Money: Values, Behaviors, Habits and Change

saving money

Money values, behaviors, habits, and change: Perhaps there is something about middle age, or a pandemic, that creates the urge to examine values, behaviors, habits, and change.

At my 25th college reunion, I had breakfast with a college friend who worked for our alma mater, Davidson College. She had attended lots of reunions.

I asked about her observations of reunion attendees. She said something like, “At the 10-year mark, everyone’s comparing notes – who has how many kids, who has graduate degrees, what they did for vacations, what kind of home they live in, etc.”

In other words, their money values tended to be focused on status.

“By the 25th, nearly everyone has experienced some kind of life event, and they are a lot more mellow. The other stuff must not seem as important.”

So, values shift as life unfolds.

Values drive behaviors, which become habits. When we begin to question the behaviors and habits, we become ready for change. And that’s how growth happens. Eventually this process can work its way into finances.

Beginning to Examine Behaviors – Eating Habits

My own path to behavior change didn’t start with money. It started with eating.

One of my first experiences with behavior change was through Weight Watchers. I was 35 years old, 5’3″ and 15 pounds overweight. I decided that I valued being healthy more than enjoying unhealthy food. I lost 20 pounds and gained 5 back, but kept it off.

How did I do it? Tracking and accountability. Whenever my clothes got tight, I would write down everything I ate. This helped me track and change my eating behaviors permanently.

Ironically, tracking and accountability had come naturally to me with money. I wrote my first budget at age 9, and had tracked my money ever since. This made me a good saver, but later I learned it didn’t necessarily mean I had a good relationship with money.

Conversational Habits

Next I moved to healthier conversation habits.

The values of listening well and feeling heard became more important. I learned that “listening” does not mean, “Wait until the other person is finished talking so I can say what I want to say.”

Listening means to suspend all noise and chatter in my head; and reflect on what I am hearing. To eliminate the noise and chatter, I acquired a rule: Anything that I want to say while someone else is talking, I am not allowed to say.

Like any other habit change, it took conscious effort at first. When I think of something I want to say, I let it go, stay present, and listen. I found that, if I truly wanted to understand someone then what I wanted to say would have gotten in the way of that.

My conversational habits, and relationships, improved.

Money Values, Behavior, Habits and Change

My money habits needed improvement too.

I used to overtrack my spending and worry unnecessarily about it. This led to a habit of denying myself some things that would have been convenient, or just enjoyable. Then, like binge eating, I would splurge on something silly or outrageously expensive. Even though the splurges never exceeded the savings, it created big regret and self-criticism.

This roller coaster of emotions tied to money was one of the hardest habits to break. The shift came indirectly through other personal changes wrought through a divorce. Working structured programs with friends who shared similar struggles helped me identify emotions sooner and do something more constructive with them.

This education helped me write The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, for people who have difficulty spending their savings in ways that bring joy and happiness.

Examining is Easy; Change is Hard

It is easy to underestimate how difficult behavior change can be.

It’s normal to believe we can simply tell ourselves to act differently. We can “just say no” to cookies after dinner, to quit interrupting, or to quit worrying about financial things we cannot control.

Instead, it helps to have a nudge – a program, a structure, a new discipline, or an accountability partner – to complete the transformation from old habits to new ones.

Before you know it, with new habits, a lot of good physical, relational, mental, and financial growth will happen.

Enough good stuff to share at the next college reunion.

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Honey, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

Couples and money

Honey, ain’t money funny? Sometimes, not so much. As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when they were surrounded by hearts-and-happiness messages.

What can couples do to have a better relationship with money? Following are 4 ideas. For each one, it’s a good idea to plan a special fun reward or celebration at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may find your differences become predictable, manageable, and even laughable.

Idea 1: Try a Monthly Money Date

For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the “dashboard indicators” in your household finances. Agree to limit these conversations to about 15 minutes. A 2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWFKfF0vRQ.

Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the “real” date part!

