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Reflections about the role money plays in our lives and how it affects us
While money surely isn’t the most important thing, we live in a world where we need money to get by and where our financial situation sets the frame for many other life circumstances. How we deal with money and relationships in our financial decisions can therefore have a great impact on our life overall. It will also likely determine some aspects of relationships with other people in our life. If we closely observe and think about our relationship with money and how we deal with it in relation with other people, we can not only learn more about ourselves, but we can also check if we should or want to change anything for the better.
Disclaimer: I’m neither a financial advisor nor a relationship coach, I just share some of my thoughts and what I read about.
Your Relationship With Money
So, before talking about money and relationships with other people, we start with ourselves. Why? Well, in order to know what we need from others and what our expectations and boundaries are, we need to determine where we ourselves stand. Financial problems are stressful and strenuous on any relationship – of course you can’t prevent all possible problems, but you can prevent certain difficulties by knowing yourself better and taking care of your finances as best as you can.
What’s your take on money?
Take some time to think about this question. Yes, you need money to pay bills, but what does it mean beyond that? Do you like to spend all of your money immediately and don’t care or never thought about having a financial plan (before)? Or do you prefer to save all of your money and carefully guard every cent? Maybe you have a financial plan, save for emergencies and big ticket items, invest and spend an allocated amount on your wants. Be honest and realistic with yourself. Even if you realize, that you don’t have as much control on your finances as you would like to, that’s fine – because guess what, you can work on that!
For some people money is already the end-goal: Just accumulating wealth gives them a feeling of security and stability. Other people want to build their own company, have a vision for a charity project or want to fulfill a dream like early retirement or working on their passion. How much money you “need” largely depends on your individual goals and wishes. When choosing a career, you shouldn’t only consider your strengths and weaknesses or the salary at the end of the month. You should also think about the working hours and how much you have to put into the job and whether that aligns with your vision. Working 80+ hours weekly with a high salary leaves little room for other things, whereas a regular 40 hours-workweek with a lower salary might give you the freedom and time to work on your dream project. Depending on your end-goal – the pure salary number or work-life-balance or long-run-vision – the right choice may turn out differently.
Is there a greater meaning to money?
Let’s keep thinking: Is money just money for you or is there some greater meaning behind it? If you’re religious, you might see money as sustenance from your Provider. He ultimately decides on how much sustenance you will receive and has set it all in the way that is best for you. From this viewpoint, we can derive several things:
- We should be grateful for any sustenance, here: financial means, we receive. Don’t dismiss what you have been given, but be grateful, and use that positive feeling to strive for even more if you wish. At the same time, you should not become arrogant or look down on people who have less than you. Realize that it’s not because you’re “better” than them, because you might just turn your blessing into something hurtful if it turns your heart arrogant or cold. If you have more than you need, it’s not a reason to gloat, but rather to think about how you can use it best. Don’t just spend it on yourself, but use it responsibly and take care of your family and give charity according to your means.
- We don’t have to feel desperate or compare ourselves obsessively with other people and their financial status. Everyone gets the sustenance that is prescribed for them. And even if someone seems much richer than you, you shouldn’t envy them, because it’s what was prescribed for them and you don’t know about their struggles. While money can solve certain problems and make life easier in many areas, it surely also comes with its own difficulties or they might struggle in other matters.
- Believing that the sustenance is set, doesn’t give you a pass to be lazy. Don’t get into the victim mentality by simply not trying your best. “I guess it’s not meant to be” shouldn’t be an excuse not to get out of your comfort zone. Yes, it might be determined what you will get, but it’s also your duty to keep striving and to work for it as best as you can. Just because something is written for you, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work for it.
- Respect the limits that have been set. It’s all about the balance. While you’re supposed to and allowed to strive for a more comfortable financial situation, you should not go beyond what’s permissible. If you earn your money in a way, that is not complying with your religious beliefs, how can there be blessing in your earnings? If there is a greater meaning to money for you, you should respect the limits and understand, that it’s better to earn your living in a permissible way and live more humbly than to use harmful ways just to make more money. This applies for the work you do, as well as the way you spend and invest your money. Live within your means and if you are not fully content, strive for more in ways that are permissible according to the guidelines of your faith.
