Money Message Principle #9: 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 defi ned 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.

Join us next time for Money Message Principle #10: Taking the Journey: Exercises for Discovering Your Money Baggage



Continuation of Money Message Principle #8: Money Baggage and Family – Part Two

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.

Next week please join us for: Money Principle #9 – Money Baggage Principle #3: Our Money Baggage is not True.

Money Message Principle #8: 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.

Next week, we continue more of  Money Message Principle #8: Money Baggage and Family.


Money Message Principle #7: Money Baggage and Finances

Our money baggage affects our financial life more directly than any other area. One dramatic story that illustrates this is that of Paul, a real estate investor. His experience in childhood led to millions of dollars in losses and also to alcoholism, drug abuse, and
broken marriages.

As a child, Paul’s dad rarely spoke to him or spent much time with him. In Paul’s eyes his dad was powerful, large, and remote.  When Paul was five years old, his dad gave him money to go to the corner store for a quart of milk. He never remembered his dad trusting
him before, especially with money. To Paul this was a chance to shine in his dad’s eyes. He felt he was setting out on the most important mission of his life.

Paul bought the milk, got the change, and set off at a run for home. On the way back he got distracted by an anthill, and played around a small creek tossing in a few rocks. When he got home, he proudly gave the milk to his dad. His dad, barely looking up from the TV, asked him for the change. Paul dug in his front pocket, but the change was gone. He searched his other pockets to no avail and a wave of panic set in.

His dad got angry and asked him if he had hidden the money for himself. Paul denied it and started to get “real scared.” His dad made him go back to the store and look for the change. He spent the next hour, almost paralyzed by fear, retracing his steps to and from
the store, but found nothing.

He felt like a failure, and was sick to his stomach when he admitted defeat to his dad. Paul remembers to this day how angry his dad got, glaring at him, his lips drawn together. Without a word, he walked out of the room leaving Paul alone, and didn’t speak to him
for the rest of the day. His dad never trusted him with money again.

At the workshop thirty-six years later, Paul identified his money baggage for the first time: “No matter what happens, I’m just going to lose it anyway.”

Even by age seven Paul had become a hard worker and habitual spender, and had his own bank account. When it got up to eight dollars, he withdrew it and had an older kid buy cigarettes with it.

He remembers buying school lunches in high school for his friends so he wouldn’t have to keep money in his pocket, all the while not consciously remembering the event of losing the milk money or being aware of why he felt compelled to spend everything he got.  Deep down he felt he was a failure.  “So what does a failure do?” he asked himself. “A failure screws up.” He often found himself without two cents to his name. Any time he
had some success, he knew it wouldn’t last.

He had a naturally entrepreneurial nature and made a lot of money, but he spent it on partying. He started drinking a lot and became an alcoholic. He got into real estate and made a ton of money. Then he’d take two or three years off, living “the good life.”  Tropical islands, large yachts, villas, wine, women, and song. He could never accumulate anything. He had to spend it all.

He got divorced twice and never formed lasting friendships.  Who would want to be friends with such a failure? He was foreclosed on three times and went bankrupt twice. Millions of dollars “went through my pockets,” as he put it.

You might read Paul’s story and say, how silly. How silly that a simple little event in childhood like losing money on the way back from the store can so influence a life. Well, our money baggage is often silly—from an adult point of view. But it is not the adult who is in charge of issues with money; it is the child-mind in action inside the adult. A child’s mind is extremely impressionable; it believes things with great conviction, and it never forgets.

This single event of buying some milk and then losing the change crystallized, in Paul’s young mind, a deep belief about himself, and it was backed up by many years of experience. His conclusion that he was a failure arose from his decision that he did not live up to his father’s expectations. In a similar way, we form our internal stories (No matter what happens, I’m just going to lose it anyway.) and then externalize them to make our stories come true in the world.

Some people worry about money a lot. Even when they have plenty, or have the promise of plenty in the future, they never feel they have enough. If they do have enough, they spend it. By spending it, they perpetuate the feeling of not having enough. Other people
sabotage their own dreams just as they begin to succeed, because they believe so deeply and unconsciously that success would ruin their life. This becomes their money baggage. They will talk a lot about wanting to succeed and sincerely try to make it come true, but
as long as their money baggage is in charge, success will be fleeting.

This entire mechanism occurs automatically. People don’t do these things on purpose. They are not aware of why they go on spending sprees, running up large credit card debts, or why they can’t earn more than they do, or why they constantly bounce checks.

Some people use “retail therapy” to avoid their painful issues around money. By spending, they distract themselves from having to investigate this pain. I see other people who cannot spend money on themselves because they don’t believe they are worthy.

Look to your behaviors around money and your current financial situation. Don’t assume these behaviors and the state of your finances are normal and just “the way it is.” Question them. Ask yourself why you do the things you do in your life with money. Do you hoard it? Do you find yourself in constant debt? Are you unable to set clear limits for your children when it comes to spending? Are you always thinking you need more? Do you neglect yourself—wear second-hand clothes and never get around to treating yourself with
something nice?

By answering these questions you will get below the surface of your habitual thoughts about money and to the root cause of your behaviors. By understanding the cause you can begin to take steps to create new thoughts to better shape your life and your relationship to money, especially when it comes to your personal finances.

Next week, we continue with Money Message Principle #8: Money Baggage and Family.

