Money talks, and what it has to say isn't always pleasant. Sometimes it tells you things you didn't know about yourself, uncovering your hidden priorities and revealing how you see yourself in the grand scheme of things. But you have to learn to listen to it. Personal life coaches ask their clients to spend a lot of time recording their spending priorities, their investment decisions, whether they're comfortable taking risks with money and what situations trigger financial worries. The point is that the way we relate to our cash says more about us than the amount we can access.
Some folks feel very secure with very little money, while those with great wealth can be terribly anxious. Some people express emotional deprivation as financial want. Others have money trouble but don't seem to suffer from it. Not everyone who lives beyond his or her means has a terrible downfall; some adapt well to the insecurities and sudden changes this lifestyle imposes. Others ruin their health and injure those around them by obsessively overspending.
Though one can never be flip about those of us who really do struggle below the poverty line in a society with chronic injustice, the amount of stress we suffer over money, as with other areas of life, is largely up to us and how we manage our perceptions. A lot depends on whether we see the world as a scary place or a playground of endless possibility.
The trick is to get to know your money "style.' Keep close track of expenses for a month to find out where your money really goes - and what you care about.
Stick to one credit card and, if you're in debt, choose a payment plan that has you putting no more than 15 per cent of your income toward total debt payments.
Finally and crucially, say the experts, set goals for your money. It's easier to save if you know why you're making sacrifices.
What the experts say
"Reformed alcoholics and women who are dieting will often have financial problems. When you're working hard to control an addiction or to diet, there's that sense of depriving yourself, and you tend to go shopping. When people inherit money, especially if it's money their parents worked hard to accumulate, they'll see it as being a real trust issue, to pass that to the next generation. They're going to be very stressed by sudden downturns in the market. (It's also stressful to have) more than you need arrive in a windfall large lump sum that you're now responsible for. A very high percentage of people who have a sudden windfall will blow it all."
JANET FREEDMAN, certified and registered financial planner, founder of Finance Matters
"People use money as a licence to not care for themselves. If they have plenty of discretionary funds, they eat out. The servings will be too big, too fatty, they'll maybe order a few drinks, some desserts. People may tend to pay their way out of problems. Divorce is a great example - it can be a very easy thing to make the payments and, boom, 'I'm out of that mess.' How much of a scary monster is money to you? If your fear level is high, that's a great indicator that you need to take a closer look. If it's very low, that might also be worth looking at. Strengths are weaknesses, and weaknesses are strengths."
BARRY ZWEIBEL, business/personal life coach, Chicago
"When you're not in control of your money, everybody else is in control of your life: creditors, your landlord, your mortgage company, utility companies. Your ability to do even ordinary things like grocery shopping is compromised. Probably the most important money management concept is goal-setting. Without goals, who cares? There's no reason to save money. People are happier when they're working toward goals and achieving them. There's a real sense of accomplishment and a real sense of control."
LAURIE CAMPBELL, program manager, Credit Counselling Service of Toronto
"On average, North Americans spend 103 per cent of their income. (Lenders are happy to help us) alleviate our fears about not having a big enough house or a good enough car. If you're going to be managing debt, try to make it tax-deductible. Non-deductible, high-interest debt is pure evil. Living below your means is a good strategy for reducing stress: you'll have an emergency fund, a good credit rating, retirement funds. We're worse at saving today than our parents were. Our parents were worse than our grandparents. In the last 10 years, we haven't experienced a depression, high interest rates, a world war. We don't know how to take a major blow to our economy. Stress is caused by change, whether good or bad, but the more you're prepared for it, the less stressful it is."
BRADLEY ROULSTON, certified financial planner with MAP Financial
"People use patterns that aren't necessarily logical to manage their money. My wealthy clients take care not to overspend, which is good, but they don't seem to enjoy their money as much as one might expect. Clients of modest means work hard but don't seem to express as many worries as the millionaires. This is something of a paradox I can't explain. Depressed people see life from the dark side. They need to regain a normal mood before they can make good decisions about money. In people with attention-deficit disorder, their flexibility, attention-switching, creativity and enthusiasm equip them ideally for work in sales and creative fields, but they need support in areas of planning and focusing. During hyper-manic episodes bipolar clients may dream up money-making schemes. With training and experience they can learn to let their ideas simmer until depressions start, and consider possible downsides before making large expenditures or starting new businesses."
ROBERT SEALEY, C.A.