Cash Conscious

Cash Conscious

Cash concerns
Why all the angst about money? For starters, it comes from our past experiences. “If we see our parents fighting about money, that increases its importance,” says Brent Kessel, C.F.P., coauthor of The Money and Spirit Workshop (Sounds True). “Or in some families, parents are secretive about money, which also gives it power. So when we go through financial experiences in our early adulthood, they’re loaded.” We get jobs and for the first time we’re paying our own bills—we think it’s a simple exchange. But beneath the exchange are the messages we learned: that money is dangerous, threatens love and leads to fighting. So maybe,for instance, we let our roommate short us on the rent to avoid a blowout—or we jump all over her if she pays a day late. Soon enough, we learn that money isn’t just money; it’s meaning. The trap is that we either mimic our parents’ relationship with money or reject it. And most of the time, the response is unconscious. Did I choose a low-paying profession to rebel against my father’s insistence that money was everything? No. I worked hard to think about money as little as possible. But the unconscious is our financial Ouija board, pointing us either toward or away from the money patterns we absorbed as children. Maybe our parents’ wealth embarrassed us, so we choose a pauper’s route (or a freespending life that ensures a pauper’s route). Or perhaps our parents’ constant worry about money has made us determined to ignore the role it plays in our lives and we stick our heads in the sand. “But is that a choice you’ve made, or a rebellion that’s playing out?” asks Bari Tessler-Linden, M.A., a financial therapist and founder of consciousbookeeping.com. “In all likelihood, you’ve never chosen your own definition of peace around money.” Add to the parental layer the confusing messages from our outside world, and our money imbroglio gets worse. Did we live in the smallest house in the neighborhood or the McMansion? Did our neighbors wear hard hats and carry black dome lunchboxes or head to the office in business suits and BMWs? And money messages don’t stop when we emerge into adulthood. As young earners, banks woo us with credit cards, advertisers equate expensive cars and houses with success, and the media point out either the power of those with dinero or the pitiable plight of those without. The combination of the messages from our parents and society leads many of us to make money decisions without really considering our values and life goals. And, says Marks, it’s this unconsciousness about cash that gets us into trouble. The squeamish discomfort we often feel about money comes from the disconnect between our financial lives and our emotional and spiritual lives. “A critical piece of making peace with money is defining what you need to be yourself,” says Marks. “What matters to you? What are your values? What makes you happy? It’s only when you have those answers that you can happily decide how to spend.”