Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Whether you are carefully double-checking where you spend every penny or completely ignoring your money, you are actively creating your relationship with your finances every day. How you relate to your money is entirely within your hands, which means you have the ability to transform a toxic relationship with your money into a healthy one.
What makes for a toxic relationship with money?
Benjamins have needs, too.
--Perhaps you feel annoyed every time you have to deal with money.
--Maybe you get discouraged by your financial situation, and never stop to celebrate a money win because there is still so much more to do.
--You might consistently wish you had more money and get angry at your low bank balances.
--If you do feel flush because of a windfall, you might blow the money on something that feels good in the moment, even as you worry about your future.
--Or maybe you just expect money to solve all of your problems.
None of these may seem like outlandish ways of dealing with your money. But imagine for a moment that you treat your spouse or significant other in these same ways.
Happy couples are all the same. Unhappy couples have varied and creative ways of making each other miserable.
--You roll your eyes when you unexpectedly see your beloved, and say, “Ugh, I can’t deal with you right now.”
--When your spouse achieves something remarkable, you tell her that it’s not enough.
--You blame your sweetheart for your unhappiness and consistently tell him that life would be perfect if he did more for you.
--When you do spend time together, you focus only on gratifying your wants in the moment and ignore how your partner’s needs will be affected.
--You expect your darling to make everything easy for you and you are angry when she does not—but you don’t even express gratitude when she does.
That sounds like a pretty toxic relationship.
You would never expect a romantic partner to accept this kind of treatment. So why would you want to treat your money this way?
Anthropomorphize Your Money for Fun and Profit
I do have feelings, you know.
It can feel odd to describe how you deal with money as a relationship. After all, money has no emotions, morals, thoughts, or dreams. It is not human and is therefore incapable of feeling about us the same way we feel about it. It is a tool, no different from a car.
But as anyone who has ever named a beloved car* can attest, we all tend to relate to objects and entities through the lens of human thoughts and emotions. This universal human trait is called anthropomorphism, and embracing it can help you to make better decisions about your money. Because if you start thinking about your money as if it has wants and needs, you can take your own irrational reactions out of the equation.
*(My beloved cars have been named, in order: Fenchurch, Riley, Yoshi, The Lemur Lounge, The Tank, and Zelda.)
For instance, organizing expert Marie Kondo recommends thanking unwanted objects for their service before decluttering them.
While the objects themselves can’t care whether or not they are used and loved, the act of thanking them helps to contextualize your feelings in the process of decluttering. Others can benefit from you letting go of your emotional attachment to things.
Not the ill-fitting sweater in question, although I would have trouble parting with this one, too.
I know I have waffled about parting with a sweater that no longer fits. But once I started treating the sweater as if it cares that it goes unworn, I remembered how delighted someone else would be to wear it. Anthropomorphizing the sweater allowed me to re-contextualize my decluttering so it includes others rather than centering my own emotional response to a sweater hasn't fit since before I was pregnant with my eldest.
What Does Your Money Want?
Just as anthropomorphizing your sweaters makes it easier to let them go, treating your money as if it has feelings can help you make better decisions about it.
Treat your money as if it feels happy to grow through compound interest and is proud to provide for your life by paying your bills. This de-centers your automatic reaction to money and gives you the emotional perspective necessary to make the best decisions for your money and yourself.
Nobody ever asks me what I want.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself and your money to help you use it better:
1. What does my money want from me?
2. How do I feel when I deal with money?
3. What would make my relationship with money feel better?
4. What do I love about my money?
5. What does my money do to actively support me?
6. What does my money appreciate about me?
Thank Your Money
In addition to asking yourself and your money these questions, it's also a great idea to take a page from Marie Kondo (not to mention Keanu) and also express gratitude to your money.
Your money is working hard for you. Whether it is paying your rent, going to credit card interest, or earning you compound interest, your money is allowing you to live the life you have. Taking a moment to feel grateful for that hard work done on your behalf can make you more excited to manage your money.
How do you express gratitude for your money? The same way you thank your spouse; by saying it out loud.
When you handle your finances, thank your money at every step:
Thank you for allowing me to live in my home.
Thank you for maintaining my life.
Thank you for growing in my saving and investment accounts.
Thank you for coming into my life in exchange for my work.
Thank you for teaching me how much I value you when I have to part with you.
It's so hard to say goodbye.
Make Your Money Happy
Centering yourself in any relationship is never a good idea, unless you happen to be newborn. You always need to have a sense of how well the relationship is working for the other person, even if the "other person" is your money. You don't want to be a selfish lover, do you?
So think about ways you can make your money happier. It might feel a little silly at first, but a fatter wallet and higher bank balances can easily help you overcome any awkwardness.
What does your money want from you?