Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
The truth about money is that money is a thing. The leaves left in your gutters could have more value and worth if we all agreed they do. Money is just paper, metal or virtual credit in a computer. The truth about money is that if you think you will feel more fulfilled and happier with life only when you have a lot of money, you will be very disappointed.
Now you may be kind of bummed reading that, but I’ve got some good news. Money can be wonderful. In my life I’ve had times where I lived on nickels in my pocket and I’ve lived with plenty in the bank. I’d rather have money because money gives you options. But unless you cultivate internal prosperity, you won’t be smart about how you use those options or you won’t see them in the first place. Furthermore, you won’t hang on to that money for very long. So let’s look at what you need to start down the road to internal prosperity, now that you know the truth about money.
IT’S EASY TO LOOK WEALTHY
If you want to project an image of wealth, all you need to do is project the illusion that you have credit, money or things others value.
Most people measure wealth in terms of the amount of things they have that others want, and the typical unit of measure for wealth is your local currency. Here, in the United States, it’s the good old U.S. dollar. The dollar is no more than an agreed-upon unit of exchange. It’s only valuable because we believe it to be valuable. It’s a thing. It’s not you.
“Wealth begins at work; prosperity begins at home.”
If you believe that you will suddenly become happier and more satisfied with life just because you earn 50 percent more per year or win a lot of money, you might be rich in measure, but not in spirit. Surveys among high-income earners show us that no matter how high their incomes, they need at least 50 percent more income to be happy. Enough will never be enough until you can learn to be happy with what you currently earn. As long as you are unconscious of why and how you use money, it will drip through your fingers. You will never be able to hold on to it.
Having money can allow you to do many things you were never able to do before.
However, unless you achieve inner prosperity, you may find your new life to be as problematic as it was when you had less.
How much is it worth to you to achieve peace, balance and happiness in life? Would you rather have a lot in the bank but still feel like something is missing inside of you? Would you sell your soul?
The world would say that the only thing you need to be wealthy is money, but unless you can find internal prosperity along the way, more will never be enough. Generally, when people experience money troubles, the underlying causes and problems are not about the money at all.
Let’s look at a couple who most people admire and assume are very successful because they live in the right neighborhood, have the right car and hang out with the right people. The problem is that Bob and Susan are facing foreclosure of their beautiful home.
Perception: Bob feels the mortgage company does not adequately understand their situation. They should not be foreclosed upon; surely there is something somebody can do. Bob is furious with the mortgage company.
Reality: They are not making their mortgage payments as promised. They’ve missed the last couple of payments and have been late with some others. Last year, they worked out a repayment arrangement to get caught up on the mortgage, but didn’t make the adjusted payments as they had agreed. After all, they had to take their kids on an exclusive vacation to Disney. What would their friends think if they didn’t? They already told them they were going and goodness, they couldn’t back out now. How would that look?
The only reason they are in the very expensive house to begin with is they desperately wanted to live in the neighborhood. The “in-crowd” either wants to live there or already does. Bob works hard and Susan feels they deserve the financial success life owes them.
Sure, things are a little tight today, but aren’t they for everyone?
The last vacation cost a bit more than they had planned and wound up on expensive credit cards. “We’ll pay it off next month,” they say.
Once they moved into their new house, they threw a housewarming party, and everybody knows you have to decorate before people come over. What are guests going to sit on? The furniture from the old house didn’t fill enough rooms and besides, it didn’t go with the new house. It had to go. The new furniture was very expensive, but the furniture gallery had a great finance plan, and who could say no? Bob and Susan justified their expensive purchase by saying that the furniture was a long-term investment and so, of course, they filled out the credit application. They had to have it.
The new furniture made the window treatments look shabby. Everyone can see the drapes from the outside, so new ones were ordered. Who knew they were that expensive?
“We’ll just have to put them on the card,” they said.
