I’m paying the bills today and thinking about the cost of the present I just ordered from the catalogue and how much the cat food for my geriatric, diabetic cat is going to run me and I’m starting to feel stressed. Those old beliefs about money are rising up on their hind legs again, threatening to maul me with feelings of lack.
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 could never do the work that I love to do, the work that I’m passionate 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 every getting ahead.
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 issues about money and I needed to deal with them if I was ever going to get ahead.
How Ideas About Money Keep Us Trapped
I’m not the only one, numerous studies by Kathleen Vohs and others indicate that just thinking about money causes us negative feelings in most people. We have this weird psychological connection to money — kind of like one with a toxic friend that we don’t want to be with but can’t stay away from – that causes us to become a bit anti-social, less likely to help others and do other things that make us unhappy when we think about our finances. Though most of us value philanthropy and freedom – our beliefs about money often keep us worried and trapped rather than living close to those values.
When I started to identify that it was my belief about money – how I thought about that little green wad of ones stuffed in my purse – that was causing all this stress, I decided to change it. When we can recognize that it isn’t money, but our thoughts about it that can be problematic, we can take a new approach that will help us find peace even while paying the bills or buying the presents.
Here are three quickies you can use to immediately vanquish the dollar demons when they crop up. I know because I use them myself.
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. “Well, there it is,” he said. “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.
When I was young and just starting out there were many times when I worried whether I’d be able to pay my bills. Now, I celebrate that I can pay them each month. The shift in mindset has eased my love/hate relationship with the mighty buck.
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 crappy about that.
Not anymore. I still operate from a budget, because security is one of my values, but now, sometimes I’ll leave a bigger tip than I need, or 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 the freedom and possibility it represents. I realized that I can experience those feelings at any time, no matter how much money I have in the bank.
This realization helped me to see money as a gift rather than liability. It lifted a weight and I felt more comfortable helping others out and giving some of it away. Then, amazing things happened. Not only did unexpected funds flow into my life, but I felt better about myself and my life.
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. In fact, researchers say “how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn.”
I absolutely get this now and it doesn’t take big bucks to make a difference. Just spare a little for someone else, and experience the good feelings that flow in. The practice will change your relationship with money.
3. Don’t buy now and pay later. Buying what we want, when we want it doesn’t make us as happy as holding off and anticipating the purchase, according to research from Fred Bryant and Loyola University. Anticipation is a huge factor in our well-being, and we tend to derive more satisfaction from anticipating the good things to come rather than satisfying every need. 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.
This holiday season, instead of getting wrapped up in stress about all the expenses, challenge yourself to understand the beliefs you hold about money. Once you know what they are, you can change how you think and that will change your bottom line.
Next up: Wednesday, check out my post on the one gift everyone will want this holiday season.