Do you remember the man who was supposed to marry Rose in Titanic? He dressed exceptionally well, had slick brown hair and was from a family of great wealth. His character was based on the life of a man named Caledon Hockey. He survived the shipwreck but not the Wall Street Crash. When the stock market fell in 1929, Cal’s money and everyone else’s plummeted in value to the point that people were bringing horse carriages of cash into town only to afford a loaf of bread.
Overnight, Cal lost his wealth and in response shot himself. He wasn’t the only one to do so. So many people ended their lives due to the crash that the Ritz Hotel in New York had to ask guests whether they were booking a room to sleep in or jump from. This devastating response highlights an issue still present in many of our hearts today: the value we place on our bank account.
For Cal and those who took their lives, money had become far more than just money. It was the building block of their lives, the thing in which they placed their security, identity and value. They couldn’t bear the thought of living without it because without it they didn’t know who they were.
Though it wasn’t as extreme as the Great Depression, Covid-19 caused many people to lose income. According to a Black Dog Institute report, 78 per cent of Australians reported poorer mental health since the pandemic. One of the leading causes was financial distress.
On top of that, current markers show our society has the highest inflation in over 20 years. The Australian dollar has lost 20 per cent of its value in 10 years. In Turkey, inflation has increased 70 per cent in one year and in Zimbabwe, inflation increased 200 per cent in just two months.
We can work hard our entire lives, only to have our wealth reduced to nothing in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen it happen again and again throughout history. How would you react if this happened to you? Do you know who you are beyond your ability to make money? Would you, like some before us, fail to see a life worth living without it?
The solution to our money problems is not to do away with it or pretend we don’t care. It’s valid to worry about it. We need money for food, housing, education and healthcare. But many of us can improve our relationship with it. So, whether we have a lot or not much at all, what steps can we take to build a positive money mindset?
1. Get clear on your values
What is most important to you? Does your spending align with what you care about?
Our values are the things that truly matter to us and are what guide our decisions and behaviour. When you are unaware of your values, there is a high chance you are making decisions you’re not satisfied with, spending money on things that aren’t important to you and living according to other people’s standards. This will cause you to feel discontented, frustrated and unhappy.
People who know what they value in life and align their money with those values tend to be more satisfied and have a stronger sense of financial and personal wellbeing. Identifying your values helps you live meaningfully. Research professor Brené Brown said, “Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practise them. We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts and behaviours align with those beliefs.”
2. Identify your beliefs
How we think about money is usually created when we are children. For some of us, these beliefs still affect how we relate to it today. We don’t need to blame anyone but thinking about how money was handled in the household we grew up in will help us understand the foundation for our beliefs. One of the easiest ways to figure this out is to consider how you think and talk about money.
Do you think you’ll never be debt free? Will you ever reach ‘financial independence? Do you see making money as the singular purpose for life? Does the topic make you squirm? Is financial success your only metric for success? Once you are aware of the beliefs you hold, ask yourself if you want to continue to live by them or if you want to change them.
3. Allow yourself to dream
When you’re clear on your values and beliefs, you can allow yourself to dream about the future you want. Often, we get stuck thinking about our debt as if we’ll never get out of it. Sometimes, we normalise our current situations and struggle to imagine anything else. If we allow ourselves to dream, we will be motivated to manage our finances better and reach our financial goals.
That might mean putting aside a small portion of money so one day you can go on a holiday or get a bike so you can ride to work or upgrade your dining table so you can host more people for dinner or sign up for a course that will help you move towards doing what you love. We don’t want to get into the habit of building wealth for the sake of building wealth, so we need to dream and start being intentional with where our money goes.
4. Differentiate wants from needs
Dan Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness said, “Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness.” Studies show that happiness and income are not directly related and that happiness plateaus before annual income even reaches $100,000.
Advertising constantly sends us messages that we need certain things and when we get the “thing” we’ll be happier, prettier, more loveable and more successful. Most of the time, we’re not sold on the product but on what we think the product will give us. To foster a positive money mindset, we must resist the messages that tell us what we need for our happiness and discover that for ourselves. We can do this by thinking before spending and asking ourselves if we are buying out of necessity, values or desire.
5. Educate yourself
Sometimes our stress can simply result from a lack of understanding as to how we can change our current situation. Educating yourself will help you steward your money more confidently and could be a great first step if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Remember it’s OK to reach out for help too. Some banks offer financial counselling, and you can also seek a financial advisor to support you as you reconsider your financial goals. There are many good books such as The Richest Man in Babylon, The Barefoot Investor, Nudge and Counsels on Stewardship. Christians Against Poverty is a company with money coaches who provide tools to build a budget and improve your financial wellbeing.
Too often, we allow our self-worth and identity to be defined by how much we do or do not have. But our net worth is not a qualifier of our self-worth. We can lose everything we have worked for, but we cannot lose who we really are.
As it says in Matthew 6:19–21, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal . . . Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
We know money can be stressful. But we can significantly reduce that stress by defining our worth beyond our money and creating healthier habits. As author and success mentor Darren Hardy said, “The slightest adjustments to your daily routines can dramatically alter the outcomes of your life.” So, go on the journey to change your money mindset: figure out your values, challenge your beliefs, dream, learn and seek advice. And remember, even in the face of scarcity, you are enough. Keeping up with the Joneses will not make you any happier, or more human.
Zanita Fletcher is an assistant editor for Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand. She writes from the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand website and is republished with permission.