We all know how important it is to talk about money.
But if talking about money is so important, why do we have such a hard time with it?
Maybe it’s because money is not in the math department, but the psychology department.
We’ve been taught, if we were taught anything about money, that it’s about spreadsheets and calculators. It should be rational and reasonable. But then we go to open the AmEx bill with our spouse or partner, and suddenly we find ourselves in a fight.
It’s a little bit like grabbing an electric fence you didn’t know was electric.
We all know that no matter how worried, scared, or excited we’re feeling, 2+2 always equals 4. But when it comes to money, 2+2 equals feelings. Because, it turns out, money is not in the math department. It’s in the psychology department.
Since money is such an emotionally charged subject, it can be hard to talk about. I get that. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we get to avoid it.
There’s a pattern of behavior around money. Overspending, buying cheap plastic items thinking they will bring us happiness, not saving. In other words, not aligning our use of capital—in terms of spending, saving, and investing—with what we say is important to us.
Nobody’s ever taught us how to do this. So, it’s time we teach ourselves.
And this week’s very simple, narrow, focused lesson is just this: Talking about money equals talking about feelings.
I really want to emphasize this idea. My friend Ron Lieber, who’s the editor of the Your Money section of The New York Times, has seen more of my work than anybody. He’s edited hundreds of my articles and seen hundreds of my sketches. But he only has one of my sketches hanging on his wall… and this is the one.
Which leads me to believe there’s something important here.
If money is all about spreadsheets, how does greed fit in your spreadsheet? How about fear? How about the concern that you’re not going to be able to provide the life for your kids that you hoped?
Those are all money issues wrapped in feelings. Or are they feelings wrapped in money issues? Either way, the point still stands. Money = Feelings. Not math.
The sooner we realize that is true, the sooner we can begin having realistic expectations around what it’s like to talk about money.
P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.
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