“There are plenty of good tips out there for how to manage our money, but if we’re not taking into account the emotional side of it, we’ll never be able to truly make change.”
It’s January! This means many of us are looking through our credit card statements from the holiday season with dread. (Or avoiding looking at them at all.) Money is such a huge part of our lives, our emotional wellness, and our identities, but we tend to think of it as merely a bunch of numbers. There are plenty of good tips out there for how to manage our money, but if we’re not taking into account the emotional side of it, we’ll never be able to truly make change.
What does money mean to you? In my years of running a small business, I’ve learned that money translates to value. I can offer the same service for free or for 50 bucks, and I’ll get more clients if I charge the 50 bucks. When something is being offered for free, people tend to think it isn’t worth much. When they spend on something, they are way likelier not only to show up, but to have a better experience than if they were paying nothing. When we put a few dollars behind what we are doing, we are invested in getting the most out of that thing. So, if you really want to take that online course or show up to that dance class, put your money where your mouth is.
Our capitalist culture also teaches us that our money translates to our internal value. When we are not being paid appropriately, we can feel undervalued. When we are mired in debt, we can feel so much shame that it feels impossible to even start looking at managing that debt. Facing our money situation often requires a leap of faith that whatever is going on in our bank accounts, we are still human beings with worth.
The things we spend the most money on are the things we value the most. In her book Worry Free Money, Shannon Lee Simmons advises against cutting back on the things we spend the most money on—those are the things that make us happiest! When we budget on our joy, we make our lives worse, thus setting us up to get frustrated and then blow up all our careful financial plans in rebellion.
Simmons recommends going ahead and spending money unreservedly on the things that truly bring us joy: she calls this Happy Money. This isn’t Feel Better Now money, to be clear, it’s not buying a thing that gives us a little thrill in the moment and then a whole bunch of shame later on. It’s the things that give us lasting pleasure, comfort, or convenience, like going out to eat with friends, investing in a solid car that doesn’t break down, or attending yoga twice a week. We also need to get clear that everyone has a different definition of happy spending. Some people love going out to eat, and others love cooking at home and wouldn’t miss the restaurants. Some need a car to make the workday bearable, and others are happy bus riders who would much rather get their hair cut and colored every six weeks on the dot. Spend on what works for you, without needing to judge or be judged because someone else might do it differently.
Mindful money management isn’t about the numbers we can count up on the calculator (though it helps to have a clear picture of what is going where). The sooner we acknowledge the emotional depths of our spending, the sooner we will have a sense of what we are really doing when we spend. So, as you’re looking back at those bills and statements, rather than getting stuck in shame and fear, see if you can look at it and ask yourself: What do these numbers say about how I feel, what I need, and what I value?