A couple of months ago Bob came home with a sporty new convertible. He hadn’t planned on buying it but a couple of guys at work were talking about how cool it was and before he knew it, he was at the dealership signing some papers and driving home in the new car. “This was a smart move and a great purchase,” he said to himself as he pressed the accelerator a little harder than he should have as he exited the highway. He pictured the relaxing drives he and Susan would take in the country with the top down.
They needed to spend some quality time together. Bob felt they were not as close as they used to be. The car would help bring them closer together. Because the car only held two people, they would have to get a sitter to watch the kids as they cruised on the back roads to share those lost moments. “I know” he thought, “I’ll make a reservation at that bed and breakfast I’ve been reading about. It’s a bit expensive, but it will be special and we’ll have a great time. The weekend will be perfect.” The $200 weekend actually turned out to be a $600 weekend but, “goodness knows we needed it,” he said.
The day after Bob bought the car was an awesome day at work. The guys could not believe he had purchased it. It was hot. Everyone at work was talking about his sporty wheels in the parking lot. Some were jealous. Bob was the big man in the parking lot this week. OK, the new car payments were a stretch for them, but it was only for six years.
Bob knew he paid top dollar for the car but if he had haggled, he would have had to wait a month for the next shipment to come in. He needed the car now.
Things felt a little financially snug for them since their kids had started private school.
The local school system was terrible, that’s what everyone said, and so Green Fields Academy was the only solution. The kids would get a better education and it was just coincidental that the weekend crowd had their kids in the same school. It’s better for carpooling, Bob and Susan told themselves. They also had a conversation about the fact that they were so busy earning money and doing volunteer work that they did not have the time to sit down with their kids and give them the kind of homework attention the kids needed. Private school would give their kids the extra attention it would take to really let them get ahead academically. Maybe a tutor? That might help. “Did you hear?”
Susan said, “John and Betty don’t send their kids to private school.” “Don’t they care about their kids at all?” said Bob.
Susan really enjoyed her occasional outings to the local mall. They had some cute little stores and the personal shopper at Saks was a doll. She would give Susan a heads-up about the latest fabulous stuff that had just arrived. Sometimes she even tucked a couple of items away so Susan could get first crack at them. Susan couldn’t pass up the deals because some of it was on sale. She felt that if she didn’t buy something, the personal shopper would stop calling. She liked the attention, so she had to pick up some things here and there.
Shopping was enjoyable — it made Susan feel special and boosted her self-esteem. She always looked forward to seeing Jamie at the shoe store. Jamie was a friendly girl who lived in the neighborhood Susan grew up in. Susan would never live in that neighborhood again. She’s come so far, why go back? She’s moved up. She justified the last couple of purchases of boots as a way to help Jamie move up also. After all, Jamie made a commission from the sale of the boots, right? As Susan left the store she wondered whom she could fix Jamie up with. She deserved a real earner like the one Susan landed. Jamie would make some man look really good with her cute, size two figure.
Susan’s relationship with Bob was not as electric as it once was. Maybe a new outfit would make him notice her as they went for a cruise in the new car. You know what goes perfectly with a new outfit? A new haircut. “That exclusive salon in town is so relaxing.
Everyone is so nice and the environment is so pleasant. Anyway, who knows how clean those cheap places really are?” Besides, if she went to the cheap place she wouldn’t be able to visit with her favorite hairdresser. George was a good listener and Susan could talk to him about almost anything. Sometimes Susan laughed that George was cheaper and better than a therapist. Susan knew she should probably not get the haircut because
Bob had mentioned that she should cut back a bit on stuff she didn’t need, but this was a special occasion and it was for Bob. She wanted to look her best for him because she didn’t want to lose him to another woman.
Susan still remembered when she was the other woman, but it was clear that Bob did the right thing leaving his first wife. That woman just didn’t know how to keep herself up or how much fun Bob could be. All she wanted to do was tell him “no” all the time when he wanted to buy stuff. She wouldn’t let him have any fun.
