Getting emotional about money

The value you place on money is hugely driven by emotion. Behind every dollar you spend, there's an emotion attached to it. Get clear on the emotional driver, and you get clear on your relationship to prosperity.

I tend to think of money in the same way I regard time: It's a form of energy. It comes and goes according to my intentions. The clearer my intentions, the more the money flows. Before I decide if I'm going to spend my coin on something, I weigh out the potential for results and pleasure.

“Pleasure” has a great range. Sometimes delight is the measurable, but other times we're aiming for circuit-blowing ecstasy. And as we all know, in terms of commerce, circuit-blowing ecstasy can be achieved with something as indulgent as a piece of chocolate ganache or luxy as private race-car driving lessons or as noble as making a donation to your favorite cause.

Money Is a Tool

Before you reach for your wallet or click on “Buy,” ask yourself:

  • Is this going to make me feel fantastic in a way that it actually improves my well-being? If spending is about improving your well-being, that helps rule out impulse and stupid big-ego purchases that are mostly about looking cool.
  • Is this going to help me get the results that I'm aiming for? When you're focused on creating an amazing future, you tend to value the present more.
  • Is this going to help other people (including the people you're purchasing from)? Is this going to make things easier for me, and free me up so that I can pursue more . . . pleasure? If the pleasure potential matches your budget, then you've got full clearance to proceed.

When I spend, first I consider if something will energize me, and second, I consider the actual dollar cost. This means I can act like a wannabe baroness or a total cheapskate in the span of a minute. Like I did one afternoon in Vancouver International Airport.

Weighing Costs

I had missed my flight cutoff time by five minutes. For years I'd been dreaming of having an experience at a certain spa in New Mexico. My spa package was booked, and if I didn't arrive that day, my whole fantasy was going to be blown away like a tumbleweed in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I did some quick emotional math. I could book a new flight, toss the old one, charter from another hub. What was this experience worth to me? How much more was I willing to pay to prevent dream devastation?

I decided I'd go as high as two thousand bucks to rescue my plans — totally frivolous, and not something I'd ever tell my mother. I resolved to do whatever it took to get there, rationalizing that the euphoria of my mountain healing time would make me more productive and, therefore, I'd make that money back in a snap.

Luckily, I had to pay only a $150 re-booking fee. I was elated that my fantasy holiday was about to come true, and I felt like I was $2,000 ahead in the game. It felt sexy knowing that I was willing to go sugar mama on myself: “Damn, girl, you treat yourself fine.” I picked up my boarding pass, walked to the snack shop, and put some glazed almonds on the counter.

“That'll be fifteen dollars.”

“For these?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” said the cashier.

“You're kidding. I'm not paying fifteen dollars for a bag of almonds.”

Fantasies fulfilled: Worth it. Getting ripped off: Not going to happen. Emotions: In check.

Asking Questions

There are unlimited ways to create the positive feelings you want in every interaction you have with money. But some of us need to start by overcoming negative emotions tied to money. You can build awareness of how you feel about money by following these steps.

Step One
Answer the following questions as honestly as you can. How do you feel:

  • About your debt?
  • About your income?
  • About your savings and assets?
  • About anyone who owes you money?
  • When you pay for experiences and outings?
  • When you go grocery shopping?
  • When you shop for gifts?
  • When you shop for clothes?
  • When you shop for decor, art, or collectibles?

Step Two
Identify what pure positivity with money would feel like. If you have negative feelings that showed up in some of the above answers, think of the positive feelings that counter those. For example, if how you feel about your debt is heavy, burdened, or resentful, perhaps the positive contrast would be promising, empowered, and grateful.

Step Three
Choose just one positive money emotion — the one that feels the most vital and exciting to you — and think of one action you can take in each of the money areas below that will help you feel that way:

  • How you spend money
  • How you save money
  • How you give money
  • How you receive money
  • How you manage money

For example, if the feeling you want the most around money is gratitude, what can you do when spending your money to feel grateful? Is it keeping a gratitude journal for the things you buy, or being extra-polite to sales clerks, or saying a quiet “Thanks for the ability to pay my bills,” when you're writing a check to the electric company?

