Many of us grow up learning that, when it comes to money, thou shalt keep thy head firmly in the sand. See no money. Hear no money. Speak no money.
Then, for many of us, there comes a moment. A wake-up call. The realization that we must come to terms with this thing called money.
Sometimes, this call is unmistakable and deafening: a bankruptcy, an inheritance, a career change, or having a child. Yet many people hear smaller whispers, for years: quiet, subtle invitations, drawing their attention ever closer to this crucial, sorely neglected area of life.
One of my mini wake-up calls came the fateful day when my first student loan bill arrived. I stared at the minimum monthly payment in horror: How do people DO this? I thought. After briefly considering skipping the country, it hit me: I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room a day longer. It was time for me to finally look money in the eye and figure out how to make friends.
As I started the emotional and practical work of healing my relationship with money, I quickly realized: that student loan bill was the tip of a massive iceberg, and that monthly “payment due” amount was far more than a number.
I was coming face-to-face with my struggle to value myself and the education I had just poured years into, my doubts that I was smart enough to learn the language of money, and all the despair and resistance I had around concepts like success, maturity, and ease.
As I looked beneath the surface of my financial reality, I began to encounter the real longings and quandaries that had brought me to this “money stuff”: quintessential things like value, hope, and peace.
These were the real reasons I was drawn to this “money stuff.” These were the qualities I felt missing from my life, but that I sensed I could access and cultivate, if I kept finding the courage to continue my money journey.
I’m not alone. Over the years, everyone who’s walked through my door looking for money guidance has been chasing their own longings, just as aching and urgent as mine were. Often, they only knew the surface reasons that brought them to money work: that career change or ongoing fight with their sweetheart. But almost always, they could recognize those deeper, more emotional issues they were seeking to find solutions to through their money work, once I named them. “Yes! Clarity and ease!” they’d exclaim, with a sigh of relief. Once they articulated these deeper desires, the steps ahead of them along their money journey came into focus.
Over time, I noticed trends in these longings, and eventually identified eight key areas that bring most people to this deep money work.
These eight areas incorporate what many people are truly longing for in their money relationship—and beyond. They are the facets within our money relationship, skills in which we may either excel or feel our lack of education. As we heal our relationship with money, we cultivate these eight areas, turning them into reliable and joyful companions that may serve us in every aspect of our lives.
These 8 Money Areas are the gems waiting for us at the bottom of the iceberg, making the entire journey oh-so-worthwhile. While they show up a little differently for us all, it’s important to begin tracking these deeper currents, right from the start of this journey.
I’ve listed these eight areas in no particular order, as this journey is not linear. As you read them, you may notice a rush of pride with one area or a pang of longing with another. For now, please just notice and welcome these feelings. All of your experience—and all of you—is welcome here.
About half the people I’ve worked with have sheepishly admitted to me at some point that they have no idea how much money they’re earning, spending, and saving each month (let alone the total amounts of their assets and debts). A protective fog of ignorance obscures their view of their financial situation, and they’re desperately ready to slice through it—yet also terrified by what they may see.
Clarity might already be a natural financial strength for you, but for most people, looking squarely at their numbers is a Big Scary Deal.
Clarity asks that we take a deep breath, extend a firm handshake, and say, “Hello! Nice to meet you, money!”—perhaps for the very first time. This is Square One in creating an honest, engaged partnership with money. If you’re longing for this kind of clarity, but even reading this paragraph sends shivers up your spine, don’t fret: we will move forward slowly, gently, and with compassion for ourselves.
You know yourself pretty well. Perhaps you take your morning coffee black. You love ketchup but hate tomatoes. You forgive almost anything except an insult to your friends. In many areas of life, you are the expert on yourself: your strengths, your challenges, and all of your idiosyncratic patterns.
Yet, for most people, this intimacy stops short at money’s door. You may not know how you behave with money, what your spending patterns are, or how you really feel about earning. You may not know what your strengths, challenges, and quirks are around money. As with most things in life, when we don’t know what’s motivating our behavior—or perhaps even what our behavior is—there’s very little chance of it changing.
Intimacy with ourselves around money entails bringing a curious, compassionate mind to our behaviors and what’s motivating them. It means paying gentle attention to what we do and don’t do with our money, to how we talk about it, to our thoughts and the whole range of emotions around it, from subtle to overwhelming. This self-awareness opens the door to choice, transformation, healthy control, and an expansion of joy.
The language of money can feel like some sort of jabberwocky, concocted by a malicious madman determined to make things as hard and confusing (not to mention boring) as possible. Many people feel financially illiterate, and are understandably intimidated by this area of life—especially because most of us never received a real financial education, in incremental steps, from childhood on up.
Here’s the great news: the language of money actually isn’t that difficult.
If you’re motivated to learn, and (this is the key) practice patience and self-compassion as you climb that learning curve, you really can do it. You can learn how to use and enjoy a tracking system (even if you’re “bad at math”). You can learn what all of those different financial professionals do, and begin making long-term plans around money. You can make the whole experience pleasurable and rewarding, rather than another miserable to-do. Let me tell you: learning the language of money is crazy-empowering.
4. EASE AND PEACE OF MIND
As I have learned in my role as a financial therapist, many people experience significant stress and anxiety about money, regardless of how much (or how little) they have. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that almost three-quarters of people surveyed experience financial stress, and a recent survey by SunTrust Bank revealed money as the leading cause of stress in relationships. Couples fight dirty about money, even when they’re conscious, skillful communicators in every other area of their relationships. Money evokes a constant stream of worry for most entrepreneurs I know. But, I promise: it’s oh-so-possible for your financial anxiety and stress to drop way, way down.
