Why is Managing Money So Difficult?
It happened again just the other day. Someone who appeared to be doing fine asked me for help with his finances. I give him a ton of credit. It’s hard to ask for help.
Even though it’s happened countless times in the 20+ years I’ve been involved in stewardship ministry, it still usually catches me off guard. People who look to be doing great on the outside—nice car, happy family—turn out to be struggling with financial issues.
Isn’t it Ironic?
It’s one of the most fascinating, disturbing, and ironic aspects of money. Appearance and reality are often not acquainted with each other.
On a macro scale, the U.S. is the land of opportunity, and yet one study found that nearly half of all senior citizens die with less than 10 grand to their name. On a smaller, more personal scale, many people wear a façade of financial success, but the truth is far different. Underneath the veneer, there’s too little savings, too much debt, and a whole lot of tension in their relationships.
Here’s another ironic aspect of money. On the one hand, there’s no end to the amount of readily available answers to financial questions. Just about any question you have about money can be answered (sometimes even credibly!) with a quick Internet search. And yet, there’s also no end to the number of people who struggle with money.
Why? Why is it that many people who look to be doing well financially are not doing well at all? And why is it that with so much financial knowledge so readily available, so many people have a hard time making the whole money thing work? A big part of the answer is that money isn’t the objective “means of exchange” the dictionary makes it out to be. Money is a very emotional subject. And yet, most of the financial guidance people receive is focused on behavior. How-to advice is aimed at the head, completely missing the heart.
The Emotional Side of Money
Our temperaments serve as very powerful filters through which we view money, and everything else. For example, someone with a melancholy temperament will be much more likely to take to the use of a budget than someone with a sanguine temperament. How often is that discussed in articles on how to put together a budget? Very often, temperament differences are at the heart of financial conflicts between spouses.
The advertising we take in every day is filled with emotionally charged messages, telling us we will be more (worthy, attractive, content) once we have more. And we have a tendency to live by comparison. We notice what others do with money and that influences us. Add to all that the fact that money is such a private topic, one that we discuss on a personal level with very few people, and it’s easy to see why managing money well can be so challenging.
Where Financial Attitudes and Behaviors Meet
When I first started thinking about the importance of our financial attitudes, I thought the path to wise money management was linear: Develop the right attitudes about money (contentment, patience, gratitude, the identity of a steward instead of a consumer) and the right behaviors will follow.
But a friend of mine who’s a psychiatrist helped me understand that attitudes and behaviors work in a circular nature to foster life change. Yes, the cultivation of healthy new financial attitudes can lead to healthy new financial behaviors. However, our behaviors also shape our attitudes. Matthew 6:21 makes this very point: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I believe this is one reason why God’s Word teaches us to make generosity our highest financial priority. Giving is ultimately a spiritual discipline that molds our hearts and deepens our relationship with Christ. The behavior shapes our attitude.
In what ways have you seen the importance of cultivating not just the right financial behaviors, but the right financial attitudes as well? And why else do you think managing money well can be so difficult?