Idea 2: Try a 2-Day Relationship Conference

No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days. What a buzzkill! Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes. Take a break for 24 to 48 hours and allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Share those with your partner by reversing roles – it’s their turn to simply listen and reflect for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours. Summarize how you both felt about the Conference. Then celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.

Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening

Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. This means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions without bringing up your own responses or emotions. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.) You do this by repeating back what you heard, checking with them to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn. Remember to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening.

Idea 4: Ask For Practice Help

Are there some money issues in your relationship that sound too difficult to talk about on your own? Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok; sometimes we need training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.

Remember when you learned to ride and then let go of the handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come. You know you’ve arrived when you find yourselves saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to our award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

For an online course on couples and retirement readiness, see the Simple Finance page at: https://my-simple-finance.thinkific.com/courses/retirement-readiness-signature

Continue ReadingHoney, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

What Is Financial Anorexia?

What is financial anorexia? Financial anorexia is a type of spending disorder. People who suffer from the eating disorder of anorexia may obsess about food and the number on the scale. People who suffer from the financial disorder may obsess about money and the number on their statement(s). For those suffering – and it is indeed suffering – from financial anorexia, they never believe they have enough to enjoy what they’ve got.

According to Ken Donaldson, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in Seminole, Florida, “Anorexia is characterized by a distortion of perception.” Someone suffering from the eating disorder believes they still need to lose a few extra pounds, when to everyone else it’s clear they are harming themselves. Someone suffering from the financial one believes they still need more money, when it’s clear they are depriving themselves.

While the eating disorder of anorexia can be fatal, financial anorexia can be dangerous to mental health, friendships, and family relationships. Think about how it feels to be with someone engaged more in extreme deprivation than in enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Where Does Financial Anorexia Come From?

Anorexia is fueled by isolation – the more the sufferer depends upon their own distorted perception, the worse their condition becomes. For example, Ebenezer Scrooge (in the beginning of Dickens’ tale), is an isolated penny-pincher and money hoarder. He is the stereotype of the financial anorexic.

Additionally, our culture still worships conspicuous wealth and Twiggy-like figures. “You can’t be too rich or too thin,” sums it up.

Most people understand the “too thin” part, but “too rich”? Is it possible to be “too rich”? Financial anorexics typically accumulate an abundance of resources. Their wealth does not come from a healthy relationship with money. Rather, fear is at its root. They might be “too rich” for their actual needs. Further, the more they have, the more they have to lose, or fear losing.

What are they afraid of? Fears might include:

  • that it will disappear tomorrow in a catastrophic world event;
  • a very expensive health issue;
  • hyper-inflation;
  • becoming dependent upon adult children;
  • “spoiling” family members; or
  • that self-worth will fall in lockstep with net worth.

Certainly some of these things can and do happen. Yet our societal messages, and brains wired to look out for danger, emphasize catastrophic scenarios past the point of their actual probability. At some point in life, many financial anorexics realize, to their immense regret, that they worried more about what might happen, and didn’t, than enjoyed what they actually had.

What Can Be Done About It?

Exposure to new information sources is one method of help. According to Donaldson, “New information will disrupt the pattern.” Support groups, a counselor, and therapy can provide external points of view. For financial anorexia, a visit with an understanding financial professional, who can provide concrete reassurance, often is a good first step.

Sometimes the new information has to come from, unfortunately, from a painful life-altering event. How did Scrooge turn around? By exposure to his past, present, and future if he continued on his course. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future showed him more to be afraid of than the fears he made up for himself.

At some point, it makes sense to ask a few questions:

What were all those years of saving for?

How much is too much to spend on seeing family or friends one more time per year? 

How soon is too soon to leave a stressful, unhappy job if it’s taking years off of your life?

What is it truly worth to take the trip (safely, of course) you have been dreaming about for so many years?

How much is too much to spend on self-care like a massage, therapy sessions, or a manicure?

What if the thing to be afraid of is completely unknowable right now and wouldn’t be solved with money anyway? What would change?

Working With an Understanding Professional

A 2017 study sponsored by the CFP Board supported the psychological benefits of working with a financial professional. The study concluded, based upon a survey of over 800 consumers, that, “Working with a CFP® professional ultimately removes the negativity consumers experience relating to their finances and instead elicits feelings of confidence, optimism, ease, and security.”

