Our Money Baggage Affects Every Aspect Of Our Lives (Part 2)

Money baggage can even keep us from finding work. A man named David walked into one of my workshops several years back—I’ll never forget him. He looked completely downtrodden and wore frumpy, tattered, tweedy looking clothes. Middle-aged, skeletal of frame, plain and simple, he slumped in his chair. He gave the impression he was trying to make himself physically smaller so he wouldn’t take up much space. He looked down at the floor most of the time, held his hands, and tapped his feet a lot. He looked like he didn’t have a dime.

David was an accounts payable clerk at a shipping company. He’d worked there nine years but didn’t like his job very much. He had taken classes to explore other employment options, but he couldn’t figure out what else to do. He decided it was his lot in life to just keep working where he was.

He shared with the group that his parents were really poor and he was an only child. He grew up alone; he didn’t have a lot of friends.

When it was time to share his money baggage he said, in a voice nearly inaudible: If you couldn’t afford me, why did you have me? If I had enough money, I’d have love. He looked up at me for a moment and then back down at the floor and tapped his feet.

While growing up, David heard a clear message from his mom that they couldn’t afford this anymore, or they couldn’t do that anymore. She told him that they used to have more money before he was born, but now it had to go to keep him clothed, fed, and with a roof over his head. She told him they used to do lots of things they couldn’t do now.

A child’s mind doesn’t have the logical reasoning power of an adult. Children often take things literally and personally. And then they grow up and begin to take actions over and over again consistent with the literal thoughts they formed as children.

David’s clear impression from childhood was that he was a financial burden to the family and that they shouldn’t have had him. He didn’t hear, “I love you” or “We’re so glad to have you.” He never got the message, “You are our pride and joy and we will spend whatever it takes to provide the best possible life for you given our limited means.”

He decided instead that if the family had had more money, then his parents would have loved him more. He formed a literal belief that he was unlovable and unwanted. He was a mistake, he shouldn’t be here. He said to himself, “Hopefully, I won’t be a burden for anyone else. I’ll just work hard and get by.”

It didn’t matter how many classes he took to figure out a passion in his life or a path to a new job. None of it was going to work until he began investigating his money baggage. His money baggage subverted his capacity to earn money or find opportunities.

Your thoughts—your money baggage—will sabotage all your good intentions. David’s meager life was in perfect harmony with his money baggage. It created his demeanor, it picked the clothes he wore, and it gave him the job he had. It chose his little apartment and made sure that he never dated. Deep down, David’s money baggage told him that he did not deserve.

One description of why our conscious intentions around money are so often frustrated is in Neale Donald Walsch’s book Conversations with God. Walsch says that it is our sponsoring thought—literally the thought behind the thought—that has the most say over our reality. It is the unconscious thought beneath the conscious one that is most responsible for the way our life is.

Your money baggage is formed by such a sponsoring thought. It formed in childhood. It became part of the foundation upon which you created your life. A belief that you do not deserve, held deeply in your subconscious, will frustrate all your attempts to bring sustained happiness into your life.

The process is faultless. If your money baggage says money is bad, you will, in perfect harmony with this belief, find a way to keep it away from you. Or if it does come, you will find a way to get it out of your hands, quickly.

When you discover your money baggage, you discover the sponsoring thought that has always been there running the show. You discover the way your money baggage directs your life by posing as the truth. It tries to convince you that it is in charge, not you. And it will continue to do so as long as you live an unexamined life around the deeper attitudes you have around money.

What conclusions and decisions did you make about money that are still silently directing your life today? The clue to discovering your money baggage might be in some behavior you have—shopping even when you don’t really need what you are buying; avoiding asking your boss for a raise; always looking for bargains even if you have to drive all the way across town to get them; never buying yourself anything nice; or wearing heavy sweaters when you could turn up the heat in your apartment to a reasonable level instead.

Start to jot down all the behaviors you have that are related to money. Do you resist giving money to charity? Is it hard for you to not take advantage of a sale even when you don’t really need what you are buying? Is it hard to say no to your children when they want you to buy them something? Take these behaviors as clues and ask yourself why you are doing them and what early experiences might be influencing you. The answer will lead you to your money baggage.

We’ll take a deeper look at how money baggage affects every part of our lives in upcoming weeks by focusing in on four main areas: relationships, work, finances, and family. Next week, we discuss Money Baggage and Relationships.

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Our Money Baggage Affects Every Aspect Of Our Lives

Our money baggage directs our lives. It determines the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the career we have, the size of our paycheck and savings account. Our money baggage can even determine the friends we have and the partner we choose. It takes us shopping, chooses the car we drive and, in the case of a woman in one of my workshops, even determined the temperature she kept her apartment.

