So where do we get the paradigms that lead us to act in ways that create these kinds of results?
Many come from the numerous advertisers and credit card companies that urge us to “Buy now; pay later.” In the year 2000 alone, credit card companies sent out 3.3 billion solicitations (about 30 per household), despite the fact that the average credit card holder already carries nine credit cards in his or her wallet.[7 ]Combined with the “have it all” version of the American dream and the blitz of advertising, the encouragement to use credit and its ready availability create an almost irresistible pull to live a high consumption (and what some consider hedonistic) lifestyle. As a result of these and other influences, most of us tend to see money in ways that cause us to make choices that lead to debt and frustration.
Other paradigms of money come from relatives, friends, associates, and our experiences growing up.
As a child, I remember the times my dad would bring home a new car. It was always an event. It was never discussed ahead of time—sometimes not even with Mom. Dad would simply show up with a new car and it was assumed that we would all be happy about it. In Dad’s mind, it was one of the ways he showed his love for the family.
On the other hand, though, I also remember accompanying my Dad to a bank one day. He needed money to finance a production project, and the manager gave him what he asked for on his signature. As we were leaving, the manager pulled me aside and said, “You ought to be very grateful for the heritage your Dad has given you. I’ve watched him go through very difficult situations where other men would have declared bankruptcy. Your Dad held on, paid all his debts, and did the right thing, no matter what. I’d put my career on the line and give him anything he’d ask for because I know he would always come through.”
On several occasions, I remember my parents sharing with me the story of “Nancy’s piano.” Nancy was an excellent musician. When she graduated from high school, her parents bought her a beautiful grand piano. But then she went away to college and married, and the beautiful piano sat in her parents’ living room unused.
The point my parents would make in telling the story is how much more useful it would have been to buy the piano while Nancy was at home taking piano lessons. “Nancy’s piano” became a symbol of the importance of timing and it influenced many of the decisions we made with regard to providing opportunities for our own children.
But what that story didn’t become—at least in my life—was a symbol of the importance of economic timing. Though my par ents never intended it, that vision scripted a number of decisions we made in our family to get things when we thought they would be most useful—not necessarily when we could afford them.
I have since wondered if the real issue was not, “Should Nancy’s parents have bought the piano earlier?” but “If they had to go into debt to get it, should Nancy’s parents have bought the piano at all?” Nancy seemed to do just fine developing her talent with the less expensive, but functional piano she had.
Our childhood experiences have a significant impact on the financial attitudes and habits we bring with us into marriage, and on the challenges we encounter as we try to merge two financial philosophies and bank accounts into one. When you combine the different scripting of two people with possible issues around power (most often for men), security and self-worth (most often for women), integrity and trust (for both in the relationship), and the psychological burden of living in debt, it’s easy to see how handling finances can become a huge challenge in a marriage. In fact, the impact of emotionally laden financial issues, both in marriages and in individual lives, is so significant that today, in addition to financial planners and advisers, we have “money coaches” and “money mentors” who help people explore their scripting and psychological issues around their spending habits.
Our success in dealing with both time and money is not as much about planners and balance sheets as it is about attitudes and paradigms. People who deal effectively with time or money genuinely see differently. Most notably, they see in terms of importance and investing rather than urgency and consuming. And because they see differently, they do differently. And they get different results.
Take a moment to examine some of your paradigms about money, and ask yourself the following questions:
Why is money such an emotional issue for me (if it is)? What experiences have I had—particularly with the important people in my life—that have helped create the way I feel about money?
Is my sense of self-worth a function of my net worth?
To what extent do money matters affect my choice of work, my feelings about job security, and my performance at work?
To what extent do money matters affect my relationships and decisions at home?
If someone were to become aware of my economic situation— including my bank account balances, credit card balances, investments, retirement plan, and last six month’s spending— would I feel comfortable . . . or embarrassed?
Based upon how I spend my money, what would people assume are the most important things in my life?
Do I typically wait, save, and pay in cash for the things I want to buy, or do I get them immediately on credit and pay interest as well as cost?
Based on my spending habits, which would my spouse think is more important to me: communication and agreement on spending . . . or getting the things I want?
Either by what I do or what I say, what am I teaching my children about financial management?
How much money do I think I really need to live a balanced, peaceful life?
It takes a deep self-awareness to come to grips with these issues in our lives. We may not want to do it. We may not want to face the possibility of our own incongruency. But there’s no way we can validate our expectations without being realistic as well as real.
So we encourage you to ask the questions. Examine your paradigms. And take a hard look at where you are now. Take a personal audit. Look at your assets. Look at your debts. Consider your retirement. Add up what you’re currently paying on interest. Ask yourself this question:
If I continue on the path I’m on financially, what will my situation be 5, 10 or 20 years down the road?
As noted previously, people who are truly effective in managing their money see differently. And because they see differently, they do differently. And they get different results.
Let’s consider now how the Quadrant II paradigm we introduced in the last chapter, “Time Matters,” can also make a dramatic difference in the way you see and manage money—and in the results you get.
[7 ]www.cardweb.com; see also “Credit Crunch” by Dayana Yochim at www.fool.com.