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Finance is often seen as a cold, hard, logical topic, but personal finance is usually a surprisingly emotional topic. We tend to be more emotional about money than almost anything else, which is perhaps why so many arguments in relationships revolve around money. In an article about being financially fearless, Prudy Gourguechon suggests the most important emotions in relation to money are fear, guilt, shame, and envy. Let’s look at these one at a time.
Most of us feel some fear around our finances. We fear not having enough money, not providing well enough for our family, not planning well enough for retirement, and potentially being a burden on family or state. Fear can be an ugly emotion, not least because it can look a lot like greed. Nasty divorce battles fought over money are often about one or both partners’ fear of financial insecurity or even destitution. There are also other forms of fear around money that are less obvious.
Many of us fear having too much money, though we may not identify the emotional turmoil we experience as fear. We are scared that money will change us, that our friends will envy us, or that we won’t know how to handle a big increase in wealth and will end up losing it all.
Dealing with our fears around money isn’t easy, but it can be done. Learning good financial skills and financial literacy is a good first step. Finances can change at any life stage, and it’s almost impossible for many of us to feel entirely financially secure, but being in control of our financial life can significantly reduce fear, stress, and anxiety. Financial counseling or coaching can help too. Sometimes we really do need to work on changing our core beliefs around money.
Guilt is closely tied to spending for many of us, especially spending on ourselves. Parents, and mothers, in particular, can feel extreme guilt when spending on small luxuries, or even necessities if they feel it’s more important to spend the money on taking care of their family. Some parents even feel guilt paying into their own retirement savings, rather than their child’s college fund. And guilt over money isn’t exclusive to parents.
Other sources of guilt may stem from having more money than your friends, or feeling that you don’t deserve the money you have, especially if you inherited money rather than earning it. Many people feel guilty about having money when they know huge swathes of the global population live in poverty. Others feel guilt around spending that money in ways that they know deep down are unethical. Guilt is essentially what we feel when we assume we have somehow let other people down.
To dial back the level of guilt you feel around your finances, it can help to try and look at your situation logically. The latte factor has been somewhat exaggerated, so you probably can grab the occasional to-go coffee without feeling you’re ruining your child’s chance of a decent education. We all need a little fun money in our budgets, and shouldn’t have to (or be made to) feel guilty about that.
You can also use your guilt as a little incentive to make the world a better place. If you can afford to, buy the ethical, sustainable, fair trade brands, or give a little more money to charity. Money can help inspire positive emotions as well as negative if used right.
If guilt is what we feel when we assume we have let others down, shame is what we feel when we assume we have let ourselves down. We feel shame when we perceive we are less financially successful than we should be when we feel our salary is too low, or we’ve made bad decisions around financial planning. It’s what’s behind all those financially linked “failure to adult” memes. And it can be very harmful.
Therapist Lisa Richberg, giving advice on how to judge yourself less, puts it this way:
“Negative or overly critical self-judgment has the high potential to lead to crippling self-doubt and stagnation. This stagnation has the potential to prevent us from taking action, learning new things, and accepting ourselves as we are.”
Feeling ashamed when we make a mistake, financial or otherwise, is natural. But it can stop us from facing up to those mistakes and correcting them. Shame can lead to a ‘head in sand’ attitude that prevents us from moving forward with an ‘I’ll do better next time’ attitude. I’ve written before about how the most important aspect of taking control of a situation is first taking responsibility. Accept that you will mess up sometimes, and make bad financial decisions, but often they can be rectified, and almost always they can be learned from. Cut yourself some slack then get back on track and keep moving forwards towards your goals.
Perhaps one of the most understandable emotions around money is envy, and in the internet age, this has become more pervasive and more complex. There was a time when we only had to worry about keeping up with our immediate social circle when it came to financial success because that was all we were really exposed to. Now it’s tempting to think we have to keep up with every random stranger (or long-forgotten acquaintance) we stumble across on Instagram. It’s easy to feel envy, looking at someone else’s life, vacation, car, home, or designer clothes, even though experience tells us that the lifestyle someone portrays on social media probably differs somewhat from their day-to-day reality.
There are numerous ways to deal with envy. Experts advise things such as gratitude journaling and flipping the script to try and find genuine happiness and inspiration in other people’s success. It’s also really useful to examine envy and acknowledge how much of a knee-jerk reaction it often is. It’s common to feel envy when someone is flaunting financial success, even when we know that we wouldn’t actually want to trade lives with that person, at any price. Money may be one of the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives, but having excess income doesn’t make us happy, and being envious of someone based purely on finances really doesn’t make sense for most of us.
Recognizing what an emotional topic money is for most of us, and slowly learning to dial back that emotion, can lead to a calmer, less stressful relationship with money, which can only result in a calmer, less stressful life.
About the Author
I’m a freelance writer specializing in online business, personal finance, travel and lifestyle. I also work as a content creator for hire, helping brands and businesses tell their stories, grow their audiences, and reach their ideal customers. I’ve lived, worked and studied in six countries, across three continents. Stop by my blog TheSavvySolopreneur.net to learn how to run your own (very) small business on your own terms. You can also connect with me at my website KarenBanes.com or follow me on Medium.com.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.