This is a guest post from Plonkee Money. Plonkee lives in England, where she writes about personal finance.
A friend of mine has a tendency to be swayed by conspiracy theories, his favorites being The Da Vinci Code and the fictionalization of the Apollo Moon Landings. I was talking to him the other day, and he asked if I knew that money held in savings accounts was loaned out to other people and that banks didn't have any money of their own. I was unfazed by these revelations.
There is no secret to the way banks work. I actually visited a fascinating museum exhibition on the history of money that explained all these details and more. I told him that, in my honest opinion, it was nothing to worry about.
I am comfortable with the realization that in some sense, modern money isn't real and it doesn't exist. Money has no intrinsic value, and isn't sought for its own sake. Instead money represents other things.
For some people, money represents freedom — money gives them the freedom to do as they please, and not having money (or worse, being in debt) constrains them. For me, money represents security. Having money means being secure; not having money means that at any given moment my whole life could come crashing down.
The extent to which I feel that money represents security isn't particularly healthy or rational, but it does have some beneficial effects. I have no consumer debt, and I prefer to have a reasonably healthy savings cushion. I pursue these goals not because they are sensible, but because they enable me to sleep at night.
On the other hand, I waste time worrying about money. Worse, spending large sums of money — even on things that I need — makes me extremely uncomfortable.
On the surface, my attitude toward money might seem reasonable, but in reality it isn't. My weirdness is masked by its very sensible effects. After all, the best personal finance advice usually involves maintaining a certain level of savings, and avoiding excessive debt or risk that makes you uncomfortable. But I always feel like I'm on the edge of a slippery slope, where the sign is pointing to rack, ruin and the end of my happy little world.
I don't want to surrender to my money-security fear because deep down, I know it's irrational. For many people, chronic overspending can be a symptom of an underlying unhappiness unrelated to money. I'm concerned that my own fear of not having enough money is actually a symptom of something else, and that I could be happier than I am. I don't want to restrict my dreams because I am frightened that the sky will fall in.
J.D. says: If I'd read this five years ago, it wouldn't have made sense to me. I didn't share these fears. But with my upcoming transition to full-time writer, I know exactly what Plonkee means. Suddenly I'm worried about the future, too. Is this normal? To what extent are your money habits motivated by fear?