Our Money Baggage Is Not True

There is a universal truth about your money baggage: it is not true. It is not true that you do not deserve money. It is not true that money is bad or that you have to work hard for it. Money doesn’t necessarily corrupt and people with money and power will not necessarily humiliate and control you. It is not true that a woman cannot be powerful and competent with money. It’s not true that you can’t follow your heart and earn a good living at the same time. Your money baggage only seems true to you because you have made it so inside your head.

Money baggage always speaks in the language of limitation:
Without money, I have no value.
It’s selfish and greedy to want.
I have to take care of myself.

I have to be useful or I have no right to be here.
I have to work hard, hard, hard, or I will fail.
I will be a failure if I am not as successful as my father.
You get money not by following your spirit or doing what you want, but by being responsible and doing what others tell you to do.
It’s not okay to spend money on myself.
I had better save because I can’t depend on anything or anyone.
I’m not worth anything because I didn’t earn it myself.
Money equals self-esteem.

None of these statements is inherently true. And yet we live entire lives assuming they are, doing irrational things with money that seem completely rational to us.

Gordon is someone who has received more inheritances than anyone I know. I was always a bit envious, as I often used to fantasize about getting an inheritance. Like people who fantasize about winning the lottery, I imagined what I would do with all my fantasy inherited money.

Gordon had a unique solution for what to do with his: he gave it all away, every time. When he got an inheritance, he would proudly tell me what he had done. “Oh, my friend had some credit card debt so I paid that off.” Another time he told me, “A great kid in my neighborhood wanted to go to college and didn’t have the money so I gave it to him.” One time it was, “This woman who works in my department really wanted to go buy this piece of land that had been in her family for many years, so I helped her with the down payment.”

Within months of any inheritance, Gordon was back where he was before, working in a job he didn’t really like all that much. He justified it to me by the fact that he “had to work.” And then he would complain to me about how many more years he had until retirement.

I was always astounded by his generosity. I wasn’t sure I could be that generous under the same circumstances. Yet, something was wrong with the picture. I always wondered why he didn’t keep some of it and leave the job he didn’t like. Even if he couldn’t retire, he could at least use it to support a career change that would be more fulfilling to him.

Once I learned about his childhood, I came to see that giving away his inheritances wasn’t just about being generous. It was also propelled by an underlying belief that money is bad. His father, a longshoreman in Texas, had come upon sudden wealth. He had inherited a few acres of land, beneath which happened to be a lot of oil.

Most of us are unprepared for sudden wealth and his dad was no exception. What had been a fairly happy existence for Gordon ended. His father bought a large yacht, quit working, and over time became a bit of a local playboy and carouser. A young mistress entered the picture, a divorce followed, and the family was torn apart.

It was clear to Gordon that money destroys family. His money baggage became: Money is bad; it corrupts.

Gordon got rid of his inheritances in seemingly honorable ways. He gave it to people who really appreciated it, or who really needed it. It seemed very virtuous. But his generosity really stemmed from the fact that he had a deep fear that money would corrupt him.

As obvious as it might seem to an outside observer, Gordon had never made the connection between his altruistic pattern of giving away money and his dad’s behaviors. His early painful imprinting—his money baggage—was running the show, keeping him in a steady low-paying job that he disliked. He was controlled by the fear that money might tear apart his own family and life.

Of course it isn’t true that money is necessarily bad or that it corrupts, but Gordon believed it was. As children, we live in a world defined by our money baggage, a decision based on a misperception of reality. A single event can define our money baggage. But oftentimes, our money baggage develops over many years. It can  arise and be reinforced over decades from a mood in the home or a parent’s recurrent attitude. It may not be obvious until we begin to look at its effect on our adult lives.

Our money baggage might work for us for a while. But when we are adults, it stops working, and we can find ourselves living dysfunctional, frustrating, and fearful lives. When we find ourselves in jobs we do not like; when we are unable to find work; when we cannot hold onto money or make enough to support our dreams; or when we attempt to improve our lives but are frustrated at every turn—all these situations revolve around our money baggage.

Money is involved in all aspects of our lives, and when we decide to work on our money issues, we find a powerful access point to multiple aspects of ourselves, an access point that helps bring to consciousness that which is unconscious. It’s the first step in healing emotional pain and finding our soul’s work. It all begins with the realization that our money baggage isn’t true.

Next week, we discuss exercises for discovering your own money baggage!



Money Baggage and Family (Part 2)

People arrive at the workshops I lead unaware of the pain they are carrying around. June, a woman in her mid-fifties, vaguely agreed with me that money was a source of suffering in her life, but she couldn’t really put her finger on why.

I began talking about how our money baggage comes from a decision we make when we are young. Suddenly tears were running down June’s cheeks. When I asked her if she knew what her money baggage was, she said: Money will destroy your life and relationships, so pretend it is not there.

“My grandmother had a lot of money,” she said, her voice cracking a bit. “She basically controlled the family with it. What happened in my family is exactly what Grandma wanted to happen. If she gave you money for college, you went to a college that met her approval. If she gave you a down payment on a house, it had to be a house she liked.”

June saw her Grandma destroy the family; she had her hooks in just about everything from financing the house to setting up college funds for the kids. When Grandma didn’t get what she wanted, she went on a rampage. June’s parents always caved in.