Say your most positive feeling is security. What can you do in regard to how you manage your money to feel that way? Create monthly cash flow projections, join an investment group, write your will, start a new savings account?

All of us have an emotional relationship with money, for good or ill. But not everyone is conscious of why they feel the way they do. Recognizing how money influences your emotions can help you make smarter choices and lead to a more prosperous future. That's something all of us can be happy about.

More about...Psychology

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Frugal Fries
Frugal Fries
8 years ago

I think emotional buying used to be a huge one for me. Retail therapy is totally a thing, but it’s very a short-lived relief without the critical thinking.

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

That was an amazing post, very provocative.

Hard to believe that I immediately registered negative emotions regarding all of those interactions with money (I don’t enjoy spending money…I used to, and there was wanton abuse of credit cards to prove it).

Since 2008 we have put much of those spendy tendencies to bed, but the scars of the abuse remain in the form of anemic savings.

Danielle LaPorte
Danielle LaPorte
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

so good to notice that so many money “emotions” are a negative pattern — then you can change the course.

Poor Student
Poor Student
8 years ago

sometimes I think I get caught up and enjoy something because I spent money on it. “I paid $200 for this so I need to get my money’s worth.” This makes the cost of the item include the money paid for it and the time that might better be spent doing something else that I use with the new item.

I have gotten better with this, but I still like buying new things to try them out sometimes, even though I rarely end up liking them. I am going to start asking myself your questions and hopefully that will help.

javier
javier
8 years ago

Well, thats interesting. Yesterday night I bought online sneakers and two t-shirts I wanted but I didn’t needed at all. Why? Very simple, I’ve accounted that this month I’ve saved a 55% more of my target (even after spending all this money). The point is I can’t wait to get them because (in my opinion) they look awesome and I wanted to get those sneakers since one or two years ago so I don’t feel guilty at all for buying them at a 50% discount. So answering your questions I would say I don’t like my debt, feel very comfortable… Read more »

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

Very thought provoking- I think I’ll read this post through a couple of times over the weekend. I struggle with feeling guilty whenever I spend money and part of that is because my husband and I have different priorities. I spend very little money except on food. I like to eat out. He on the other hand hates going to restaurants (terribly anti-social) and has very easy to please tastebuds so he’ll be just as happy at home with well, just about anything edible. I don’t regret spending money on restaurants (and we go very rarely because of his disdain… Read more »

Jamie in CA
Jamie in CA
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

Ha – I just turned down the radio to read this to my husband. Let me know if you’re in CA and we can go enjoy dinner and leave the men with a grill, some hamburgers, and a box of mac and cheese…

Mom
Mom
8 years ago

Love the part about the almonds, especially the emotions in check. I find that part very difficult! I take any attempt to rip me off very personally.

TB
TB
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom

I liked the almonds part too. My mom gives me guff sometimes becuase she doesn’t understand how I can drop $200 on a good tool set, but refuse to spend $5 for a cup of joe. It’s all about what things are really worth and not getting ripped off, no matter how much you’re getting ripped off for!

CJ Belle
CJ Belle
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom

LOL @ $15 almonds at the airport! Probably weren’t even organic at that!?!

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom

I bet the government-subsidized Doritos and Smartfood were much cheaper than the healthy-fat ridden almonds

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

Great points here. I absolutely connect my emotions with my money. If spending or not spending money will provide me with negative emotions, I don’t do it. Saving my money for my future gives me positive emotions. It eases my anxiety about future income loss, about stress at work, about being able to provide for a family of my own in the future, etc. The prize that I’m keeping my eye on is a home of my own, that I would like to completely pay for when I buy it. I’m focused on the emotion of what it would feel… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

I like this article because it reminds me to not just focus on the future, but also to enjoy the moment. And it’s all in the context of conscious spending. Some people can get by on very little and be happy. Me? I need to have drinks with friends, go to a concert or two, and take a nice vacation every year or so. I always feel guilty about it (which I don’t think I should), but the logic part of my brain tells me that saving all the time would make me miserable in the long run. Most of… Read more »

Danielle LaPorte
Danielle LaPorte
8 years ago

booya: conscious spending = more value gained.

