— from the foreword by John Bradshaw, bestselling author of Reclaiming Virtue
Financial Recovery: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Moneyby Karen McCall
After healing her own unhealthy relationship with money, and transforming her financial disaster into prosperity and security, Karen McCall created a recovery program she has now used for more than twenty years to help individuals, couples, and businesses large and small. In the midst of her money troubles, she saw a need for something other than financial planners, accountants, and credit counselors. These experts could tell her what she should be doing differently, but she needed someone to help her understand the underlying causes of chronic, self-defeating overspending and credit card debt, underearning, and low or no savings. To save herself, she created practical, holistic tools that address these sources of pain and shame. McCall’s program supports people as they uncover their deep-seated attitudes about money; provides simple, step-by-step tools for healing areas of physical, emotional, and spiritual deprivation; and teaches skills and strategies for experiencing lasting personal and financial fulfillment even in the midst of economic challenges and reversals.
— from the foreword by John Bradshaw, bestselling author of Reclaiming Virtue
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Developing a Healthy Relationship with Money
By Karen McCall
New World LibraryCopyright © 2011 Karen McCall
All rights reserved.
Understanding Your Relationship with Money
* * *
Getting the Root of the Problem
At the moment of commitment,
the universe conspires to assist you.
— BARBRA STREISAND
You picked up this book, so chances are you're feeling some concern or discomfort around your financial life, be it a sense of instability, chronic unmanageability, or simply a lack of knowledge about your finances. Maybe you're worried about your future or struggling just to make it month to month. Have you been plagued with money problems for years? Are you watching your resources dwindle? Have you tried countless times to figure your way out of your financial mess, only to find yourself in it over and over again? Are your worries about money occupying more of your energy than feels comfortable? Are you keeping financial secrets, afraid of the shame you'll feel if they're discovered? Do you argue about money with your loved ones? Is your health, emotional well-being, or quality of life compromised by your concerns about money? Are you just sick of living on the edge?
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions — and you're willing to commit to a process that will fundamentally change your relationship with money — you're ready to begin your own Financial Recovery.
This process has brought transformation to my life and to the lives of those who have embraced it. You've likely tried many things to improve your situation and stabilize your spending or debt. People who have tried and failed in other attempts to change their money behaviors have found the practical and emotional support they need in Financial Recovery.
Many people hit rock bottom in their relationship with money before getting help. They feel desperate and unable to figure out how to change their financial circumstances. But you don't have to wait to reverse the downward spiral and begin your process of Financial Recovery. No matter how severe your money issues are, you can reverse course and move toward a healthier relationship with money, starting today.
There came a moment for me, as there is for so many who struggle in their relationship with money, when I could no longer deny that I'd been overcome by the consequences of my financial behaviors. I realized that every attempt I'd made to fix my financial troubles and change my money behaviors had failed. Something had to change, and that something was me. I had to look at all I'd been avoiding and let go of the fantasy that I could manage things. Everything I'd been tolerating — the stress, the obsessing, the worrying, the secrecy — all became intolerable. I felt broken, isolated, alone, and ashamed. Emotionally exhausted and spiritually depleted, I had to recognize the truth. I had to let go of the illusion that I could think my way out of this problem, that I could figure it out.
Freedom comes when we reach a place of admitting that our best efforts and sincerest intentions haven't worked to improve our financial lives. Many of us find ourselves in a troubling relationship with money, lacking the skills and tools for good money management and underestimating the emotional aspects of what may be driving our behaviors with money. This is when a freeing realization sets in: I can't do this on my own.
If you're someone who has struggled in your relationship with money, I'll say to you what I say to clients: "It doesn't ever have to be this bad again." Your financial life can begin to improve right now, right here, with the information and ideas you'll get from these pages. You can begin Financial Recovery right this minute.
The Root of the Problem
Most people assume that not having enough money is the cause of their financial struggles. While "not enough" can sometimes be a problem, it is often not the primary problem. At the root of many, if not most, people's ongoing financial trouble is an unhealthy relationship with money.
When I started to counsel people in the Financial Recovery process, I assumed that clients would come to me wanting simple debt repayment plans or advice on spending and saving — basically, information about money. But I discovered over time that the vast majority of my clients knew that it was not just information they needed. They wanted to understand their relationship with money and make lasting changes. People with ongoing financial challenges, cyclic patterns, and recurring money dramas usually understand that their problems with money have little to do with math — they're about their relationship with money.
Joe and Valerie knew they had to change their relationship with money.
Joe and Valerie did not have to lose everything to become willing to change their relationship with money. For others, this realization comes only after things have gotten much worse. Some people, such as Julia, become so overwhelmed by money problems that they put their lives at risk.
Stories like Julia's and Joe and Valerie's are fairly common among people who are struggling in their relationship with money. You might be thinking, "I can't have a relationship with money. It's just there. Money is just a thing," or, "I don't even want to think about money, much less have a relationship with it!"
For many of us, our relationship with money is similar to the one we have with our car: we don't really want to understand what's going on under the hood; we just want it to work and take us where we want to go without any trouble. And hey, we're realistic. We know the car needs gas. We realize we have to put a little fuel and care into the thing, but beyond that we don't want to hassle with it. That's our wish with money too.
