With the recent hits to the stock market, I started to think about money and my relationship with it. For the majority of my life, I’ve been afraid of money.
I remember in college I was afraid to check my bank account because I couldn’t bear to watch the numbers ticking down. That certainly didn’t stop me from spending. Not extravagantly, but not in a way that could have been described as “responsible,” either.
I grew up with plenty of resources and wasn’t for want. My mother stayed at home to raise my brother and me, and my dad flew commercial airplanes. We lived in the suburbs of Minnesota, went to good schools, and participated in as many extracurricular activities as we could manage.
Still, there were a lot of negative emotions around money in our household. Fear, possessiveness, negativity, discomfort, conflict. It’s no wonder I had a hard time looking at my bank account later in life. Why would I want to actively engage with something portrayed as cruel, a hardship?
Only in my recent years have I started taking ownership of my relationship with money. I’ve come to realize that if I don’t change my story around money, money will not change in my life. I can’t quite write from an “I’ve got it figured out” position yet, but if you’re in need of some guidance while exploring your own relationship with money, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far.
It all begins with the story
Like my childhood reflections from above, think of how you were raised to treat money. Your story might be one of fear, of frivolity, of penny-pinching to the point that you don’t have any fun. It might be a story that money is evil, or is related to sacrifice, or is something that will remain just out of your reach, or marks certain people as better than others. There are endless stories out there, which means there isn’t one true story; there are as many stories as there are people, and we don’t have to keep the story we grew up with, especially if it doesn’t serve us.
Many of us have a negative relationship with money. We see it as a finite resource, one that creates a host of problems and we might compensate by being acutely aware of money, or being completely absent in our relationship with it.
In order to change our story, we have to think of our relationship with money like any other relationship. (1) If money were a person, how would it feel based on how we treat it? Would it want to come to us? Would it feel welcome hearing the stories we’ve told about it? Consider your money story. Take the time to write it out in your journal, then think about the experience from money’s perspective. How could your relationship be improved? How does your story need to change to get you there?
Money: Think of it as energy
I remember the first time someone told me money was energy, it shifted my entire perspective. I was living in New Zealand, hanging out with one of my girlfriends. She’d had a poor relationship with money till one day she turned it around and began educating herself, building a healthy partnership with money that’s been thriving ever since.
She explained to me what it was like for her to start thinking of money as energy. As a massage therapist, she gives her energy to others by working on their bodies, helping them find a pain-free existence. In exchange for her energy, they give her money. She then gives that form of energy to someone else – a farmer, say – for doing their work, into which they’ve poured their energy.
This was revolutionary for me. They more I’ve incorporated “money as energy” into my life, the more peace I’ve found both with earning money, and with spending it. My purchases have also become more thoughtful, as I consider the person with whom I’m exchanging my spent energy for their spent energy. I’d much rather support businesses doing good in the world, or locally made items, or craftsmen and artists.
When we think of money as energy, we also naturally segue to the concept of circulation. Money isn’t ours. (2) It’s borrowed. Everything we own in this life will not come with us after we die. We’re the caretakers of these things while we’re alive, but ultimately, they’ll be passed to someone else, or back to the earth. We don’t own anything; it’s all merely on loan.
Throughout our lives, as we borrow a lot of stuff, we also circulate money through our purchases. Money doesn’t stop where we spend it. It’s transferred to someone else, who then transfers it to someone else, and so on. It’s like a stick being carried from mountaintop snowmelt, down through rivers and eventually into the sea. Money is forevermore carried by circulation, by currents.
Unlike the river, we have a bit more control as to where and how our money will continue circulating in the world. Each time we spend, we make a choice, and those ripples carry on our behalf. We’re faced with a great responsibility, deciding how that money, that energy, should be circulated. The action doesn’t stop with us, but we’re the ones in charge of directing it with each exchange. (3)
With great power comes great gratitude
How often do we thank money for how it’s working in our lives? Do we bow to our clothes every morning before we put them on? Do we feel grateful when stepping into our hot shower? Starting the engine of our functioning car, or hopping on our bike and snapping a helmet to keep us safe?