Susan got home a bit late from the salon and the kids arrived shortly after she did. Susan heard Bob pull into the driveway. Who could miss the sound of the new, oh-so sporty car? As soon as Bob hit the kitchen he said, “Let’s go out to eat tonight.” So they all piled into Susan’s leased SUV and off to their favorite restaurant they went. They really enjoyed going to their favorite place. Jimmy, the waiter, greeted them as they came in and was such a nice guy. Bob always enjoyed talking sports with him and Jimmy always gave the kids a special treat with dinner. He knew how much they loved chocolate milk, so he’d always bring two tall, cold glasses with dinner. He never forgot Bob’s double martini, either.
As they pulled back into the driveway, the headlights passed across the front of the house like a beacon from a lighthouse. In the quick sweep of light, Bob thought the bushes out front looked so much better than those that came in the standard landscaping package with the new house. “The neighbors have got to be jealous,” he thought. The landscaping company was doing a good job. Sure they were expensive, but so what? As they came back into the house, Susan noticed that the housekeeper had been there today. She hadn’t noticed when she got home earlier because she barely had time to drop her bags and meet the kids before they had run out. What would she ever do without the housekeeper? Her life was so hectic that she certainly didn’t have time to deal with all of the housework. The house was so big and her volunteer work took up so much of her time.
Bob headed for the den to take care of some bills he vaguely remembered were piling up on his desk. It was time to pay them; they were only a little late. Susan used to pay the bills years ago, but after a fight, Bob took over paying them.
The switch in bill payers at home occurred one day after Bob’s credit card had been refused at lunch with a client. Sure, it was a $200 lunch, but that was just something you had to do to entertain the big client, right? When he landed that deal he was going to get a huge commission. Besides, he’d get reimbursed for it later so what was the fuss? It must have been Susan’s fault. Bob felt he could do a better job of managing the bills.
Once Bob yanked the bills from Susan, he called the credit card company and gave them a piece of his mind. How dare they refuse his card? So what if he only had a $150 balance available on the card? “Raise the damn limit!” he yelled into the phone before he slammed it down. Susan heard the conversation from the other room. She was so angry at Bob about the whole thing that she vowed she would never take care of the bills again.
“Let Bob do it from now on and see what I’ve been dealing with, juggling payments here and there. Who needs that stress?” Susan never asked about the bills again. Now it was Bob’s mess to deal with.
As Bob headed for the den he passed his favorite chair. “Let me see what the score is,” he said to himself. Before he knew it, the comfort of the leather chair and the sweet numbing feeling of the alcohol from dinner fooled him into closing his eyes for a moment. Two hours later he half awoke and stumbled to bed. Tomorrow was a big day.
He finally scored that appointment with the big new client, and since he was going to close the deal he needed his rest. “The bills can wait until tomorrow,” he thought.
The haircut looked fabulous, the car was shiny and new, the yard was neat, the new outfit was perfect, dinner was yummy, the house was clean, the relationship was lacking, but wasn’t everyone’s? The kids were getting great grades, the pictures from the vacation just came back and the house is getting foreclosed on next week. “How dare they foreclose!” Bob said to himself. “I should tell Susan about this. Maybe tomorrow.”
What Bob doesn’t know is that tomorrow Susan will learn about the foreclosure from a friend who will read the notice in the local paper. Susan will call Bob’s cell phone and demand to know what is going on. Bob will assure her it’s all a mistake.
Two years later, Bob and Susan will separate.
“Sometimes personal finance is personal, not finance.”
Here is another example.
Jim and Linda had been married two years when they called me for advice about a monthly shortfall in their budget. They were just a bit short of cash and wanted to know how to close the gap so they could pay their bills.
Perception: Things are just a bit short each month. All we need is a loan.
Reality: About two years ago Jim and Linda, both in their late 40’s, met and fell in love. Jim convinced Linda to move from her home, which she owned, to a new house in a town about four hours away. She loved the attention that Jim gave her.
