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.