Money is not an Emotion

Or should I say “The presence of or lack thereof of money does not warrant an emotional response.” but that would make for a rather wordy title don’t you think?

My parents are both fine artists. Considering that they are not famous, it is a safe assumption that they never had much money. My childhood was not scarred by poverty per se, just that many things seemed out of reach and there was no sign of that changing. In addition, I was raised with the belief that money was something some people had, which they often aquired unfairly, and the more they had the more unfair it was. My parents saw money emotionally. There were the haves, the takers, the rich, and the have nots, the givers, the poor. I grew up, living part of my child separately with each parent, hearing a similar rant about the injustice of their lack of money. Here they were these talented artists, both willing to work hard on their craft yet rarely compensated for it. Money was the thing they desired yet never were able to have. And it angered them all the more to see people of lesser talent earning oodles of money.

What they never figured out is that acquiring money is just a mathematical problem and often it has nothing to do with how talented, good or deserving you are.

I have a more analytical mind than my parents, so despite what I heard growing up, I did not have an emotional response to money. I saw money purely mathematical, an exchange, a problem to solve if you did not have any. So I learned a skill that could earn me a good, even great wage and except for a few dips in the road, have always been able to pay my bills. But, until recently, I have never managed to achieve any form of stability. This is because, despite my ability to earn, I retained my parent’s fear of the haves. Having money was equated with being a bad person, a taker from others so as much as I was able to earn, I spent or gave it away even more.

My relationship to money changed when I had kids. It was then I realized that financial stability was not only desirable but necessary. My father, for example, would go from dire straights to having a chunk of money from a project or a sale of a painting. He would not save the money, however, for the next dire straight, but rather spend it, almost immediately, on supplies for his art. The concept of saving and sacrificing what you want when you had the money to get it was completely foreign to me. My relationship to money began to change.

Now, for the first time in my life, I am earning very well. I have paid my debts, am saving for a house and can finally afford health insurance, a major milestone to me. I still have a long way to go as I have no money saved for my children’s education or my retirement but the fact that I can even think of those things is a dramatic change. I am happy to say that with my stability, I have retained my unemotional response to money.

I do not feel that I am better than I was when money was a struggle, just smarter.

It is a shame that money evokes such an emotional response in most people. We see this in politics where the wealthy tend to fear the poor. They fear the poor will try to take their money and they resent the poor for needing it. The desire for money causes men to kill their wives (and vice versa), businessmen to kill or steal from their partners, politicians to rise or fall, wars to be won or lost. If only we could see money as a puzzle to solve and not a judgement of worthiness. I am no better or worse a person for having money than I was when I did not. Smarter, yes, I figured out the equation of saving, sacrifice and hard work that allowed money to enter and stay in my life.

I think part of the dynamic of the rich versus the poor in this country has to do with what we feel we need. When you live in third world country you realize that a lot of what we feel is necessary is actually a luxury. We are in a culture where spending money equates with freedom yet when you are not rich, that spending is done on credit, with interest rates that keep you from ever building wealth.

There is no single solution. There are many who are so poor that there is no spending to cut. That is the truth of our economy. But there are many other who could be in a much better financial position if they only cut out or cut back on what they consider necessities like a cell phone, cable tv or eating out. My financial transformation was due to being extremely conservative with spending. For years I resisted the urge to acquire. Instead of an iPhone I had a prepaid phone with no internet and and iPod touch with wifi. I could do most of the same things as an iPhone without the monthly contract. I had the most basic cable and cooked at home every night. By doing this I was able to live in a nice apartment, buy a car and cover my expenses comfortably without credit. In time, I was able to earn more but although my spending increased moderately, it didn’t increase in pace with what I earned so over time, my situation got better and better.

Now I have credit cards and finally got an iPhone but I remain conservative in how I spend. I know that no matter how good things might be now they can change at any moment. I try not to live beyond today. Money may not be an emotion but lack of money certainly evokes memories I care not to repeat.

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