Confidence, optimism, ease, and security. Those sound a lot better than catastrophes, worry, and fear.

How do you want to feel about your financial future? Share your thoughts below.

Want more information about financial psychology? Sign up for our monthly e-letterschedule a call, or check out Chapters 1 – 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.​

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What’s a Holiday Spending Style?

what's a holiday spending style

What’s a holiday spending style? It’s the approach you take to spending money on others.

How do you decide what to spend at the holidays, and on whom? In her program, Money Habitudes http://www.moneyhabitudes.com, Dr. Syble Solomon breaks down our money habits and attitudes into several different styles. Here are how a few of those styles might apply to holiday spending.

Spending Style: Status

After earning my first real money at 15, I made a list and a budget for each person on it. A few years later, at age 20, I looked at the list of names, each with a dollar sign beside them, and thought “Yikes!” It could appear as if each person had a price tag.

At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was operating under one of Dr. Solomon’s six spending styles, the one involving “status.” In other words, I was too concerned what other people would think about my spending decisions, and as a result, I spent too much.

So next,  I made a “total” budget, and tried to keep track as I went along on how I was doing. Yet that didn’t work very well, since I could always find an excuse to break the budget on something to keep it “fair.”

Spending Style: Security

If you spend very little on others, and on yourself, because you are concerned you may need it for an emergency, you might have the “security” spending style. You might do the bare minimum necessary to get invited back to next year’s turkey dinner. Or you might find ways to celebrate other than spending money.

Spending Style: Idealist

Idealist – If you reject the materialism of the holidays, then you might give everyone something home-made, like cookies, or your own artistic creation. You have the hardest time of all styles making a spending plan, because you despise handling money matters.

Spending Style: Spontaneous

This style can’t wait to see what great ideas are presented each year by retailers. Perhaps you make a spending plan, but you have a tough time sticking to it because of all the fun temptations and opportunities to purchase the perfect gifts presented to you right before checking out.

Spending Style: Caretaker

Caretakers see gift-giving as a way to show how much you care about people. Your spending plan might be more generous than other spending styles (but hopefully not more generous than is financially wise).

Spending Style: Goal-Oriented

Your most important concern is staying within your spending plan. It may take you longer to get your shopping done in order to find the right gift-cost combinations.

What’s Your Style?

If you exhibit more than one holiday spending style, that is a good thing. The key is not to take any one style to an extreme. If you can make a spending plan that is wise for your situation, shows your love and affection for others, and still allows for some guilt-free spontaneity, you have probably found the combination that will bring you, and those you care about, lots of joy this holiday season.

For more on the psychology of money, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Or to schedule a call to talk about money matters on your mind, click here.

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Decision Fatigue and Shopping

retail shopping fatigue

Decision fatigue is a real thing. I discovered this poignantly on a recent shopping trip. The mission was simple: Buy a spice rack. I figured the best shot was at Bed Bath Beyond (BBB); a store I had not entered in over a year, much less at the holidays. I had a specific size and type in mind, so there was no doubt BBB would provide all the choices I needed. Little did I know that trip would be the beginning of the end of my day’s productivity.

Upon entering, I scanned quickly, bypassing a cart to stay focused on the single item I wanted. Smugly, I glided past the holiday specials to the kitchen department. Lo and behold, there were spice racks. And all kinds of other racks. An embarrassment of choices.

Because I like choices (or thought I did until this day), before long, I was nose to nose with shelves and shelves of plastic, rubber, wood, aluminum, and chrome gadgets, and doodads for kitchen storage problems I didn’t even know I had. It was an assault on my single-mindedness. More than once, something other than a spice rack caught my eye. At first, I had the mental wherewithal to ignore them.

