We all know what to do when a robber asks us “your money or your life,” right? But if you look at how you spend your life on a daily basis, what are you really choosing?
Especially in tough times like the recession we’ve had over the last couple of years, money is a hot topic. This article won’t tell you how to save money, or how to invest your money. Rather, I want to tackle some of the internal issues we all hold about money.
Over the years, I’ve worked with clients that have had money issues in one way or another. Some examples include:
- Turning down money because it felt wrong – a client struggling to pay her bills already had a profitable business, but didn’t feel entitled to pay herself a small salary until the business “really takes off.”
- Leaving money on the table – another client complained of not having enough money, but then figured out all he had to do was finish his billings and several thousand would come his way. The real issue it seemed, was how he was holding himself back from success.
- Different values around money with their spouse – the usual cliché is that she’s the spender, he’s the saver but it usually boils down to disagreements on how, when and what to spend money on.
Show Me The Money
With all three examples, money isn’t really the issue. It’s what money stands for. Success. Control. Security. Confidence. Self-worth.
What we often forget is that we created money. In fact, we invented it so that we wouldn’t have to deal with a confusing barter system for sharing goods and resources. But somewhere along the way, we got off that purpose line, and money is now used to control, dominate, hold back and marginalize people.
No matter what economic sector you belong to, language you speak or country you live in, you know someone who has collapsed their self-worth with how much money they have. Someone who isn’t speaking to others because of money quarrels. Someone who spends their waking and sleeping hours worrying about money. Or gives money more meaning than human life.
That someone might even be you.
The Soul of Money
A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Lynne Twist, a global activist and fundraiser, and hear her speak about reclaiming the wealth of our inner resources and transforming our relationship to money. Her book, The Soul of Money, is really about our own soul and how we often eclipse it, dismiss it or compromise it in our relationship with money.
Lynne identified Three Toxic Myths most of us have around money:
- The Myth of Scarcity. Beginning early on with the child’s game of “musical chairs”, we are taught over and over again that there’s not enough and we have to fight to get our share of anything. We continue this trend today as adults, with reality shows like Survivor where only the most aggressive and often, sneaky contestants win.
- The Myth of More is Better. We don’t have a relationship with “enough”. Only “more”. We get bombarded with 30,000 messages a day that we are not tall, thin, young or successful enough. That we need “more” to be complete.
- The Myth of “that’s just the way it is”. This is the worst myth of all, because it has us be resigned. To live life unconsciously and lead a life unexamined. We have garage sales because we have too much stuff. Then we go to the mall to buy more stuff. We buy toys for our children because we feel guilty for having to work so much. We buy a new car because our friends drive the latest models.
Scarcity vs. Sufficiency
From the time we wake up in the morning, we start our day thinking from a lens of scarcity. “I didn’t get enough sleep!” we say to ourselves. Then we rush around our day because there is not enough time, not enough clients, not enough money, not enough vacations. Then just before we go to sleep, we say to ourselves, “I didn’t get enough done!” It’s a vicious cycle that is easy to perpetuate. And we don’t even realize we do it.
Lynne, who says her best coach was Mother Teresa, believes the antidote to these myths lay in moving from the You or Me paradigm of scarcity, to the You AND Me paradigm of sufficiency. Where we live – and succeed – at no one else’s expense.
What would it be like if you believed in sufficiency?
Where your perception is that there is enough to go around. You HAVE enough, and you ARE enough.
So, stop and think about your beliefs and values around money. What are you really buying? Or buying into? Take stock of what your beliefs and fears are around money and remember that what you spend your money on, reflects your personal values.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Besides the basic necessities, what do you spend your money on?
- What’s the next thing you’re saving up to buy?
- What would it mean for you to get it?
- What is your spouse’s attitudes and behaviors around money?
- What were your family’s attitudes and behaviors around money?
- How has this shaped your own relationship or beliefs around money?
- How would you like it to be?
- What’s one step you could take to get there?
- Who can help you?
Communicate Your Goals And Expectations
Between couples, money issues are a fairly common fight and it usually happens because the two people involved aren’t on the same page. In fact, most fights occur not because of how much money was spent, but because of a failure to communicate unspoken expectations that couples have and are often afraid to talk about.
Sometimes it’s clashing styles on money (the spender vs. saver) or mismatched agendas (when you are supposed to buy the house, or what type of car you are buying), but people get so stuck in their own money views that they can’t see that their partner simply has a different viewpoint.
What’s important is to start a discussion together while you are relaxed and not in the middle of a heated argument. Don’t assume your way is the right way. Listen to what your partner says and take it in – their outlook may differ from yours in a big way, but they hold their views as dearly as you hold yours. Be respectful, even if you disagree.
Try to establish your common “big picture” goals – the various milestones you need to plan for that will require money (buying a house, retirement, caring for your aging parents) – and discuss them. If you can set small goals together toward your bigger goals, the feeling of success will create a stronger bond between you. If you need to get help, find a reputable financial planner to help you – having a third party can often ease the tension around money discussions.
Talking about money is hard, especially if you aren’t clear on your own perspectives around money. But don’t give up – it’s better to know where you stand and make choices from there, rather than bury your head in the sand.
We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs. ~Gloria Steinem
*This article originally appeared in my coaching column for Working Mom Magazine
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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