How much cash do you carry in your wallet or purse? Chances are there is a certain amount you like to carry with you. Any more or any less and you start to get nervous. Your Financial Comfort Zone (FCZ) works in a similar way. Your FCZ is the socioeconomic level that feels the most familiar to you. It is that level of affluence or poverty that feels like home. The boundaries of your FCZ are anchored by a core set of financial beliefs and behaviors. You share them with the other people in your socioeconomic group; basic things like where you eat, how you vacation, beliefs about saving or investing, whether or not you do your own taxes, what kind of car you drive, beliefs about rich people and poor people, etc. For most of us, our FCZ doesn't stray too far away from our upbringing. We know the people, the language, the rules and the cultural norms. It feels comfortable.
Without conscious efforts to break out of our FCZ we will always be drawn back to it. This explains the plethora of examples we see in the news of professional athletes, movie stars, famous musicians, and lottery winners sabotaging their financial success in outrageous and mind-boggling ways. It also explains the tendency for everyday Americans to squander sudden money they receive in the form of a bonus, inheritance, or insurance settlement, as well as those of us who can't shift our spending habits after a decline in our financial situation.
For better or worse, our most intimate relationships help define our FCZ. Chances are you are no more successful than your five closest friends. Ever wonder why? Typically, friends are friends because they share similar values, experiences, and beliefs. Your friends agree with you on some of the fundamental facts of life. To put it another way, they share your delusions. That's why you like them. A move outside of your FCZ, either through a significant raise at work or a devastating financial loss, can put tremendous pressure on relationships. If you suddenly have more money than your friends, should you pick up the tab when eating out? Do you continue to go to restaurants with your friends even though you can no longer afford it? Do you vacation with your friends, even though they can only afford to camp while you would rather stay at a resort? Such situations create tension in relationships. We aren't taught how to talk about money, and we often feel shame for having too much money or too little money compared to those around us. That's why a shift to a new FCZ puts pressure on relationships. For those who are able to avoid sabotaging their financial success, many of their relationships tend to drift apart to avoid these uncomfortable scenarios.
In effect, a sustained shift in financial status often accompanies the need to run with a different herd, one that may have much different beliefs, behaviors or norms. The anxiety we experience when we feel a growing separation from our closest friends and family members can be debilitating. It can lead to overspending as we try to keep up with them or sabotaging our financial success because we don't want to be seen as "one of those rich people, who are greedy and take advantage of others."
Whether it is learning to live with less money, successfully managing a financial windfall, or positioning yourself to achieve sustained financial success, a shift in your FCZ may be necessary. Breaking out of your FCZ may require you to study the beliefs, knowledge, and behaviors of people who are already living the life you want. If your desire is to become wealthier, expand your FCZ by reading the autobiographies of successful people. Read magazines and the latest books in your industry. Join a business club. Go to conferences. When you are eager to learn you will find people willing to teach you. Ask someone you admire out to lunch. Pick their brain about how they got where they are. What magazines/books do they read? What education and/or training do they have? Pay close attention to what they have done, how they did it, and how they look at the world differently than you. If you believe what you have always believed and do what you have always done you will keep getting the results you have always gotten. Don't let your unconscious drive to stay in your FCZ sabotage your financial success.
Dr. Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP®, is a financial psychologist, an Associate Professor and Founder of the Financial Psychology Institute at Creighton University Heider College of Business, a Managing Principal of Occidental Asset Management (OCCAM). and co-author of five books on financial psychology, including Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.
You can follow Dr. Klontz on Twitter at @DrBradKlontz.
Copyright © 2010, 2013 by Brad Klontz