In meditation and positive psychology, a lot of emphasis is placed on the power of gratitude. It’s what can turn a traumatic event into a life dedicated to goodness, change the wiring in our brains, even strengthen our hearts and immune systems. (4)
We can apply the same power of gratitude to our relationship with money. I didn’t particularly like making the bed, or folding my clothes and keeping them neat and tidy. I had my periods of being domestic, in addition to periods of allowing things to pile up until I routinely couldn’t find my keys.
Once I started implementing a deep level of gratitude for how money was already working in my life, I realized it applied to how I treated my material possessions in every moment of every day. Making the bed is now a gratitude practice I get to do every morning, thanking money for providing bedding, a roof over my head, a strong body that slept soundly during the night. The same goes for folding my clothes, washing the dishes, cleaning out my car, etc.
Activities that were once thought of as annoying chores are opportunities to deepen my relationship with money. Not to sound like a complete weirdo, but all these activities have now become thrilling parts of my day, and I have a feeling money appreciates it, too.
Being grateful for what we have is a way to honor how money is already working in our favor. It’s brought us the essentials of a happy life. Many of us now know that research has shown our base level of happiness doesn’t increase with more money after an income of $75,000. (5)
A number of world-class performers on the Tim Ferriss podcast have mentioned their baseline happiness didn’t change from being poor in college to having more money than they know what to do with in adulthood. Other lifestyle entrepreneurs, like Mr. Money Moustache, have built entire communities around living large with a purposefully minimal income.
All of this to say, after our basic needs are met, money isn’t what will bring us happiness, emotional wellness, or health relationship. All of that comes from our own internal work, not external resources. Part of this internal work starts with building gratitude around what we already have.
It’s not inherently bad to want more. (6) But it might cause problems if we haven’t already established a relationship with money that conveys how grateful we are, and how well we already feel taken care of. Then we can say: Hey, money! Thanks so much for taking care of my needs! I really enjoy hanging out with you. I think this new mountain bike will bring even greater enjoyment to the sport that’s already made me healthy, fit, and appreciative of the outdoors.
Who could resist that request?!
A call to action: This isn’t just about you
The majority of us have hang-ups with money. Even the word is something we skirt around, saying it softly or sharply, a dry, tangy feeling left in our mouths.
I get it. I’m with you, working through my clutter around money so that we can have a better relationship moving forward. And I don’t do it just for myself. I also do it because I want to be a player out there, living an intentional, inspired life with money as my ally, creating big waves. I want to circulate money in a way that feels harmonious with my beliefs, building things I think will make the world a better place, and supporting those in need along the way. (7)
Money needs us to step up to the plate. It wants us to wake up to the ways in which we’ve been abusing it, and instead, to choose a relationship where we’re fully aware of the various agendas we’ve been unconsciously moving forward. Keep in mind many of our money stories come from our upbringing. They aren’t our fault. But it’s our responsibility to change them so we can have a say in how conscious, intentional money can make the world a better place.
Even though it’s hard, let’s start getting real. Let’s get real with ourselves, our money stories, identifying where we need to make rapid progress. Who says it can’t be rapid, once we decide to change? There’s no need to feel judgmental of others or ourselves. Not everyone will be along for this inspired, abundant, grateful relationship with money. Regardless, yours will be the example of what can be accomplished when we put our intention and willpower together to finally overcome the debris preventing us from having the most amazing, heart-centered, passionate relationship with money.
If there were ever a love affair to have, this is the one. Make money a nice dinner, tell it how nice it looks, and start getting to know each other. You’ll be surprised by the deep, bountiful partnership you already have in the making.
Need a little extra push? Make a money related goal and take our 30 Days of Brave Challenge. Sometimes, setting intentions daily and making that a habit is the best recipe for change. Join us for free and see where you can take that relationship.