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​Three Ways To Heal Your Relationship With Money

​Three Ways To Heal Your Relationship With Money

Have you ever wondered WHY you think about money the way you do? Why your heart beats a little faster when you consider buying a pair of shoes you don’t really "need?" Or why your grocery bill causes you to second guess your weekly food choices?

Where do these anxieties and concerns come from? And how can you alleviate them?

I believe the answer lies in one word: trauma.

I believe every single one of us has trauma around our relationship with wealth and money.

And this trauma leads to a broken relationship with money – a relationship that, as adults, we need to heal in order to live as full a life as possible.

I believe there are three steps you need to take to heal your relationship with money – and that’s what we’ll be exploring together.

Part 1.

Acknowledge you have issues, concerns, fears, and deeply buried trauma around money.

I KNOW that I have trauma around money, and I’m a financial advisor! I’ve dedicated my adult life to understanding the intricacies of financial management and wealth planning, and I believe, strongly, that trauma experienced when we are young lingers well into adulthood and seriously damages our relationship with money.

Now, I’m not a counselor or a therapist. But I’ve seen counselors and therapists personally, I’ve read books about trauma, and I hear about trauma every day with my clients.

Trauma is deeply rooted in what happens when you are largely dependent on others for every single thing in your life – so, it’s rooted in your childhood and in what you see, hear, and learn to believe as a kid.

For example, if you’re told, as a kid, that you’re “spoiled” or “wasteful,” what are the kinds of messages you share with yourself now, as an adult? As a child, you don’t have the capacity to really assess that information and take it for what it is; it just comes down as “something is wrong with me,” “I am not good,” “I am a bad person.” And, boom: trauma is created. (Caveat: I am not a trauma expert, but this is how I see it).

As an adult, you look at this and think, “But I know that is not true! I understand that is not accurate!” And yet…it lingers.

For example, sometimes I’m afraid to look at my bank account because I fear there’s no money in it (which is not a real fear). Sometimes, I feel guilty about spending money when I go to the grocery store…or when I buy myself something I don’t “need.” Or, I shame myself because I didn’t keep track of everything I was spending over the last week.

That’s trauma.

For you, trauma around money might look like:

  • Having a lot of money in a savings account (more than the recommended “cushion”) and not being willing to invest it because you’re afraid you won’t have money if something goes wrong.
  • Not doing your taxes or waiting until the very last minute because you don’t want to have to look at every statement you’ve collected; after all, if you look at everything, what if there’s “not enough?”
  • Lying to yourself and creating stories that just aren’t true about your financial situation: “I can’t afford to buy healthy food” or “I have the capacity to buy a new car right now – I will just pay it off.”
  • Sticking your head in the sand and truly believing that if you can’t see it, if you don’t think about it, it’s not a problem.

There are a lot of ways trauma shows up in our financial management – and in our financial wellbeing, too. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing what messages we’ve internalized that no longer serve us today; in other words, how can we align what we have and what we spend with how we take care of ourselves and how we want to move through our lives.

And it’s not always easy to flex our “take care of ourselves” muscles, especially if we have other people in our lives who NEED us to help take care of them.

So, how do we heal our relationship with money?

Acknowledge you have issues, concerns, fears, and deeply buried trauma around money.

Break down your trauma in small, easy to manage steps. For example: Maybe it’s too much to dive into a complete budget; instead, maybe it’s better to be mindful in the moment when you’re spending money. What does it feel like? How does it affect you? What’s your response to this purchase? Maybe – being mindful about what you’re spending and how it’s affecting you – that’s where you start.

Or maybe you just LOOK at your money. Maybe you check your balance every day – to track the rhythm of your spending habits. Maybe that’s ALL YOU DO – bring some new awareness to your financial wellbeing.

So, acknowledge it. Recognize it. Feel it. Sit with it. Engage with it. Look at it.

That’s how you start to heal your relationship with money.

[Related: Be the Chef in Your Own Financial Kitchen]

Part 2.

Get clear on your values – how do you want to live your life? How do you want to move through the world?

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you don’t know who you are – and by that I mean WHAT you value and WHY you value it – it’s hard to understand, really, how to have healthy relationships – with your money AND with other people, too.