Others want money to be like Santa Claus, a benevolent force that asks nothing of us but still shows up with a bagful of goodies. We want money to appear when we want it and need it, to grant our desires, get us out of trouble, and take care of us.
I understand and have felt this way too. I once thought my trouble with money was that I simply didn't have enough of it. That was true in my childhood and young adulthood. More would certainly fix things, I thought. I felt empty and deprived when I had nothing. Then, when I got money, I ended up spending it recklessly and still felt empty and deprived. This behavior said a lot more about my relationship with money than about how much of it I had.
It has become clear to me that absolutely everyone has a relationship with money — whether they want to or not, and whether they know it or not. The relationship may be harmonious or it may be acrimonious, distant or obsessive. It may be conscious or unconscious, supportive or abusive. Undeniably, money is part of our lives. Every time we earn money, spend it, borrow it, save it, win it, or lose it, we are relating to it, ascribing meaning to it, and deriving meaning from it. Money affects how we live, our relationships with others, our community, and the world.
The meaning we attribute to money largely determines our relationship with it and results from all our personal history, culture, and experience. If I were to interview ten people, money would likely mean completely different things to each of them: freedom, security, importance, accomplishment, self-esteem, adventure, sex appeal, and so on.
In his book The Secret Language of Money, my friend and colleague David Krueger describes our relationship with money as the "longest-running relationship in our life." Even before we are born, our parents' financial circumstances and attitudes lay the groundwork for our first experiences of the world, influencing what kind of prenatal care our mothers receive and what our resources, education, and opportunities will be as we grow. Similarly, after we die, our estate (or lack thereof) lives on. Our children will likely be influenced throughout their lives — consciously or not — by whatever we teach them, intentionally or unintentionally, about money. They may then pass on those lessons to their children, giving our relationship with money a multigenerational impact.
I'm not implying that money is the most important thing in life, and certainly it's not more important than the people we hold dear. Interestingly, though, the healthier your relationship with money, the less likely it is that money will distract you from the things you value most. But money, and our relationship with it, is an undeniable force. Ignoring it doesn't change that. In fact, when we choose to be ostrichlike in our relationship with our finances, hiding our heads in the sand, money exerts an even greater, and usually more negative, influence on us.
Money colors so many areas of our lives — health, education, lifestyle, career, family, self-image, political influence, and so on. Doesn't it make sense to have as healthy a relationship with it as possible?
Situational Problem or Unhealthy Pattern?
Anyone can have a bad romance, and even solid, healthy relationships have their rocky moments. But when someone has a long string of disastrous romances, it becomes obvious that the situation is attributable not to a particular choice but to a pattern of choices. The same is true in our relationships with money. Anyone can have a situational financial problem due to extenuating circumstances — a job loss, a failed business, a medical condition. But when money issues crop up over and over, or when the same financial predicament only grows more and more destructive, an unhealthy pattern of behavior with money exists; our financial challenges are not merely situational but reflect an ongoing pattern in our relationships with money.
Many major aspects of our lives have an element of recurrence. We tend to have the same old arguments over and over with our loved ones. We always seem to sit in the same chair at the dinner table. Humans are creatures of habit. This is fine when the habit is benign, such as misplacing our reading glasses around the house. But when some patterns become entrenched — repeated so often that they seem unchangeable — and are actually harmful to our best interest, they can be the source of great unhappiness and even self-destruction.
This chapter, and indeed this whole book, asks you to open your mind to new ways of looking at yourself and the patterns, behaviors, and consequences you experience in your relationship with money. But be cautious here. We'd all prefer to think that our money problems are attributable to a series of situations outside our control. But if we're honest with ourselves and accept that those situations are really part of a larger pattern, we have to probe to uncover the source of the problem. It's not always easy to look at our own role in a troubled relationship. By doing so in your relationship with money, you'll not only become aware of your patterns but also empower yourself to make the real and lasting changes that promote balance and financial wellness.
In some cases, financial troubles truly are attributable to outside circumstances. Since the U.S. economic downturn of 2008, people who had been living financially responsible lives, doing all the right things and planning for the future, have found themselves in financial trouble that no one could have anticipated. Disasters, both natural and manmade, have combined with the troubled national economy to launch a relentless barrage on people's financial and emotional lives.
Many people nearing retirement age have watched in horror as their savings have plummeted with the stock and real estate markets. With their funds depleted and little time to recoup, they are facing retirement lives quite different from those they imagined and worked toward. Suddenly, these people must scale back on expenditures they have long taken for granted. They are now forced to design a new financial life, which my friend and colleague Mikelann Valterra, the author of Why Women Earn Less, has termed "involuntary simplicity." This refers to the costcutting and budgeting measures that their new financial realities necessitate. Fortunately, Financial Recovery can provide solutions for those whose financial difficulties have resulted from circumstances beyond their control as well as for those whose choices and behaviors have led to financial crisis.
