Have you ever thought about your relationship with money? Is it healthy, unhealthy, satisfying, frustrating, or rewarding? Maybe you think it is not possible to have a relationship with something other than another human being. Well, with anything that we engage with, including money, we likely have some sort of relationship with it. The Oxford dictionary defines the word relationship as “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.” The key concept here is the way in which two things are connected. When we apply this idea to the concept of a relationship with money, we can ask ourselves: In what way am I connected with money? Do I try to control it, do I feel stressed out by it, does it make me feel safe, or do I feel empowered by my financial interactions? Starting to think about our personal relationship with money this way can enable us to consider how we want that relationship to look, where we may have opportunities for improvement, or what we enjoy about the relationship we have with money currently.
Some ways that you might consider starting, or continuing this exploration of your relationship with money are:
- Clarify your values: There is a plethora of evidence that supports the connection between values and decision making/behavior. All of us hold numerous values that vary in their degrees of importance to us. One way of pursuing the values that are important to us is through our behavior. With regard to money, we may not know what our values are, or we may have conflicting values that impose negatively on our values around money. Thus, taking the time to clarify our financial values can increase the likelihood that we will prioritize those actions and behaviors that support them, even when faced with conflicting temptations or values.
- Set boundaries: Sometimes we really want that fancy latte, those nice jeans, or tickets to that awesome concert. While at times those things are in the budget, and are totally worth splurging on, other times, making that particular purchase might be in conflict with our savings goals or budget for that month. If we can learn to set healthy boundaries and feel comfortable with saying “no” to ourselves, it can help us more effectively achieve our long-term financial goals.
- Make time for your finances: In the same way that we need to make time for our friends, partners, and family to keep those relationships healthy, we need to make time for our finances to ensure that relationship stays healthy as well. Only you can determine how you want to allocate this time, but make sure that you find a way that works for you. During this time you can reflect on your spending and savings patterns in the last month, you can journal about how your recent spending and savings habits have aligned or not aligned with your values, or you can meet with a financial advisor to discuss your financial goals and strategize about how you might best meet those goals.
- Set goals and strive for (personal) growth: Relationships are not a stagnant thing, rather they are dynamic and always changing. So, if personal financial growth is important to you, then make sure to take the steps to make it happen. One step could include setting concrete, measureable, and achievable goals. Setting realistic goals is important so that we can set ourselves up for success. If we start with goals that are unrealistic (i.e. I want to save $30,000 this year, but my annual income is $50,000) we may have trouble achieving those goals, which can lead to frustration and disappointment. Personal is a key word here; we must keep the focus on ourselves and our own goals. Comparing yourselves to others and measuring your success against theirs can be defeating and fruitless. We must remember that we are all coming from different financial backgrounds and starting points. Making progress is what is important, and we can do that relative to our own history and personal goals.
- Do not do it alone (unless you prefer to): Some people prefer to do things alone, and that is great. However, if you feel like you would like more support, guidance, or feedback about developing your financial relationship, there are many resources that can help you do so. Some include meeting with a professional financial advisor or banker, talking with people whom you trust about finances, and going to a community group or workshop about financial topics you are interested in, among others. However, make sure that you do not simply trust anything told to you about financial topics, because there are many differing views and opinions out there that may or may not be the best fit for you. But, do know that improving your relationship with money is not something that you have to do alone if you do not want to.
- Be honest: One key aspect of healthy interpersonal relationships is trust and communication. This also holds true for relationships with money. Make sure to keep the communication lines open with yourself about financial choices that made you feel good, bad, proud, or silly. We engage in a range of financial choices each day, and thus it is important to reflect, communicate, and most importantly remain honest with ourselves so we can learn and grow through this process of financial relationships development and growth.
- Do not shame yourself: Lastly, and most importantly, if you set goals and do not meet them, if you make a financial mistake, or if you violate a personal financial boundary or value, do not shame yourself for it. Changing behavior and developing new habits is a process that does not happen overnight. Please make sure to celebrate the wins and learn from your mistakes. But, do not shame yourself for being human and making mistakes along the way.
If you enjoyed this post, and feel compelled to take some action toward exploring your relationship with your finances, try the following simple exercise (it should take no more than five minutes).
Exercise: Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and do a five minute free-write about the words, feelings, topics, and ideas that come to mind when you think about your relationship with money. Then, see how they may fit in with the concepts and ideas discussed above. This is a good place to start if this is your first time exploring this topic.
See what other people have to say about various topics related to “rightsizing” your relationship with money:
Shame– NY Times
Values – NY Times
Keeping the focus on your own finances– NY Times
By: Anna deRuyter, Prosperity Connection MSW Practicum Student