People always ask me where the money is. The other day, after signing off from my phone-in radio show, I opened an e-mail from a young Tennessee woman with just such a request. Her story struck me as both poignant and typical of what so many people are going through in their efforts to better handle their money. It went like this.
"It's been one of those rough years," Holly wrote. "I've had a shopping problem that my husband and I attacked head-on and have, for the time being, been able to control. I leave my credit and debit cards with him so I only buy what we absolutely need on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, he didn't get hold of my cards before I ran us into serious debt. Now we are trying to dig out of the $10,000 I owe plus pay off some costly repairs on our roof. I feel like I've laid my head on a chopping block and now the ax is swinging. How can we deal with debt? Who can help us catch up? Frankly, I'd just like to run away. I'm terrified."
I was particularly struck by this e-mail for one reason. Holly's "rough year" sounded all too familiar. I felt as if I'd heard about it, or variations on the theme, many, many times before from people all over America who also seem unable to manage their resources. Naturally, the details are different, but the urgency, and the sense of feeling lost about money issues, were the same. Consider:
• Peter from Florida, running a small, successful real estate firm who is consumed with worry about how to save for his children's college education.
• Frank and Ellen from New Jersey, who are living so close to the vest they can hardly make it from payday to payday while sitting on a pile of savings they are too afraid to touch.
• Maria, a devoted government employee from Alabama, living well within her means but feeling frustrated by her unrealized dreams.
• Sam, a California freelance graphic artist who is in demand but can't figure out where all the money he takes in is going.
One thing is true: People everywhere work hard and want to live better. Often, they can overextend themselves in their desire "to live the dream" and then get caught with bills they can't pay. Or they are doing well but live with the fear that they may lose it all-and may not have any idea how to manage what they have to improve their lives.
In more than two decades as a financial commentator on radio and TV, a lecturer, author, and Wall Street correspondent for Money magazine, I've spoken to and advised thousands of people-some successful, some struggling-on how to solve money questions. But no matter where these people fell on the continuum between haves and have-nots, I realized that I was speaking to many of the same individuals over and over again, people who were asking me for the same advice for the exact same financial problems.
Obviously, they were not following my advice, yet they kept contacting me! What was going on? I had to be missing something. At first, I thought it was simply a matter of answering greater attention to detail.
Determined to help, I would enthusiastically explore the details of their situation and offer carefully considered financial advice tailor-made for that person's income, holdings, responsibilities, and needs. Truly, it seemed to me, all these people needed was sound advice from an attentive financial expert for them to make some significant changes with their finances. But I know now that expertise alone isn't the answer. I finally realized that the "What do I do now?" to which I'd been responding with such optimistic fervor was actually only the first half of the question. The second half is, ". . . given how I feel about money."
I realized that for people to put into effect the best financial advice specific to them, they-and I-had to recognize and understand their complicated feelings about money. I began listening even more closely to the questions I was being asked and became aware there was an intense emotional subtext behind every comment or request for advice. Rarely were these words uttered exactly, but I could hear the emotional subtext-loud and clear.
• "I don't want to end up on the street."
• "I know if I take one more chance, I'll hit the jackpot and have everything I've ever wanted."
• "I feel comfortable financially, but I keep thinking . . . is this all I dare wish for?"
• "I don't know a thing about managing money, and whenever I try, I feel like a moron!"
It occurred to me that people ask the same questions about money because they tend to keep dealing with money the same way-the only way that feels familiar. That made sense, in its way. People also operate from experiences and messages given to them in their past and what they learn along the way. These influences clearly hinder how they deal with money now. This also made sense, and I suddenly knew I'd hit on my answer at last: Everyone's money behavior falls into definable patterns.
