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Series: Mental Health and the Everyday-Money: What it Means to Us

Updated: Dec 13, 2022


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Money. We all need it. Most of us could probably use more of it. Few things are as secretive or complicated to talk about than money. And money isn’t just money, it means so many different things. There are the practical aspects of money- we need a roof over our head and electricity and food to eat and clothes to wear. There are the pleasurable aspects of it- nice dinners, vacations, newest gadgets and toys to play with. There are the existential questions that come with it- “how much of my life do I spend working for this?”, “what does a comfortable life mean to me?”, and “what will I pass onto my kids?” Your family that you were raised with has certain attitudes toward money (raise your hand if you were a “we don’t talk about it” family?! Me too!) Other people in your life have different attitudes toward money. Life circumstances greatly impact how we view money. Wow, this really is complicated! Let’s look more at the relationship between money, our perceptions of money and our mental health as you begin to ask yourself, “What does money mean to me?”


*Side note, I am a counselor, not a financial advisor! This article is looking at thoughts and feelings toward money, not suggesting anything about what you should do with your money.


Money=Worth


Some of us may place our worth on the money we bring into our homes. I’ve been working since I was 13, and my first experience with unemployment after I finished grad school was extremely challenging for me. I felt very unbalanced with my partner, like I needed to “earn my keep” or “prove my worth”. Where does this attitude come from? Well, from our capitalistic society for one! If our worth is based on what we produce, then we will probably work very hard! So hard that health, family and personal needs are often put on the backburner.


Conservative gender roles may play into this as well, if one person’s main responsibility is to provide then what happens if they can’t do that anymore? And what amount of housework (aka unpaid work) is equal to the paid work?


Our places of employment can also create this- if two people with the same credentials and experience do the same job and one person is paid more than the other person, it is an easy parallel to see what the employer places more worth on (gender, race etc.)


Having to say no to our kids because they want something we can’t afford can also really trigger feelings of low worth. Of course, you want to provide for your kids, of course, you want them to enjoy things in life, especially if you didn’t when you were little. And sometimes we need to say no.


Ask yourself- How do I define my worth? How do you define others worth? How much of Worth is related to Money?


Money=Success

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Grind baby grind! Our capitalistic society wants us to work, to be good little cogs in the machine that line a very few people’s very expensive pockets. And we do. We buy into the message that to be successful we need to make more money. How often do you guess how much your friends and family make? How often do you then put those numbers on a hierarchy to see where you rank? This leads to comparing ourselves to others, judgement and often feeling bad about ourselves for not having more.


We also feel bad about ourselves for not being as “successful” as we want, though often don’t take into account the systemic obstacles that are very intentionally put in place. Two teenagers may both want to go to college and have the same grades, but more doors are open for the middle class or wealthy kid than the kid whose parents are immigrants, or work for minimum wage, or weren’t able to afford college themselves.


Ask yourself- What does success mean to me? How much of that success have you worked for, and how much were you born into a position that set you up higher on the success ladder so that you didn’t have as far to climb? (This isn’t to spark defensiveness or judgement, but self-awareness. No one needs to apologize for privilege, but we sure need to recognize it).


Money=Happiness


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“Everything will be better once I get that raise” … “If I could just make a little bit more” … “I need the newest _____, then I will be happy”. Again, sometimes stuff does make us happy. While I am becoming more and more of a minimalist as I age, I’m not anti-stuff, per say. The message that after we get the newest thing we will be happy, complete, satisfied etc. doesn’t work because there is always more stuff with that same message! If happiness is based on external things, it can always be taken away, lost or needs to be upgraded. If the goal is that happiness, (or rather a general feeling of contentment as happiness is fleeting), is based on internal values, feelings, and outlooks, then it isn’t dependent on needing more things, and is much harder to lose.


Ask yourself- Why are you spending money on that item? Do you need it? Do you want it? Are you upset, sad, grieving, and this is a distraction technique? Will you honestly feel better after this purchase, or will you actually feel worse? Who is this purchase benefitting? How am I being made to feel about myself that I then think that this ____ is the answer? (Looking at you, weight loss/beauty bajillion dollar industry!)


Sometimes though, we need money on things that are not just things, but ultimately do feel life changing. Can you afford to fly home to see an ailing parent one more time before they pass away? Can you afford the mental and physical healthcare that you or a family member desperately need? What do people do who are infertile and can’t afford fertility treatments or adoption? They don’t have a child, that’s what. Imagine that if you will.


Ask yourself- How do I grieve/cope/care for myself when the thing I need so desperately I can’t get because of money?


In some circumstances people have the money and don’t spend it on what they need. Words like “frivolous”, “selfish”, “unnecessary” pop up often. People think that because they can take care of everything that they have to continue to take care of everything. But what would make your quality of life better? A cleaning service, pre-maid meals, a visiting nurse or respite care for those you caretake, routine massages or acupuncture?...


