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Re-Frame your Financial Life – within a heart-shaped box by Beth Freudenburg

February has come around again. The holidays are over which some will be thankful for. Not only is all the rush and chaos of the holidays done, but so are the costs. Let’s face it, holidays can be expensive. February brings a certain amount of financial peace and quiet before the next rush of April and tax season. For now, we are in February.

Cold, gray days demand we re-learn routines abandoned to the previous months’ celebrations. The holiday bills and statements begin to arrive, and it feels to soon to skip forward to thoughts of springtime, Easter, and that wonderful season of hope while we are forced to examine a stack of invoices we earned in disregard. We need just a moment’s rest and time to pay attention as we dive into the demands of a new year. We need a little joy and a bit of confidence. So, in February, we celebrate the relationships that matter in our lives. We celebrate those we LOVE and who love us in return. Don’t forget to thank your bank account for all it’s done for you!

I know, right?

Establishing a relationship with money seems silly and maybe even a bit unhealthy until you think about it a minute. How would it feel to be comfortable and happy with your financial life? How would conversations about money be different if your financial life didn’t cause you stress? Did you know that over 70% of people say that their biggest source of stress and anxiety stems from money, earning, owing, and managing its flow in their lives? Your relationship with your money is just that – a relationship. And when we ignore any relationship or misunderstand it, there are bound to be problems. De-stressing about money takes practice and is fundamentally an exercise in relationship management. If you want it to be a healthy one, spend some time getting to know it better.

Relationships in their healthiest form, regardless with whom or what, are absolutely essential to human happiness. Those we live and work with or care for bring joy and add inexplainable richness to our most valuable relationships. Those same relationships can be stressful and in the worst cases, can cause damage. Neglect, ingratitude, absence, criticism, and distrust will crush relationships that at first held promise.

I’m not suggesting that you start taking your mortgage broker out to dinner or send flowers to your banker on a regular basis. I AM suggesting that you try to look at your finances in a different light – a more interactive and positive one - and see what happens.

Here are some simple ways to re-frame your relationship with money.

It takes two.

Nobody likes to be left alone. And a relationship is hardly a relationship if there is only one person in it. Are you there for your money? Do you pay attention to it? In order for money to support you and your values, you have to honor and support it, then understand it’s limitations. Pay attention to your money and be grateful for its abundance in the world.

Talking about money isn’t always a taboo.

Money is a necessary tool everyone uses every day, but we do not always give ourselves permission to discuss it. Without making public the specific details of your financial life, you can still talk about it; how it makes you feel, what annoys you, and what causes stress. But we don’t. We’ve been taught that to talk about money in public is impolite, arrogant, or just bad manners. So how are we supposed to deal with it without words?

Money, perhaps more than any other relationship, demands open, honest communication. Do you listen to what your money tells you? Your bank statements will let you know exactly where your priorities are. They will tell you where you’re putting your time and energy. Take a look. Then listen and answer with compassion. Maybe it’s time to pay off some debt or avoid taking on more. Maybe it’s time to make retirement a higher priority.

Negative experiences with money are often the result of a lack of communication, sometimes avoidable, and almost always what makes handling money feel stressful. We want all the good it does, and the possibilities money allows us to gain, without the responsibility of making sure that our money receives our time and attention.

Laugh to keep from crying.

Everyone makes money mistakes. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, try applying humor to the situation – in large doses. After all, it’s only money.

Take the good with the bad

Bank accounts go up and then they go down. It seems as though everyone has a “just when I thought I was getting ahead” story. How the universe knows how much we have in savings is beyond me, but it seems as though it does. There will be good months and bad months. When the bad months come, be patient and know that better time are just ahead.

Try adding some Romance

If you associate your finances with nail-biting, stress maybe it’s time to establish a few new associations. Next time it’s your turn to balance the checkbook, instead of bright lights and ledgers, try candlelight, some background music and a maybe even a glass of wine. A calm and relaxed environment always helps relationships thrive.

Admit mistakes

If you have lived through one of life’s tougher months there is no reason for ridicule or condemnation. It won’t help. Remember, it’s a practice. I do suggest you go back and listen to your money and let it tell you where you may have made a different choice and try again another month.

Be compassionate

Some months are tougher than others for no apparent reason or are just a product of the universe’s poor sense of timing. You don’t have to assume the blame for everything. Sometimes things happen that are truly nobody’s fault. All you must do is live through it and know that it won’t always be that way.

During good months, give when you can. Money in excess of our needs enables us to be compassionate in the world. If you have extra, consider giving to a cause that means something to you or your Valentine. It’s feels good. Be grateful that your good stewardship and attention enabled your generosity. You did it!!

Make your Relationship with money a priority

Nobody likes to be ignored, taken for granted and dismissed. I imagine that goes for other items depending on how sentimental you are. Researchers state that you can tell a lot about a person by understanding the activities people spend their time with their energy on, and their money to support. If you’re not spending at least a little of your time with your finances, then it probably isn’t in a place of importance in your life. Earlier, we discovered that over 70% of consumers feel significant stress around money. So how can something so functionally unimportant be responsible for so much active stress and anxiety? Because it IS important to us. We just haven’t learned to treat it that way yet.

Stop comparing

I say this all the time and it’s so hard to put into practice because most corporate marketing is built on a foundation of comparison. Try anyway.

The entire landscape of personal finance is uneven. Comparisons are for things with more similarities than not. Money is not one of them because people are wonderfully unique. Stop comparing your financial life with anyone else’s. It’s unfair and a recipe for anxiety and resentment that will almost always leave you feeling inadequate and disappointed. Instead, compare your current financial life with your former financial life. Celebrate how much you’ve accomplished together.

Tips for success

Be patient and practice. Like any skill or task, practice increases competence. When we don’t practice, it’s unrealistic to expect proficiency and proficiency is almost never immediate. It’s okay to need practice when managing money because all relationships take time in one way or another.

Be king and generous. Terms of endearment almost never hurt. Look inward. See how thinking differently about money changes you.

Be realistic. Money will never be able to buy you happiness. That much is still true. However, by changing the way we think about how money flows through our lives, we can avoid some of the negative associations with money that cause us stress. We can begin to learn the difference between buying happiness and being able to have moments of joy – which is something money CAN do.

After you’ve been reacquainted with your financial life, you may feel as though there are parts of it you’d prefer were different. That’s okay. It’s part of your financial practice. Take a second look to be certain that the comparison bug hasn’t gotten to you then congratulate yourself for listening and being willing to grow.

Like every aspect of ourselves, we are as God created us; perfect exactly as we are with all our deficiencies, faults, and problems. Despite all of them, we are good and valuable. Whatever you have and wherever you are on your financial map is where you are meant to be. There is a reason for it. I won’t begin to tell you I know why or what for. But I do believe that there is a plan for each of us that belongs only to us. I also believe that the solution to alleviating anxiety about money also belongs to us. We have the tools we need to gain a new and healthier respect for money, the possibilities, and opportunities it creates within our lives, and the importance of treating it with regard. We just need practice.

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