As a financial advisor, female speaker, and advocate for equality, I find the intersection of money and happiness fascinating. Money can help some do amazing things for their family, community, and the world. It can lead others down treacherous paths of unhappiness, anxiety, and pain.

So why is this? Why do some individuals control their money while others seem controlled by either abundance or lack of money? Interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with money itself at all.

You see, it is not the object itself that has any real meaning, it’s the association of the value we place on that object and even stronger yet, our relationship with it. Your culture, experiences, and beliefs all play a role in your relationship with money, whether consciously or subconsciously.

No one is born with a healthy or unhealthy relationship with money. Over time you form your relationship based on your experiences and the habits of those around you. Your experiences impact your relationship, which then sets the stage for how you manage money. 

Want to understand your relationship with money better? Ask yourself these three questions to get started:

  1. What is your first memory of money?
  2. When was a time in your life where money created joy?
  3. When was a time in your life where money created pain?

After reviewing your answers, you may notice habits, behaviors, and feelings toward money you hadn’t noted before. You may have wondered why you kept purchasing certain types of items or budgeted or invested funds in a specific manner. Chances are the answers you were looking for were rooted in your answers to the questions above.

Let’s see how this can play out as we mature.  

One example is from a colleague who, after a fair amount of self-reflection, realized that she grew up thinking money was “dirty.” To the point, her parents taught her to wash her hands any time she touched the money.

While this is an excellent health-conscious habit to form, it also had an unintended impact on how she viewed money for years and led to a disconnect of trying to attain and desire something that could be harmful to her.

And she’s not alone. Many individuals make decisions every day that support and self-sabotage their ability to acquire and retain money without realizing it, and it all stems from their relationship with money.

My relationship started slightly differently. Growing up in Hong Kong, my mother was a saver who would save 30% of any money our household earned. While she did an excellent job of managing our savings, she was always “worried” about money.

Her worry led to chronic stress, shortened temper, and challenging relationships within our home. My father, the entrepreneur in the family, while appreciating my mom’s perspective, also helped me see the other side of the story. He would always say, “If money can fix it, it’s not a problem. Give yourself the freedom money can buy.”

With those two perspectives, I’ve grown to be a saver who also enjoys letting money pay for the things that bring me happiness and joy in my own life. My goal is not to be the wealthiest person, but to have enough so I’m not going to “worry” about money and let it rob me of my joy in life. That is my motivation for money. Yours might be different. It is essential to find your motivation.

Once you uncover your experiences and the underlying motivation for managing money, you’ll be able to notice, name, and tame any habits you’d like to change. How you leverage money to meet your goals may change as your financial situation and priorities change over time.

Today, these are the ways I leverage money to help me prioritize what matters most in my life:

  • Time – When I purchase services from others that free up my time, I’m able to do things that I prefer or can yield more significant returns on investment for myself.
  • Resilience – When something unexpected happens — say I have unanticipated medical or car repair bills – I know I don’t need to add debt or liquidate my investments to take care of the situation. Just pay the bills using my emergency reserve and move on.
  • Confidence – When you know your values, where you stand financially, and the worst that can happen, you can stand up for yourself and your values without fear of consequence or retribution.

So, how do you want to increase your financial wellness? What did you learn about your relationship with money?

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