Money and emotion go hand in hand. We work hard to take care of ourselves, provide for our families, and save up for the future, so it’s hardly surprising that money is an emotional topic for many people.
In this episode of Fiscally Savage, Dylan talks about the dynamic between emotions and money, how emotions can affect your financial decision-making, and why managing your money starts with your emotions.
- [03:24] Why money is emotional
- [05:35] Why money is foundational to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
- [08:52] The relationship between logic and the emotions of money
- [12:08] Example of how emotions drive decision-making
- [15:25] On retail therapy and emotional spending
- [17:12] How emotions come into play when we judge ourselves for spending
- [20:18] Examples of money wounds
- [25:08] Why we shouldn’t stress too much about our finances
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:15] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And I wanna tell you about a time that I was sitting at my computer trying to buy a pair of shoes. They were a pair of zero-drops shoes — black so that I could wear them to work. And I’m sitting at my computer trying to push the button to buy them. And these were zero-drop shoes that I had learned when I was doing triathlons and running a lot when my first daughter Harper was born did a lot to make sure my knees and my hips didn’t hurt when I spent extended periods of time walking, running, or otherwise, on my feet. And I have the mouse cursor hovering over the “Buy now” button. I’m trying to click it. And it’s not that the mouse isn’t functioning. It’s that internally, I am panicking. I feel terrible. I feel scared. I’m actually starting to sweat. And I don’t quite fully understand why. It’s just a pair of shoes and not an overly expensive pair at that. And I’m sitting here going, what the actual fuck? I have plenty of money at this point in my life. I have worked my way out of poverty. I have a steady job. This should not be this big of a deal. In fact, the cost for these shoes, I had checked my budget right before I sat down to buy these shoes, and I need the shoes. So this shouldn’t be an issue, I’m saying to myself, while at the same time I want to be literally anywhere but sitting at my computer trying to buy this pair of shoes.
[00:01:53] And as I’m sitting here working on this internal battle that is waging as I stare blankly at the screen, I realized that this all relates to an experience when I was a younger man, when I was a teenager. I had gone to the store. I needed a pair of shoes for school. And I had asked and said, hey, you know, I’m doing wrestling and football. I train a lot. I need to go to school, and I work construction on the weekends. Could I get a pair of shoes to train in and a pair of shoes to go to school in and a pair of boots to go to work in? And I was told “Absolutely not. You get one pair of shoes and they gotta be the cheap Payless shoes at that.” And so, I had one pair of shoes to do all three of those things. And within six months, not only had I outgrown them and had split the side of them that I was holding together with duct tape, but they had accumulated so much dirt and grime they were literally starting to rot. And when they didn’t hold up, I was told “Dylan, part of your problem is you just can’t take care of your things.” And I’m sitting here understanding now that that was completely and utterly unreasonable to say to me when I was in my teenage years. And so, I’m getting up from my desk, I’m going into the bathroom, I’m washing my face off with cold water. I look in the mirror and I say to myself, “You’re worth a pair of shoes. Brother, you’re okay.”
[00:03:24] Ladies and gentlemen, I tell this story because it gets to the heart of what is the skeleton key to all personal finance success. And that is money is emotional. We really wish we could believe that money is some sort of logical spreadsheet-driven thing and if we just logic-ed it enough, if we just spreadsheeted it enough with the right app, with the right spreadsheet, with the right whatever, it would all be perfectly fine. And how many of us have tried over and over and over again with those exact methods and with those exact tools only to come up short time and time again? Why? Because money is emotional. If money was not an emotional thing, I wouldn’t have a job, not in my professional life as an accountant, not talking to you here on this podcast, not as a financial coach. People go to fiscallysavage.com and book time to talk to me as a financial coach to help them out with their finances and they always believe that they just need me to teach them how to budget and if I teach them how to run a spreadsheet, they’re gonna be fine. And a hundred times out of a hundred, the conversations that are actually successful where we work with clients and we’re able to help move them off of the financial cliff and into financial stability and on the path to financial sovereignty, it is 100% a conversation about emotions and wounds around money.
[00:04:54] Money is emotional. And that was perhaps one of the most shocking things to me when I first started financial coaching because I really did believe at the time, five years ago when this whole thing started, that I was just an educator. My job was to teach people how to run the spreadsheet, and if only they understood how ins and outs and a bank account worked, then their money problems would be over. And my very first clients, we immediately started talking about emotions. With married couples that come into the practice, we oftentimes we’re talking about issues in their marriage, issues with raising kids, lack of shared vision within the marriage itself. That’s because money is emotional.