If you DO understand what you value and why, your goals, priorities, and dreams become more clear, more easily articulated, and, often, more easily accessed. Suddenly, with clarity around what you value, a path to achieving your goals opens in front of you.

That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? “Suddenly, a path to wellbeing opens before you!” Of course it’s not QUITE that easy. It IS doable, however, with persistence and patience.

Let’s start with where we ended last time. Once you’ve acknowledged your issues, concerns, fears, and deeply-buried trauma around money (step one of healing your relationship with money), it’s time to move forward in the world and move forward in your relationship with money by acknowledging and getting clear on the things that are most important to you.

In other words, it’s time to establish your values.

Your values are the guiding principles that you live by every day; you manifest your values in your work, how you treat people, how you spend money daily, how you see the world…clearly, your values are important! So, if we start thinking about our financial wellbeing from the perspective of our values…well, we’re then starting from the RIGHT point.

This clarity around your values helps to set up a life that’s not inundated by external influences; clarity around your values allows you to establish clear boundaries around your priorities and around your goals. Clarity around your values also gives you the strength to say no to things that don’t feel right and the power to stay strong in the face of intimidation and manipulation by outside forces. Being in control – embodying the internal voice you follow and listen to – is incredibly powerful.

Here’s the thing: Understanding what you truly value – what you are willing and eager to spend your resources on (resources including wealth and time and energy and … etc.) – helps create clarity around your goals, including your goals when it comes to finances and financial management.

So, how do you get clear on what you value? Well, consider: How do you like to spend your time? What “fills you up?” What brings you peace? What do you appreciate about your work or why do you work where you do? Why do you make the choices you make about where you live, where you travel, what you buy, what you eat? How do you get clear on what you value?

In short, ask yourself WHY.

And while that seems almost stupidly easy…it’s really not. It’s hard to confront our whys, sometimes…especially if we KNOW we don’t have an answer. Why did I buy that pair of shoes? Why did I spend that much money on dinner last night? Why did I choose to make this purchase over that one? Why did I choose to NOT spend my money in THAT way? Learning to ask WHY and answer WHY is paramount to understanding your values.

When we know who you are, when you know what fills you up and what makes you happy, when you know what scares you and what triggers you, THEN you can begin to align your life with your finances. And that is your path to your wealth being aligned with your wellbeing.

Let’s look at an example: I choose to spend a certain amount of money every month on physical fitness – paying a personal trainer for one session a week is part of my monthly budget and, let me tell you, it is NOT cheap. However, it represents something I value: physical health, which, for me, is directly related to my mental health. Therefore, since this is something I have recognized as a priority for myself (or, since this is something I value), I make it a point to budget for it and pay for it.

Some people talk about things like this as “self-care.” What they don’t quite understand, though, is that self-care is not the act of paying for a trainer or paying for a gym membership. Self-care is understanding and prioritizing that you NEED access to physical fitness of some kind in order to make sure you feel as good as you possibly can.

In fact, it’s the intention behind the act of paying for something that is self-care.

If I take care of my physical health, I am going to feel better, look better, have more energy to get through my daily life, and know that I’m doing what I can do to ensure I’m healthy and around for my kids and for my friends. Who knew paying for a trainer did all of this?

Self-care is powerful and VITAL. If I take care of myself in the ways I need to take care of myself, I am going to be strong, confident, powerful, and successful. If I do not take care of myself in the ways that I need to take care of myself, I will not flourish. THAT is the act of self-care.

And, frankly, it isn’t all about money. How do you take care of yourself when you wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream? Do you KNOW how to take care of yourself at this moment – do you know what your body and spirit need? Maybe you need to turn a light on. Maybe you need to get up and walk around. Maybe you need to meditate. Understanding what you need in order to feel happy, healthy, and safe is the same thing as understanding your values.

Here’s another example, money-free. Your car is filled with trash – leftover napkins, crumpled receipts, juice bottles, cracker crumbs, a now-unnecessary ice scraper. It’s messy. It’s cluttered. And looking at it every day reminds you that your life feels messy and cluttered.

So you decide to take care of yourself by cleaning out your car. You remove the trash and clutter, you wipe the streaks and smudges, you organize, tidy, dust, polish. You take care of yourself by allowing yourself the time you need to create order out of chaos. A small thing – but, in fact, something that is not small at all.