Shortly after they moved Linda felt very alone in the new area. She didn’t know anybody but Jim had a bunch of friends at work. Jim even had a photography business on the side. He shot portraits, weddings and some social events. Jim had borrowed about $40,000 from his retirement plan (nearly everything) to start his own business and he had just finished buying all of the equipment. He just was not a good sales person and hated the sales part of the business. Jim could not understand why business hadn’t picked up for him.
Linda was jealous of Jim’s photography business and told me, “I think he will take pictures of another woman and find her more desirable than me. I’m afraid he will leave me.”
Linda had secretly been feeling isolated and, for the past couple of years, cured her feelings of boredom and jealousy with a little catalog and television shopping. After all, it was harmless and helped her to feel excited when the new purchases arrived. Sometimes she forgot what she had purchased and when the package arrived on the front porch it was like a surprise gift.
Jim and Linda had already borrowed against their house once to consolidate the credit card debt they had both run up. Somehow the balances were right back where they had been before. It didn’t take long, just a year or so. Jim and Linda both felt they had learned their lesson this time and if they could just get a loan. That would save them.
Almost every line of credit Jim and Linda owned was maxed out. There was no more credit available. Linda still owned her house back in the old town. She was renting it to someone without a lease. “They’ll pay,” she said. The house had about $100,000 in equity but there was no way she was selling it. Jim had promised her she could keep it in case things didn’t work out between them. In fact, things weren’t going well at all. “I think our relationship is in trouble,” said Jim. “I’m not sure we love each other any more.” Linda chimed in that she had felt the same way for a bit but ever since her breast implants she felt the sex had really improved and she wanted to stay, at least for the sex.
“Have you met with a marriage counselor?” I asked.
“We’ve been to a bunch,” said Jim. “They don’t work, things aren’t going to change and I don’t think they do any good at all.”
“Have you thought about leaving each other?” I asked.
“All the time,” they agreed.
But Linda summed it up, “The fear of being alone is worse than the emptiness in the relationship. Did I mention that the sex is great since I had my plastic surgery?”
It turns out that the plastic surgery had been paid for with yet another loan. This was just another debt they had incurred in an effort to mask the emptiness of their relationship. While Linda made a bunch of little purchases over the past year, Jim had made a couple of really big ones. Their respective debts were about the same amount.
The more they disclosed, the clearer it was that even without their debt they could not afford their lifestyle. “We can hardly afford to do anything,” Linda said. “All we do is pay bills,” Jim and Linda finally admitted that their monthly expenses were about $1,500 more than their income and over the last year or so they had been using even more credit cards for regular purchases. After all, they had to in order to live the lifestyle they could not afford. As they borrowed more money the credit card balances went up, the available credit went down and the monthly payments could only be made with another cash advance from a credit card. Which one this month? Eeney, meeney, miney, moe.
Linda was so proud that she just purchased a cell phone and Jim didn’t know about the purchase yet. It was a great deal. Her calling plan allowed her to call back home on the weekends and talk to her family. Lately, the phone bills had been about $500 a month.
She talked to her mom and old friends a lot. “I hope I can keep my calls to just the weekends,” she muttered.
Jim and Linda’s life was empty in so many ways. They often found themselves eating out as a distraction. It gave them something to do other than talk with each other between bouts of post plastic surgery sex.
“Why don’t you guys split up and Linda, you can move back to your old home?” I asked.
“Oh I like it better here. I love my new job, I’ll never move back.”
“OK, why don’t you sell the old house?” I asked.
“It’s my safety net. In case things don’t work out here I can move back there.”
Jim and Linda are too scared to love and too scared to leave. They will be trapped in the middle of emptiness and the money problems. The monthly shortfall will grow until they get the next desperation loan. If they don’t do something, Linda will lose her house when they file bankruptcy.
Bob and Susan, and Jim and Linda are fairly typical in many ways of the couples I work with. These examples may seem extreme, but when you peel the onion and get down to the underlying reasons why money is a problem, you will often find issues that have nothing to do with the money itself. It’s not about the debt or credit either. It’s about the you inside.
