Updated: Feb 7
Identify your financial emotions to be happier
Whether we realize it or not, money permeates our lives. Most days money plays a role in some of our decisions and actions. Money takes up more brain space for some of us than others, but no one is immune. I think it’s important to recognize this since thinking about money often isn’t a pleasurable experience that adds value to our lives. Identifying how often and in what ways we think about money can help us find ways to change our thoughts to make us happier.
I am definitely one of those to whom “more brain space” applies. Money has been front and centre throughout my life, starting in childhood and continuing through all the events and stages of adulthood. I have experience guilt about spending money as well as shame about not spending money. I have had a hard time finding the saving/spending balance. For the first decade of my adult life, I didn’t understand that I even had a mindset about money so my worrying, obsessing, guilt and shame seemed unshakeable. It wasn’t until I properly reflected on my upbringing and my personality that I came to an understanding about why I do what I do and that I can make changes to be happier.
Here’s the truth: I am frugal. Not cheap, not stingy, but frugal. I’m sure many of you can relate when I tell you that my parents had a lot to do with this mindset. (It's not all their fault - my Enneagram Type 1 personality also plays a role.) My mom and dad were the epitome of frugal, living a simple life with no frills. Going out for dinner, traveling, and new cars were not on the docket. At the same time, my parents donated to all kinds of causes, they volunteered their time, and put up their hand to help when needed. They spent their money where they felt it mattered like education for their four children. I marvel, actually, at the success they had raising four kids on one relatively modest income, all while saving for retirement.
My parents’ approach to money was a blessing and a curse. I was fortunate to get university degree pretty much paid for (my dad made me pay for some of it only out of principle) and I started my adult life without any debt. My dad is still financially independent and his generosity has allowed me to pay down my mortgage. The curse? A scarcity mindset that makes spending hard for me sometimes out of fear that I won’t have enough money to support myself and my family, now and in the future.
Now that I know that about myself, I can recognize when my frugality is detrimental or unnecessary. I am able to spend on things that make me happy and enjoy those things more than before. At the same time, I am totally ok with being “cheap” about some things and I am not embarrassed about it. What do I hate spending money on? Take-out food, taxis, anything at a convenience store, and drinks other than a regular drip coffee at Starbucks. When does the money flow openly from my bank account? When spending on family outings, concerts, shows, flowers and plants, and weekend getaways with my partner. These things make me extraordinarily happy and I am 100% good with that kind of spending.
What about you? What feelings and beliefs do you have about money? If you spend some time articulating them, will it help you feel better about money in some way? Will it help you reduce your worry, obsessing, wanting, envy, guilt, over-spending, under-spending or whatever else might be going on? Can you figure out a way to work with the beliefs you have?
For me, the answer to my money stress is to feel financially secure. This allows me to spend knowing that I will be ok. I guess this is why my focus as a financial coach is on developing confidence and security with money in order to feel happier. Put a plan in place for saving, invest in an appropriate way, and then enjoy the money you have to spend.
Understanding our own feelings and beliefs about money and combining this with knowing how the people close to us feel can also help our relationships. It's usually helpful to have insight into why people do what they do and why it is different from our own actions. It gives us empathy, understanding and tolerance and can help us avoid or resolve conflict.
When it comes to our emotions, you’ve got to name it to tame it. What you resist persists. Financial feelings are no different.