Decision Fatigue Begins

As the minutes wore on, my brain was presented with dozens of items for which a decision had to be made. Does it look like what I came for? If yes, is it the right size and type? If no, move to next item. As this process continued, some strangely gleeful part of my brain, a la Martha Stewart, said, “It’s not the spice rack, but….is it something I COULD use? Hmmmm…it looks very handy. And sleek, too! After all….maybe it could make even more room in the cabinet?” The cabinet, of course, had nothing to do with the spice rack.

“STOP IT,” another Jean-Chatzky-part of my brain, said. “You are here to get the spice rack. Move on.”

Next doodad. Does this look like the spice rack? No, not quite. Yet, the label showed the entire matching doodad set in a fantasy-organized kitchen. Then that Martha Stewart voice again, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if my whole kitchen looked like this doodad’s label?”

“STOP IT,” Jean intervened. “You would have to buy every doodad like it in here, which is a) exactly what you did not come here to do and b) doesn’t even include a spice rack. Next item!”

And so it went….back and forth over a dozen items for fifteen minutes. My mental wherewithal was waning.

Finally, I found exactly what I was looking for and grabbed it.

Decision Fatigue Leads to Aimless Shopping

By then, Martha and Jean had gone 144 rounds. I felt drained. So why did I feel like, oh, taking a look around? Just to see if there was something I couldn’t live without? I got to the bath side and wondered what got into me.

To check out, I had to walk the gauntlet of holiday specials again. I actually pondered chocolates. That’s how beaten-down my willpower was.

When I left the store only $8.35 poorer, I felt like Rocky – beat up, but victorious.

I needed a nap.

Emptying the Decisionmaking Fuel Tank

Dr. Moira Somers, a decision fatigue expert, talks about the mental energy required to make decisions, particularly ones avoiding temptation. It seems we wake up each day with a finite amount of mental decisionmaking energy, like a full tank of fuel. After exhausting our tank, it’s free-for-all shopping, chocolate, smoking, sleeping, nagging, drinking, or whatever your personal favorite fallback behavior happens to be. That devilish irrational voice, (“it’s ok to have it this time” “I won’t do it again” “I can make it up later”) is most powerful when we’re depleted.

To make it more challenging, now we have online shopping. Savvy retailers are perfecting the presentation of temptations on our phones as well as they do in stores. It’s devilishly easy (and I confess, enjoyable) to click and shop.

Finally, stress of any kind (had a little bit of that the last 2 years?) burns fuel in the tank too. When we worry, we erode the ability to resist spontaneous decisions we later regret.

How To Keep the Tank Full

Some solutions? Plenty of sleep. Meditation and mindfulness. Frequent rest breaks. Having someone with whom you can share your struggles.

Also, put fewer decisions into every day by asking whether they can be:

  • automated
  • delegated
  • eliminated or
  • date-activated (meaning putting it on the calendar so it doesn’t take up space in your head).

For more on decision fatigue, see Dr. Somers’ work at http://moneymindandmeaning.com, or Chapter 6 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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How To Avoid Holiday Spending Hangovers

holiday hangovers

How to avoid holiday spending hangovers: How do you get through the season without one type of hangover or another? Halloween is now the second biggest holiday for consumer spending after Christmas. What used to be a couple hours of candy collection with a homemade costume and a paper grocery bag is now practically a national holiday. More candy is consumed. More costumes are purchased. Yard decorations have grown to need extension cords with extensions. When it’s all over, where does all the stuff go? In the attic, the garage, the storage unit, or the garbage? Thus, the Halloween spending hangover starts with stuff.

Next comes Thanksgiving, where we stuff ourselves with, literally, stuffing. We stuff our brains with football and TV. Some families stuff all of the important conversations for the past year into a few hours at the table. The air is stuffed with emotions. Thus, several types of Thanksgiving hangovers start with stuffing.

And finally, Christmas, the king of holiday stuff. Decorations, trees, food, family, parties, gifts, more candy, cake, and alcohol can all lead to some kind of hangover. When it’s over, depleted bank statements and depleted emotions can cause the same headache as chips and eggnog. Christmas – king of stuffed hangovers.

What do overdrinking, weight gain, TV watching, family dynamics, and overspending have in common? Unaware, we are stuffed in over our heads before we know it, leading to regret later. How can it be caught before it goes too far?

