Money is, by definition, a tool to expedite trade. At some point in human history, someone decided it was easier to carry metal coins to the market than bartering chickens for textiles. Money was born and agreed upon as an acceptable unit of trade.
By its nature, it retains no moral or immoral attributes. It only makes trading goods more convenient. If I have enough currency to provide for my basic needs, it should not be a source of pain or anxiety in life.
Unfortunately, this is not typically the case. According to a recent study, Nearly three out of four adults reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time. Despite living in one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world, money continues to be the top source of stress in American’s lives.
This juxtaposition is fascinating to me. And I think it is important to understand why that is the case.
At the outset, I should mention money is a complicated conversation. There are very few specific realities that can be blindly offered—especially to such a vast and varied community as this one.
We vary in many ways:
Financial Standing: Some of us live with excess, some of us in debt. Debt, by its nature, brings anxiety and worry into our lives. And overcoming stress completely can be difficult until we get out from under it.
Income: Some earn a living well above our needs, some specifically allocate each penny for budgets to align, and others fall further and further behind.
Socioeconomic Background: Some of us grew up with plenty, others with very little. These backgrounds reflect themselves consistently in our expectations. James Altucher once famously wrote that he felt poor with less than $10 million in the bank, while most of us would never dream of having that much. Our backgrounds greatly influence our expectations.
Cost of Living: Becoming Minimalist readers are scattered all across the globe with various costs of living. Some live in areas where the cost of living is high (New York City) while others live in places where money can buy much more.
World/Religious Views: Our views of the world and humanity greatly influence our understanding of money. Sometimes these views offer peace, sometimes they bring guilt and shame, while others pile additional stress and anxiety on our lives.
Committed Relationships: There is little shock when people first hear that money is one of the leading factors in divorce rates. When two people with differing personalities and backgrounds come together in the same family, there is almost always some friction. And friction in our most valued relationships naturally results in a level of anxiety.
Consequences from Decisions: Some financial decisions take years and years to overcome. One foolish shopping spree in our twenties may still haunt our credit score today. Even if we are responsible spenders today, we may still be feeling the ill-effects of less-wise choices from our younger self.
Because of these variations, specific thoughts about money are almost impossible and sweeping generalities must be personally evaluated before they can be applied.
But as I consider the evidence, I see two main reasons that almost 75% of us experience money-related stress: 1) We wish we had more; 2) We spend as if we already have more.
1. We wish we had more. There are any number of reasons why people want more money—sometimes those reasons are healthy, sometimes they are unhealthy. Certainly, the possession of money is not contrary to a simplified life, but a simplified life is not possible if money possesses you. Those who love money can never be satisfied. They will never own enough. They will always desire more. And those who desire to be rich carry the weight of that burden every day. It will always hold hostage your thoughts, your attitude, and your actions. It results in extra stress. When the love of money is present, freedom is not.
2. We spend as if we already have more. Another significant reason for money-related stress is the propensity of so many to live beyond their means—going into debt by spending more than they earn. Sometimes this is a result of poor management or unexpected emergency expenses, but most of the time it is a result of excessive consumerism.
There aren’t necessarily easy answers for overcoming the reasons above. But at the very least, demystifying and labeling the reasons for our financial anxiety moves us one step closer to overcoming them.