Money Message Principle #6: Money Baggage and Work

We design our work lives around our money baggage without realizing it. Perhaps you are working below your true abilities or are in a job that pays a lower wage than you deserve. Maybe you are working long hours at a job you don’t like. Your money baggage is the culprit behind these patterns. Until you find out what it is, it will be as if an invisible force field is keeping you in your current circumstances.

Roger, a participant at one of my workshops, was typical of many people who know what they want to do but stay glued to their unsatisfying job. Roger was a marketing executive: crisp suit, starched white shirt, talking to everyone around him before the class started,
confident, smooth, well-liked.

At the beginning of class I always ask, “Why are you here? What do you want to accomplish by being here?” The first words out of Roger’s mouth were, “I hate my job. I hate marketing; I can’t do it any more. I make a ton of money but it’s killing me.”

I asked him what he would do if he weren’t doing marketing. He didn’t have to think for even a second. “I’d be a teacher. I’d love to teach math. But I’d only make a third of what I make now.”

“Well, could you possibly support yourself on a teacher’s salary?” “I don’t know, I don’t have any debt,” he said. “I do have a lot in the stock market. I never really considered it.”

As Roger was growing up his mom told him repeatedly, “You are only as good as the amount of money you make. If you have money; you are a better person.” Roger’s uncle worked as a brakeman for the railroad. His mom told him, “You don’t want to turn out to be like Uncle Fred.” The fact is, Roger admired his uncle, who had a huge heart, played guitar, was fun to be around, and taught Roger a lot of great things. But his mom made it clear: Roger needed to rise above any occupation that seemed blue collar or ordinary.

Other times his mom would say, “See that person? He’s a social worker. It’s too bad. He doesn’t make much money. You can do more for the world if you have money.” Roger’s money baggage was clear: Money determines my self-worth.

He got a business degree and, as soon as he graduated from college, went for a job that would make him a lot of money—marketing for a pharmaceutical company. And he was very successful.

“So your lifestyle might allow you to become a teacher,” I said, “if you took a hard look at it. But you dread having the conversation with your mom, telling her you have decided to follow your heart? Is that it?”

“No,” Roger said. “Mom’s been dead for ten years.” I was stunned. Ten years, but he still heard her voice in his ear, keeping him from pursuing his passion to teach. That is how powerful our money baggage is. As long as we don’t examine it to find out why we make
the decisions about money that we do, we will be frustrated in our attempts to follow our hearts.

Our money baggage not only keeps us from pursuing work we love; it also can keep us in lower-paying jobs than we deserve. Virginia, one of my clients, runs the information technology department at a state agency.

Virginia is exceptional at her job. She keeps up with the latest technological advancements and she is constantly expected to do miraculous things with few resources. On call twenty-four hours a day, she is the one who has to fix things if the system crashes or malfunctions. She only gets called when there is a problem—and when there is, it always needs to be fixed right away. She has worked at the agency for twenty-one years. In six more years she can retire. But the job is wearing her out.

One irony about her situation is that she works within driving distance of many software companies starved for skilled workers. Often she trains someone who then gets hired away at a starting salary far exceeding hers. She could easily triple her income and work
shorter hours at a private company.

I told her, “Quit! Get out! Who cares?” Based on the retirement projection for her and her husband (who makes pretty good money as a mid-level bank manager), she really doesn’t need to make a lot of money, maybe $40,000 a year. “Do you know how many jobs
there are in the world paying $40,000–$50,000 that you are completely qualified for? Even if you didn’t have the right skills, you could get them in a relatively short time.” The more I asked her why she stayed and why she didn’t go get another job, the more she fidgeted in her seat.

My logic fell on deaf ears because her money baggage is: I can’t risk—the world can’t be trusted. Her father was an entrepreneur who made lots of money but went broke again and again. The family was always in upheaval. “It’s our lot in life, honey,” her mom would say.

To Virginia, taking a risk in her life called up the uncertainty of her childhood, going from boom to bust and back again. Despite all the possibilities before her, she loved the security of her current job and she was unwilling to go beyond her comfort zone. Her money baggage told her that if she took risks, she’d probably get hurt. She would rather suffer than explore the options available to her.

But she couldn’t realize any of this until she uncovered her money baggage. Then it became clear to her why she was clinging to a painful dead-end job.

The world is full of talented people working at jobs below their abilities. They stay in professions that don’t pay very much money or that they don’t like. They believe that staying safe is better than leaving, even if staying is painful.

I don’t believe our souls buy into this idea that stagnation is a safe place. I think our soul wants us to grow. I believe our soul wants us to find our own unique gift. To find work that expresses who we really are, what our true passions are.

Ask yourself if you love your job. If you don’t love it, why are you still doing it? Why aren’t you moving on? Do you deserve a raise or more time off and are afraid to ask for it? Do you tell yourself that the reason you work so hard is that you have to support your family? Do you take lunch breaks? Do you take all the vacation time you have earned? The answers to these questions are pointing you toward your money baggage.

It might be useful to list every job you’ve ever had and see if you can find a recurring theme. Were you following your deepest interests and your heart? Were you paid what you were worth? What types of bosses did you have? Take this information and use it to better understand your money baggage, and become more conscious of its influence in your life, especially at work.

Next week, we discuss Money Message Principle #7: Money Baggage and Finances.