So how does this tie into your values and healing your relationship with money?

Like this:

  • If you understand what you value.
  • If you understand your fears and what triggers you.

Then, when you start to look at your future, you’re in a position to think about it differently.

When you have clarity around your values, clarity around what you know is important, you are able to think about your present and future from a place of knowledge and self-care. And THAT is an important part of healing your relationship with money.

[Related: Coping with Healthy vs. Unhealthy Habits]

Part 3.

It’s all about awareness. Look at it. Pay attention to it. Be aware of how you’re spending your money…and how that makes you feel.

Once you’ve acknowledged your past relationship with money, once you’ve gotten clear on your values and on how you want to move through the world in a state of financial wellbeing (and just general wellbeing too, of course), what’s next? Or, in other words, how do you put all this good (and often challenging) thought work into actual practice?

You look at it.

You engage with it.

You track it.

You open statements.

Maybe…you create a budget. Or maybe not! Maybe that’s too much to start with.

The point is, now that you’ve acknowledged your past experiences, now that you know what you value, it’s time to put things into practice and to get more active with your relationship with money. And interestingly, this might be the most challenging part of healing your relationship with money.

For a lot of us, the act of actually ENGAGING with money is exhausting and stressful. Opening your banking app to see what your balance is can give you a panic attack. Clicking the email with the link to your 401k statement might cause your heart to beat uncomfortably fast. Ripping the envelope open on your latest credit card statement and seeing the balance owed…shudder.

But the act of actually ENGAGING with your money is vital to healing your relationship with money. Become aware of what you’re spending – and WHY. Realize how your purchases make you FEEL during and after – what kind of knowledge or understanding might this self-awareness bring to you?

You’ve heard the saying “knowledge is power” and that is very true when it comes to your financial wellbeing. Once you know how much is in your bank account at the end of a pay period, you begin to understand how you need to allocate the financial resources you have available to you. Once you understand how much you owe on a credit card – and how long it’ll take you to pay that balance off – you start to become more aware of the spending choices you’re making.

It sounds easy, I know.

It’s not easy at all.

That’s where the work you’ve already done to this point comes into play – that work makes it possible for you to take this third step when it comes to healing your relationship with money.

Start small. You’ve heard that you need to have a budget – and, as a financial advisor and wealth manager, I can tell you that an active budget (one you engage with on a regular basis) IS incredibly helpful when it comes to managing your financial situation. However, maybe establishing a budget simply isn’t something that feels comfortable to you right now.

So start with something smaller – look at your checking account balance once a week so that you’re aware of what you have to spend. Make a note in your calendar to look at your online credit card statement twice a month – and make an extra payment if you can. The point is simply to pay attention, to be aware, to be “in the know” when it comes to your current financial situation.

I have one client who keeps a running total of her checking account on the calculator on her phone. Every time she makes a purchase, she subtracts that purchase from the amount on her phone calculator. Every time she gets paid, she adds that to the calculator total. It’s a running commentary of her checking account and she’s always aware of what she has to spend. This helps her feel in control of her financial situation, which in turn allows her to feel slightly less anxious about money.

Knowledge, after all, is power.

Once you’ve got a handle on your present financial situation, start thinking about your FUTURE financial situation. This one might be a little more daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. After all, now that you’ve clarity around your values and around the kind of life you want to live, you likely have a better idea of how much money you’ll need to feel content in the future. And this is where working with an advisor can often be beneficial.

Find someone you respect and trust and work with them to make plans for the future. Or, if you prefer to do it on your own, pay attention to the kinds of accounts you currently have set up – in other words, read your statements! Seek out the knowledge you need to confidently plan for your future.

Like most things, your relationship with money is never completely “finished” – it’s an active, ongoing, living thing, a relationship that must be nurtured on a regular basis. Once you’ve got these three initial steps down, though, I firmly believe your relationship with money and your financial wellbeing can become healthy and whole.

[Related: How I (Finally) Escaped the Confidence Trap]

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Susan Cevette partners with her clients to create intuitive and integrative financial plans built from their core values, inspirations, and vision. Her approach balances the unique context of individual financial situations with knowledge of current market conditions and the timeless theories of risk tolerance and time horizon.


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