We all have money stories. Whether it's easy come easy go, or never having enough, or not knowing how to best spend it wisely, we each have a pattern when it comes to money. Money is a powerful source of energy in our world. It is a force that can liberate us; it can greatly empower and enable us. Equally, the lack of money ― or simply the fear of lack ― can also severely limit us.
If you are fortunate enough to be reading this... It's probably safe to say most of us are not starving. And yet, most of us are also not doing work that we find satisfying on a level beyond meeting basic needs. I have coached many clients who are stuck in an undesirable work situation ― which could be anywhere on the spectrum from moderately misaligned to excruciatingly miserable... And there is one thing that I hear over and over, as the reason for not making a change to improve the work situation; most often some version of the "BUT, money…" story.
We have many reasons why we feel compelled to acquire, earn, save, spend and obsess about money. Some of these reasons are practical and others are much more ego-driven. In my coaching, I’ve seen money drivers tend to cluster around three themes, or variations on these themes: security fears, identity attachment, and symbolic purposes. Let's talk about each of these in turn.
A hazard of modern life is that nearly everything can be bought or sold. Instead of growing our own vegetables and trading half a cow for a month's worth of rice, we pay for food delivery with an app. Instead of living in an extended family where grandparents = childcare, we pay thousands of dollars each month for a nanny or for preschool.
"When everything is subject to money, then the scarcity of money makes everything scarce, including the basis of human life and happiness. Such is the life of the slave — one whose actions are compelled by threat to survival. Perhaps the deepest indication of our slavery is the monetization of time." ― Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
In our modern consumer society, the monetization of everything gives teeth to our money fears. It takes our financial concerns and extends them beyond comfort and stability; with the monetization of everything, money becomes an issue of survival. No money, no honey.
I am not saying that you should quit your corporate job and move to a cashless commune. What I do suggest is this: become conscious of the money choices, big and small, that you are making in your life on a daily basis. Choice(s) is the operative word. Increase your awareness of the abundance that always exists all around you, and practice noticing the things that are already being given to you, without any money required.
When you start to see where and how you spend your money, and make those decisions more consciously, two things will naturally happen: First, you will feel more empowered to shape your financial future, one intentional choice at a time. Second, you will begin to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, which automatically attracts more abundance into your life. This might seem like complete hocus pocus. But I promise, it’s not black magic.
There is a logic to embracing some simple money practices and rituals. I challenge you to try it. Start tracking and categorizing your expenses. See what shifts.
The cautionary tales about money as an identity stretch back decades, if not centuries. The Beatles crooned "Can’t Buy Me Love". Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and his tragically unrequited love taught us something about the perils of conspicuous consumption as a courtship strategy. If you've got it, it can be hard not to flaunt it. Sure we know better than to be "all about the Benjamins." Ideally, and instinctively, we know it's not about the money...
Yet, it is undeniable that money matters. How we make it, how we spend it, factors into expressing who we are. For example, go to a singles event in any big city ― whether it is San Francisco, Sydney, or Singapore ― and most likely the first question that you’ll be asked is "What do you do?" (Subtext: "Who are you?")
Our identity can become so tied to what we do for a living, that we are led into the temptation to take how much money we make ― and what we do to make it ― and equate it with how valuable or lovable we are. This can manifest in many ways. When money gets tied to our identity, how we feel about ourselves shows up in the way we relate to money. Maybe we have a tendency to overspend in search of short-term satisfaction and validation. Or maybe we tend to undervalue our contributions, so we don’t charge our clients enough or we never dare ask for a raise.
It’s good to notice our habits for earning and spending. What does that say about us? What do we tell ourselves? You can weave your own story of identity, and as you begin to integrate more non-material and non-monetary dimensions into the idea of who you think you are, then you begin to release money’s grip on defining how you live your life.
We also use money as a token; when it comes to pursuing wealth, there is always the promise of something else that we’re hoping we can use money to buy. It is not the money itself we are truly after in other words, but rather the possibilities or the emotional states that it represents to us. We most commonly use money as a token of security or a token of individual value. And money can also represent other, more abstract things like freedom, respect or autonomy.
The question is, how can we overcome the blocks and limitations that our money beliefs put on us? It starts with recognition and awareness. If we can recognize what money ultimately represents to us, and then dig into the layers upon layers of beliefs stored underneath that, that gives us something that we can work with and start to shift. Once we see what it is we are trying to buy for ourselves with our money, then we can examine how it’s possible to access that feeling or state of being directly, without using money as an intermediary to purchase that feeling or state of being.
The voice of resistance in your head could be chirping now, "yeah right, easier said than done" or "this doesn't apply to me, I've got bills." Listen and nod to that voice. And if it feels true, say to that voice, "thank you for trying to keep me safe."
Here’s the question to ask yourself:
Is your focus on keeping you safe actually keeping you stuck?
This is not to suggest we deny or push aside the practical reality of money matters. Yes, we all have bills to pay. You have to write a check for rent each month, or maybe you have a mortgage. There are car payments, grocery bills, daycare costs, college tuition or student loans. That may well be true. And, it is also likely that you have more degrees of freedom than you fully appreciate when you are earning and spending and relating to money out of established habits.
Living in choice means cultivating awareness about how we creatively and consciously direct the flow of money into and out of our lives... so that it can serve us and our purpose better as it is flowing through.