The Good Life
Mowing the yard always takes me back to my high school days when we rolled our $79 Wal-Mart push mower around the neighborhood hoping to make a quick buck that would no-doubt go to the neighborhood swimming pool or adjacent mini-mart. The dreams were big, and the budget was small. But we just kept doing what we knew, mowing yards and buying Dr. Pepper.
A few years before that, we didn’t even have grass in our front yard. The house we rented was downwind of a papermill that belched its noxious breath over our two-bedroom shack, raining down potash, so much that sometimes that it looked like snow falling in the summer. This caused the paint to peel and the grass to die. How I longed for plush green lawn instead of dirt and roots. Just a few blocks away, my friends had just that. Riding the bus home from school each day was a reminder of the contrast and what life might be like on their side of the tracks.
As I mowed today, the scene is a little different. My electric mower is quiet. So quiet, in fact that I can easily listen to a podcast through my wireless earbuds. This episode has me thinking. The guest speaker is talking about financial psychology, and I can’t help but appreciate her message, as it is therapeutic to my soul. The drone of the blades helps me untangle the complexities that normally imprison me from healing truth. And I realize in this moment that I’m free. I want to share with you some of the points that help me so they might help you too.
First, we all have early experiences and memories that determine how we interpret life, and we form habits and truths, which also applies to how we relate to wealth. This is evident in generations of people who knew hardship like The Great Depression when contrasted to those that were a product of more fruitful times. But it’s also diverse among various individuals. My three daughters have different beliefs and opinions even though they all grew up in the same environment.
Second, our ideas about money aren’t right or wrong. They’re just our thoughts. They can impede us or compel us. If our behavior isn’t acceptable to us, we should consider how we can change our thoughts and actions so that the outcome is what we want.
Once we have been honest with ourselves and drilled down to the heart of the problem, we must re-imagine what we want the truth to be. Saying “I’m good with money because I am saving every month into my 401(k)” is a great way to affirm yourself when you feel like you don’t save enough. Having a financial plan to prove you are working toward your goals is another good way.
That’s it. When we do this over and over again, we will eventually drown out the lie with the increased volume of truth.
Here’s an example from yours truly. I’m prone to spend money impulsively when I’m feeling anxious. So, I must ask myself why. One early memory of money had to do with being shamed for being poor. I felt that other kids were better than me because they were popular and had nicer possessions and homes. I felt that their families seemed more stable. Some of them would say mean things about my clothes or the house I lived in. I internalized this as truth, and therefore I depreciated myself. Today this can be a problem when I feel fearful of my future and want to soothe my angst by demonstrating my ability to provide for my family.
Because this has caused me to spend beyond what I’ve budgeted in the past, I have learned to do some things to avoid slipping back into this thought cycle.
For one, I walk away when I feel myself getting anxious or pressured to buy something. Usually if I can change the scenery, logic will prevail, and I won’t go back. But a smooth salesperson won’t want me to leave. Because I’ve been pressured into purchases, I try to tell salespeople up front that I’m not going to buy today, no matter what the deal is. I tell them about my rule, and they usually respect that.
I tell you this story because I want us all to think about what we tell ourselves about money. Money is more than just purchasing power. For some it can be like a drug. Others are casual with their cash and don’t even seem to respect it. No matter what your type, I challenge us all to self-reflect by asking ourselves the following questions:
1.How do I generally feel about money?
2.Do I make good or bad decisions with money?
3.Do I feel like I have enough?
4.Do I feel generous or stingy with money?
5.Am I protective or careless with my money?
6.What about money makes me feel secure?
7.What makes me feel anxious?
Take these thoughts, and work back to your earliest memories. How did you feel when you first understood what money and wealth were? How did this shape your beliefs and habits? How would you describe your habits today? And is there room for improvement?
When you have an accurate sense of yourself, you can then do something about it. If changes are in order, the cure won’t be instantaneous. What took years to create can’t be undone in an instant. Sometimes I get paranoid about our floors when we have company. This is because in my youth we had very poor flooring with stains and worn spots, and being embarrassed when friends came over. I still overreact today even though our floors are perfectly fine. It’s not something that I can turn off, but I can manage it.
As I finish up my mowing, I am thankful for what I have. My happiness doesn’t come from increasing my possessions, and it never will. But when I find contentment and love for myself, I find there’s nothing else I need.
No matter what your background is, I hope that you find something in this blog to help you or your loved ones to find peace, confidence and financial freedom.
Always with candor,