The older Grandma got, the more demands she made, and the more irrational the demands became. If someone disobeyed her, he or she was uninvited to family gatherings, cut out of the will, and essentially disowned.

June’s brother decided to go overseas to study. This appalled his grandmother. She believed he should first go to an Ivy League school and later could “prance around the world.” He followed his heart instead and Grandma did not spare him her wrath.

June remembered sitting down at Christmas dinner at her grandmother’s the following year, the long table arrayed with china and crystal. It all looked elegant and perfect. But there was a huge hole, the empty chair where her brother usually sat. It was understood that no one should even mention his name.

Grandma cashed in the college fund she had set up for June’s brother. June loved him and was deeply disappointed when she saw her family not say a thing about it for fear Grandma would take something away from them.

When the grandmother died, she left a considerable sum to June in a trust fund. June pretended it was not there. She didn’t want to deal with it, so she had accountants deal with it. She really didn’t know consciously why, but her money baggage was telling her, “If I touch it, it will destroy my life. It will destroy my family. I’ll be like Grandma.”

By unearthing her money baggage, June saw for the first time how much and for how long she had silently suffered around money. She saw how her beliefs had affected her own family—that money was bad, that it was an instrument that people used to control others and inflict pain, and that money was something to be avoided at all cost.

Is it time to break the painful cycles in your life? Look at how the messages you learned about money as a child affected your family then, and how those attitudes influence your family now. What are the messages you overtly or covertly give to your kids? Ask your kids what they are learning from you about money. Go back to your childhood and get clear about your own money baggage. You owe it to yourself and to your loved ones.

Tune in next week for more insights from Karen Ramsey!

Money Baggage and Family

One of the most painful aspects of money baggage is the effect it has on those we love the most. Wendell’s story illustrates this. His money baggage is: Money is more important than family.

When I was five years old, my father decided to go into business for himself. We moved to Hanover, Pennsylvania after he purchased an Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership. He was gone a lot. Out the door at eight o’clock every morning, he would return for dinner around six, and then go back to work, not coming home until after my sister, brother, and I had gone to bed. I don’t remember him ever reading us any books or tucking me into bed at night. When I was eight years old, I joined a Little League baseball team. My dad never came to a game.

To spend time with my father, I would go to work with him and we would have breakfast together at the Sunnyside Diner, the greasy spoon behind the dealership.

When I was ten, I began to play racquetball on a regular basis with a friend down the street. I came up with an idea: if I worked really hard to earn some money mowing lawns in the summer and shoveling snow in the winter, I could give my dad a racquetball racquet. Then we could spend time together playing racquetball.

I never felt more proud than on that Christmas, watching my dad unwrap the new racquet I had bought with my own $15. We talked about playing together the next week, but he never had time. So we talked about getting in a game after the first of the year, then maybe in the spring. It never happened; the dealership always came first, second, and third. My dad never once used that racquet.

So, I spent a lot of Saturdays around the dealership, washing cars. I’d do anything to be with him. My wife still wonders to this day why I can’t stand to wash our cars.

Wendell remembers his father fondly. His dad didn’t intentionally ignore him—Wendell knows this; his father was simply living a life consistent with his own money baggage, which was to work hard, be successful, and take care of the family financially. His dad never said money was more important than family, but actions speak louder than words, and Wendell came to that conclusion on his own.

As an adult, Wendell didn’t consciously believe that money was more important than family. But he took it as a fact that what a father does is work hard to make sure the family is well taken care of.

At his first job after he was married—selling cars—Wendell worked sixty-five to seventy hours a week. Some days he’d leave the house at five a.m., work all day, and get back home around seven p.m.

Just before his first son was born, Wendell went back to college for an accounting degree and afterwards started working sixty-five to seventy hours a week as a CPA. He began to travel internationally, with a goal to become a partner at a large accounting firm. One day, flying back from Europe, Wendell started to reflect on his life.

I began to wonder if all the time away from my family was worth it. I suddenly realized that I had missed out on more than ten years of putting my boys to bed, of having dinner with my family, of attending my sons’ sporting and school events. Ten years, all because I had placed work in front of my family, just as my own dad had.

I looked back across many generations of my family and saw that the same message about work had always been there: Money is more important than family. I became determined on the flight home to break this painful cycle. I wanted to make it up to my kids and wife before it was too late.

Be assured that, to the extent our money baggage is unexamined, we are passing it on to our kids. You might never even talk about money around them, but your kids are like little scientists watching and picking up clues and drawing conclusions. They watch how you approach work, how you talk about it, and how you deal with money. If you are working at a job you don’t like, they take that in. If they see you and your spouse fight about money, they make note of it. They notice when you don’t have time for them. They will assume that whatever you choose to do instead of spending time with them is more important to you than they are, especially if you don’t consciously understand and explain the reasons why. From their observations of your behaviors, conclusions about life and money silently take shape in their young minds.

Parents who work too much often feel guilty and try to compensate for it by giving their kids the best. They provide a nice house,  give them plenty of things, and send them to good schools. But they aren’t giving their kids what the kids really want: emotional connection and time together. The parents might alleviate their guilt by giving presents or money to show their love, but that can lead kids to conclude that money equals love. A lot of people’s money baggage forms around this confusion.

When they grow up, they might emulate their folks, working hard, being too busy, and giving their own kids presents and money to show them that they love them. And the cycle continues.