Money & Family
Moving on, how does your family handle finances? Like most things, we also first observe and learn earning and spending habits from our parents and other close immediate family we spent time with in our childhood. If you got any pocket money as a child, how were you encouraged to deal with it? Did you have any opportunities to earn some more or did you have a small side job? However money was dealt with, it will have impacted your financial habits and values. Once you know how it shaped your situation today, you know where to improve it or you know what worked well and can act accordingly as a parent yourself, if you have or are planning to have children yourself.
Another key factor to consider: Depending on the individual situation and cultural customs, you might be expected to / want to / have to support your parents, siblings or even extended family as an adult. It can make a huge difference, whether you just have to support yourself and possibly your spouse and children, or whether you have several people depending on you or expecting some support.
This topic also directly ties into marriage.
Money & Marriage
Choosing a life partner is one of the most significant decisions in life. It will determine many factors that ultimately make up the entire framework of your further life (maybe even your afterlife if you believe in one). Money can be a huge stress-factor in this relationship and cause fights, which can even result in a breakup or divorce in the long run. It’s also one of the biggest points of contention for the divorce itself. So, while a lot of couples either don’t think about tough financial questions in the beginning or think it’s too early to talk about it, I personally think that it’s better to ask difficult important questions early on. For me it’s much more difficult to handle a big gap in values or priorities later, when much more is at stake. Your view and expectations when it comes to financial matters should ideally align if you want to avoid conflict. The first step is of course to know your own relationship with money and what your expectations towards your partner are.
How you deal with it as a couple in detail is entirely up to you, as long as you are on the same page. Being financially aware is important, whether you want to work full-time, be self-employed or want to stay at home. Both partners will make financial decisions for the family no matter which tasks they do. From the financial plan to work towards home-ownership to smaller everyday decisions like groceries or homeware – all of these will impact your financial situation overall. Of course, everyone can and should still have money for her- or himself to spend according to individual wants, but as a family it’ll be easier if you’re clear on the financial responsibilities towards each other, children and extended family.
Developing a financial plan for a whole family is more challenging than for one person, because you have to consider many different factors and individual goals. If you constantly feel like you don’t have enough money, it can become frustrating and it might affect your relationship. Maybe you even start to blame your partner for their career choices or feel like they could do more. Of course we have to differentiate between a partner not meeting their obligations to contribute in the way you agreed on or that is prescribed, and a partner simply not making as much money as you’d like. You should be able to demand them to fulfill their obligations.
When it goes beyond that: Instead of blaming each other, it’s most likely better to remind each other of where the sustenance is coming from and what you’re working towards as a couple. Partners for life should rather support each other in their goals and be patient that their endurance will pay off in the end. Of course this will be much more difficult if you don’t share the same vision or don’t understand, don’t value your partner’s vision of life and the role money plays in it. Many conflicts arise where one partner seeks creative fulfillment, which traditionally is more difficult in terms of achieving higher earnings, while the other partner seeks ultimate financial security as first priority. Creative fulfillment and financial stability don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but you need to have a vision and a partner that is willing to go down that path with you. Once children are involved these conflicts can become even more apparent, so that’s one more reason to talk about difficult questions early on. How will you have a clear financial guidance for your children, if you yourselves don’t know how to handle your finances?
Money & Friends
The friends we surround ourselves with will inevitably shape some aspects of our lives. When you spend a lot of time together or speak about things that matter to you, it will impact your thoughts and behavior. If you constantly go out or do expensive activities, the friendship is more cost-intensive than a friendship with low-cost activities. It continues with things like expectations to give each other gifts or keep up a certain appearance. Of course we can and even should be friends with people that have different life backgrounds and experiences, but you still need some common ground in values. When there’s a gap between financial means and values on top, it can be difficult to maintain the relationship and of course it’s questionable if that supposed-friend is even worth it, if everything evolves around expensive things. I’ve read a really interesting article about lifestyle-inflation, that I’d love to talk about in a more detailed post.
Well…this is hardly a conclusion, because after starting to write this, I realized how vast of a topic this is and that I couldn’t go into as much detail as I’d like about any of the mentioned relationships. So maybe I’ll add more detailed blog posts and focus on single aspects later on. Money shouldn’t dictate everything in our lives, but it has a significant impact, so by taking care of our finances in the best way we can, we hopefully have more time and freedom for the things that actually matter to us.
What’s your view on money and how does it affect your life?