A lack of wholeness in themselves and in their relationships, as experienced by both couples, led them to chase more and more material possessions to create an illusion of success and make some of their pain go away. But as you can see, the pursuit of material wealth is a waste of time. At the end of their respective paths of acquisition, neither couple was happy. They felt hollow inside. They were depressed and unfulfilled. While each respectively had many of the things they desired, they all lack one key ingredient — internal prosperity.
As you start down your path to internal prosperity and external wealth, it is essential that you examine why money has been slipping through your fingers all of this time.
Imagine how much wealth has leaked through your hands in unconscious spending. As you sit at home and look around, do you see lots of stuff you’ve bought over the years that was important to have at the time, only to rest in some box or corner, maybe never opened, essentially discarded?
I’ve got one of those things in my house. A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a laminator. We’ve never opened it up. It still sits in the same box, brand new. It was one of those purchases I wish I could do over again. I guess we really didn’t need it, since we’ve never used it. I would rather have had a quiet family dinner out at our favorite restaurant than a piece of metal and plastic in a corrugated box.
On a more extreme level, maybe you can identify binges with alcohol or food that drained your pocket but left you empty. Maybe you always find yourself attracted to needy individuals who bleed you dry and then leave. Or you can identify times that you felt you had to impress others with your financial success.
Gallons of ink have been spilled exploring the stimuli that prompt excessive and/or compulsive buying. The individual reasons are complex and too numerous to mention here.
However, at least consider that one of the reasons you may not have as much wealth as you desire right now is you have been too busy medicating yourself with money. Look at money for a moment as an over-the-counter drug, a legal tool that we can use to make ourselves feel differently. We can take a hit off the money pipe 24 hours a day and get our fix online, in person, over the telephone or through the mail.
While 10 percent of the population is generally considered to have compulsive buying issues, the number of people who use money to medicate themselves is probably in the 25 percent range, according to our surveys at Myvesta.
We conducted two national telephone surveys of 1,000 adults. Here is what we found out in the first survey:
- Forty percent of the people surveyed said their mood changes before or after making a purchase.
- Sixteen percent said they spend money to escape problems or relieve stress.
- Nearly seven percent of respondents said they are preoccupied with buying things to impress or influence others.
- Fifty-one percent of the people surveyed said they repeatedly try to control, cut back or stop excessive money use. Of those, a slim majority, are women.
- Seventeen percent said they feel alone or empty inside and use money to purchase goods or services in an attempt to feel better or improve their self-esteem.
- Just under ten percent said they lie, minimize or rationalize to family members or others to conceal their spending.
- Seven percent of respondents reported having excessive debt as the result of the inability to stop spending money. About the same number said they had lost out on opportunities such as a significant relationship, job promotion, or educational or career opportunities because of excessive spending.
- Nearly seven percent of those surveyed said they feel a need to spend money on or with others in order to maintain a relationship with those people.
In the second survey, we found that when people were faced with two questions: one, if they knew someone who behaved in a certain way; and two, if they behaved that way. As you can see, the closer to home the questions hit, the higher the denial factor.
- Mood changes just before or after making a purchase: 52.1% (someone you know); 40.4% (you).
- Spends money as a way of escaping problems or relieving stress: 49.7% (someone you know); 16.3% (you).
- Is preoccupied with buying things to impress or influence others: 47.5% (someone you know); 6.7% (you).
Many people use other forms of spending to alter their feelings about their lives that do not revolve around the typical mall crawl. Families place kids in private school, buy new homes and cars and take lavish vacations to create a false image of success and feelings of worth. These are but a few examples of life spending which drains the bank and can be the result of underlying issues other than a simple, overwhelming desire for the item itself.
The lack of satisfaction with your life or yourself is a big reason for having less wealth than you desire. You might feel you can never have the wealth you want because you don’t deserve it, or you can’t hold onto the money long enough to accumulate it. When you are constantly medicating yourself with money to create distraction or fleeting emotional relief, you will find it very difficult to quit.