Sally had two visible scars above the collar of her sweater, one on her neck and another on her chin. As I started to talk about money baggage and its origins in childhood, she became noticeably uncomfortable and introverted. While others in the class laughed at some of the things being said, she grew more serious. She was putting a lot of energy into keeping her emotions in check.

When the time came in the workshop to share her money baggage with the group, Sally said: I can’t have any more money, I’ve already used more than my allotment.

When Sally was a very young child, she was involved in a car accident and was burned over much of her body. It was severe enough that she had to be in the hospital a very long time. Her parents loved her dearly, and committed their lives to help her and care for her through this trauma. But constant and expensive medical intervention eventually wiped her parents out financially.

Sally saw all of this happening. She saw the effect her accident had on the family. They had to move out of their home and rent an apartment. They had to sell many of their possessions. They no longer took vacations. Toys at Christmas became fewer and smaller. Her parents never talked about it. They never complained or made her feel at all like she was the cause of it. But her young mind saw differently and Sally made a powerful conclusion.

She decided that she had already used up her allotment in life. Her accident had taken too much; it had used up too much money and had caused the family to become deprived.

As an adult Sally never turned the heat up in her apartment above sixty degrees. Instead, she wore a lot of sweaters like the heavy one she wore in class. She rarely if ever went out for meals. She never treated herself to anything.

This woman was shivering in her apartment because of an accident she had as a little girl. She didn’t turn up the heat in her apartment because she felt so much guilt at what her parents went through due to her injury. She associated money with pain. She couldn’t spend it on herself because she felt she did not deserve any more.

It’s not like her parents told her, “Hey, you used up your allotment.” They never did anything but try to give her the help and love she deserved. The last thing they wanted was to make her feel guilty. But she saw the financial burden she had become. She saw what her accident did to the family, what they could no longer do afterwards. Her mom had to work harder and take a second job. Sally knew it was because of her.

Through adulthood, friends visiting Sally’s apartment would think she had a little idiosyncrasy about keeping her apartment heat down and wearing sweaters all the time. It had nothing to do with that. And it wasn’t that she couldn’t afford it. Rather, she couldn’t spend five or ten dollars more a month on heat because her money baggage would not let her spend money on herself.

Tune in next week as we continue our discussion on how Money Baggage Affects Every Aspect of Our Lives.

Our Money Baggage Is Formed In Childhood (Part 2)

I met Oliver in one of my workshops. He is a wonderful, warm, and caring man. He is one of the happiest people I know. Oliver had to do a lot of work uncovering some painful childhood memories before he could discover his money baggage.

He was one of nine children from a poor family living in Austria. They lived mostly off of their garden and wild mushrooms and berries they gathered from the forest. His father, a Jew in war torn Austria, got what work he could, often working at night for a friend at great risk to both of them, for, as Oliver explained, it was illegal during World War II to hire Jews.

My first memories about money are of my parents going over their monthly grocery bill. We had a monthly charge account at the grocery store in town. There were two little hardcover books in which every item would be written down. One book stayed at the store and the other we took home with us.

At the end of the month my mother would pick up the book at the store to compare it to the one at home, and my parents would go down the list. It always started very civilized. After a few items my dad would find something that he would question. He would always find something!

My mother would explain things, my father’s voice would get louder, his face would turn red, and he would start to yell. My mother would begin to cry, and then my grandmother would give a big sigh and carry me from the room. 

Outside the closed door I listened to my father yelling and mistreating my mother despite her pleading to stop. I wanted to protect her, but I didn’t know how. I was three years old, scared, alone, and helpless.

This scene, to varying degrees of intensity, happened regularly all through my childhood. I saw that people got angry and upset and fought about money. It was scary, because there was always something wrong. I decided this is no place for me. I’m leaving.

Oliver’s money baggage became: We don’t have the money, something is always wrong! I’m out of here! This was not a conscious thought, as an adult might have. It became part of his subconscious imprinting, his inherent idea about how the world works. For sixty years Oliver did everything he could to avoid dealing with money, because as a child, he decided money meant pain.

We have all followed the same process that Oliver did. We took a thought about money and we built our life around it. The messages we got might have been different but the process was the same.

Oliver began to uncover his money baggage at age sixty, but it was not easy. He had to remember a lot of difficult memories. And he had to look at how his attitudes about money had kept him in painful situations for most of his life.

Money baggage has such a hold on us because the power of association is at work inside our brains. We associate money with the emotions we had around childhood experiences and the wounds caused by difficult times or traumatic events. Over time we forget the experiences but not the associations; as adults we continue to react to them.

Maybe we saw someone mistreat another person over money or dominate them and we concluded that money is bad. Well, money itself was not what was bad; it was that person’s actions. But as kids we were unable to make that distinction. We were discovering the world for the first time. And in that world we decided that money caused pain. It was a bad thing.