However, a financial crisis (even on a national scale) can serve as a magnifying glass focused on those whose relationship with money was unhealthy to start with. For those who have been living on the edge, especially those who have been living that way for a very long time, the recession was not an isolated episode. It was just one more in a long series of events that dragged them down into the enormous pull of something I call the "Money/ Life Drain," which we'll talk more about in chapter 2. It pays to step back from our current financial difficulties and examine what may be more than a situational money problem and instead is a long-standing pattern of money behaviors.
A Word About Compassion
Before we start examining the various kinds of dysfunctional relationships with money, I invite you to view those who suffer them without judgment or blame. It's easy to look with criticism at those who have spent themselves into crises or whose repeated patterns have caused them and their families harm. It's hard for some people to understand why others live beyond their means, and it's especially easy to judge those who have trust funds or inherited wealth. But I can tell you that those in financial crisis — however they got there — arrive with an abundance of selfjudgment. Their self-recrimination, shame, and embarrassment often keep them from seeking help, only making the problems worse. They are in pain and trying to figure out how to make their relationship with money better. But to reach out for help takes guts.
The expression "You're only as sick as your secrets" fittingly describes those in financial crisis. These people often feel embarrassed about their financial circumstances and the behaviors that got them there. When they become willing to come out of their isolation and secrecy, confiding in someone who can help, they begin to show signs of enormous relief. I get very excited when I see the "hope light" come on for people.
Financial Recovery involves taking personal responsibility, and we have to look at our own choices, frailties, patterns, and blind spots in order to enter into this process. It requires honest, clear-eyed self-examination. It requires that we learn skills and tools to manage our money and put what we learn into action. I deeply admire the courage it takes to tackle the work of Financial Recovery.
Most of all, I invite you to suspend the cruelest judgment — your judgment of yourself. Even if your financial life is a mess, even if you've blown it a dozen times or more or have veered into questionable behavior out of desperation, you can begin your healing process now. You won't improve things by flogging yourself with shame and criticism. That may have been a big part of how the problem got started in the first place. Be kind to yourself. Let yourself learn. Let yourself grow.
Maya Angelou said, "You did then what you knew how to do and when you knew better you did better." That's all we're capable of — doing better than we've done before. We can do this only if we're allowed to learn what we don't yet know. This is what Financial Recovery has taught me and what it can teach you.
Financial Dis-ease and Its Symptoms
Logically, if one is in need of recovery, then one must suffer from some sort of malady, or disease. This word can come loaded with assumptions. Let's look at its most basic definition from Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: "disease, n. 1: Trouble. 2: A condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs the performance of a vital function 3: Harmful development."
Two things have become clear to me, first in my own life, then in my work as a financial counselor. First, because money touches nearly every area of our lives, having a troubled ongoing relationship with it is harmful to our most crucial functioning. Second, the ability to develop a healthy relationship with money requires personal investment and commitment to going forward. This is not so very different from someone changing her diet after being diagnosed with diabetes, or altering his lifestyle after suffering a heart attack.
I have come to regard the emotional stress, compromised relationships, and destructive patterns that many people have with money as financial disease. Notice the hyphen. Clearly, if you are in financial trouble, you are not at ease. Financial disease can erode relationships with friends, family members, and professional associates. It can also pollute careers, limit creativity, tarnish integrity, and actually be life threatening. How? By causing stress-related illness, neglected medical care, and, in the most dramatic cases, suicide.
To me, the difference between disease and dis-ease is a simple one. Treating a physical disease usually requires a medical license and is best done by someone other than oneself. But the only person who can identify your financial dis-ease is you. Someone on the outside might not even know you're struggling. With the right tools and support, coupled with a willingness to look honestly at your circumstances, you'll know when you're feeling the pain and symptoms of financial dis-ease. And the remedy is Financial Recovery.
If you suffer from financial dis-ease or behave in compulsive ways with regard to money, it won't just go away. You have to ask for help and accept the fact that you're out of control. You must create and maintain a healthy relationship with money. This is doable but far more complicated than it might sound. Making significant and lasting behavioral changes is an "inside job," and these are usually the toughest kind. Fortunately, this book will arm you with the tools you need.
Excerpted from Financial Recovery by Karen McCall. Copyright © 2011 Karen McCall. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Karen McCall is the founder and owner of the Financial Recovery Institute. Since 1988, McCall has counseled individuals, couples, and businesses through a holistic, transformational approach that results in a stable and secure financial foundation. The Karen McCall MoneyMinder© system enables people to discover underlying attitudes about money — often the cause of self-defeating money behaviors such as overspending, chronic debt, underearning, and low or no savings — while providing the tools, strategies, and support to achieve financial well-being. Karen McCall is recognized nationally and across many disciplines as a consultant, trainer, and speaker on effective money management and its role in overall financial and emotional stability. She has been featured in such publications as Money Magazine, Entrepreneur, and USA Weekend. She was featured on the PBS series The Financial Advisors and was the host of the radio talk show Mental Wealth. Her published works include It's Your Money: Achieving Financial Well-Being; The Financial Recovery Workbook; and as a contributor to I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, a book for mental health professionals. Karen McCall is in demand as a presenter at conferences and financial recovery groups across the country. She lives in Sonoma County, California. Visit Karen's website at www.financialrecovery.com.
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