As a drug addict may visit his favorite corner to get a fix, a money abuser will visit their favorite mall to inject. When life isn’t satisfied with you or you with life, the mall can be a deliciously refreshing place to go. It’s warm, well lit, has great stores with cool new stuff, friendly sales people who are there to fuss over you and it’s got food courts.
For some, there is a heaven and it’s called “The Mall.”
When my wife and I were first married we moved to Florida. The mall was across the street from our apartment and we used to go there often since we didn’t know anybody in the area. It was a pleasant distraction. We both realized one day that we must be visiting the mall a little too often because the woman behind the sales counter, at a store we didn’t buy stuff at, greeted us by name as we came through the door. “Hey, Pam and Steve, how you doing today?” As we packed to leave Florida, we were amazed by all the stuff we had purchased at the mall. No wonder we were carrying a lot of debt. What were we thinking? Oh that’s right, we weren’t. We had been unconsciously masking our boredom with recreational shopping.
Someday I’m going to have to do a formal study of malls. I’ve noticed that malls in the outlying areas are more like community clubhouses; everyone appears to be very comfortable. Kids use it as a place to congregate and parents as a place to go for distraction. Malls in more exclusive areas are sterile and quiet. They are very reserved, and sometimes you can just smell “wannabe” in the air.
Try this experiment yourself. Go to the mall in an outlying area, sit on a bench and just observe. Next, travel to the most exclusive mall you can get to and do the same thing. You will notice a difference in the way people and sales staffs behave. Ask yourself, “Why?”
Sometimes I go to the mall just to observe people. I study money behaviors. You can learn a lot by watching people attack and defend the mall. Do you realize that about 70 percent of the stuff people buy at the mall they never intended to buy? When shoppers are stopped as they leave the mall with bags in hand, they are asked what they purchased.
Many get it wrong even though they just walked out the door and have the stuff in their hands. They shop so unconsciously that they cannot even identify all of the items they just spent their money on.
You can actually see some shoppers go into a store looking tense and emerge looking relaxed from having just made the purchase. Unless you know what to watch for, it can be hard to spot the money abusers because they blend in so well and are everywhere. Do unconscious shoppers have a chance in a mall? Not likely.
Everything, from what you see as you enter the mall, to the store windows, to the store environment is heavily studied and designed to get you to buy. The same is true for most retail environments. There are a gaggle of white-coated scientists in the back room who watch your every move and know what they need to do in print, radio, TV, online, at the grocery store or wherever to get you to buy.
SHOPPING IS DESIGNED TO GIVE YOU PLEASURE BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT
The most common cause of financial troubles I hear about is the credit cards. “If it weren’t for the credit cards I wouldn’t be in this mess,” many people say. If that were true, then you have to add in that if it weren’t for the people at the mall, the scientists watching you shop, the guy behind the counter at the food court or the kind woman who answered your call when you called the shopping channel on television, you’d be fine.
The list of people to blame about your situation is endless. The entire consumptive material food chain exists only to obtain a share of your available credit power and your cash. The credit card is only the tool that lets you feed the money monkey on your back.
If you want to build your external wealth today you need to develop good judgment to determine why you are buying whatever it is that you are buying, big or small. If it helps, ask yourself this question: If Steve was here right now, what would he say about my purchase? Is it something I really need or am I making excuses for buying it?
When your money takes control of your life, your wants become needs and your needs become wants. I’ve seen people evicted because they fail to pay their rent or mortgage, but their credit cards are all paid up. There is an almost endless supply of money to fuel your desire. It doesn’t stop flowing until you abuse it sufficiently. The better your job, neighborhood, occupation or standing in the community, the more it will flow. Just because somebody will lend money to you does not mean you can afford it. It just means they are willing to take a risk and lend money to you.
Spending money you can’t afford to spend only compromises your future. It doesn’t hurt anyone except those you are charged with caring and protecting, including yourself.
If you fail to handle money responsibly and lose everything, you are just financial road kill. In the food chain of capital consumption you are the by-product of a good meal.
