What is a Money Relationship? 4 Actions to Feel Better about Your Money

By Karen Whaley

August 10, 2022


We all have a money relationship. As a matter of fact, your money relationship is the longest relationship you may ever have. Money is discussed before you are born and will be a topic of discussion after you’re gone.

Further, the health of your money relationship directly benefits your financial health.

Did you catch that?

Your money relationship supports your financial health. Which means, your money relationship is not the same as your financial health.

What Is A Money Relationship?

You may have confused your financial health with your money relationship in the past. It’s easy to do. I know I did.

Financial Health

First, let’s clarify what financial health is.

According to Investopedia, financial health is a term used to describe the state of one’s personal financial situation. Financial health may be measured using many different metrics, including (but not limited to):

  • Condition of your credit score
  • Regular contributions to savings (short or long-term)
  • Low debt-to-income ratios
  • Appropriate levels of insurance
  • Strategic use of debt (i.e. use of credit cards for convenience or student loans)

I want you to note, the common metrics used as signs of financial health are all concrete in nature. You can clearly see your financial health by looking at hard numbers on a page.

Money Relationship

Financial health can be an indicator of your money relationship, but it’s not the relationship itself.

A relationship is the interaction between people, objects, or concepts. Your interaction with money creates the relationship – not the end result seen in black-and-white numbers.

Therefore, your money relationship is all the actions when pursuing or maintaining good financial health. How you feel when you interact with your money is a key indicator of your money relationship.

A healthy money relationship has some of the following emotional indicators:

  • Time spent reviewing your finances is not stressful
  • You don’t have extreme emotions when thinking about money (i.e. you don’t lose sleep over money nor is receiving your investment statements the highlight of your month)
  • Guilt-free spending with minimal buyer’s remorse
  • You are financially generous with others
  • Thoughts of money do not create anxiety

It is possible for you to have wonderful financial health and a terrible money relationship.

If you struggle daily, weekly, or monthly with doing all the actions required for good financial health, your money relationship is likely to blame.

If you obsess over your next financial move or can’t ever seem to spend money on yourself without excessive thought or guilt, your money relationship is also the likely culprit.

Any continuous emotional struggle to what is needed for good financial health is a direct reflection of your money relationship. For a healthy money relationship you must understand (and address) all three areas that create your money relationship.

3 Areas of Your Money Relationship

There are three main areas forming your money relationship.

  1. Your Money Habits (present actions)
  2. Your Money Mindset (future actions)
  3. Your Money Story (past actions)

Let’s take a brief look at these three areas and how they work together to form your money relationship.

Your Money Habits – The Present

Your money habits are how you regularly handle your money (especially spending) and have an undeniable link to your financial health. Your money habits directly influence if:

  • you pay your bills on time
  • actively use money-saving techniques, such as using coupons or buying based on discounts
  • paying with cash or credit
  • whether you impulse spend or shop with a list

Side Note: Automating savings or bill payments of any type is not a habit. Automation is an excellent tool to improve your financial situation without further thought or action beyond the initial set-up. And yes, it can lead to improved financial health, but automation will never repair your money relationship.

The beauty of money habits is, once established, they will naturally propel you to better (or worse) financial health with minimal thought required on your part.

Regardless of which direction your money habits take you, they are so ingrained in your life, they generate little to no emotion when you are doing them. This is good. If we had to engage emotions for daily actions, we would be emotional exhausted everyday.

Lack of emotion for daily or routine money actions frees up more mental and emotional compacity for longer-term money moves. Which leads us to the second area of your money relationship – your money mindset.

Your Money Mindset – The Future

Your money mindset is your general attitude toward financial decisions.

Many personal finance programs do an excellent job of addressing your money mindset. They do so by emphasizing the creation of budgets and providing strict guidelines for improving financial health (i.e. have an emergency fund, review insurance amounts, etc.).

Budgets

Budgets are a money tool that requires thinking about your spending before it occurs. By thinking about your spending before it happens, you are forced to see the bigger financial picture and address your life priorities to keep cash flow positive.

Reviewing your life priorities (goals) is the why behind your spending. And your why is the emotional force you need to make decisions and changes. Decisions and changes to propel life in the direction you want. Addressing the emotions behind large financial choices make budgets a powerful money tool.

When budgeting and following specific money guidelines, you will naturally shift your money mindset. This shift in mindset often changes (or establishes new) money habits thus improving your financial health with less emotional effort.

Mindful Spending

However, to get the most emotional pull from your money mindset, you should dig a little deeper into the life whys behind all your money choices.

Practicing mindful spending is a way to pull all emotion from every purchase decision, in a way budgets do not. Mindful spending brings to the light all the emotions driven by your various life needs and wants. It allows your heart to lead the charge. By letting your heart lead, you will be happier and more satisfied long-term with your spending decisions.

Yet even with mindful spending, your emotions may still hold your spending decisions captive – and you won’t even know it.

This is because we often fail to recognize the third area of our money relationship, your money story. Just as your past interactions with people influence how you act around them now, your past interactions with money determine how you act today.

Your Money Story – The Past

The third area of your money relationship hides in your past money experiences and beliefs established throughout your life. Your past experiences and core money beliefs form your money story.

Without being aware of and addressing your money story, you may forever be held hostage by emotional forces preventing you from being satisfied with your money. This is true even if you have excellent financial health.

Your money story is the final piece to shift your money relationship and understand all the emotional money forces in your life.

Unlike money habits and money mindsets, you cannot change your money story. But that’s okay. Simply knowing your money story will improve your money relationship.