Staying out of Debt
Staying out of Debt
8 years ago

I used and still a little bit have a bad time with impulse buying on stuff I think I want, and when it gets down to it I hardly used it. But I have paid for overpriced items before due to the time factor. Yet I never though of picking just one emotion and asking questions around that, I’ll have to give that a try.

WWII Kid
WWII Kid
8 years ago

I struggle every day with wanting an expensive luxury car. I’ve convinced myself that people will see me driving it and think highly of me. The same with wanting that status handbag that costs $600 and is made of plastic. I want to be cool.

I know it’s because I live in the NYC area and work with people who have all these status items and yet are not really happy.

I’m such a nerd.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Not every purchase needs to be analyzed to death. Not every transaction is freighted with emotion. Not every forthcoming book is worth reading.

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I’m not sure if I’m reading between the lines correctly here or if I’m misunderstanding your comment, but if you’re saying you don’t find this post to be of the same level of substance or authenticity as is usual on this blog, then I strongly agree with you.

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Perhaps I’m just getting old and cranky, but this stuff just seems like new-age mumbo jumbo. I looked at her website, and it’s full of 72-point “inspirational” quotes. Not my idea of spirituality. I’ll pass.

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I’m also wondering where all the usual commenters are. El Nerdo, chacha, Tyler K., etc.? Comments not pleasing to the new management, possibly?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

LOL hey, no need for paranoias! Can’t speak for the other people you mention but I’ve just been busy. I’ve only been a GRS reader under the new ownership (I think JD still manages though), and I’ve never had to deal with a blog cop. So, about the article– I tried reading but I couldn’t make sense of the thing. Then I read again later and figured that “feeling fabulous” is a pretty good rationalization than can apply to everything. “Hey, I just bought this eightball of cocaine because it makes me feel %#Q%@# fabulous!” Awesome personal finance. Anyway, why… Read more »

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

Oh yay, El Nerdo, glad you’re here. I was afraid the regulars, whom I would expect to have some strong ideas about this article, had been “disappeared”– moderated into silence. It does happen on other sites. But maybe it’s only me who reacted in horror to this article. I just get so much good information from this site and suddenly it was “kick-ass spirituality” and “straight-up sermons on life + money” from a “former think tank exec.” Sorry, but it does sound like someone sold a guest post to someone who wants to market their book.

fantasma
fantasma
8 years ago

I stopped shopping, am able to make very calculated purchases that fit within my budget. My real issue is eating alone at home. Since I am single I hate just eating at home alone. When I do eat at home rarely is it ever away from the kitchen(unless I am watching t.v.), but in front of the stove after I finished cooking. I am not a fan of eating by myself, since I usually had dinner with my siblings growing up. If I can find the motivation to just enjoying eating by myself, I’ll be on my way. I am… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  fantasma

I feel the same way. I live alone and love it, but I also hate eating alone. I also dislike cooking for myself so I tend to make the same things over and over again and save the “good stuff” for company or potluck with friends.

kazari
kazari
8 years ago
Reply to  fantasma

i’m so sorry you feel that way!
I’m from a big family too, but for me, eating by myself still feels like a huge treat because i get to have exactly what i want.
also, i’m a bookworm, so to be able to read while i eat dinner still feels like i’m getting away with something 🙂

google “dinner for one” – find yourself some recipes that are healthy, cheap and still feel like a treat – there’s lots out there.
i hope this helps!

KS
KS
8 years ago
Reply to  fantasma

Maybe you can start a regular cooking or potluck club or some such with similarly minded friends? If you all make big portions, you can split things up after the meal so that you all can take home some leftovers other than your own.

Frugal Portland
Frugal Portland
8 years ago

Great list, great way to think about spending.

SavingfromScratch
SavingfromScratch
8 years ago

I find that the 24-hour rule works for me. If it’s a substantial purchase, don’t act impulsively. Sleep on it, debate it, and make 100% sure that it’s either a must-have or you’ve got the savings to cover it.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

I love the questions you posed, especially Is this going to help other people (including the people you’re purchasing from)?

