When you think about emotional attachments what do you picture? What do you feel connected to? What would make you feel a deep sense of loss if it went away?
Emotional attachments are a normal part of any close relationship. When you love someone you don’t want to lose them.
It makes sense to form emotional connections with those we meet, but we can also become emotionally attached to the things we own. Think about children who form connections with baby blankets, pacifiers and teddy bears.
It’s not unusual to feel emotionally attached to objects, but what about money? Can you feel emotionally attached to the dollars and cents in your checking account?
Does that seem like a strange question to ask? You can’t hug money. You can’t snuggle it for comfort. So surely you shouldn’t feel emotionally attached to it either. Right?
Have you ever tried to declutter your house or minimize your possessions? One rainy day you pull everything out of your closet and toss it onto your bed. Eager to begin you make quick progress of the first few items.
You toss a stained t-shirt into the trash along with a torn pair of pants and a skirt with a broken zipper. Those are easy, but a few minutes later it becomes much more difficult to purge.
You stumble across an old t-shirt from a rock concert or a bracelet given to you by your very first best friend. Maybe your kryptonite is an old Swatch watch or a ratty old sleep shirt that’s seen better days.
As you hold each physical object in your hands a rush of emotions overtakes you. It’s difficult to separate your feelings from the objects themselves.
Each of us feels a particular fondness to various things we own. We feel emotionally attached to something we no longer need or wear. We consider parting with this stuff, but our heart urges us to hold on.
It’s so difficult to let go.
Emotionally Attached to Money
If a fire broke out in your house what sentimental items would you rush to save? Would you save photographs, love letters or mementos from your childhood.
These are the items we stow away in a box for safe keeping and drag with us whenever we move. We feel deeply connected and emotionally attached to them.
Can we feel this same emotional attachment to money? Money isn’t unique. It’s not one of a kind. In the middle of a fire I would not rush off in search of money. That doesn’t mean I’m not emotionally attached to it.
In fact, I’m quite certain I am emotionally attached to money. It’s this emotional attachment that leaves little room for generosity.
Generosity is rarely discussed in the personal finance community. This isn’t surprising. I believe the pursuit of financial independence is inherently selfish, so it makes sense that FI enthusiasts wouldn’t talk about it too often.
We can read about earning more, saving more and retiring at an early age, but rarely read about donating any of it. Generous voices in the FI community are hard to find. ESI Money, Harlan Landes, J. Money, Angela, Revanche, and Physician on FIRE, are in the minority.
Being generous with my time is easy. My family and I routinely make meals to feed the homeless and give away books to kids in need. I actively volunteer to raise money for my sons’ schools and help out in their classrooms.
This spring I worked over sixty hours to support a local silent auction. I walked door-to-door, made phone calls and followed up with other solicitors. That should have been the hard part, but it was my financial contribution that me cringe.
Donating to worthy causes is difficult for me. Every time I donate I face an internal struggle of sorts. I find it physically difficult to part with the money.
Giving Away Other People’s Money
Last winter Rockstar Finance hosted a community giveaway event. ESI Money asked bloggers to submit ideas for how to use money to “bless others.”
I had a great idea to provide books to kids in need, but didn’t buy a single book until I received ESI’s free money. Without that Rockstar Community Event I don’t know if I would’ve put my charitable idea in motion.
Quite frankly it was much easier to give ESI’s money away than my own. I’ve continued giving books away since that time, but I definitely needed the push to get started.
Why am I so stingy?
The Abundance Mindset
My husband is quite generous. He tips well, buys dinner for strangers in restaurants, and provides generous cash gifts to carpenters and handymen. He once paid $1,500 more than the asking price for a used jeep just because he felt bad for the guy who was selling it.
Where I see the value in selling an unwanted household item. My husband just wants to give it away. “Don’t ask for $30,” he’ll tell me. “Just give it to them for free.”
So the other night, while grilling hamburgers, I asked him why he’s so generous. “I don’t worry about making more money,” he said. “Money has always come easily to me.”
I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind as I fell asleep later that night. How could my husband give away his money so easily? The answer is obvious. He was raised with an abundance mindset. He believes there is plenty of money to go around and that he can earn more if he needs it.
Why don’t I feel the same way? Why do I struggle to donate and why is it so hard for me to part with money? I’ve known plenty of people who earn less, but give more so easily.
As I laid in bed I began to piece together the reasons. It turns out there are quite a few.
Early Money Memories
What visions come to mind when you think about your childhood? Many of my earliest memories involve money.
I grew up in a single income household for the first nine years of my life. My mom stayed home with us while my dad went off to work. When my mom returned to work she did so as a part time office assistant earning minimum wage.
