❝The problem is we can only perceive the world through one set of eyes.❞ -Simon Sinek
My car doesn't start again. It's the winter of 2003 in Fargo, and my car just won't turn over. This is unfortunate because I need to get to work. If I don't work, I don't get paid. If I don't get paid, I can't fix my car. But I can't fix my car without money. I'm caught in a vicious cycle. I need a reliable vehicle, but I don't know how to afford that. Friends of mind have nice, new cars. I don't know how they afford their cars.
The farthest I've been from home recently is Minneapolis, a mere four hours away. I don't get to take many vacations. My friends seem to take vacations all the time, including fancy trips to resorts in Mexico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. I don't know how they afford their trips.
My apartment is nice, but it's really old, and it's not in the greatest neighborhood. The fact that it's old and in a poor neighborhood is the only reason I can technically afford it, but I'm stretched pretty thin. Friends of mine live in new apartments in better parts of town. These apartments have heated underground garages, nice decks, and onsite gyms. I don’t know how they afford rent.
It turns out, most of those people couldn't afford it. Not only were they not saving any of their income, but they were using credit cards and other debt to fund their lifestyle.
It wasn't just me struggling financially. But it was just me who understood my own financial stress.
TWO SIDES TO PERSONAL FINANCE
Most people think that personal finance, budgeting, saving, and investing are simply math problems. It’s easy to believe that the solution to these problems involves spreadsheets and calculators.
Indeed, exterior finance is about spreadsheets, calculators, and mathematics. Exterior finance is the mechanics of money, or the strategies and tactics that we use when it comes to our finances.
The issue, though, is that there's also interior finance that most people overlook. Interior finance is about you. Interior finance is about your history, your values, your worldview, and your experience. The solutions to interior finance problems are deeply personal. The solution that works for you may not work for your neighbor and vice versa.
Thus, viewing the world of personal finance as a math problem leads to frustration and financial stress. We see other people who seem to have their act together, but we don't. We think there must be something wrong with us because we don't understand the math.
That's why we have to stop thinking about personal finance as a math problem and understand it for what it is; a psychology problem.
MONEY IS NOT NATURAL
We are not wired for money. Nearly every financial strategy that's good for us in the long run, does not come naturally to us. Saving is simply not something that our ancestors did. The people that saved their assets for the future wound up with their assets spoiling or getting stolen. The people that hoarded their stuff were kicked out of the tribe for being selfish. In other words, the people who acted in a way that would be financially prudent today did not survive to become our ancestors. There is no equivalent of money and nature. It's simply not natural. Money skills can be learned, but it takes time, and it takes practice.
Good exterior finance is simple, but it's not easy because it goes against our brains’ hardwiring.
WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT MONEY
Sarah Newcomb recommends that if we want to end a conversation immediately, simply ask the other person how much they make, how much their house cost, how much they spend on vacations, or what their net worth is. Nothing seems to shut down a conversation faster than talking about money.
Money is a taboo topic in our culture. Some argue that it is even more taboo than the other big ones like politics, religion, sexuality, and health care issues. People will happily tell you about their weird disfiguration and the surgery that cured it, but get squeamish when you ask them how much the surgery cost.
Because we don't talk about money, we have no way of knowing what kind of financial stress somebody else experiences. Add to that the fact that we don't like being judged, and you make it nearly impossible that somebody's going to volunteer information about their financial stress. It's embarrassing. If we don't know that other people are struggling, then it's natural to feel like we are the only ones. We have our own perception, and our own perception says that we are stressed. Our perception of others is that they're not. This is simply a side effect of the money taboo.
MONEY IS EVERYWHERE
It seems money is a bigger taboo than other topics because money touches every area of our lives. There are very few life decisions that don't have a monetary component, just as there are very few financial decisions that don't impact your life somehow. Money is a bigger taboo because we can't bring up a topic without money attached to it. You can talk about religion, sexuality, or politics without having to talk about your job, your home, your vacations, or you're clothes.
That's not so with money.
EVERYONE FEELS FINANCIAL STRESS
Everybody experiences financial stress. Ted Klontz says everybody is a little bit weird when it comes to money. We just have no way of knowing about it. You are not alone.
We only have our own perspective, so we don't know how others feel, but from the outside looking in, it seems like everybody else has their house in order. But this is not necessarily the case. It’s actually not even likely to be the case. It's easy to spend every dollar you have on a house that you can't afford, or a vacation that you can't afford, or a car you can't afford. We don't know what's actually going on underneath the hood of other people's financial lives.
Please know that it's not just you. Everybody experiences financial stress, at least some of the time. Don’t let the feeling of isolation or feeling inferior keep you from taking steps to move forward. Move your frame of reference away from other people as your benchmark and towards your past self as your benchmark. Are you doing better today than you were yesterday?
Let me drive the point home:
You are not alone.
You are not alone. You are not alone.
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Housel, Morgan: The Psychology of Money
Klontz, Brad, and Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Newcomb, Sarah: Loaded
Peterson, Jordan: 12 Rules for Life
Rosenberg, Marshall: Nonviolent Communication
Wagner, Richard: Financial Planning 3.0
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.