"Financial health is having a conscious and purposeful relationship with money."
I'm playing pool with some close friends and some of their friends. I'm not very good at pool, so I spend most of my time talking. One of my friends' work colleague tells me that she earned over $100,000 last year for the first time. Hitting six-figure status was very important to her. I don't make that, but I hope to be soon. This six-figure status seems to be stuck in my head as a good marker of success. I live in an apartment with a friend of mine and drive a really old car. Once I start making six figures I'll have my life together - at least I hope. This becomes my goal in life; to make more than $100,000 per year. Well, I got there...and then some. The thing they don't tell you is that more money comes with more responsibility, more pressure, more demands, and ultimately less flexibility, autonomy, and freedom. Chasing money without first examing my relationship with money turned out to the wrong choice for me. My guess is that it's the wrong choice for you, too.
Relationship With Money: What It Is
Someone once said that those who don't know they have a relationship with money probably don't have a very good one. If you have a pulse, you might be wondering what in the heck it means to have a relationship with money. It makes sense to have a relationship with someONE, because, you know, we all have relationships with living beings - partners, family members, friends, colleagues, even pets and other animals. But how can we have a relationship with someTHING? It's a good question. By analogy, think about your car. It's likely that you have a car, and you have a relationship with your car. This varies by person, of course, but some of you take really good care of your car in exchange for it taking really good care of you. Some of you don't really care about it and thus don't care for it; you take it for granted. Some of you keep it immaculately clean, and to others, the cleanliness of their car isn't something that people should care about. Some of you want to know exactly how it works and know how to fix it if something goes wrong. Others wonder if they have to replace their blinker fluid or take their car in just to have antifreeze put in (which, incidentally, I'm not ashamed to admit I just did an hour before writing this paragraph). Hopefully, it's now easier to understand how you can have a relationship with an inanimate object, like a car. That should shed some light on how you can have a relationship with money. Whether you know it or not, you have a relationship with money; everybody does. Whether it's good or bad, and whether you want to or not, this relationship exists. Without exploration, many of us don't know we have a relationship with money, making our relationship with it something we can't see.
Relationships With Money Can Be Complicated
Many of us don't know that we have a relationship with money, but even for those who do, it's not always a great relationship. Maybe you make pretty good money but aren't saving as much as you would like. Perhaps you spend more than you know you should and on things that you realize aren't important to you. It could be that you are afraid of money and don't ask for it, leaving you a habitual underearner. Maybe you make good money, are saving, and not spending too much, but you still feel anxiety and stress when it comes to money. Or, you and your partner have very different feelings about money, leading to money fights. Money is stressful for most people and made more stressful if we have a complicated relationship with it.
Money Touches Every Area of Our Lives
It's no wonder money is so stressful. Money touches every area of our lives. Do you need to find a place to live? Do you rent or buy? How much can you afford? How high should your fixed expenses be? What's the rate on your mortgage? Are you looking for a job? How much will you make? Are there ways to keep taxes low? Should you open that 401(k)? Are you making what you're worth? Do you want to relax? Can you afford to take the time off? Does your job give you vacation pay or will your next paycheck be lower? Does your form of relaxation cost money? Can you afford that? Do you want to have a conversation with your partner? Does money come up? Are you both spending money in the same way? Are you trying to keep your partners from knowing how much you actually spend? I think you get the idea. There are very few life decisions that don't have a money component and even fewer money decisions that don't involve your life somehow. Money touches almost every area of our lives; we can't escape it.
Increasing Financial Health Is More Than Income
A common solution most of us jump to is that we simply need more money. That seems like an obvious solution. We perceive our issues are due to a lack of money and, therefore, if we had more money we would be better off. If you've gone through a major promotion, job change, or financial windfall, like a settlement or other payout, you probably know that your financial issues didn't go away. They may have changed, sure. But if you're frustrated because you haven't been able to change your financial habits or you still suffer from financial worry, it might be time to take a look under the hood and examine your relationship with money.
Improve Your Relationship With Money to Increase Financial Health
In order to increase your financial health, it's more important to address the hidden causes of your money troubles and that means exploring your relationship with money. In order to truly be comfortable with money you need a better, healthier relationship with it. Improving your relationship with money will often lead to better outcomes, less stress, and less worry.
There's More to It Than Being Smart
I have to take a moment to address the elephant in the room. Many people have tried to fix their money issues before and haven't experienced success. Or, if there was some success it was short-lived. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the failure to achieve lasting change is due to not having enough information or not being smart enough.
It's simply not true. Strengthening your relationship with money is not about how smart you are. In fact, being too smart might hurt if you believe that you can get ahead if you just do more research.
Explore Your Money Scripts
The key to strengthening your relationship with money is understanding what's driving your financial beliefs and behaviors. These are called money scripts. Money scripts represent rules that we subconsciously follow about money. They are developed mostly in childhood, reflect partial truths about how money works (but, of course, our subconscious treats them as whole truths), and we're not aware of them. Essentially, money scripts are the stories we tell ourselves about money.
Maybe you learned that money should be saved and not spent. Or, you may have learned that you deserve to treat yourself. You could have learned that "rich people" are bad, or that you don't deserve money. A money script is any rule that we make up and follow. If you don't pay attention to money and your money scripts, you are being ruled by your invisible money scripts.
Money Health, Money Scripts, and Money Relationships
Improving your relationship with money means exploring the money scripts that drive your behavior. Sometimes you'll recognize there are money scripts that have been mostly good and only slightly limiting. Other times, you may notice money scripts that made total sense in one time in your life, but they don't make sense anymore. Or, you might find money scripts that have been behind what you thought was self=sabbotage. The good news is that once you know about them, you can work to change them.
New financial habits and systems can be accomplished and will lead to financial health. You'll be able to use your money to design the life that you want. You'll have reasonable debt that was a conscious choice. Your financial stress will be minimal, and you will have good habits that make it easy to do the right thing.
Financial health is attainable. You just have to train yourself to stop thinking it's about finding more data and research. Focus on improving your relationship with money and learn the money stories you've been telling yourself. Life is short; don't be a slave to money. Author Mitch Anthony has a fitting saying, "Live the best life possible with the money that you have."
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
Related Money Health Reading:
Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Karen McCall: Financial Recovery
Sarah Newcomb: Loaded
PsychCentral: What It Means to Have a Healthy Relationship with Money
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.
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