Everyone, including you, has some kind of "financial personality"- a style of handling money that reflects everything from the deepest fears to the most heartfelt desires to basic practical dealings on a day-to-day basis. The problem with the people asking those same questions was that they weren't looking at what they felt about money-those very powerful emotional connections just below the surface that drive their decisions. And so they continually make the same mistakes, unable to break away from their usual way of money management to find the prosperity or sense of security-or both-they all craved. Furthermore, this was why they couldn't follow or create a financial plan that might actually work.
I considered the complexity of the money-and-emotion equation, and knew I had to find a way for you to better understand your "financial personality." When you did, your fears about money would lessen and your strengths and creativity with money could grow. What could I do to make these goals happen for you? People came from diverse backgrounds and had different feelings, different values, and different personal histories. Clearly there wouldn't be just one solution.
I wanted to create some sort of simple process wherein I could help you, no matter what your background, beliefs, or present financial situation. I wanted to reconcile money information (what you need to know about managing money itself) with your money attitudes (what you need to know about your feelings and fears about money) so that you could emerge feeling secure and more confident about money, for now and for the future. This became my mission.
This book grew out of my determination to find effective answers to your money questions in a way that would be meaningful. The result is this guide to mastering your Money Type. The key to real life-changing financial success for you can lie within these types. I'll show you how very shortly.
First let's talk about money and what it means to you.
Everyone gives money all sorts of meanings beyond the value of the goods or services it can buy. Why do some people idolize money while others reject it? Why are yet others afraid of money or believe that wanting it is an unworthy or even shameful goal? Why do some people kill for money or kill themselves if they lose it all? Why do close relatives, spouses, or friends become enemies over one's "rightful share" of the money?
The answers are within every life story-the way your answers can be found within your story. Maybe your parents were stingy with you or generous to a fault. Perhaps you were told that life is tough, money is limited, and that you should be grateful for the money you get. Then again, maybe you were raised to believe that the world was bountiful and that the bounty would have your name on it.
Whatever you were told and whatever you believe, no matter how contradictory, one thing is true for all of us: Money is never just money but a repository for our deepest fears, doubts, insecurities, anxieties, aggressive impulses, and even sense of self. All these feelings can influence and even dominate how you manage money. There is always an emotional component to money. When you think about money, how do you feel? Deserving, powerful, confused, secure, happy, insatiable, entitled, guilty, corrupt, fearful?
More important, your attitudes about money can affect and drive your financial aspirations. If, for example, you have a strong conviction that you will always have money, you'll do everything you can to earn more or take the kind of investment risks that will provide financial prosperity. I recently spoke to a woman who said she figured out that she had "ten pockets" from which she could either put in or take out money. That is, she had a job, but she also invested in a friend's business for a share, rented out the family cottage for the summer, as well as having a trusted broker who guided her investment pockets, and so on. For her, security was all-important, and she made every effort to build it.
Perhaps you feel the opposite. You believe your fate is to struggle and never have enough. In this case, you may be in debt and have a poverty mentality that keeps you broke. I got an e-mail from a family man in his forties who said he "hated money matters" and that he couldn't figure out how to make his salary stretch. He said he wanted to "pursue the American Dream," but for him, "it turned into a Financial Survival Nightmare." For this man, the quest for more money will always go hand in hand with hating the details of acquiring and keeping it.
Or perhaps a sense of personal powerlessness stands in the way of financial planning, thus leading to a disastrous retirement fund. I get so many letters that tell me how much you want to know about saving for a specific goal, but you feel intimidated by the information-and most of all, fearful that you cannot learn how to do it. When you believe that money management is elitist or arcane and beyond your scope, well, as the saying goes, "If you believe you can't, you're right!" Believe you can.
In this book, I'll help you uncover your dominant money values, attitudes, and behavior and pinpoint what emotional baggage is standing in the way of you improving your finances. Identifying your emotional baggage helps you understand the motivation and emotions behind your money behavior. This involves self-awareness-what is really happening in your money life, not what you want or don't want or can't admit is happening. It is about making peace with the past and finally letting yourself master how money works and can work for you.
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