[00:05:35] Money is so core and foundational to our existence as human beings because they mean everything to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the pyramid that makes up the human experience, then money is the ground on which we built that pyramid in the first place. Money is foundational to your physiological needs. It’s the very bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs — food, rent, medical care, water — all of those things cost money, whether it’s coming directly out of your paycheck in the form of an actual payment to an insurance company or it’s coming out of your paycheck in the form of taxes. Somewhere somehow that’s getting paid for. Money makes all of those physiological needs possible.
[00:06:20] Money is foundational to the second tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That’s your security. Everything from the area you live in to the ability to lock a door at night to how the justice system treats you is determined based upon how much money you’re able to invest into those things. It is a known fact that somebody’s zip code is more determinant for their children’s outcomes than anything having to do with their genetics, upbringing, or any other factor. Why? Because zip codes come with financial strings and therefore, it’s foundational to your security.
[00:06:58] Money is foundational to relationships. The ability to pay for experiences. All your buddies are going to the beach. You wanna go to the beach, too. All your buddies are going out for drinks. You wanna go out for drinks, too. Your place in the financial hierarchy at work will determine everything from not only your pay but your health insurance to the amount of time off you’re able to negotiate. And this doesn’t even get into the dating world. If you are a man in the dating world today, you face a lot of different challenges. But the one that relates directly here is that when women are asked on an anonymous basis, 68% of women state that steady income is essential in a potential partner and that 51% of women state that their partner having equal or greater income is either a must or very important when asked anonymously. Now, there’s a lot of people who will tell you that that’s not the case, that we live in a different world. But let’s be real, ladies and gentlemen. If you’re in the dating market, you know what I’m talking about.
[00:07:59] When you get right down to it, money is emotional. I’ll say that again. Money’s emotional. Money is not just bills. It’s not dollars and cents. It’s not numbers on a spreadsheet. It is your sense of safety and security. It is how well you sleep at night. There’s a common phrase when people say, well, money doesn’t buy you happiness. Well, it buys me three hot meals, a good rent, a decent neighborhood, and the ability to sleep through the night and that’s pretty damn close to happiness for me. And I got 99 problems and more money will typically solve about 98 of them. And it’s absolutely true that if I just helicoptered a bunch of money onto you, it’s not gonna solve all your problems because at the end of the day, you really do need to have some skills. But you’re going to have a period of time in your life where you’re gonna feel really good about a lot of stuff.
[00:08:52] Money’s emotional. Personal finance is personal first and literally everything else is a distant second to that. Your money relates to you on an emotional level and you need to start relating to your money on an emotional level. The emotions of money are in charge and there is jack shit that we can do about that when it comes to your experience. And this is true in money but it’s also true in relationships. It’s true in the way you think of yourself. It’s true in the goals that you pursue. It’s true in how big your possible is. Your emotions are driving the car and your logic is in the passenger seat, oftentimes with the seatbelt wrapped tightly around them while they’re desperately trying to reason with the madman driving the car that is your emotions.
[00:09:39] This dynamic, ladies and gentlemen, is where people get into a lot of trouble because they don’t want to look at those emotions. Emotions are hard, especially when it comes to emotions around money. People will open up to me about all sorts of stuff — issues in their childhood, drug addiction, their sex life, things that they’re worried about for their kids, horrible instances at work, their wife or husband emotionally or physically abusing them — before they’ll talk to me about money. It’s one of these bastions of secrecy that we have in society. People don’t want to talk about their salaries. People don’t wanna talk about their debts. We only get to see the highlight reel. This is why we’re so enamored with the lottery. And why? Because it represents this huge emotional charge, this ability to dream of this future. And we get right into it. And that drives us to make decisions that make no sense.
[00:10:36] And I bring up the lottery simply because when somebody wins, say, the Powerball, and I think the most recent drawing for the Powerball was like $2 billion. And I’m not gonna get into the dynamics of how you claim a Powerball ticket or what to do with it. But the point is if that person came forward and was public about it, they’re gonna get their 15 seconds on the evening news. And we’ll all look at that 15 seconds and we will all be envious of that person of how much their life is changing in that moment. And along with that, there’s gonna be all sorts of other emotions other than jealousy that come up: relief that it’s not us; fear and anxiety with the idea that we might have won; trepidation about how we would’ve dealt with that money, whether or not we deserved it, whether or not we’re worthy of it; or maybe we just felt relief that the nightmare for our debts are over and life is just gonna be easy; and maybe we were scared because now we don’t even know what we’re gonna do with our life because we defined ourselves so much by our job titles, so now suddenly being free of that is being free of your life as a total whole. But if we were to give 15 seconds to literally everyone who bought a ticket and didn’t win, you would have to watch TV consistently 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for the next 25 years in order to give everyone that bought a ticket and didn’t win 15 seconds on the evening news. That’s bonkers, ladies and gentlemen. And the emotions of money still continue people to put money into the lottery month after month after month.