If you’re seeking more ease around money, it’s helpful to identify the true source of your financial stress. You might be surprised. An overwhelming number of my community members have found that simply getting clear on their numbers is a huge relief: their stress stemmed not from a lack of money but from a lack of money clarity.
You might access greater ease once you’re consistently engaging with your money in a regular, ongoing, and conscious fashion. Or, you may achieve more peace of mind when you learn to flex that savings muscle, get some professional support with your taxes, or learn to greenlight all of your big emotions around money instead of stuffing them down. On a deeper track, many people enjoy a soul-level peace around money as they learn to trust the natural ebbs and flows of their financial lives.
There’s a reason I didn’t call my book “a guide to financial success.” For many people, “success” conjures images of external achievement: climbing the corporate ladder or a flush retirement fund. So many of us want to feel successful, yet have never taken the time to ask ourselves what success actually means for us.
Success is incredibly subjective, so I encourage you to discover (or create) your own definition of it.
Success for you may mean earning twenty-five percent more income this year—or it could mean gifting more to charity or feeling more calm and confident around tax time. An entrepreneur might feel financially successful when she’s able to charge the rates she really wants, and state this amount clearly and easefully to potential clients. Success might mean having safe, supportive, fun conversations with your honey about money.
Not only is your definition of “success” your very own, it is also fluid and dynamic, often changing over time alongside your shifting life circumstances, goals, and values.
Have you noticed that some of these areas have you jumping up and down, saying, “Yes! That’s me! I need that,” while others don’t hold nearly as much charge for you? In my own life, value was the big, big nut to crack, when it came to money. For most people, value is intimately intertwined with money, and many of our struggles with money are, at heart, part of a quest to find, feel, and claim our own self-worth.
If some of your patterns or discomfort around money stem from self-worth and self-esteem issues, please be extra gentle and patient with yourself. Value is woven from deep, essential stuff: connecting with our unique gifts, finding meaningful work in the world, shifting our relationship with power, releasing anger and self-judgment, and on and on. This is tender work that takes time. Please know that as you move courageously and compassionately forward with your money work, you are already taking steps to value yourself, your time, your energy, and everything that truly matters to you.
Some people arrive at this money work in near or complete despair. They feel trapped under a mountain of debt or think they’ll never find that career that actually feels good and pays well. Others have all but given up hope that they’ll ever be able to talk to their partner about money without fighting or shutting down. Some are convinced they simply “aren’t good at money,” and never will be. Many of us have “despair triggers”: we feel hopeless when our account dips below a certain number, when tax season rolls around, or when that one uncle asks about our job.
Hope is the gift of believing that things can be different. Hope whispers encouragement in our ear: “It can get better. It will. You can do this.”
Hope is practical, too: it motivates us to tackle daunting tasks, keeps us showing up to those bookkeeping dates and tough money conversations, and fuels our growth in the rest of these eight money areas. Hope cracks open a sun-drenched window in what looked like a brick wall. If you’re here, you have some hope. Each step you take forward in your money journey, no matter how tiny, will grow and deepen your hope.
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Take responsibility. Be self-reliant. Just do it!” Many of us grow up hearing messages like this and repeat them to ourselves for many painful years to come. One place where our culture’s love affair with this harsh version of individual responsibility runs most rampant is within our relationship to money. So many of us harbor the belief that we need to do this “money stuff” all alone. “If I don’t know how to reconcile a checkbook, there’s something wrong with me. If I can’t stick to a budget, I just need to grow up, already.”
We haven’t been taught to ask for support within our money relationship. Many people don’t realize this kind of support even exists—or, if they do, they don’t allow themselves to receive it. We simply were not taught how to relate to money (let alone acknowledge our emotions around it) from grade school on up.
Receiving some form of support is essential for so many of us: talking through our emotional reactions to our debt with a therapist or friend, plotting out a monthly spending plan or discussing debt repayment options with a financial coach, or even getting an accountability buddy to meet for monthly tea and money dates.
Creating a financial support team isn’t a shameful act that means you’re weak, dumb, or lazy. Getting help is one of the smartest, most pro-active and empowering things you can do.
Take just a moment or two and ask yourself:
- How does it feel, simply reading about these 8 Money Areas? How does it feel, in your body, in your heart, in your mind? Simply notice, here: with compassion and openness.
- Do you feel a rush of pride when reading about any of these areas? Which ones feel like strengths, innate gifts, or hard-won victories, for you? Celebrate yourself for this!
- Do any of these 8 Money Areas need more of your attention? Which ones are you longing to incorporate more of, learn more about, or get better at?
- What’s one small thing you can do this week to support or strengthen one of the 8 areas that brought you here?
Simply taking the time to check in with yourself and assess which of these areas you feel strong in and which you’re yearning to grow in is a big, empowering step.
Just by being here, reading this, you’ve already said YES to your money journey. Now, knowing a little better why you’re here (that is, which of the 8 Money Areas you’re hoping to strengthen), you can travel along this journey with a little more confidence and clarity.
And that? Is no small victory, my friends.
With my dearest wishes,
Note: This is adapted from an excerpt from my brand-new book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. Want to read the rest? More details and how to order your copy right this way.