“I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need, if I die by 4 o’clock”
If you are like many people these days, you are struggling with managing money and becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of incurring additional debt. In a time when credit card debt has skyrocketed and the average family juggles nearly 16 credit cards (according to CardWeb.com), when families are using the equity in their homes as a tourniquet, when retirement funds are drying up, the market has been fluctuating wildly and job losses continue to mount, we see more and more people who suffer from varying degrees of financial stress.
Money issues can affect more than your credit rating. Money is the number one thing couples fight about, and according to Citibank, the number one cause of divorce. Compulsive spending behavior can manifest itself like many other addictive behaviors, with lying, hiding and feeling depressed, anxious, hopeless and/or out of control. Money problems can even lead to criminal behavior in heretofore-solid citizens. Even more compelling is the fact that often money issues are passed from one generation to the next.
We see people who have major financial issues that are causing problems in many areas of their lives. We also have clients who could just do better with a more considered approach. We look to restore a sense of control and confidence that the client can handle his or her financial life. Since the true measure of wealth is how much you save not how much you spend, it can be effective to ‘detox’ from spending and see how your viewpoint on money changes. On the other hand, some people have trouble feeling comfortable spending money. It can be helpful for them to explore how it feels to loosen up a little.”
Sometimes people spend money to compensate for something that may be missing in their lives. They buy things to feel better. We have just come through a period of relative prosperity. Immediate gratification has been ingrained in our expectations. Our children are bombarded by product pitches everywhere they turn. Not fulfilling those expectations may lead to feelings of inadequacy, of not keeping up with the ‘Jones’.
Gamblers get a high by taking a risk. It’s the thrill of the action, the adrenaline rush, not the winning that may hook the addicted gambler. Some of us don’t think of ourselves as gamblers, but we may gamble in the stock market, rather than invest according to solid facts. Many investors felt a self-worth boost as the market went up and up, only to become depressed when their net worth went down when the high tech bubble burst.
Not everyone with a financial issue is throwing money around with wild abandon. Some people may be immobilized by the fear of poverty. They obsess about the cost of everything, which can cause trouble in their relationships with others and prevent them from enjoying life and each other fully. Obsessive savers stash money away for a rainy day and expect that there will be many. They typically are too averse to risk to investing, but may keep money salted away for the future while ignoring the present.
Some people just bury their heads in the sand. They may be completely risk -intolerant, or they may feel that if they ignore the issues of money, things will take care of themselves. Only most times they don’t, and bills don’t get paid, budgets don’t get made, retirement and insurance is not planned for. Like gamblers they avoid reality, but don’t get the high.
“We all have a relationship with money which we have developed over years. We may even have conflicts within ourselves about money,” says therapist Shelly Isenberg. “I might have a need to take a more conservative approach to feel secure, and on the other hand, it can be gratifying to act impulsively. Finding a way to balance different approaches to spending can bring great comfort.”
When it comes to couples and money, opposites often do attract. Unfortunately, that may mean that two people have completely different, even opposite approaches to money. They may have differing skills, they may suffer from gender or job inequity, which can breed guilt and power issues about money, or they may come from very different backgrounds regarding money. Many of our parents came through hard times and may have feelings deeply rooted in that experience. Some parents may have had others manage their money, and never taught their offspring anything about managing funds.
“How parents handled money, what was passed on, whether parents and children feel they got their needs met, all these issues contribute to people’s money style later in life,” says Scott. “Attitudes often can be traced back to upbringing, though people may either accept or reject their parents’ attitudes and behavior. Developing a financial autobiography can give you powerful insights.” See Below.
Couples frequently find that their upbringing around money causes one to be a spendthrift while the other watches every penny. This disparity can lead to resentment, not consulting with one another about how money is spent, inability to determine and reach financial goals, secrecy, lying and even sabotage.
If we want to change the legacy and have our children understand the value of money, we have to teach them. Children learn mostly through the examples of their parents. If they see us inappropriately gratifying our needs with money, they will embrace this approach for their own, or rebel in some dysfunctional way. The difference is that children cannot comprehend what is involved in actually earning money and paying debt, so they grow up expecting far more than they will actually earn.
“We want to work with our clients to talk more openly about money. This means learning how to listen to one another about what is important, learning about one another’s feelings and material needs and developing a plan which works for both,” says Scott. “Money problems in a relationship stem from lack of clear communication. Once the issues are on the table, we can develop a general plan for saving, spending and debt repayment. Although the initial adjustment to working together with a plan can be hard, once people get used to the change, they are happier with themselves and the other, and will feel a deepening intimacy in the relationship.”
No matter who you are, understanding where you are, how you may have gotten there though background, attitudes and behavior, and planning where you want to be can be a wonderful impetus to learning what it will take to be comfortable learning and employing new attitudes and behaviors around money. “It’s around money,” says Scott, “but it’s also around who you are. Ultimately, you have choice, you get your power back, you gain a sense of renewal and that improves your sense of self.”