[00:12:08] And I started off this episode by talking about my shoe story at the top of the show. And I tell that story because it really was the place and time for me where I started to understand this connection between emotions and money. At the time I was beyond my graduate school years, I had already been working as a public accountant. In fact, we had just bought our house, like my vision had come true. I had the house with the yard with the kids playing in the back of it, grilling the steaks on the back porch, when my wife comes up to me and says, “Honey, I love what we built.” We were beyond that. I had already, quote unquote, made it based upon what my vision when I left my teaching job was. And here I am sitting at my desk trying to buy a pair of shoes because I just changed jobs from public accounting to industry and now I needed a new pair of shoes ’cause I’m not wearing dress shoes anymore but I want ones that are really comfortable. And I just can’t bring myself to buy it.
[00:13:06] And in my men’s group, my small team in my men’s group, the team leader always gives me crap because he always reminds me of this time where I went three consecutive weeks at our weekly meetings, talking to the men in that group and saying, “I don’t know why I can’t just buy these shoes.” And my team lead was just telling me, “Damn it, Dylan. Just buy the fucking shoes.” And the therapist on the team going, “Well, what’s the payoff for not buying the shoes?” And we started to actually unpack that I am still scared from an experience when I was 16 years old where I had one pair of shoes to do everything in my life. And my life included working out for wrestling. It included working construction on the weekends. It including throwing hay at a summer camp. It included a lot of different things, like cutting the grass for my parents. And those shoes literally rotted off my feet. Like I lost that pair of shoes when I came home one day and I had been wearing sandals, and then I couldn’t find my shoes and I panicked and only to find out my father had come home and the whole house stunk and he was like, “What is going on?” And he found these shoes. He goes, “Who put these here?” And threw them away, which then sent me into a complete panic. I was told those shoes should have lasted me well over a year, even though they were the absolute cheapest pair of shoes that was possible to buy at the shoe store at the time. And that really left me with this deep-seated fear of buying shoes.
[00:14:34] And this is an example of an emotional decision that’s being driven into my money situation. If I don’t buy the shoes, let’s just think about what the cascade effect of my life is gonna be. I’m gonna be less effective at work because my feet are gonna hurt. I’m gonna walk funny, which is probably going to create more pain and distraction. So I’m gonna be distracted at work but I’m also gonna be distracted as a husband and as a father to my children. I might potentially end up with medical issues, then I go to see a podiatrist and they put those damn lifts in my fucking shoes, which cost me more money. Now, I have medical problems because I didn’t buy the shoes. Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have to go any further. You get the idea. That one decision to not serve myself with my money that I have exchanged pieces of my time, my most precious, nonrenewable resource, to get could cascade into my life.
[00:15:25] And my shoe story is just one example. Ever hear of something called retail therapy? I bet you even if you haven’t heard that term, you do know what I’m talking about. Retail therapy is this idea that we go out and we shop for something so the person can have a Treat Yo Self purchase, and that’s gonna give them a temporary emotional boost. It’s even right there. This idea that buying things can be therapy? Man, why don’t we just go do a couple shots of tequila? Chances are good it’s gonna be cheaper. But they’re, this is an idea that was created in the eighties when it was noted that as credit became more available, people experienced temporary highs engaging in consumer culture, which, of course, you can imagine what happened when the advertising industry got a hold of that news and decided to suddenly start pumping ads into the airwaves in every little place to say “You’re missing out.” Remember when we talked about that whole monkey brain thing? Going back to the monkey brain and the fear of missing out, the fear of social isolation, oh, this is solving a problem I didn’t even know I had? That all goes back to this idea of retail therapy.
[00:16:34] And if you, ladies and gentlemen, have ever been in this situation where you’re feeling down and you buy something and then you have this temporary boost, here’s what’s going on psychologically. You are in a stressed state. In a stressed state, we start to worry about our resources. We start to get a scarcity mindset. By buying something even with money we don’t have, therefore putting it on a credit card, we convince our monkey brain that we are actually in a state of abundance, not in a state of scarcity. And that temporarily makes us more free and able to do all sorts of other things. This is the spending equivalent to me eating the Chick-fil-A sandwich to shut the voices in my head up.
