“I’d Rather Not Discuss It!”

I’m beginning to wonder if how much money we have may be less important than how we feel about it. I can’t help thinking that if I’d spent as much time exploring how I felt about my money as I have trying to earn it, I’d be a much happier person today. Is the person who is wealthy yet miserable just a cliché? What about people living in poverty who seem joyful and display incredible generosity? Before we dismiss these extremes as stereotypes, perhaps there is more to be learned by looking below the surface.

As a financial planner helping others with their money, I have heard people express the gamut of emotions. Often just talking about our issues can be very liberating. People have commented to me, “Wow, this is great! It’s like talking to my therapist.” Observing others struggle with money issues has led me to become more conscious of my own challenges, such as worrying about having enough. Perhaps I can lead others to a greater understanding of themselves.

Really talking about money – not just dropping the off-handed boast about the great deal we got on a flat screen TV – is not so easy. Sometimes the issues people have are difficult to spot, and most of the time we’re not even aware of our own issues. Do you spend money to make yourself feel better? Do you compare your financial status to that of others, and feel better or worse when you do so? There are many examples of ways that we think and behave around money. How can we use our own examples to gain greater self-understanding?

I would like to offer three ways to help you become more aware of your relationship to money. First, there are a number of books I can recommend. Mind Over Money by Brad and Ted Klontz, Conscious Finance by Kahler & Fox as well as Emotional Currency by Kate Levinson, PhD, are all excellent reading for beginners. Many authors suggest that you revisit your past, recalling stories about money that affected you as you grew up. You may want to write a money history or memoir to identify some of the money themes that influence your behavior today.

The second approach is, yes, to talk about “it!” Start slowly, with innocuous topics, with someone you trust. I told someone lately how much I paid for my car and found it oddly liberating. I haven’t shared that information even with five people in all the years I’ve owned the car (ten years!) Revealing such a fact may seem inconsequential, yet it can bring up some real emotions. The amount may sound like a lot or a little, depending on whom we are telling. It may not have been a big deal to the person I told, but it puts me in knots just thinking about revealing the number. I have to ask myself why that is.

The final way to deepen your understanding of your relationship to money is to be fully present when you are dealing with situations involving money. Here is an example. You find some charges on your cell phone bill that you don’t think you are responsible for. You call your service provider to question the charges. How are you feeling? How are you treating the person on the other end of the phone? Is your interaction colored so much by the fact that this person is from another country or are you feeling very nervous in this situation? If so – why? Be aware of your reactions as you deal with money in various situations, and question your feelings and behavior.

The more aware you are of how you deal with your money, and why, the more you will benefit – in greater understanding, making more conscious choices, and I believe, in experiencing greater happiness with money. This process takes some tenacity and curiosity, as well as a willingness to take a hard look at some things that may make you uncomfortable. But I believe that taking these steps – reading a book, writing your money stories, talking to others and being in touch with how you feel when you are in a situation involving money – can yield tremendous insights and indeed make you feel better about the money you have.

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