I’m paying the bills today and thinking about the price of the present I just ordered from the catalogue, the expense of the food for my geriatric cat, and the fees for spring soccer. I am starting to feel stressed juggling funds from one account to another. My old beliefs about money rising up again, threatening to maul me with feelings of lack.
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At some point a long time ago, I absorbed the belief that writers don’t make any money. Of course I know plenty who do. Many who pay their bills, live in comfortable homes, and even take a vacation now and again—and I am one of them.
But, for decades I’ve held an unconscious belief that sabotaged my real-world success. My belief was this: I couldn’t do the work that I love to do, the work that I am passionate about, and be financially secure.
That mindset caused me to pick the work over the wealth. I figured as long as I was happy and doing good work I’d have enough money, but nothing more. That belief, like all the notions we hold, created tangible results that kept me from ever building up my savings account.
Every time I would get the big job, or finish up the lucrative project, business would dry up. This created a lifestyle of enough, and I did live within my means, but there was nothing left over. I felt worn living month-to-month. I had big beliefs and ideas about money and I needed to change them if I was ever going to get ahead and feel better.
How Ideas About Money Keep Us Trapped
Numerous studies by Kathleen Vohs and other researchers indicate that just thinking about money causes negative feelings to bloom in most people. We have this weird psychological connection to money. It's like a toxic relationship: we don’t want to be in it, don't want to be without it.
Those negative thoughts about money cause us to become a bit anti-social and make us less likely to help others. Though most of us value philanthropy and freedom—our beliefs about money often keep us worried and trapped. We become miserly rather than generous and feel stuck rather than free. This conspires to make us unhappy and we even feel poorer than we actually are.
There are several ways, though, that we can alter our habits and beliefs around money to end the emotional entrapment. Here are a few that worked for me.
1. Celebrate paying the bills. The roof began leaking just before winter a couple of years ago and I was distraught. We covered the cost with our vacation money and a small loan. On the day the roof was done, my husband took me outside, put his arm around me and looked up at the gray composite. “Well, there it is,” he said laughing, “Enjoy your vacation.”
And in that second something shifted. Though, it was a bummer we had to buy a roof, it was so great that we had one. A roof over our head. A home. A warm, safe place to live and when I realized that—gratitude flowed.
It reminded me to celebrate everything we have. To appreciate the fact that we have jobs and that we are able to pay the bills and have heat and food. Instead of feelings of lack around every line-item, now I feel grateful.The shift in mindset has eased my love/hate relationship with the mighty buck in a big way.
2. Buy something for somebody else. For years I felt constricted around money. I was careful not to overspend or do anything extra. I also stopped helping others if it cost anything more than my time. And I felt bad about that.
Not anymore. I still operate on a budget, because security is one of my values, but now, sometimes I’ll leave a bigger tip than I need to, I'll buy the coffee for a friend, or contribute to a cause we care about. It isn’t as though our financial situation has changed a great deal, but my attitude has. For me, the reason I appreciate money is because of what it allows me to do and one of the things I want to do is help others. I just feel better that way.
Research from Dunn and Aknin at the University of British Columbia has shown repeatedly that people who give money or purchase gifts for others (even if it’s a small amount like $5) are markedly happier than those who don’t. “How people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn,” said the researchers.
3. Don’t buy now and pay later. But buying what we want, when we want it doesn’t make us as happy as waiting and anticipating the purchase, according to research from Fred Bryant at Loyola University. Anticipation is a huge factor in our well-being. We tend to derive more satisfaction from anticipating the good things to come rather than satisfying every need immediately. So put off that next big purchase. Live in the state of anticipation for a month or two. Then, if you still decide to buy, you’ll be clear it’s something you truly want and you’ll feel good just thinking about it.
Instead of focusing on debt, lack, or the cost of the things you plan to buy, consider the costs of the beliefs you hold about money. Changing the way you think about the money may also change your bottom line.