What shaped your childhood? What conclusions and decisions did you make about money that are still silently driving your life today? What have you heard about money? What are your earliest memories of money? What did your parents say about money—whether out loud or not? Did they fight about it? What do you say about money today? The answers to these questions are going to give you clues about your own personal money baggage.

Write down your earliest memories about money. Ask your sister or brother about what it was like growing up and what they learned about money. If your parents are still alive, ask them to talk about their deeper beliefs about money. Try to remember the first time you wanted money or you earned it or spent it. Take a trip back to your childhood home if you can, or look at old photos—anything that might give you a clue or stimulate your memory about the conclusions you made about money. Even if it doesn’t come at first, keep at it. You’ll find it—everyone has money baggage—and you’ll find it by exploring your childhood.

Next week we discuss how Our Money Baggage Affects Every Aspect Of Our Lives.

Our Money Baggage Is Formed In Childhood

Money baggage is the decision about money that we made when we were children. Early on, something happened to us or we were taught something about money or we saw something that led us to make a conclusion about it. We took this conclusion to be fact.

Throughout our lives we have taken actions consistent with this decision about money and these actions have shaped our lives. These actions, though arising from a false belief, influence our current attitudes and relationships with money.

From our early experiences, our money baggage might be:

Money is scarce; we can’t afford it.
I don’t deserve it.
Rich people are mean.
Money is not something to be talked about.
Girls are not good with money.
I shouldn’t spend money on myself.
It’s not okay to want things.
Save for a rainy day.
Get a good paying job.
If I am an artist, I’ll be poor.
Be responsible.
Money is power.

The message may not have been verbal, but we got the message just the same. From our observations and experiences, we formed conclusions about money that have run our lives ever since.

Everyone you know has money baggage. As I mentioned in the Introduction, even Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz has some. Let’s take a look at what conclusions Dorothy might have made about work and money.

As you know, Dorothy lived on a farm in Kansas with her dog Toto, and she found people around her too busy to deal with her. The story opens with Dorothy running onto the farm excitedly to tell Auntie Em about mean old Miss Gulch hitting Toto for running in her garden after her cat. But Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are too busy to listen and can’t be interrupted: the incubator has conked out and they have to count the chicks and get them into another pen. Dorothy urgently tries to convey the importance of what’s happened, saying that Miss Gulch has threatened to get the sheriff, but Auntie Em, preoccupied with her work, finally just tells Dorothy to be helpful and stay out of trouble.

This scene alone is enough to conclude that Dorothy might be getting the message that chickens (work and money) are more important than she is. This idea is reinforced later when she falls into the hog pen and hits her head. She is pulled out and is being tended to by the farmhands when Auntie Em comes over and threatens to fire them for “all this jabberwocky.” When they try to tell her about Dorothy getting hurt, Aunt Em will have nothing to do with it. She hustles them back to work because work is more important.

If we assume Dorothy grew up around this attitude and behavior over the years, it’s also safe to assume she might have ended up with some definite ideas about how much higher work ranks in the family than she does.

Few of us grew up on farms, but we might recognize the issue. How many of us learned early on that work and money took time away from the family? That work always came first. Being children, we took everything personally. If we did not get the attention, time, or love we wanted, it must have been because there was something else more important than us. Or we may have decided that there was something wrong with us. Or that we did not deserve love or attention. Whatever conclusion we made, we made it deeply; it formed the basis of our life.

Dorothy’s story goes on to illustrate another money baggage lesson that might have also informed her view of the world. When mean Miss Gulch storms into the farmhouse, she carries in her hand an order from the sheriff to take Toto away. Dorothy sees her aunt and uncle buckle under, and to her horror, they hand Toto over to Miss Gulch. But not before Auntie Em gives Miss Gulch a talking to, outlining her despicable qualities and noting that she only got that order from the sheriff because she owns half the county.

So what might Dorothy learn about the world seeing this? Miss Gulch may be the only rich person Dorothy ever knew. From her child’s point of view it would appear that money meant power and that rich people were mean. If you had money, you could even get the sheriff to take your dog away. How might something like this affect Dorothy later in life?

As we will see as we discover how money baggage works, someone who believes that money makes a person mean might end up creating a life where he or she becomes an honest, hardworking person but never allows himself or herself to have much money, for fear of becoming a bad person.

What exactly is money baggage? It is the set of beliefs you gained in childhood about money, which now operate subconsciously as automatic behaviors and attitudes in your life. And these behaviors and attitudes dictate all of your decisions about money. We create innocent but mistaken ideas about money and these ideas end up coloring our existence for as long as we let them.

To be continued next week… Part 2 of How Money Baggage Is Formed In Childhood.