Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
March, 2000

Money Relationships

By Barbara Poole

    Recent news coverage of who tops this year’s world billionaire list puts Bill Gates’ net worth at $90 billion, up from $51 billion last year. When we get beyond just trying to conceive of how much money that really is, many of us ask ourselves the inevitable questions, "What would I do if I had that kind of money?" "How would my life be different?"
    One of the most emotional relationships we have in our lives is our relationship with money. We view it as a yardstick, an incentive, a source of worry, a critical factor in major life decisions. From an economist’s perspective, money is a medium of exchange. In Your Money or Your Life, authors Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin point out that we literally exchange our life energy for money, by virtue of the time we spend, and the situations we put ourselves in, to get it. Marriage counselors say that money is one of the biggest issues for couples they work with, and divorce lawyers will tell you that it’s also one of the major points of disagreement for clients who have decided to go their separate ways.
    In many respects, our relationship with money is a product of how we were raised. Think back on the messages you heard about money as a child: "Money is the root of all evil," "Money talks," "A penny saved is a penny earned," "Money is power," "A fool and his money are soon parted," "You can never be too rich or too thin." We grow up programmed with these beliefs, and are often unaware of how they affect the choices we make as adults. We also have fantasies about money, such as holding out secret hopes that "one day my ship will come in", or a rich relative will leave us a fortune. By holding on to these fantasies, many people find themselves postponing contentment. They think they’ll be happy when they get that huge raise, or make it big in the stock market. For many people like this, that "someday" never comes.
     I often ask my clients to write a "money autobiography" as a way of exploring their relationship with money. The object is to capture memories about money from childhood. How was money viewed and treated in your family when you were growing up? What did it symbolize? How were you formally introduced to, and taught about money? In what ways was money used as a reward? As a method of control? This exercise can be extremely revealing, in terms of helping people to understand the role that money plays in their adult lives. It can also help to explain self-defeating lifestyle patterns, such as why some people who appear to have all the financial trappings of success are never satisfied, while others who have far more modest means seem to demonstrate an inner peace and happiness.
    The key to reinventing your relationship with money is clarifying what really matters and holds value for you. For some people, an elegant lifestyle, notoriety and the ability to travel the world are meaningful and fulfilling; for others, simplistic surroundings, everyday rituals and ample free time with family are essential for true contentment. What this means is that it’s important for each of us to define success on our own terms, rather than someone else’s. It’s also important to build reserves of things other than money that nurture us and keep us well – things like time, love, friendships, and faith.
    Henry Ford once said, "Money doesn’t change men, it merely unmasks them." What masks are you wearing?


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