Often hidden deep in your psyche, your money story drives you on a core level. And, unless you intentionally pull it out and look at it, you will never understand just how great its influence is on your life.

Money stories are the emotional root of the natural money tendencies you are working so hard to change in your money habits and mindset. A few examples of ways your money story impacts your life:

  • How you perceive what “rich” and “poor” individuals look and act like
  • Where you shop and the shopping patterns you have when in the store
  • Beliefs about how to earn money and how hard (or easy) it is to get money
  • Whether debt is normal and what type of debt is okay
  • Giving to others either as general support or gifts
  • Ability to spend money on yourself

When you understand the story behind your natural money tendencies, shifting your habits and mindset becomes easier.

A Money Story…Story

I once spoke with a woman whose husband refused to shop at a discount grocery store. He knew it was a way to save money and he was happy to let her go, but he did not go.

Then, by fluke, one day he was forced to go. He was pleasantly surprised at the people and how comfortable he was inside the store.

It turns out he unknowingly associated discount grocery stores with being “poor” and unpleasant based on experiences from his youth. Once he recognized discount grocery stores aren’t for the “poor” and have pleasant shopping environments, he’s had no issue going with his wife.

This individual was lucky that life forced him to confront a money belief he wasn’t consciencelessly aware of. But what if he never did?

What if he routinely overspent on food? Would this ruin his life? Destory his financial health?

Obviously not. However, spending more on food than necessary – all due to unconscientious core money beliefs – has a greater potential long-term impact than say the oh-so-famous latte factor. Yes?

What core money beliefs and experiences do you have emotionally preventing you from achieving a better money situation?

The Benefit of a Healthy Money Relationship

Whether your financial health is good, bad, or downright ugly, improving your money relationship makes sense. Why exactly you should improve your money relationship is simple.

Your Money Stool

Your money picture, your money relationship and financial health, is like a three-legged stool your entire life sits upon. The three legs are your money habits, mindset, and story. These three action areas create the emotional drivers supporting your financial health which is the seat of the stool.

When all three legs and the seat are weak, life is likely very tough. Can you imagine trying to sit on a stool with three weak or damaged legs and balance on a seat that is only partially there (or maybe sticky, greasy or otherwise not friendly for long-term sitting)? The constant effort just to stay on the stool and upright would be emotionally and physically exhausting!

On the other hand, you can have fabulous financial health, habits, and mindset. The seat of your stool is sound and you may have two solid legs upon which to perch. However, if you have never looked at your money story, you have no clue what shape the third leg is in. Is it solid or infested with termites? Is it longer or shorter than the other two legs? Is it wiggly or firmly attached?

In both situations, the life perched upon the stool must constantly be putting effort into staying upright or steady on the stool.

Even if you prefer both feet resting on the ground, a wobbly stool that you must keep your muscles at-the-ready to balance is downright annoying and frustrating long-term. (Unless of course you like wobbly stools and wondering if your next sip will land in your mouth or down your front.)

Relaxing and enjoying life is hard to do if you are continuously expending physical and emotional energy trying to stay balanced!

Your Money Relationship

Knowing your whole money picture (financial health and money relationship) allows you to take action according to your unique life. Maybe you need all the financial actions touted by experts, but maybe you just need one or two.

The benefit of a healthy money relationship is it requires less emotional and physical effort to stay perched upon your money stool and savor your life!

When you address all three areas of your money relationship, you can clearly see the path and any obstacles to improving your money picture.

It’s true that money is just a tool. But it is a tool irrevocably bound to your emotions much like your home, cars, and clothes.

Though, unlike those other tools, money influences and drives your entire life. It can propel your life forward or hold you back. You don’t want money to consume extra emotional energy you could be using to live your life.

By understanding and fostering a healthy money relationship, you create a solid base for your money stool. A base upon which to build a life that is uniquely yours!

How to Improve Your Money Relationship

Fortunately, everyone can improve their money relationship and relax a little bit more on their money stool than they did before.

Ask any therapist and they will tell you a healthy relationship requires various elements including:

  • Transparent, honest communication
  • Trust including loyalty and safety
  • Respect and equality
  • Patience and acceptance (or at least compassion)

To jumpstart repairing your money relationship, I recommend these four actions.

  1. Track Your Spending – Tracking spending is a cornerstone habit. It requires you to spend quality time with your money. It is a key way to communicate with your money in a transparent and honest way.
  2. Pay Yourself First – When you pay yourself first you lay a foundation of safety with your money. You can trust the money will be there when you need it whether for emergency or fun.
  3. Practice Mindful Spending – Acknowledging the choices you have with money as they relate to your life and emotions establishes respect between you and your money. It shifts your money mindset above and beyond a traditional budget.
  4. Examine Your Money Story – Reflecting back and knowing your core money beliefs and experiences, and emotions triggered by them, allows you to adapt your present and future money management. As you bring awareness of your money story, remember to show patience, forgiveness and general compassion to your past self.

Establishing a healthy money relationship will take time and effort (what relationship doesn’t?). Be diligent and you will reap great rewards.

Your money will become a life mentor. As you walk along life’s journey, it will neither pull you forward or hold you back. It will share wisdom and shout warning. Money will no longer generate extreme emotions, but be a wise and faithful companion for whom you have warm feelings. You will be happy to see your money, but not always thinking about or striving for it.

As your money relationship becomes healthy, you will think less about money. The less emotional energy you use balancing your money stool, the more you may focus on loving life.

Karen Whaley

About the author

Karen Whaley

Financial Lifestyle Coach
Certified Financial Instructor


I help clients use money to live - not live for money. If that sounds appealing, you are in the right place my friend!

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