SPANK YOUR INNER CHILD
Society in general has little compassion for those who can’t pay their bills. There is no compassion for middle-class Americans who can only tread water their entire financial lives, never getting out of debt and never getting ahead. Eat, sleep and consume. Have you ever wondered why people are generally referred to as consumers? That is your default job. You must consume so people can make more for you to consume.
If you retire poor, society looks at you as a burden. This may all sound harsh, because it is. The person who should give a damn about your financial success is you. You have the power within to change your future. You have the power to put down the money crack pipe and stop feeding your cravings.
I talked with Julie recently who told me she wanted to kick her money habit but did not want to spend a dime on her recovery. When pressed, Julie said she had spent almost $100,000 using credit to fuel her consumptive habit and now she wants a free solution? Silly. Some complex issues require an investment of time and money to find a solution that works for you. Imagine needing a filling in a tooth and finding a self-help book to show you how to do it. Would you whip out your new cordless drill, shank up a brilliant titanium bit and drill away? I hope not. However, I do know of a couple that yanked the braces off their kids’ teeth with a pair of needle nose pliers rather than take them to the orthodontist because they did not want to pay for proper care.
You will only handle your finances better when you discuss the underlying issues that cause your money to get out of control with someone who understands these issues.
Unfortunately, there are very few people who truly understand the depth of these financial issues. You really have to search hard to find someone who can help. It’s not a subject that most therapists, accountants, bankers, lawyers or credit counselors truly understand.
The good news is that there is hope and there is help. If you find that in reading this book you uncover some emotional issues, seek help for those issues. It can be just that simple. A financial retreat, classes that prompt you to think about your issues with money or therapy can be a blessing for many to explore the “you” within and that can be very meaningful. Rather than stumbling around, seek help to find your path.
Maybe you feel bad about the way you use money in your life. Frankly, you are beating yourself up for nothing. First, that was in the past and right now you can begin your new life. Second, a lot of your money behavior still is beyond your control and you are unaware of it. You have to learn who you are first.
Our psychosocial framework influences some of the way we handle money, credit and debt; who we are; our environment and social world. Those things that subconsciously influence us — our personalities, behavior, the chemicals in our brains and even the neural pathways, which are hardwired in our brains, also regulate it. Now I’m not saying that you are a victim, I’m saying that there are many things that control you that you may not be aware of. The trick is becoming aware of these things and working to minimize their impact on your behavior in the future.
Life is full of hidden and secret signals that cause us to use money to medicate ourselves.
While you may not be able to completely identify those signals at first, you will begin to recognize them when you find yourself handing over your credit card or money to purchase something you really don’t even care about.
I once had a client who shopped at all the best stores. She bought wonderful items and often on sale. She shopped to feel differently. For her it was a cycle of self-abuse. She would shop to feel better because she overate, she would cut or burn herself because she felt bad afterwards about the shopping and she would binge eat because she hurt herself.
While every case is not as extreme as this, it does show where she was medicating herself with money as a way of distracting herself from the real issues.
One of her goals was to become wealthy. Do you think she will ever be able to unless she can develop internal prosperity?
As a side note, her car was often filled with bags from the best stores at the most exclusive mall. The bags were full of things she would never wear or use. She was afraid to return them for fear of what the salespeople would think about her. What irrational money beliefs do you have?
Then there are the cases of women who can’t stop buying things for their young children. These tots are always dressed in the most fashionable designer clothes and they have so many toys that they spill into almost every room in the house. One woman’s shopping habit has created a terrible strain on her relationship with her husband. The financial impact has been significant. He simply wants her to stop and doesn’t want to deal with much else. The more I learned about her life and spending, the more it became clear that her relationship with her husband was not very emotionally rewarding and quite difficult. One day she finally came out and said, “I guess I buy stuff for the kids all the time because they appreciate it and give me hugs. Since I don’t feel love in other parts of my life, buying the stuff for them and getting the hugs makes me feel good.”
Do you think she is going to stop spending too much money without addressing the underlying issues that prompt her to do it?
