image of hands holding an open wallet... an empty wallet
Image by Andrew Khoroshavin 

One day in my class, Maria shared her feelings about money, "Money haunts me...I think I want to live without money because I hate it...I HATE MONEY". We were all touched by Maria's words as they reminded us of the spiritual burdens that money managing can inflict on us.

After class I offered to help Maria deal with her financial problems. She hesitated to accept my offer, and I could see from the expression on her face that she was afraid of what it might entail. I quickly assured her that I wouldn't make her do more than she was able. I told her candidly that I didn't enjoy managing my money any more than she did hers and wouldn't burden her with guilt, judgments, or impossible tasks. All I would ask her to do was to let me help her look at her fears and try to make some sense of them.

Maria still balked, and I can remember the excuses she gave me as they were the litany I had heard from so many people. "I'll never understand money," she said. "My facts are meaningless" "I don't deserve to have money." "I never have enough." "I have too little to manage." "My financial position isn't worth looking at"; and the most devastating one of all, "I just can't do it."

Self-Doubts and Fear for Survival

Going home that day, I couldn't get Maria out of my mind. Her attitude conveyed the same negativity and fear that I believed plagued many people. I was sure it was this attitude that prevented people from managing their money effectively. My counseling has taught me that these anxieties are inextricably connected to our self-doubts and fear for survival. Many of us are terrified of handling our money because we don't believe we can do it well, and to do it wrong would jeopardize our very existence.

On a deeper level we know that money is not the source of life, but our egos don't, and they drive us to act as if it were. They imprison us in self-doubts and prevent us from tapping into the true source of our management power, our spirit.

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The most persuasive source of our financial anxieties was the family. From the moment we entered the womb, we became a part of our family's financial struggle and the financial anxieties that went along with it. To come to terms with our anxieties, we need to look at our own family's financial history and learn how we have been influenced by it. Then we need to work on getting rid of any of the fearful attitudes we've inherited.

Money & The Family

One of the most challenging histories I know of came from a student named Ellen. She stated, in part,

"My father was a professional officer in the army. My mother was a homemaker and mother of six children. I am the eldest. Money to my parents represented status, intelligence, good breeding, social standard, and privilege. Money was used as a source of control, manipulation, and power. If I was in agreement with my parents, money was available to me in a limited way. If I wasn't, money was withheld. As I was the black sheep of the family, I got nothing I deserved or asked for. We lived in an autocratic home. I never had a say in how money would be spent and my parents never discussed money with me although they fought about it constantly...I was emotionally and financially unprepared for 'leaving the nest', and now I am forty-seven and have no assets, home insurance, property or savings."

The financial control of Ellen by her family is an extreme example of what can happen when parents project their fears onto their children. In their attempt to control their daughter's spending, Ellen's parents were trying to cope with the common parental belief that kids are naturally irresponsible with money.

From the beginning of a child's financial life, parents start teaching management with caveats or rigid financial rules which, unless used compassionately, become fear-inducing proclamations that attack the child's self-worth. We all remember those parental exclamations at our requests for money:

"Do you want to put me in the poor house?" "Do you think I'm made of money?" "Money doesn't grow on trees." "We're not made of money you know." "How can you think you deserve more money when you spend it the way you do?" "If you ask me for money one more time, I'll disinherit you." "You are going to nickel-and-dime me to death." "Do you think you're really worth it?"

These kinds of responses are not necessarily meant to be hurtful. They are simply a projection of the parents' own financial frustrations. However, the anxiety they engender in a child can last a lifetime.

Even in families who are really suffering financial hardship, parents are better off explaining dollars and cents to their kids since they already feel the parents' concern and telling them won't make them feel any worse. In fact, the information will make their situation more real and understandable. Parents like Ellen's also may have not told their children about their true financial situation, because they may be scared that the children will try to take advantage of the information or inform others about it.

My experience with families who have shared their position is this: When kids know the financial facts, they are much more responsible about living with them and much less likely to talk about them. Moreover, if they are given the responsibility and basic skills for earning and managing their own money, they will have much less fear at it.

Money & Society

Ever present is the influence of society which has been sending out fear-driven messages that money is love, power, happiness, security and a commodity to be chased after as one's mission in life. These messages come from social pressures which push us to strive for selfish fulfillment to compensate for the emptiness people feel. Although our spirits may inwardly rebel against these pronouncements, we have lacked the force required to stifle them.

The disillusionment people have when they subscribe to these beliefs is devastating. They have built their lives around getting rich and discover that wealth can't give them the purpose or peace of mind they want. To illustrate, I am reminded of the ordeal my wife Lelia and I underwent when we tried to sell our house in Maine.

We were moving to New Mexico and had purchased a home there. Now you might think that I, being a personal financial consultant, would have had enough sense to get the proper appraisal to determine the fair price. Yet I didn't. I let myself get caught up in the broker's enthusiasm and priced the Maine house according to the highest price he thought he could get.

The old adage that greed never prevails came true again. We had to suffer through nine months of waiting before the house sold and, when it did, the amount was substantially below our original offering price, but at a price that gave us just what we needed to cover the cost of our home in New Mexico.

Since I believe that we were meant to move there, I'm sure if we had priced the Maine house according to the cost of the home in New Mexico, we would not have had to suffer through those months of false bids and maintenance bills. In retrospect, I realize we acted the way we did because all I could hear was my protectionist, competitive ego shouting at us to get the highest price instead of the still, small voice of spirit saying ask for what you need, and it will be given.

Why is the selfish, insecure voice the one we have listened to most often? The answer is self-evident. Our own self-doubts have programmed us to hear the fearful sounds that come from our family personal experience, and society. These outside voices are very persuasive, and to resist them we need to look at how they lead us astray.

The above was excerpted with permission from the book: "Money & Spirit", ©1995, published by ARE Press, 215 - 67th St., Virginia Beach, VA 23451-2061. 

Frederick S. BrownAbout The Author

Frederick S. Brown has been leading workshops on money management for over 15 years. He has a BA degree from Yale, has worked 10 years as stockbroker, 11 years as an investment advisor, and more than 20 years as a personal financial consultant writer. 

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