Isela
Isela
8 years ago

God! This may be my favorite post of the blog ever….

I was a compulsive and emotional spender, I was looking to get from money what I couldn’t get from people. Happiness can be bought only if you are not trying to replace people with things.

Sellers take advantage of those emotional voids inside us to try to get us to buy their products. When someone realizes that there is that void, and really understands what is missing the money problem can get then resolved.

Lovely post.

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
8 years ago

As a whole, this article is valuable because self-knowledge is more important (and profitable in every way) than financial knowledge. However, I respectfully disagree on many points. I’ll choose just one: The author says, “When you’re focused on creating an amazing future, you tend to value the present more.” This may be true but it may aid to perpetuate self-defeating behavior. I understand the point but a focus on the future paradoxically removes one from the present moment. Life is in the present moment; future is never here. The self-defeating aspect is the one that suggests “the future will be… Read more »

Carin Kiphart
Carin Kiphart
8 years ago

I’m totally like you Danielle, I will drop cash at the drop of a hat for an experience but opt for the cheap bread at the grocery store 5 times out of 10.

To me, it’s all about what you value at the moment.

Great article and it definitely hits a nerve!

Bonnie Foley-Wong
Bonnie Foley-Wong
8 years ago

A great article Danielle – loved the almond story!

I believe this applies to how we invest as well as how we spend. It’s very timely too because in my work I’m bringing emotions (and intuition) back on the table alongside analysis when it comes to making investment decisions. Great financial, emotional, and spiritual returns come from integrated investment decision-making…

KSR
KSR
8 years ago

The article is listed under “psychology” and that seems fitting. 1) Why were you late for your plane knowing that in this day and age we all need to be there to hang out for 2 hours prior to departure. Seems a little irresponsible. 2) Why think of it as treating yourself by allowing a $2000 “allowance” for your own mistake when in reality it should have been assessed, phone calls should have been made and corrections in place with the least amount of penalty possible for the irresponsible behavior displayed—then this dollar amount deducted from the planned expenditure of… Read more »

A Knight
A Knight
8 years ago
Reply to  KSR

I wish I could like your comment twice. Doesn’t conscious spending include conscious time-spending? Who could permit themselves to miss their flight, knowing that not getting there on the same day would “ruin” the vacation for them? If you need that sort of perfection in your vacation, wouldn’t you exert a little more effort in getting to the airport on time to ensure your own standards are met? Seems like a bit more advance planning to ensure previous financial decisions weren’t sacrificed is in order. Not a financial, spiritual, or decision-making role model for me, that’s for sure!

APB News
APB News
8 years ago

One of the things I do to create a more positive relationship with money is to enjoy paying my bills. Yep, when I pay my water bill, I think of how fantastic it is to be able to have running water, a washing machine, dishwasher, hot shower, and a green vegetable garden. I get all the water I could ever want for a cost of less than an hour’s worth of work per month. It makes me really appreciate what I’m getting for my money.

Daisy

Danielle LaPorte
Danielle LaPorte
8 years ago
Reply to  APB News

I also make that a practice. “I’m grateful I can pay this bill.” Makes a difference.

Amateur
Amateur
8 years ago

This is good self reflection article! I find that over time my relationship with money changes due to external forces at play. I beat myself up over lost opportunities and the time lost not doing something which equates to losing money and the redundancy of having to re-do things because of it all. However, being grateful for the opportunity is also important! There’s more to life than new gadgets and clothes, but life isn’t worth living if every penny is scrutinized that everything just costs so much that nothing is worth doing since it costs so much. Your future self… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

Great post! I’ve never thought about whether my purchases “actually improve my well-being”, “help me get the results I’m aiming for” or “help other people”. In reviewing my spending habits I tend to make mostly rational decisions but I also make some irrational ones. You bring up some great points on the emotional alignment of our finances. If I make an impulse purchase and it feels good in the short run what are the long term implications if I know it doesn’t fit into my budget? “When you’re focused on creating an amazing future, you tend to value the present… Read more »

Bret Ebbers
Bret Ebbers
7 years ago

Greetings! I’ve been following your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent job!|

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