How about the guy who was a CFO of a corporation going public and could not stop day trading? His brain craved the rush he’d get from the big score. The big purchase that would make him $10,000 in one day. Unfortunately, that was the exception rather than the rule and he would go on to lose many times more, chasing his dream of the next big score. While he was a logical and intelligent gentleman, he could not see that his financial path was very unlikely to be successful. He was essentially gambling using the stock market, but could not see it since it was stocks, not poker chips. He could care less about what he was buying and selling, he only cared about the rush he felt when he made the big score. He craved the rush. It was a drug for him.
Then there are the many clients who gamble on their own home-based businesses.
Rather than address the issues within themselves, they attempt to flee their jobs to take refuge in the illusion that if they were their own bosses, they’d be able to make so much more money and be fabulously happy.
Bill started his own business and invested about $100,000 in it. Most of the money was taken as cash advances from credit cards, but some was essentially stolen from his stepkids’ college funds, borrowed without permission. His wife, while upset that he had done this, encouraged his new business because she thought it would finally make him happy.
Bill’s business was an out-of-the-box failure. It was not well planned; he had no experience in running a business; it was a true non-starter. Bill had invested in Internet marketing. He hoped to score big on the Web by selling products and services. He actually didn’t understand how the Internet functioned or how to make a sale. In fact, Bill hated selling. The reality was that Bill didn’t really want to start his own business. What he really wanted to do was to be distracted from his current life. I think the saddest part of Bill’s story is that he ended up refusing to continue his work with me because he insisted on keeping three credit card accounts open and available to him, saying he needed them for his next business idea. His wife supported him on this and angrily said, “What is he going to do if he can’t play with his businesses on the side?”
One of my favorite “it’s not about the money” stories is about a client who had been told to file bankruptcy. She had gone to credit counseling and had been turned away, as are many people. “Bankruptcy is your only answer,” they said.
If you are looking for the underlying reason why people get into debt and have trouble with money, you see things others miss. What everyone had missed was the fact that her money problems were not about having too much debt, they were about having too little income. I asked her why she had not sought higher-paying jobs over the years and had worked, underpaid, at the same job for the past 20 years. She finally confided that she was embarrassed about the size of her feet and afraid of interviewing.
Now, it’s not that her feet were huge, she was just self-conscious about them. Once she overcame that issue, she had a new job in a couple of weeks and made plenty of money to meet her financial obligations. Bankruptcy was unnecessary. Here are some questions and guidelines to help you identify unresolved money issues.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE MONEY PROBLEMS?
Ask yourself the following questions and see if you answer yes to any of them. If you do, you’ve got some underlying issues.
- Do you have repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop excessive money use?
- Do you feel alone or empty inside and use money to purchase goods or services in an attempt to feel better or improve self-esteem?
- Does your mood change just before or after spending money?
- Do you spend money as a way of escaping problems or of relieving stress?
- Are you preoccupied with buying things in an effort to impress or influence others?
- Do you feel a need to spend money on or with others in order to maintain a relationship with those people?
- Do you lie, minimize or rationalize to family members or others to conceal spending?
- Have you lost out on opportunities such as a significant relationship, job, promotion, or educational or career opportunity because of money consumption?
- Do you have excessive debt as the result of the inability to stop spending money?
If you answered yes, don’t worry, you are not alone. And you can begin to fix the problem. Read on.
Chapter 3 – Take a Lap on the Gerbil Wheel of Debt
Chapter 1 – I Got Hit in the Head With a Baseball and I Saw it Coming
Chapter 2 – What Your Money is Trying to Tell You
Chapter 3 – Take a Lap on the Gerbil Wheel of Debt
Chapter 4 – Why Money Doesn’t Make You Happy
Chapter 5 – If You Had a Million Rats, Would You be Successful?
Chapter 6 – The 10 Attributes of Internal Prosperity
Chapter 7 – The Attributes of Internal Prosperity in Action
Chapter 8 – Your Money is Your Friend
Conclusion – Listen to Your Heart
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