The Emotional Current of Money

Before we started on this journey of Christ-centered financial wellness, I never thought much about money being currency. In my mind it was just a term that was used by financial analysts.

Currency had nothing to do with how I spent my money. It had nothing to do with the debt Keith and I were pounding away. Currency was just not a part of my vocabulary.

Respect It

Today is a new day. Today I understand the importance of currency and what it means in my life. Today I understand that money and electricity have a lot in common and both have a current.

Just as we were taught to respect electricity as children, we must also learn (and teach our children) to respect money. Just as it would be unwise to leave a child unattended with an electrical current, it would also be unwise to not pay attention to the current of money and teach our children to do the same.

And just as electricity "flows," so does money.

Money flows in the direction of those who respect it. So it's important to pay attention to it and not just spend it at will.

We've all experienced the moment when we realized the bill we just broke is no where to be found. We say things like: 

  • "I just broke a $20 bill and now it's gone!"
  • "I know I just had a $100. Where did in go?"
  • "I must have a hole in my wallet...I cannot keep money."
  • "What happened? I just got cash out of the bank machine yesterday!"

What happened was the fact that we were not intentional. We had no plan. We were impulsive in our spending and did not think about the purchases we were making. And because we were all of these things, our money "flowed" in a different direction. It "flowed" away from those of us who had little regard for it to the ones who did.

It's also important to understand that the "flow" of money is greatly impacted by how you "feel" about money.

Matthew 6:21 tells us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." How you feel about money determines a lot about how you use it.  Pastor Rick Warren says "to know where your heart is, just look at where you put your money."

Emotional Currency

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Kate Levinson says that "money is both legal tender and emotional currency." 

The legal use of the term currency and the emotional use of the term currency cannot always be separated.

Much of our daily spending is tied to an emotion.

And even more of our extra spending is tied to emotion.

  • We spend money to celebrate.
  • We spend money to medicate.
  • We spend money to share.
  • We spend money to mourn.

And when the emotions associated with our money are at a high level (either positive or negative), many of us are prone to make impulse purchases.

It's like an adrenaline rush. 

We've all heard of the person who goes on a shoe buying spree (or sporting goods, or gym equipment, or clothing) anytime they have a negative emotional encounter. And we certainly all know at least one person who "had to have" this thing which reminds them of a special time in their lives. (See my previous post on "How 'I Had To' Will Make You Broke.")

And then the justification begins. When our emotions about something are higher, it's much easier to justify why we need this purchase or that location. It's harder to stay rational and keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

Recently, Keith and I paid off the last of our debt. WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!! The first thing I wanted to do was go out to dinner to celebrate...but we didn't. While it was a MAJOR accomplishment (five years in the making), the budget for April was already set. Neither Keith nor I wanted to adjust it to put in money for eating out. We could have...but we chose not to.

We did not want to get out of control celebrating the milestone and end up blowing the budget for the rest of the month. We had learned from past mistakes to not get so caught up in the moment that we overspent. We recognized the milestone for what it was, but kept our eyes on the end goal.

Examples of Emotional Purchases

We are not saints in the area of making emotionally healthy money decisions, however. We've just gotten farther away from the edge in the last five years. We see the danger a little sooner these days.

Before we found our way to safety, though:

  • We bought timeshare points on our honeymoon and prayed through the payment cycle until we got it paid off. That was a painful year and a half!
  • We almost got a signature loan to purchase land for a house in the middle of our debt snowball. Inches away from making a HUGE mistake with that one!
  • We bought exercise equipment "on sale" only to have it sit in the basement unused. We justified it because it was almost 40% off the retail price. It was still money that could have been used for our debt snowball. 
  • We got so wrapped up in paying cash for a car that we chose to not get it inspected ahead of time. I still cringe at how much that one cost us. Our debt snowball was a zero for almost four months because of that decision.

What's Next?

So when we became debt free, we were quite gun shy about jumping into spontaneous purchasing. We were not interested in the thrill of simply spending money because we could. Instead of giving in to the emotional rush of becoming debt free, we began to plan the next few months.

We had already registered to attend a marriage retreat which was just a few weeks away. So instead of going to dinner right then to celebrate, we opted to put a little extra money in our envelope for the marriage retreat weekend.

We began to discuss our savings plan for our emergency fund, but also made plans to set aside some money for a trip we've wanted to take for quite some time.

We chose not to plan a more extensive holiday and did not change the amount of fun money we each received monthly. The clothing budget stayed the same and so did the entertainment fund.

We had been steeped in frugality for five years and knew to tread carefully with our spending. We did not want to overspend now. Our end goal was still really clear.

And as much as I wanted a vacation that had a passport associated with it, a slightly larger day trip with the family would suffice. We would eventually get to a place where a vacation and other splurging could become more of a priority. But for now, it was time to build the emergency fund in order to safeguard against debt!

Getting Past The Shock

We've all been the responsible adult trying to keep a child away from an electrical socket. The reason is because we know they have no idea how dangerous electricity can be if not respected. Chances are good that we know this because we've had some experience with it ourselves.

The same is true with the emotional current of money. Keith and I are able to offer a warning to be careful of emotional spending because we've learned what it's like to not respect it. We have been shocked by that current many times in the past. 

And the sting of not being ready for a crisis or making a really poor money decision is too great to continue in the same pattern. Ephesians 5:15 says "So be careful how you live. Live as men who are wise and not foolish."

We are choosing to be wise as we enter into the unchartered territory of living a life free of debt!

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Click here to download your FREE e-book!

I am writing a daily devotional which speaks to the emotions of money. It will be available later this year, but feel free to enjoy a sneak peek now. Click on the picture to grab your copy.

Proverbs 21:5 says “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.”

Please don't allow your emotions to cause you to move too quickly in making a purchase. The recovery from such purchases can cause great pain...financially and spiritually.

Looking forward to your comments on this one!

Are you respecting the emotional currency of money? Would love to hear thoughts.

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Until next week...be well...be encouraged.

lyj