Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Growing Pains

Yesterday the Dow closed at 7,100, and man, was I mad. I felt disappointed, angry, and resentful. Is it irrational to have these strong feelings about a non-human entity? You betcha. Is it a little crazy to feel like the market's "behavior" is out of line? Sure, but I would wager I'm not the only one who is re-evaluating her "relationship" with the market these days.

It feels terrible to lose money -- nothing odd about that -- but why was I taking it all so personally? The intensity of my feelings caught me off guard and I found myself pondering the relational nature of my experience. What role was I projecting onto the market, and what enactment was I engaging in? 

The closest parallel I could come up with was one of an adolescent going through the pains of maturation. I had come to expect the market to be a kind of benevolent parent. I followed the "rules" -- save your money, invest it, diversify your portfolio -- and then I expected the rest of it (the nurturing and growth of my money) to be "taken care of." 

Obviously the market is not a parent -- that's not the point I'm trying to make. And lots of people who were a lot more hands-on than me have lost even more money. 

But the growth pain that I'm going through is one of waking up and knowing that I have to be more responsible for myself. I have to do more homework. I have to make more informed decisions. I can't ever trust that my money is just going to be "taken care of."

I don't know what change this realization is going to make in my net worth. Maybe it won't change anything. But at least I will feel like more of a financial grown up living powerfully in the world, instead of a disappointed child. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are You Worth It?

MP Dunleavey has a great article in the NY Times today (subs. req.) about why debt seems to “stick” to some people but not others. Debt may be the result of your negative cash flow, she posits, but it may also be tied to the “emotional underbelly” of your spending.

T. Harv Ecker says something similar in Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. He wrote (and you’ll have to forgive me for paraphrasing, I don’t have the book here in front of me) that most people do not have the internal capacity to create and retain great wealth.

For Dunleavey and for Ecker the solution to one’s financial woes lies not in a better spreadsheet but in cultivating a better mindset.

I’ve definitely seen this phenomenon in my work. People tend to have very strong beliefs about themselves and their place in a money world. The problem is that these beliefs are usually unarticulated and live unchallenged in the person’s unconscious.

Unchallenged beliefs create patterns of behavior that resist every effort to change. For example, if you have an unconscious belief that having money will expose you to envy and resentment, you will always release the money in your life rather than risk being a target of antipathy. You will probably spend a lot of money on others and generally treat money with great disrespect. Any accumulation of cash will create a huge amount of anxiety, and as your bank balance rises so will your fear that other people are judging you.

The “secret” here (it’s actually not so very secret, but it is hard work) is to do some digging into your own financial psyche. Millionaire Mind is a good book, but I feel that books that only focus on wealth building are rather narrow in scope. Financial wellness should be about a lot more than just a string of fat assets. Dunleavey’s book, Money Can Buy Happiness, is a good one, so is The Money Mirror by Annette Lieberman and Vicki Lindner. For those in search of a more interpersonal approach is to start a Money Awareness Club per the folks at the Women’s Institute for Financial Education. Whatever method you choose, bringing your unconscious beliefs about money into awareness can be the most valuable experience of your life.