Growing up I watched my mom hold on tightly to the money my dad brought home. She never remodeled the house or spent money in any visible way on herself. She purchased clothes and toys for my brother and I, but I don’t remember her buying much else.
When the car broke down or the refrigerator stopped working my mom always seemed to panic a little. Every time my dad earned a bonus at work it went to fix a broken car or appliance.
My mom often seemed nervous about financial issues and money.
My mom struggled with a scarcity mindset that she unknowingly passed on to me. We had enough money to pay the bills, but we didn’t seem to have much more beyond that.
Growing up I convinced myself that money was hard to come by. I believed that I should hold on tightly to ever dollar I earned. From a very young age I began rolling pennies and stashing them away beneath the dresser in my bedroom.
My upbringing imprinted a scarcity mindset on my deepest money beliefs. I constantly felt the need and desire to save more.
Children carry blankets and pacifiers around to feel comfort and security. You know another thing people carry around for comfort and security? Money.
Counting Every Dollar
When I graduated from college I began my career earning $32,000 in Washington, DC. I needed enough money to pay for a car, rent and food. I lived on a miserable sun porch in a group house with six other people to minimize my expenses.
In my twenties I traded my youth to rise up the corporate ladder. I needed money. I hated feeling strapped for cash and I poured my heart and soul into my work.
In those early years I worked ridiculously long hours learning on the job. Some nights I left the office after midnight and returned the next day at eight o’clock in the morning.
Each time I saved a dollar I felt a sense of relief. As my bank account grew I became more emotionally attached to money and the security it provided.
My Beliefs Failed to Change
My mom’s actions and beliefs make perfect sense. She was a part time office assistant earning minimum wage, but I did not follow in her footsteps.
I became a highly paid software engineer, but I never changed my money blueprint. I failed to adopt an abundance mindset even when my circumstances completely changed.
Despite earning hundreds of thousands more than my mom ever did I never changed my broken beliefs.
Money As a Symbol of Success
Having a scarcity mindset is the main reason I feel attached to my money, but it’s not the only reason. Early in my career I began to equate my self worth with my net worth. As I earned more and saved more my money became an extension of my success.
I viewed money the same way an athlete might view a trophy. I toiled away countless hours learning and training as a software engineer. That money was my reward.
My husband and I lived like the quintessential millionaires next door. I never needed to live the rich lifestyle, but I needed to know that the money was there.
I paid for that pile of cold hard cash with my time. Each dollar in the bank represented proof of my hard work and dedication. The money served as evidence. My time, effort and energy were all wisely spent on growing my career. At least that’s what I told myself.
Each time the bank accounts grew my emotional attachment to the money grew stronger. I found it difficult to be generous. How could I part with the money I spent so many hours working to earn?
Emotionally Attached and Unable to Let Go
Growing up my friend collected Beanie Babies. She spent inordinate amounts of time filling her shelves with those tiny creatures. Thirty years later she still can’t part with them.
Perhaps that’s how I felt about the money I earned over the years. I spent a ridiculous amount of energy building my net worth. After spending so much time focused on accumulating it became difficult to let go.
Throughout my life money has helped me overcome financial fears, stress and anxiety. Like Linus I snuggle a security blanket, but mine is full of money. With money in the bank I am able to live my life more fully. I worry less about the medical nightmares that have plagued my life. I get to enjoy pain free moments without money worries.
When you take a pacifier or a baby blanket from a child do they cry? What would happen if you took my money away?
What Truly Matters
Deep inside I know that life is fragile. I also know that my success should not be defined by the money I’ve earned. I don’t flash my wealth or need others to know I have it. In fact, I tend to be too modest about my success.
My emotional attachment to money is not a Scrooge McDuck like feeling. I’m not greedy or materialistic. I don’t need to hoard my money or flaunt it in any way. I just needed it there for security.
As a child I focused on my mom’s money worries and struggles. I failed to pay attention to the generosity of her spirit.
Every Sunday morning my mom placed money onto the offering plate. She handed money to men begging on the street and to charities who called looking for donations.
Despite feeling like she didn’t have enough she didn’t hesitate to help others. My mom may have struggled with a scarcity mindset, but she gave abundantly. She knew there was plenty to go around.
It’s taken me years to learn that lesson, but now I know it too. I continue to give even though it’s difficult for me to do so. In fact, the more I give the easier it becomes.
Feeling emotional attachment is quite normal and natural, but those attachments can also become harmful to our overall well being.
I don’t need to cling to every dollar. My husband is right, “there is plenty to go around.” The more I give the more I believe him.
Do you consider yourself to be a generous person? Do you feel emotionally attached to your money? Tell me in the comments below.