Have an Awareness Strategy

To avoid regret later, it helps to have an awareness strategy to keep track along the way. For example, I joined Weight Watchers in December 2000. The best tool of the program for me was the daily journal. Logging what I ate every day had more impact on my diet decisionmaking than any other single factor. It brought the awareness to what I was eating. I lost 20 pounds by the next Christmas.

Similarly, when a group of experimental homeowners were given an electric meter next to their thermostat, they used 7% to 19% less electricity than those with outside meters. Another proof that awareness works.

Ideas For Building Spending Awareness

The holiday season often leads to a spending hangover. The most effective, and for some, drastic method is to use cash. But it’s not the most Covid-friendly method. Here’s how it can go:

Decide on the holiday spending maximum.
Take that amount of cash out of the ATM.
Go shopping at physical stores that will take cash.
When it’s gone, you’re done shopping.
Voila’, no hangover.

Some people even keep a separate envelope for each person on their list (kind of crude, but effective). [And my grandmother would have wanted me to add that it’s physically risky to carry around a bunch of cash, especially at the holidays, so be aware of your surroundings while using this method, too.]

What About Online Shopping

Increasingly, though, holiday shopping is being done online. You could use the same concept, but use a pre-paid debit card. This is almost like watching the cash deplete in your wallet or envelopes, but not quite the same psychological impact.

Credit Cards and Overspending

Using credit cards is like having the electric meter on the outside of the house. You never get to compare what you have spent to a predetermined budget, or to the amount available on your prepaid card. Psychological studies show that when used in stores, as the credit card is handed back to us it reduces the feeling that we have spent anything. Our wallet looks the same afterward. No awareness.

To build spending awareness and still use credit cards, sign up for a daily or weekly reminder of your charges and the current balance. (Not all companies will do this, tragically.) Then, transfer your charges for that period from your bank account. At the extreme, you might make 30 payments on your credit card over the holidays, but so what? It’s helping you avoid the hangover.

So if you are concerned about how you will get through the holidays without financial regret, plan in advance how to stay aware.

And a final Public Service Announcement: if you’re concerned about hangovers of a different kind, you’re not alone. There is help. AA.org helps with all kinds of addiction. Al-anon.org is for friends and families of alcoholics or addicts. Or, call a local Certified Addiction Professional for more one-on-one advice.

See our Resources page for recommended books on the psychology of money.

Imagine getting through January with no hangovers! You’ll be glad you did.

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Letting Go of Money Self-Doubt

Letting go of money self-doubt is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Sometimes these messages operate in the background, quietly driving decisions when we don’t realize it. Other times they’re front and center.

What does money self-doubt sound like? “I knew I’d screw it up.” “I’ll never be good with money.” “If I can’t manage my own finances, I’m a failure.”  “Why am I so stupid with money?”

Painful statements, these are. While sometimes spoken out loud, they are spoken silently far more often.

Money Self-Doubt Origins

Where does money self-doubt come from?  It could be one traumatic event or a repetition of harmful moments that lead to flawed beliefs about our financial capabilities. Without counterbalancing mantras like, “You’re still good. You just made a mistake,” or “You can do this,” the message delivered can be, “You’re a screwup. You’re a failure. You will never get it.”

Sondra (not her real name) is a highly educated and accomplished professional. Her parents came from Depression-era families where money was tight in their younger years. Money was never talked about in Sondra’s home, although she was given everything she needed. She grew up with the belief that her parents didn’t discuss it with her because they believed money was something she was not capable of handling.

Money Self-Doubt Results

Without realizing these beliefs exist, we allow th to influence what actions we take or fail to take. It can affect who we allow into our lives, and who we don’t. It can affect our choice of career. Or how we spend, or choose not to, on our own needs, wants, and wishes. Ironically, money self-doubt can lead to overspending with some people, and deprivation with others.

