• Jill Hance Bakke

Money, Money, Money

The end of the year or at the start of a new year, it is always wise to look at your money situation and the way it is being used. This article is directed to that end.

There is no escaping the link between success and money, the effect of money in the world, or its spiritual aspect. Few people consider themselves a success if they have little or no money, although figures like Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates ventured a very different idea on the subjects of success and money.

How we manage our money plays a major role in the economy of our country, as well as in our individual lives. If you seek money strictly from the desire to make as much money as possible or from its opposite pole, the desire to escape debt and impoverishment, the ideas I will suggest in this article may surprise you. However, if you honestly consider them--they could improve your life. My competency to write this article is based on over 25 years of being a financial counselor. In 2017 I retired as Emeritus status with AFCPE.

My Money Principles:

1. Know my spending quirks. The circulation of money is a symbol for the circulation of ideas. How you spend your money reveals who you are. Are you a Hoarder? Is stashing money away your goal? Are you a Spender? Do you spend too much without regard to important areas like available funds for emergencies and retirement? Are you an Avoider? You don’t think about money, have not cut possible losses with insurance or a cash reserve, and don’t know where to begin in handling your money. Are you a Risk Taker? You want to make money quickly and don’t consider what would happen if you lost. A Risk Taker might be a gambler in the stock market or at the casinos. He or she might invest in risky situations of many different kinds.

2. Get rid of money worries. Learn how to budget, i.e. paying for the essentials first, saving some money for emergencies, paying off debts, and planning for retirement. Once you take care of the essentials, you can do what you wish with your spending money. Freeing yourself of money woes expands your consciousness. You are less involved with one element of life and better able to see the big picture. You grow and expand in ways that are not only personal but benefit all life on the planet.

3. Explore the ways money is used. The most common use of money is to increase happiness. The pursuit of happiness is probably the primary goal of every individual, but many of us don’t know how to use money in this way. We know what doesn’t make us happy: a job we dislike, a rift in the relationships we treasure, poor health. Finding what makes us happy is more difficult and often fleeting. For some, being stable with adequate housing and some money in the bank is happiness. For others, it is not having the obligation of a home, its upkeep, and a monthly mortgage. Everyone has a different happiness list.

Do you go on spending sprees when you are upset or depressed? We often think more and more things make us happy. But more and more things mean more and more upkeep for them. Our complex psyche is confused, and we rarely know what we really want. We move from emotions driving ourselves to buy one day and the next we are dealing with our rational mind’s need to get out of debt. The bills come in and we have overspent creating an expensive obligation to cover our purchases and accrued interest. How do we find our path in such a situation?

4. Seek happiness. Perhaps the first step in this conundrum is looking at what research has determined to be sources of happiness. These are love, contentment, optimism, gratitude, pride, joy, and excitement. Each provide different lengths of time for happiness. Joy and excitement are the most fleeting, but doing things that create these emotions can be immediate fixes to difficult situations. Focusing on a trip or vacation can provide temporary happiness for days and weeks before the event. A night spent at a concert or going to a yoga class can help you live in the present moment of appreciation and relaxation, but these too pass quickly.

The other five categories offer more lasting happiness. And while we are on the topic of happiness, please note “things” don’t seem to enter the formula at all! And some of the happiness breeders are cost free or inexpensive.

Gratitude is probably the easiest happiness breeder to cultivate. When you feel grateful for the things in your life on a regular basis, life improves; even health improves. I urge people to keep a gratitude journal or to at least list in their daybook three things that they were grateful for each day. It may be something as simple as the weather, meeting an old friend for lunch, or feeling healthy and alive that day.

We may tend to consider the “big” things in life: a raise, a new house, or a gift of a large sum of money as a source of happiness. And there is nothing wrong with being grateful for them. But these things may or may not bring long term happiness. It depends on how they are handled. A pay raise or a new job could be more demanding of you, and a fancier house may require more upkeep. If you don’t use additional cash wisely, that large sum of money can quickly vanish.

The key is to acknowledge your gratefulness even on days that could have turned depressive. Acknowledge that the rain that ruined your picnic will keep your lawn green and be grateful that you could see the beautiful rainbow. There is always something to be grateful for even in our darkest moments. Your psyche will follow what you feed it. Gratefulness leads to contentment.

