Whether we’re strapped for cash or mega-rich, our relationship with money can be a highly emotional one. A mere mention of the ‘M’ word triggers all sorts of complex feelings in many people. Why?
It may be because of the way our parents talked to us about money. Or due to bad habits that we have developed as adults. However, one thing is for sure. If you can improve your relationship with money you’ll feel happier and healthier all-round.
Financial decisions are always rooted in our psychology. Shall I buy this or not? Attack this money problem or ignore it? Spend for today or save for tomorrow?
These choices involve a tug-of-war between the sensible part and the emotional part of our brain. The emotional part may be our childish self. The one who wants to leave decisions to someone else. The one that’s scared of responsibility. Impulsive or even greedy.
Many financial decisions involve a tug-of-war between the sensible part and the emotional part of the brain
Giving in to the emotional side can affect our self-esteem as much as our bank balance. It leaves us feeling empty, anxious or even depressed. These feelings can trigger a spending spree or financial meltdown. Then before we know it we’re caught in a vicious cycle. My research has found eight out of ten women use shopping as a way of treating their moods, so it’s vital to seize emotional control.
In Sheconomics we captured some of the troublesome thoughts women said they have about money. Perhaps you recognise some of them yourself:
- I'm ashamed to own up to not understanding my finances
- I'm totally confused when it comes to making any money decision
- I don't feel grown up when it comes to money
- Money worries keep me awake at night
- I'm scared to face up to my debts
- I’m worried about making the wrong money decision
- I'm embarrassed about how much money I've wasted over the years
- Shopping is how I lift my spirits when I'm feeling low
How many of the above apply to you?
If it’s three or more you may be letting your emotions rule your money. The emotions that crop up most regularly are fear, guilt and embarrassment which, if not dealt with, risk harming your financial situation. A bad financial situation can affect physical and mental health or damage relationships. That's why emotional management is where financial management begins.
Frightened about money? Fear leads to paralysis so try these small actions to help beat it:
- · Trick yourself into saving by setting up an automatic direct debit into a savings account each month.
- · Subscribe to a friendly money newsletter so you are drip-fed with money matters (see www.sheconomics.com).
- · Confide in someone who’s good with money, own up to your fears.
Embarrassed about money? If you feel ashamed at how little you know or how badly you manage your money, try these:
- · Explore a jargon-free website (e.g. www.savvywoman.co.uk or www.sheconomics.com).
- · Schedule regular money chats with your partner or close friend.
- · Make yourself negotiate a better deal (e.g. on your mobile phone/energy contract) or demand a refund for poor service or shoddy goods.
Guilty about money? Guilt can lead to secrecy or pushing money problems under the carpet. Try these strategies:
- · Get a sensible money buddy. Shop with them, and talk through money issues too.
- · Leave your credit card at home. Carry only the cash you can afford to spend, no more.
- · Organise your paperwork into bold coloured files and visit them often.
As well as these, use some emotional reconditioning strategies to help bring the sensible part of the brain back into play. And continue to monitor your money emotions to keep them in check. Try to:
- Identify the emotion. Be as specific as you can. (Am I ignoring my credit card bill because I’m ashamed of buying that expensive make-up?).
- Ask where it comes from. The cause may not always be obvious. Is it a reaction to the present or a voice from the past? (My mother always felt bad if she spent money on herself, she made us feel the same).
- Challenge the emotion. Is it useful now? (My mother had to be frugal - but as long as I can afford it and budget carefully, I needn’t be so hard on myself).
- Connect with what you want. Think of a future goal not your current feelings. (I’d like to get the deposit for a house, I’ll feel proud to own my own place).
- Do something different to act against the emotion and change your feeling. (I’ll pay the bill, enjoy what I’ve bought, then budget for saving and spending each month).
Finally, for a simple financial health and free practical advice visit www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk
This article first appeared in Healthy magazine May 2012. Available from Holland and Barrett stores or via online subscription.