For years, my fear around money went something like this: I’d want to do something special, like take a vacation. I’d save the money to do it, and then, when it was time to pull the trigger ... I’d get really, really afraid. It wasn’t a fear that I didn’t have enough saved — it was a fear that once the money was spent, it was gone.
Growing up without a lot of money, I’d experienced food insecurity and knew what it was like to have a car break down by the side of the road or creditors call about unpaid bills. As I got older, I always assumed that someday, when I had enough cash saved, I’d finally treat myself to the things that I had always desired.
It was only after I was unable to actually spend money on myself that I realized something important: My fear wasn’t about the money.
If you've achieved financial security and are still afraid to spend, the fear of not having enough is usually indicative of a fear that you are not enough. You're actually afraid that you don’t have what it takes to withstand hard times. There are, of course, circumstances in which people genuinely do not have enough money. But in cases like mine, the fear is more a reflection of our selves than our wallets.
In order to practice courage with cash, I needed to stop thinking that once my money was spent, I’d be adrift without it. I had to trust my ability to recover from life’s challenges and create a new relationship with money in which it was used as a tool, not a rigidly grasped security blanket.
Here is a five-step process that I use to practice courage when spending money. May it help you do the same.
1. Notice when you can appreciate the things you buy.
Let's say you usually grumble about paying your electricity bill. Instead of fussing about its cost, try to appreciate the mere fact that your electricity exists — that people with a lot of capital have put time and effort into all of the systems that are regularly delivering it to your home. Practice the same authentic appreciation exercise with other things that you're paying for — like food and the roof over your head.
2. Identify when you resent what you buy.
Did you borrow money from someone, and now you resent having to pay it back? Did you overspend, and now you resent paying the interest? Did you sign up for a gym membership, and now you're bitter that you don’t use it?
See if it’s possible to turn any of these negative feelings into appreciation. If it's not possible, make it a priority to use the money you do have to pay them off as quickly as possible or cancel them altogether if possible. Life is too short to feel resentful, even with cash.
3. Identify your negative feelings about money.
You can complete this exercise using insights from the first two steps. Finish this sentence five times: “Around money, I feel…” Negative feelings about money are probably holding more sway over you than your actual bank account numbers.
Having identified these negative feelings, ask yourself when they first started. What experience taught you that this was how money works? With this information, you can fill in the pieces of your money story and decide which money approaches need to be left in the past.
4. Identify five positive feelings you’d like to have about money.
A helpful way to do this is to look at what you wrote for exercise three, and then think about what its opposites are. If you wrote, “Around money, I feel afraid,” then consider “Around money, I feel confident.”
Write these opposites down, place them somewhere visible, and speak them aloud, regularly. Admittedly, I felt silly when I first tried this practice, but it helped me confront the ways that I assumed my negative attitudes about money were more legitimate than the possibility of feeling good about it.
5. Spend one week intentionally feeling those alternative feelings.
Remind yourself of your intent when you're holding money, using your credit card, or making a purchasing decision. Close your eyes for a moment and actually practice feeling or visualizing, “Around money, I feel confident.” Whatever your positive money feelings are, find ways to intentionally practice them.
I’m not suggesting that you should go out and mindlessly spend, but I'm encouraging you to look for ways to manifest the positive feelings you desire. For example, practicing “confidence around money” can look like paying bills while taking a moment to appreciate each collector: the electric company that provides electricity, the day care center that delivers your children back to you each day, safely.
Through intentionally creating these feelings, you’ll feel more powerful to craft your own experience of the world. You'll come to see that you are enough, that you do have the capacity to withstand any financial challenge, and that you (like each of us) are just a human being doing your best.
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