[00:17:12] The other place you see emotions and money running together is the judgment around spending. How many of us go, “Well, yeah, I bought this stupid thing”? That’s a judgment on your behavior. And it’s important to separate the worthiness of the person from the behaviors they’re engaged in because those behaviors are more than likely well-worn tracks within their neurological system. They’re not stupid. They’re just responding to stimuli like we all do. And the judgment will only force them further into that track. The judgment is an emotional cue. It causes a fight, flight, freeze, fawn response within the body.
[00:17:53] Other places we judge our spending as feelings of unworthiness. I want you to just imagine if I handed you $5 million tax-free and just observe from the neck down where this lands in your body, this idea that you now suddenly are a millionaire five times over. About one-third of you statistically are going to flinch or cringe in your seat as you’re listening to the sound of my voice. Because the feeling that I didn’t earn this money, I’m unworthy of this money, I’m just gonna screw it up immediately bubbles to the surface. And, of course, there’s always feelings of guilt. I have watched person after person after person in my life fuck away good opportunities because they don’t feel worthy of it or they feel guilty because they have it. All of those are judgements surround our spending, and those types of judgements will bleed out into how we raise our kids, how we interact with our spouses, how we interact with our coworkers, what jobs we go for, what promotions we go for, how much we negotiate in our salaries.
[00:18:55] This is all connected. It’s one big bag of crazy and there’s literally nothing we can do about the connectedness, but there is something we can do about the emotions. And part of that is starting to look at the old wounds that we have on an emotional level. And I’m gonna throw out this idea that I don’t think I’m gonna get a whole lot of pushback on. And that is, men are way more resistant to having this conversation than women. Because when you start talking about wounds and fears and things that we carry with us, my at least anecdotal observation is that women are more likely to acknowledge their existence, whereas men will sit there and compartmentalize and go, “Nope. I’m fine.” When a man tells you that they’re fine, nine times out of 10, they’re not, okay? But the reality here is is it does not matter how good your parents were, how noble or worthy they were. No matter how much they tried for you, I promise you, you did not go from birth to adulthood without picking up some dents, scars, damage along the way. And we have two choices. We can ignore that and continue to let the madman drive the car. Remember the logic is in the passenger seat, always begging and pleading with the madman of emotions who’s driving the car. And that madman is not gonna listen to the logic brain nearly as much as we would like it to because of these old wounds are in the way.
[00:20:18] One very common wound around money is the idea of we can’t afford it. When you tell a child that we cannot afford it, that child knows that this means scarcity. Scarcity means lack of resources, which means unsafe. And for a child, this is literally a life and death situation. When you have a child who is looking at the abundance of a grocery store and they start begging for that bag of chips, and you go, “No, we can’t afford that” while you have an entire cart of groceries, that kid will internalize one of two things. Either a.) You’re full of shit and just lied to them or b.) He’s one step away from starvation. And it’s going to be a subtle thing that they’re gonna carry through for the rest of their life.
[00:21:05] How many of us have just warm, fuzzy feelings about gummy bears or TWIX or something that’s right there by the cash register in a grocery store because every once in a great while we got it? Lord knows that for me, it’s a Butterfingers. You hand me a Butterfingers and my inner child is gonna be the happiest little guy on the block because he suddenly has the thing he was always told he couldn’t have. And this doesn’t even get into when your parents say we can’t afford it but then they go buy a new jacket for themselves. There’s a mismatch between what’s being said and what is actually being modeled. And children learn in one of three ways: what you model, what you model, and what you model. So pick whatever one you wanna use with your kids because that’s how they’re going to learn. And so, if you’re telling them we can’t afford it, and then you go spend money on something else where you clearly could have afforded the thing they asked you for, they internalize that yes, you can afford it, you’re not trustworthy, and they’re not worth it. Let’s go back to those judgments around spending — stupid spending, unworthiness, feelings of guilt for having things. This starting to make sense? It should because I promise you the majority of you have had the experiences I’m talking about.
[00:22:14] There’s also shame for having or not having something, having status or not having status. And I remember when I was a kid, the jacket I wanted when I was in middle school and grade school was a starter jacket. Everybody had ’em. All the cool kids had ’em. And I didn’t have one. I begged my parents. Please let me have a starter jacket. Please let me have a starter jacket. And when I finally got it, I was embarrassed of it. I was embarrassed that I had it because I had been told for so long we can’t afford it. We can’t afford it. Despite the fact that my father could pay cash for a car, I couldn’t have a starter jacket. And then when I had it, I suddenly didn’t feel worthy of it. But the idea here is is that we have status, and our status, or lack thereof, can worm its way into your identity, which then becomes a pathology, which means it’s really hard to get out of.
