I’ve learned many lessons from my Dad about life, happiness and also about money. I’ve seen how my Dad looks at money as a tool. He is the user and the master of this tool. Wisely used, money could reduce stress, inspire joy, create a legacy and provide peace of mind.

The dangerous side of money is when people have an unhealthy attachment to it. Through my dad’s lessons and my own experiences, I’ve seen how money can generate pain and unhappiness for many people who let financial fears drive their decisions and attach their status and value to money.

My dad ran a business for over 30 years before retirement. He had some good profitable years as well as some challenging years of losses. In the good years, after paying taxes and putting away savings, he would do something special for us. In the years of losses, he would communicate with bankers and vendors asking for flexibility on payment due dates. If nothing else, he updated expectations for these debtors, letting them know that repayment of debt might not be on time.

However, in a few circumstances, it did not seem to help. I remember one day before Chinese New Year when I was in grade school, there was a non-stop banging on the front door of our 400 square feet condo. I worried that our front door would fall apart.

My younger brother and I were so scared.

He burst into tears.

Grandma put her hand over his mouth and quickly whisked us into our bedroom, whispering, “Shhhh! Be quiet.”

“They are looking for your Dad.”

Wide-eyed with fear, I stared into Grandma’s eyes, asking why the heck this was happening.

Grandma whispered into my ear,

“Your dad owes some vendors money… my God, everyone needs money before New Year…”

(Chinese New Year, just like our Thanksgiving, is an important tradition for family to gather for a special meal together.)

The banging on the front door finally stopped. Managing money and the business seemed very stressful!

My mother would worry so much about the business that she lost sleep. Meanwhile, Dad was sleeping like a baby. Mom always got mad at Dad because he slept so well as if he did not care, even in the most challenging times.

She asked,

“Don’t you worry? We could lose our home and your business.”

My Dad would always say,

“If losing sleep is going to help resolve our situation, let’s make sure we stay up as much as possible. If losing sleep does not improve our situation, let’s sleep well so we have a clear mind to solve the problem tomorrow.”

My mother’s fear of losing everything and the anxiety of going down that path of financial ruin was emotional. She tends to think of the worst-case scenario and make it her reality. She lets those emotions drive her.

When worry causes us to lose sleep, our minds spin at high speed trying to replay what happened. Alternatively, we are trying non-stop to find a solution. Fear fosters more fear. Fear fosters stress. Stress becomes chronic stress when we constantly think about a problem and can’t find a way out. It can become detrimental to our mental and physical health.

What my Dad did was to compartmentalize his problems and challenges. When it was time for bed, he put his problems and challenges in the parking lot for tomorrow. Then he slept to recharge, so he could do his best to resolve the problems the next day. He was able to detach from money and was ready to let go of the consequence. He may not the wealthiest man I know, but he is the happiest and healthiest man in his golden years.

We would all be happier, healthier and wiser if we could follow my father’s advice: sleep well so you can do your best but be ready to let go of the consequence. Taking the long view, ten years from now we likely won’t recall the fears we have now that are keeping us awake at night.

As my father said, a good night’s sleep solves more problems than worrying and losing sleep!

Actions to consider when dealing with financial emotions:

  1. Ask yourself: if your best friend was dealing with the same problem, would losing sleep help resolve the problem? If not, why would you do it to yourself?
  2. Compartmentalize the problem by writing it on a piece of paper and putting it in a box before going to bed. Close the box and say goodnight.
  3. Compile a list of what could happen for the worst-case scenario and another list on the best-case scenario.
  4. Decide the first step you will take to resolution.
  5. Take the first step.


If you’d like more information about how you can take charge of your money or would like to have Alice speak at an event, contact: askalicetang@gmail.com for more information.

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