What’s Your Relationship With Money?


Last year at a home and garden show, as I walked through an RV on display, a sales rep started his pitch to get me to buy one.

I laughed, saying, “Only if I want to be a bag lady when I’m ninety and I don’t.”

He said, “Well, that’s a pretty funny answer. Don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

Though I’m the one who made the joke, in truth, I didn’t see anything funny about it. While I have enough money to be comfortable in retirement, doing some fun things on this part of my journey, I don’t have enough for frivolity on a big-ticket item, especially one which will depreciate with time.

We all know money does not buy retirement happiness anymore than it buys happiness at any other time in our lives. But, it sure does help. When I talk to most retirees about money, their largest concern is outliving their money. I certainly get that.

All of us have emotional buttons when it comes to money _ negative ones like jealousy, fear, depression, anxiety, even anger or positive ones like stability, empowerment, enjoyment. Whether or not we have money in retirement or the money to retire in the first place probably depends upon our relationship with money over our lifetime thus far. Yes, we all have a relationship with money.

My relationship with money has a checkered past. I grew up in a household without a lot of money, one of the reasons I like a fully stocked pantry. It’s a security blanket for me. So is having money in reserve. But, I didn’t learn that until after a lot of years in banking watching and listening to a lot of people about their relationships with money.

Referring to that relationship, Will Smith once said, “Too many people spend money they have not earned to buy things they do not want to impress people they do not like.”

Ain’t that the truth! Impressing the neighbors, friends and family, complete strangers, keeping up with the Joneses? Retirement or nearing retirement is not a time to continue any unhealthy relationships with money. If you haven’t figured it out already, now is the time to zero in on your emotional relationship with money, so it doesn’t derail your retirement or plans to retire.

Fortunately, along with my banking lessons, I had mentors, who had money, who talked to their employees about money.  I came to understand that money is nothing more than a tool in life. It costs money to live and it makes life easier, but it is not the money which brings happiness. That comes from having a good family, good friends, good health, a spiritual connection and, of course, meaning and purpose for your life. Money is simply the tool, which can keep that good life humming along.

The flip side of spending, spending, spending is hoarding money. If you are not spending on something you truly, truly would enjoy, not because you don’t have the money, but because you are afraid to spend the money, that can also show a problematic relationship. Striking a balance between the two extremes yields a healthier relationship with money as well as life itself. We also want to have some retirement fun!

Martin and I still have a budget AND we still give ourselves an allowance. We still call it our “blow money” meaning we can blow it on whatever we want, no holds barred, no negative comments from the other about what it was spent on. The feelings of empowerment and enjoyment derived from this freedom while maintaining our financial stability should not be underrated.

I worked hard to reach my retirement goal. The reason I strived to save enough to retire is so I wouldn’t have to work to pay for a roof over my head or food on the table. Money is the tool that gave me the freedom to do what I want with my days. Finding meaning and purpose in my life has had more impact on my happiness in retirement than any amount of money.

My feeling of security derived from having money in reserve is a positive emotion about money. Had I purchased the RV, jeopardizing my future security, I undoubtedly would have felt negative emotions _ angry with myself, depressed, fearful. Understanding why we are spending money or not spending it, what emotions the spending triggers in us, goes a long way in helping us make informed and, hopefully, wise choices in retirement.