Sondra chose a career where she was assured a salary and the chance of a bonus if she worked hard enough. She worked longer hours than she wanted to. She lived minimally, foregoing many comforts and rewards of her hard work. Her dreams of having more work-life balance were put on hold because she never felt financially secure. In her personal life, she chose friends and partners who also didn’t talk about money, leaving a gap in her closest relationships.

Letting Go of the Messages

If you’ve been operating under flawed assumptions, and now you know it, you’ve taken the first step to reset your relationship with money.

What else can you do? Here are two suggestions to start:

1) Be aware of those who are too willing to reinforce doubt-based messages – family members, partners, friends, or even (especially) financial professionals. Instead, seek the company of those who say, “I am confident you can handle this,” and will work alongside you, not put themselves ahead or above you.

2) Be aware of body messages. Self-doubt, sometimes manifesting as shame, has a feeling to it – it might be tightness in the chest, nausea or butterflies. Breathe through the feeling and redirect your thoughts to positive truths. You are smart. This is something you can do. You got this, even if you have to ask for help to get started. Call someone supportive to talk about it.

After talking with a friend, Sondra decided to educate herself about money. She began to read books that explained things simply, and take online courses that took a simple approach. Patiently, she interviewed many financial professionals. The more she talked about money, the more confident she became. In the end, she found someone who prioritized her financial education and independence. She began to feel more secure, and consider a daring career move.

The Gift of Letting Go

Letting go of money self-doubt can be one of the greatest gifts we give ourselves to reach peace and security about our financial future.

For more on unspoken money messages see Chapters 2 and 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or this 5-minute video with mental health counselor Ken Donaldson on Money Shame.

For a short online course on how to speak “finance” about retirement readiness, see Simple Finance Retirement Readiness: https://bit.ly/3p3BkXE

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Accepting Gifts Graciously

accepting gifts graciously

Accepting gifts graciously can be difficult. “Oh, thank you…but I didn’t get you anything!” How often has that awkward response ruined a nice giving moment? We are wired for reciprocity. It’s hard to accept a gift without feeling the need to give one back.

For a long time I struggled with this. Sometimes I didn’t give gifts that I wanted to, because I was afraid of imposing an obligation with my gift! How silly. It took time to realize not everyone thinks the same way. Some people can accept a gift graciously. I learned that when someone has the desire to say Thank You, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, or Happy Arbor Day with a gift, a little gratitude is all that’s needed to make the kind gesture complete.

The Best Gifts

The best gifts, in fact, might not even arrive in a package. A few years ago, I wanted to give my Toastmasters group a gift, a final thank-you speech, to express in 10 minutes how the program and its members changed my life. The response to my going-away speech was overwhelming – appreciative tears all around. I gave a gift; and immediately, unexpectedly, got 30 gifts back. In my past, I would have said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t THAT good,” or found a way to deflect the praise. Not very gracious.

Instead, I soaked it up with as much grace, courage, and humility as I could muster. Because I allowed that to happen, the exchange felt complete. I left the speech on an emotional high, and I hope everyone else did, too.

Navigating Expectations

If I am moved to be the generous gift-giver, I check in – am I doing so without expectations, out of the goodness of my heart? There’s a saying that I bear in mind, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

On the other hand, if I am overwhelmed with someone else’s generosity – intangible, tangible, or financial – how will I handle it? How often can we graciously accept, honor the giver’s gesture, and allow the exchange to be complete, especially when it feels like a lot?

With so many messages about self-determination, independence, and not “needing” others in our lives to get by, it can be easy to forget how gift exchanges weave the fabric of our support networks – friends, colleagues, community and family – together. Handled well, exchanging grows and beautifies the fabric. When not handled so well, or not happening at all, the fabric rips or shrinks.

How Will You Handle Gifts?

Accepting gifts graciously pays rewards. Consider what giving and receiving this season will do for you and for those around you. With a plan for handling both sides of giving, we have the potential to enter 2021 with relationships that feel a little more rich and beautiful. Those are the best gifts of all.

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Does More Money Lead To A Happier Relationship?

