The past year has hit almost everyone hard financially, and made many people rethink their priorities in spending and saving. Dealing with money isn’t a completely rational matter. If it were people wouldn’t have so much trouble with it. For example, we’ve all known people who in reality have a lot of money, but who feel and act poor. Then there are the people who really don’t have much money, but spend as if they do. Some people spend money as a way to get attention or to take care of others. Still others are so overly thrifty that it’s hard for them to enjoy simple pleasures. But before we can be rational about money, it’s helpful to look at how our attitudes developed.

Our culture sends very confusing messages about having money. Money means power and status, and brings admiration in our society. The media bombards us with the message that happiness comes from buying the right shampoo, the trendiest beer or the coolest car. But money is also seen as “the root of all evil”. And don’t forget that “money can’t buy you love”.

Cultural stereotypes about gender may also affect the way we think about handling money. In general, males grow up with more expectations that they will be financially responsible. Yet they are not always taught the skills to do this. Females often get the message that the man of the house will worry about the money, or that it’s somehow unfeminine to be too concerned with money.

Our attitudes are also shaped by the way money was handled in our original families and the messages that were sent about spending and saving. Many people grew up hearing and living by conservative adages as “Waste not, want not”; “A penny saved is a penny earned”; or just “We can’t afford it”. On the other side are more unrestrained views like, “Buy now, pay later”; “You deserve the best”, or “Go for it”.

Money is treated with more secrecy than sex in some families, so that children have no realistic sense of what is or isn’t affordable. It’s very hard to learn how good financial skills if money is never openly discussed. Other families have no consistent rules at all, and bounce between pinching pennies one day and reckless spending the next.

Think for a moment about what has influenced your handling of financial matters. What are your beliefs about spending and saving? What did your parents teach you? Have you tried to follow their guidelines or have you rebelled? How much influence do media messages to consume affect you? Have you denied yourself too much enjoyment in order to save money? Do you find yourself wasting money on things you don’t really need?

Once you have a clearer sense of your underlying beliefs, you can begin to make better decisions about handling your money. Use your rational side to figure out which attitudes have been helpful and which harmful. Assess what ideas want to keep and what you need to throw out. Talk with your spouse or family about their attitudes toward money. Read about financial management. Then you can control your money, not let it control you.


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