Does speaking about money make you feel uncomfortable? Do you feel like you're the only person without a clue how to manage your finances? Do you worry you'll just never be good with money? Financial advisor Kristin Merrick unpacks these common questions for us, and gives some simple advice on how we can better approach our finances.
Why am I so weird about money?
I have seen it all. I have seen the over spenders, the cash hoarders, the cheapskates, the “buying everyone at the bar a shot” girl. I have pretty much met every kind of personality type that relates to money. When I meet with clients, they say to me, “Kristin, you are like my money therapist.” Which is true, despite the fact that I am not qualified to be anyone’s therapist.
The main underlying truth to all of my conversations about the feelings we have about our money is that people are just straight up weird about it. Everyone comes to the table with their own set of baggage, and it’s a big part of my job as a financial advisor to navigate that. But why do we have such emotional baggage about finances? What is it about cash, coin, moolah, dough, loot, bacon, benjamins (this is kind of fun) that makes us so uncomfortable? How can we circumvent money weirdness and allow ourselves to embrace it instead? Let’s unpack this.
Everyone has a money story
The one thing that holds true for everyone is that we all have a money story or journey. My story is pretty straightforward. I understood at a young age that money bought me stuff and I wanted stuff. However, because I was the oldest of a large family where cash wasn’t always flowing, I had to do without. Mind you, when I say “without”, I mean that I didn’t have the designer clothes that my friends had. Cry me a river.
In the third grade, I started to figure out ways to make money. I babysat, tried a few businesses (I ran a black market business selling drawings of the Simpsons in fifth grade - very lucrative), and I got my first paying job when I was fourteen as a clerk in a cosmetic store. I often had three jobs at once while I was in high school and college.
When it came to making decisions about my future, I made the deliberate choice to go into finance because I knew it would pay me. And I wanted to get paid.
The key to the money story is to be honest with yourself and to get a better understanding of how you have framed your story. Your journey often defines the way you think, speak and manifest money, and is often the framework for how you spend, invest, and approach money in general. So first step: tell your story. Second step: look for clues in the story to see if they give you any indication of how your experiences have influenced your current relationship with money.
How was I taught about money?
Do you feel weird when you talk about your finances? Do you clam up, get embarrassed, or change the subject? If so, you need to dig deeper. If you are shy about the subject, you need to identify why. Is it cultural? Do you think it’s bad etiquette to talk about money? Did someone make you feel shameful in your past about it?
Generally speaking, I have found that women shy away from the topic altogether because they think it’s distasteful, that it constitutes bad manners, or that it will make others uncomfortable. In addition, girls are often taught (explicitly or implicitly) that they shouldn’t talk about finances, and should not base career decisions based on compensation.
This is a topic I could talk for hours about; this is just the tip of the gender wage gap iceberg. But sticking to the topic du jour, our weirdness around money starts when we are little girls and has a tendency to get worse with age. This is something to spend some time on. Do your money beliefs serve you well today? Determine which of your beliefs serve you well and which beliefs constrict or limit you.
How do I talk about money?
I recently sat down with someone who started the conversation with, “I hate talking about money”. Through just one sentence, I was able to learn a great deal about how this person deals with money. As with any other topic, it is important to use the correct language when discussing money. But before you can do that, you have to be ok having the conversation. If you are very negative about it, get embarrassed by it, or just generally avoid it, the money will go elsewhere. Money doesn’t need you. It can go find someone else to hang out with. If you don’t want money, then keep talking about how awful you are with it, how stressful it is, how confusing it is. If you want money, then invite it over for coffee. Embrace it. Learn about it. Talk about it. The more barriers you break down, the more financial success you will have.
How can I get past my money weirdness?
Now that you have gained some awareness about your money weirdness, the next step is to get beyond it. First, try to get a better understanding of your money patterns, habits, fears, and anxieties around the subject. Next, start re-framing the way you think, speak, and act around money. If you “hate” talking about it, force yourself to start. If you tell everyone that you “aren’t good with money”, then flip the script and open yourself up to learning more about it by asking smart questions. Start speaking clearly and calmly about money, and take the emotion out of it.
Start treating your money like a valued relationship
What if you treated your money like you treated your best friend? Now is the time to start. Pay attention to it, go on dates with it (this means check your bank accounts, track your spending, and start making good decisions). Prioritize your money and prioritize your financial hygiene. Also, stop comparing yourself to others. Trust me, no one is as financially secure and savvy as they would like you to believe. You stick to your plan and focus on you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.
Finally, start telling everyone about your new friend, money. Ask people about their money journeys or how they manage their finances. Let the whole world know that you and money are friends now.
About the author
Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick is a money expert and financial advisor at her family-run firm, O'Keeffe Financial Partners, based in Fairfield, NJ. Kristin has over 19 years of investment experience, having spent the first part of her career as currency trader, and serving most recently as Vice President at Morgan Stanley. Kristin has chosen to use her background and experience towards the empowerment of individuals, families, and small business owners in the challenging world of finance. She is especially excited to work with women entrepreneurs and executives to provide them with creative financial strategies and solutions.
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