“Finances play a role in determining marital happiness, and conversely, marital happiness and stability influence a client’s long term financial plan.” This was part of the conclusion of a study on money and marital happiness published in the August 2015 Journal of Financial Planning (the JFP study). Marital happiness and money agreement, it shows, are linked to a degree that if one is doing well, the other is inclined to follow. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Frequency of money arguments has been found in past studies to be a predictor of divorce.  This more recent study supports that conclusion, too.

According to another survey, published in June 2014’s Money magazine, of all age groups, couples in their 30s have the most arguments about money. Argument frequency declines as couples age; and moreso if they have no children, or no children at home.

Money Arguments have nothing to do with levels of income.

But interestingly, both studies show that money arguments have nothing to do with levels of income. Whether couples are barely scraping by, or living large, if the couple isn’t on the same page about money, more of it won’t make the relationship any better.

There are many tools and resources available for couples who want to work on a better relationship with money. One that I use in my practice are Money Habitudes(TM) cards, by Professor Syble Solomon. The cards help bring awareness to our money “scripts” and how they differ between partners. There are also too many books to mention here.  Email me at holly@hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com if you would like a resource list.

Sometimes Professional Help is Needed

Financial professionals can be of some help to couples struggling with money issues.  Sometimes a financial therapist or mental health professional is needed to work on other factors that contribute to marital happiness first – such as self-esteem; perceived control over one’s life; and agreement about chores and children – the two topics in the JFP study that beat out money in the top 3 for argument frequency.

There is no denying it – the relationship we have with money itself sets the tone for the relationships we have with significant others. It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to improve it.

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Money Worrier Or Money Warrior?

“Worry is the misuse of the imagination,” said Dan Zadra. Much of my life I have spent misusing my imagination, attempting to prepare for crises that never happened, only to be blindsided by the ones that did. I am a classic money worrier.

1987

The first unexpected financial crisis I remember was the October 1987 stockmarket crash. I was 21 years old, and had a small savings account and a 401K.  A friend who worked at Smith Barney in my building came to my office looking like Chicken Little: eyes bulging, sweating, arms flailing, yelling, and grabbing his hair. Although I rarely become that animated, I could identify with how he felt.

Change My Thinking? Right.

Later, I heard, if I didn’t want to worry so much, all I had to do was change my thinking. Easier said than done, for me. It’s taken at least 10 years to begin to grasp how to think like a warrior instead of a worrier.

When it comes to money, there is ample soil for worries to root. To list all the ones I’ve had myself, and heard in my office, would take a whole book, but the most common ones seem to be, “What if I screw up this investing stuff?” “What if I don’t have enough?” or some version of, “What will happen to me in an economic catastrophe?”  Worriers first imagine the worst. We don’t want to be caught unprepared. Yet now, I realize, it’s not possible to prepare for everything my worrying mind can create.

Think, Warrior.

Warriors are strong in mind and body, but they know that physical strength and mental energy are finite. Both must be used resourcefully. Wise warriors ask:

– Is this something I can do anything about? In other words, is it within my control? If not, I am wasting energy.

– If I can do something, is it clear what that something is? If yes, then do it or schedule to do it.

– If it isn’t clear yet what I can do, then I must wait. While I’m waiting, I can use my energy to imagine positive outcomes, perhaps even outcomes that may not require my energy at all.

Taking Control Of What We Can

Several years ago, I met someone whose worry was that she may not have “enough.” At first glance, it wasn’t obvious whether or not she was right. So we talked about what she would like to do in her life’s next chapter. Her burning desire was to leave the corporate world and teach yoga full-time. She had assumed that would be out of the question. We talked about what sacrifices in her lifestyle – line item by line item – she would be willing to make, and not make, to achieve her dream. After running several scenarios through the financial planning software, she was able to craft her own version of “enough”. Through focusing on what she could control – her lifestyle and spending decisions – she gained warrior-like confidence. Her personal economic problems didn’t seem that big anymore.

Letting Go

I find that when I put as much energy into possible positive outcomes as I used to put into negative ones, it’s easier to let go of the worries. And letting go is one of the bravest warrior moves a worrier can make.

Continue ReadingMoney Worrier Or Money Warrior?