Money and Mood - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

Money and Mood

The other day, I read this (Not Safe for Work or Children if You'd Prefer Your Boss and Kids Didn't Know You Know Curse Words) Cracked article about odd things that can affect your mood. The third on the list? Money, which apparently can make you both depressed and unethical.

In particular, the article talked about a study that asked participants to fill out a short questionnaire and then offered them a chocolate bar. Half of the participants had a photograph of a stack of money on their questionnaire, and the other half did not. The money-viewing participants enjoyed their chocolate less than the non-money-viewers, which clearly shows that they were eating their chocolate all wrong.

I'm of two minds about this study. On the one hand, I can certainly recognize the ways that money can scramble your mood, even if you have plenty of money. There's a reason why Wall Street types have the repuation that they do: unhappy, greedy, and unethical. No one would accuse Gordon Gekko of knowing how to really savor the simple things in life.

On the other hand, I love thinking about money. (I know. Big surprise). Doing mental cash-flow predictions is how I get through long waits at the DMV and bad dental procedures. And it definitely does not affect my ability to really savor the heck out of chocolate (and other important moments in life).

I was thinking about my own view of money recently when I read fellow blogger Abby Freedman Perry at I Pick Up Pennies talking about money and fear. I started to post a comment on her blog, when I realized that I have never felt any sense of fear over finances. None. Ever.

Certainly, I have been a little overwhelmed. And I have sometimes wished I had more money. And I have often thought that money might solve a problem I had. But I've never been afraid financially.

I know part of this was growing up with the privilege of a secure middle-class childhood. I didn't have anything to fear financially growing up, for which I am very very grateful.

But I think some of it simply comes down to how I am wired to think about money. When I was 22 years old, I went from working an $8.25/hour job at Barnes & Noble to an only slightly-better paid job as an administrative assistant for Graeters Ice Cream corporate headquarters. I had about a week off between the two jobs, and it took something like three weeks for me to receive my first paycheck from Graeters.

I remember paying my rent and all of my bills at the beginning of the month during that transition, and finding that I had under $40 to my name until I received my first paycheck about three weeks later. I certainly didn't like being in that situation, but I felt good knowing all my bills were paid and knowing exactly where I stood until that first check came along. My primary feeling after paying all my bills was satisfaction at being able to handle them all, even though it left me next to nothing. (I believe I had around $300 in a savings account at the time, but that was the full extent of my worldly goods).

Again, I know that I didn't feel fear then because I'd never had to deal with a financial catastrophe, and because I knew my parents could and would help me out if I did get into a jam. But I also wasn't afraid because I tend to think of limited money as a puzzle to solve. In my game of financial Tetris, I was able to get everything to fit together.

And of course, success tends to beget success. My early successes with handling my budget made me more confident and led me to the path wherein the thought of money management makes me smile.

So both my nature (detail-oriented and meticulous), and my childhood environment (having all my financial needs met) are probably what primed me for a career as a personal finance blogger. Change something small in my makeup or my history, and maybe the very sight of money would be enough to put me off my chocolate. (Seems unlikely).

I just hope to be able to provide a similarly secure childhood to my kids and hope that I pass along some of my money meticulousness to them. I hope they will always be able to stop and smell the flowers (or enjoy the Hershey bars) no matter their money situation.

How do you feel about money? If you've ever had negative experiences with money, have you found a way to enjoy frugality?



haverwench said:

The only time I've ever felt any money-related fear was when my husband found out that his job would be going away at the end of the year, and if he didn't find a new job before then, we would become completely dependent on my extremely spotty freelance income. Since I basically have the same attitude that you do, seeing our finances as a puzzle to be solved, I responded by going into hyper-planning mode, trying to come up with a "Plan B" budget that would make ends meet on my earnings. I was able to cut enough extra expenses to meet our mortgage payment and all our existing bills—but not to meet the additional cost of health insurance for the two of us. That was when the fear set in, because it looked like my puzzle was missing some of its pieces, and I wouldn't be able to solve it until I found them.

The way I finally solved it was to redesign the puzzle, coming up with a "Plan C" budget that involved selling our house and moving to another state where we could buy a much cheaper house for cash (eliminating the mortgage) and pay much less in property tax and much less for health insurance. Once that was done, I felt less afraid, because I knew there was a way to get by, but I was still anxious, because implementing Plan C would mean turning our lives completely upside down, moving us to a new state away from everyone and everything we know. So I didn't feel truly secure again until Brian had landed a new job at the same pay rate as the old one, allowing our lives to continue undisturbed.

For a few years after that, I continued to feel a bit of low-grade anxiety about what we'd do if we were ever in that situation again. Now that our mortgage is paid off and Obamacare is available to help us foot our health-care bills, I don't really worry at all, because my Plan B budget can keep us going indefinitely. But that nagging background worry was definitely a major incentive to pay off our mortgage as fast as we did, rather than directing more money to retirement funds that we wouldn't be able to touch for decades.

March 31, 2014 11:17 AM

Carmina said:

Growing up my family was extremely frugal, since my mother was a divorced working full time while my grandmother helped raise us.  I never felt there was any extra $$$$.  What I didn,t know was that my mom was always saving money and had an emergency fund.  I resented not living in nice houses, having nice furniture or nice clothes.  All I want now is to pay credit card debt which I will be done in August.  I took a part time job to do this.  I do enjoy frugality but my husband is more of a spender.  Even though I didn't like it for years and years, it has taught me that it is nice to have a vacation here and there and make memories.  He credits me for saving and frugality so we can enjoy life a bit.  

April 1, 2014 12:59 AM

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