Ask yourself- What is my wellness worth? What is holding me back from investing in my quality of life?


Money=Scarcity


There is a heartbreaking number of people in this country, in this world, who literally do not have enough. They don’t have enough food, they can’t afford medical care, they can’t afford schooling etc. It is disgusting the financial discrepancy all over the world, and specifically in the United States.


This is not focusing on literally not having enough. (And if you can, pause this article, go donate $10 to a food bank, and then come back). This is focusing on the feeling of scarcity, that I feel like I don’t have enough. Where is that feeling coming from? Are you comparing yourself to others? Are you trying to reach a goal that is out of your grasp? Were you raised in a family that literally didn’t have enough, and the feelings of panic and scarcity became embedded into you?


Ask yourself- What is enough? When I feel like I don’t have enough, what other feelings can I identify? Fear is probably a main one, so what actually are you afraid of? Is that a realistic fear? This is hard to do because of the anxiety that we feel when we are in a scarcity mindset, but unraveling the fears gives us power. Is the fear irrational and you try to let it go, or is it very possible and you need to plan and take action?


Money=Safety/Stability


This is both true and untrue. Of course, people living in areas that are not able to access funds to provide for their basic needs are often living in areas with higher crimes rates and less access to medical care. Duh. And of course, the people who are very wealthy are able to live in gated communities, pay for their kids’ college, donate to political causes that impact them, and enjoy a higher level of comfort. However, no one is immune to unexpected economic changes, illness, violence or terrible luck.


We all want to be safe. We can’t attend to other needs in our lives without first feeling safe, safety is our foundation. And, things happen, our stable foundation can become unstable. Money can come and money definitely goes. Money buys a lot of comfort, safety and stability, but it can’t guarantee anything.


Ask yourself- What do I need to feel safe? Do I need money to buy a security system, go to therapy, or enroll in a karate class? Is a feeling of safety something that can be bought? Am I currently unsafe, or was I unsafe in the past and that feeling as taken over me? How do I balance, to the best of my ability, trying to stay safe while navigating through a world that is often unsafe, unpredictable or irrational? What is one small thing I can do, right now, to feel more safe? (If you are drawing a blank then just pause and take three deep, slow breaths).


Money=Conflict


Mo money mo problems! I don’t know if that is necessarily true, but I do know it isn’t untrue. Money can come with A LOT of conflict. “We think differently about money, I want to save and you want to spend”… “We have more of it, what do we do with it”? “We have less of it, what do we start limiting”? These essentially bring up a question of values. What do I prioritize as being important and what is less important? What if we disagree?


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Conflict regarding money is one of the top few reasons that people cite when getting a divorce. It can lead to a ton of arguing when trying to think how to parent, and what money related wisdom are you trying to impart to your kids. Another difficult dynamic that is often not as openly talked about is the conflict that can arise in a family and in an individual when one person makes a lot more money than their family of origin. Does anyone make little comments about your kids being spoiled, about how they wish they could afford that vacation, how they could never or would never pay for ___. That’s an uncomfortable dinner conversation!


Ask yourself- What did you learn about money growing up? What exactly is the current conflict? Look at the emotions under the conflict, the fears, resentments, guilt etc. Try having a calm and clear conversation with this other person about your views, expectations, and boundaries.


Money=Dependence


Are you financially responsible for others? Is your partner not working right now, for whatever reason? Do you have kids? Are you providing for ailing parents or other family members? Hell, even pets are crazy expensive! That’s a lot of pressure to have when it isn’t just you and your needs, but so many others as well.


Or as you financially dependent on someone else? Are you wanting to leave a relationship that is bad for you, but financially you don’t know how to make it work?


Ask yourself- What are my limitations? How do I give without sacrificing my needs and wellbeing? Do I believe one should give everything to others, or that you need to reserve some money/time/energy for yourself? How can you set this limit with others? Or, if you are trying to leave a bad situation, what people/resources are out there to help you? What do you risk by leaving? What do you risk by staying?


Money=Holiday Cheer


“It’s the most wonderful expensive time of the year!” Holidays deserve its own blog as that is another rich (pun intended) topic, however, let’s all pause and add up how much money we have spent thus far and how much we plan on spending the rest of this year. You may need to use a calculator! There is no judgement on what the number actually is, but how do you feel about that number? (Did I really spend that much money on Christmas cards?! Why? Because I feel like I have to, that’s why! I’ll work on that for next year.)

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Ask yourself- What is important to you this holiday season? What would you like that number to be moving forward? How can you keep these goals in the most over-indulgent, materialistic time of the year?




There is so much that goes into money, it can both keep us trapped and set us free. What would you like your mindset to be regarding money moving forward?


Wishing you Happy Holidays, good mental health and Enough-ness.



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