[00:23:03] Another example of a wound is the failed attempt to get it right. And this is when people suddenly realize, oh, wait, wait. I actually don’t have any personal financial skills. And remember personal finance is always personal first and literally everything else is a distant second. But they give it a shot. And then they fail. And then they go back into that judgment cycle and go, oh, well. That’s just because I’m stupid. That’s because I’m dumb. They just bombard themselves with useless judgment because they think if they just punish themselves enough, then no one else is gonna have to do it for ’em. They take on the role of what was modeled for them with their parents. And Lord knows I’ve been there. I’ve been there because it’s exactly how I did this. And when you have a failed attempt under your belt or six, you start getting this idea of, well, here we go again. You feel you’re just trapped and there’s nothing you can do about it. And we’re gonna talk about that here in just a second.
[00:24:04] But one other wound that I want to talk about that’s not as apparent are the social problems. Your friends and the culture drive us to spend or not, whether it’s going to college and racking up a bunch of student loans, having that lifted truck with the truck nuts, not having the lifted truck with the truck nuts, but instead you got the really nice Prius that, of course, everybody then can laud over how green you are. These are social issues. But let’s just really go straight down to it, particularly for people who are under the age of 40 or maybe over the age of 40 — who am I to judge? — drinking. How much money do we spend going out to a bar just so we can feel shitty the next morning? That’s a social issue. And, ladies and gentlemen, don’t get me wrong, I’m not above a good cocktail. I am, after all, originally from Wisconsin. But the point still remains. That social pressure to engage in that activity will become a wound because in order to cease the activity, you have to give it up, which means you have to give up your culture, which means you have to give up your membership, which means you’re gonna be exiled from the tribe, and you can see where this is going emotionally.
[00:25:08] But ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you this very simple truth: You are okay. Money might be emotional, but you’re still okay. You’re okay now, and you’re gonna be okay in the future. I wanna assure you that there is no good reason that you should know how to manage your personal finances out of the box. This is not something that our monkey ancestors picked up. There is no evolutionary or biological reason why we should be able to run a spreadsheet and be able to trade numbers on a screen, which is how our economy has run at this point. Even if we had tried to teach you in school, and when I was a teacher, I did try to teach it to my students, it’s not gonna stick because it doesn’t feel real. You are okay. There’s no reason you should know how to do this.
[00:26:00] And, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that there is a way forward. But not everything that you’ve brought with you to this point gets to come out with you. The cost of a new life is your old life. And so, ladies and gentlemen, as a listener of this podcast, I wanna tell you that I’m here to help you navigate the emotional landmines of your money story. Whether you are a listener, whether you go to fiscallysavage.com and get my free tools, whether you sign up for coaching, whether you sign up for my newsletter so you know when my next workshops are, I am here to help you rewrite your money story to help your emotions heal to the point where they can start talking to the logic that’s in the passenger seat of the car. And we can, together, write a new money story for you.
[00:26:56] And I know exactly how it feels when you finally get to a place because this year, 2022, when my bonus from the previous year came in, I was looking at the largest bonus I had ever received. I was looking at those numbers on the paycheck and how they showed up in my bank account. And immediately, I started feeling anxious. My emotions immediately told me that I was not safe with the idea that I should spend this money on myself. I had worked so hard for this. I had been a top performer in my department. And my boss had said that he really hoped that I would do something special for myself as a reward for all of my good work throughout the last year. But up to that point, ladies and gentlemen, every one of my bonuses, every scrap of available cash had gone into savings or to pay off debt. And now, I had a windfall in the form of a bonus, and I was contemplating that I should be able to spend this money on myself. After all, I had worked so hard for it and I was in a better position. I took a deep breath. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth and reminded myself that this was my money — the pieces of my life that I had exchanged for this.
[00:28:08] And so, ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to report that I actually took my own advice. And with intentionality, had bought myself a new grill — a smoker — and the top model to boot. I didn’t undercut myself. I allowed myself to enjoy my money, to let my inner child look forward to all the smoked meats we would have on that smoker. And in that moment, my emotions and my logic were together in harmony. And I want that for each and every single one of you, too.
[00:28:42] Outro: Thanks for listening. If you like what we do here, please hit that subscribe button. Leave us a rating and review. And share the content with somebody who would benefit from the message. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, all @fiscallysavage. And head over to fiscallysavage.com to get our free tools, suggested reading, and everything else you need to take control of your financial life and live free.