And, the big happiness ratings flow from contentment, optimism, and love. It doesn’t take big amounts of money to find these emotions. Optimism means looking at possibilities instead of the negative aspects of your life. If you are going to have a self-fulfilling prophecy that is the one you should instill, not the “I can’t do it” version. Optimists minimize their disappointments and seek to determine how they can improve in whatever area they tackle. It is a way of living, not a one-time blast of energy. Being grateful makes optimism easier.

That leaves the topic of love. For many, a common search is for the “Love of your life,” but love exists in many places. It comes in an endless supply. Love of a pet and the love it returns is legendary. Supportive relationships of family, friends, and romantic partners enrich our lives. But love can’t be bought. Love is not a trophy wife or husband on your arm. Love is caring, being there for a person, and it is offered from the heart. If you have to buy it, it isn’t love.

You eventually fail when you try to buy love. I had a friend whose mother told her she needed to keep her beauty if she was to keep the love of a man. The friend drastically dieted and had many plastic surgeries: her breasts, a tummy tuck, and wanted at that time to get a nose job. The marriage ultimately failed, and the man eventually married a woman a bit heavier with all her own equipment untouched. And that marriage lasted.

When you are content with what you have and who you are, you have the feeling of gratitude for all life has offered. Focusing on the good you already have helps to find contentment. It may not be 100% but focus on the 90% or 60% or even small gains. It won’t remove the idea of obtaining more things to fuel your contentment. Your optimism will take care of that. It is interesting that contentment wins the happiness contest hands down and it leads right back to gratefulness.

5. Money reflects who you are. It mirrors a person’s psychological makeup. It shows up in things around you such as the stock market. Economist John Maynard Keynes warns us that all markets are psychological in nature. The stock market plunges because people get frightened. Eventually it rights itself.

Looking at where you spend money on yourself can be helpful? Do you use it for pumping up your looks or lavishly entertaining? That’s often ego based. Do you give a lot of money to needy causes or to help family members? That is often spiritually based. Do you live frugally so you can stash every penny in the bank? That is often based on fear. And then there is the selfish end of the spectrum.

I recall a client I once counseled who wanted to declare bankruptcy. He was well educated, had a good administrative job, owned a home, but had hired tradesmen to refinish floors and do other upgrades. His budget contained high grocery and personal expenses and even contained a set amount each month for DVDs, although he owned over fifty in his collection already. He was including the tradesmen in the bankruptcy instead of paying down his debt to them. His comment to me was that he was not going to be poor. The sad thing was he was already poor; such selfishness and lack of honor would keep him poor. His attitude over money disclosed a lot about him as an individual.

By now you probably realize that the money path begins inside. Our money reflects our psyche, including those unconscious drives that live in our shadow. People are more secretive about money than they are about sex or religion. They hide the topic of money because it tells things about themselves that they do not want discovered.

The more you can know and accept yourself, the easier it will be to handle your money wisely and become less anxious about it. I can’t give you a formula to live by like Dave Ramsey does because there is no one formula for everyone. To find a formula that works for you, you MUST take the time to know yourself.

Don’t assume you can manage your money like anyone else or try to emulate the life story of some billionaire. Your psyche has an abundance of fears, desires, wishes, hope, and plans that affect the way you view money. These “things” automatically reflect in how you manage your money. We all know someone who hoards his money and is afraid to take the slightest risk. There are gamblers who are always in debt, and there are people who give their money away. And there are other combinations and money personalities. Who are you? How do you think about money? What do you want to let go of and how do you go about it? Even that is different for everyone.

To know yourself is not an easy task. It may take years, but each step in that direction gives you freedom from many things that have held you back. Different people will need different methods to learn to know themselves and to figure out plans to strategize their money to their best advantage. That isn’t the focus of this article, and if I include it, we will have a book. But considering the purpose of money, how you react to it, and where to start making it work for you is important.

If you would like more information on parts of this article or resources for specific concerns that you should explore, contact me at jill@drjillbakke.com. I am offering free 30-45 minute initial consultations.

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