Money)
I have to apologize for the next section on the brain. I know, BORING! However, I will try to keep it very brief and I think it helps understand how and why conversations about money often times blow up.
Our brains first develop a part of the brain that's responsible for our instincts. It develops at about six months old and resembles the brain of a lizard. The next part of our brain to develop is the part of the brain that's responsible for our emotions and resembles the brain of a monkey. It is developed at about six years old. Finally the part of our brain that is responsible for rational thought gets fully developed in our early 20s. I call this our thinking brain. The lizard and monkey brain together make up what we would call our subconscious brain, or what I call the emotional brain.
The thinking brain is what we would call our conscious brain, and is that part of the brain most of us think as "us." Unfortunately for many of us, our thinking brain makes only 1% to 9% of our decisions. We are emotional creatures. The thinking brain, however, does have the important job of controlling the impulses of the emotional brain.
If you've read (or heard of) Danial Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow, the fast brain is what I have called the emotional brain and the slow brain is what I have called the thinking brain.
Stressful Times = Fight/Flight/Freeze
All that brain stuff works fine together, normally. Imagine an person riding an elephant. The rider knows how to control the elephant just fine...in normal conditions. But, imagine the elephant gets spooked. Now the rider has ZERO control over the elephant. That's the same way our brain works. In times of high stress, our fast brain shuts off our slow brain. It goes into fight/flight/freeze mode (did you know 'freeze' is part of that?). In times of stress, our brains kick into survival mode and does what it needs to do to survive the moment. To do this it can't have a slow-thinking,