moneyharmony gems

What is Moneyharmony?

“It is a myth to believe that ‘If I only had a little more – – or a lot more! — money than I’d be happy. Unless you have a balanced “relationship” to money, having a little more money just might make you more unbalanced and miserable. Spenders will overspend more wildly, avoiders feel more anxious, money monks more conflicted, hoarders will save more compulsively. So the goal is to move toward money harmony, not merely to amass more money.”

Money Personality Types

Here’s a list of terms that I coined with a colleague in 1982. These types were named for the imbalances in each of them – not for their strengths. Each type has strengths and weaknesses, and most people are a combination of types. You can be one major type as a single person, at home, another at work, and another in a couples’ relationship. What’s important to note is which of these types are giving you trouble, and to begin “practicing the non-habitual” to move toward balance, or what I call “money harmony.”

  • I. Hoarder
  • Spender (Binger: combination hoarder-spender).
    Kinds of Overspenders:
    • The Money is Love Spender
    • The Blue Light Spender
    • The Esteem Spender
    • The Overboard Spender
    • The Spin-of-the-Wheel Spender
    • The “I’ll Show You” Spender
  • Money Worrier
  • Money Avoider
  • Money Monk
  • Money Amasser
  • Risk-taker
  • Risk-avoider
  • Money Merger
  • Money Separatist

The last four are mostly relevant in couple relationships. More men are risk-takers and more women are risk-avoiders, when it comes to investing, especially. In terms of overspending, it is not sex-linked, though I believe there are more men in the Spin- of-the-Wheel Spender group, and perhaps more women in categories A, C and F. That’s not a valid research finding, though – just my own clinical experience over the last twenty years.

How does each person work on balancing the type or types that give them trouble?

  • Practice the non-habitual (“be where you ain’t” — “do what doesn’t come naturally”) – weekly, daily or monthly, depending on what it is you need to change.
  • Reward yourself for your new behavior or attitude, in a way that doesn’t sabotage your progress.
  • Monitor your progress and/or your resistance, preferably in writing.

Mellan’s Law for Couples

“I’ve been saying this for so long (25 years and counting…!) that some people have begun to call this “Mellan’s Law”. Here it is: If opposites don’t attract right off the bat – and they usually do — then they’ll create each other eventually. So even if a couple starts out with two spenders, usually they’ll fight each other for the “super-spender” role, and the other one will begin to function as the “hoarder” by comparison — setting limits, delaying gratification, talking about “budgets”, and worrying about the spending. Worriers will create money avoiders, and avoiders will create worriers, because SOMEONE has to worry about the money.”

How Stress Affects Your Money Personality

With the advent of the holidays, stress levels generally run high, and people who are out of balance when it comes to their money personality tend to become even more unbalanced. Overspenders will spend more wildly (stay out of those trance-like malls, or go there with a non-spender friend, with a “spending plan” with cash limits in hand); worriers will worry more, avoiders will procrastinate and avoid more strenuously. Think about doing holiday shopping well in advance next year, and strategize ways to take your own stress reactions into account, to minimize them. Even this year, if you are short on money, tell your friends and loved ones in advance that you are trying to be more frugal this year – make creative gifts, offer your time for babysitting relatives or friends’ kids, or write them loving notes expressing your real positive feelings, instead of trying to communicate love through buying expensive gifts you can’t truly afford. Good luck in dealing with the emotional challenges of the season!

When Wives are the Primary Breadwinner

A new study about couples where wives are the primary breadwinner yields interesting findings. First, in about one-third of all marriages in America, women are making more money than their husbands. And in most of these marriages, financial decision-making is shared equally between both spouses.Julie Brines, a sociology professor at Unversity of Washington in Seattle was interviewed with me on the Diane Rehm Show (WAMU-radio – audio available on the Internet) and confirmed my earlier reports that when women make more money than their husbands, they still want shared, joint decision-making.

Earlier research showed, sadly, that when men make more than their wives, they feel they should have the primary say in how the money is spent. I hope this is changing, since shared power and shared decision-making in money matters, and other matters, in fact, leads to more intimacy and more mutual fulfillment in marriage.

Several years ago, studies of same-sex couples bore out this gender difference. In gay male couples, if one partner made more, he felt he should have prime decision-making authority. In lesbian couples, even if one made significantly more, the couple opted for shared, democratic decision-making. In my speeches and seminars, I often talk about male-female differences with a view to building a bridge between two different “cultures.” But in the area of decision-making, shared power and open communication, I think the woman needs to be the teacher in advocating the importance of operating from a stance of two equal partners, regardless of the income differences. Let’s hope the world keeps changing in this direction. It bodes well for the future of marriage and couple relationship stability.

Choose Peace and Happiness — My Summer Recommendation!

It’s getting to be summer, and in Washington, DC where I live, the climate is still polarizing and often filled with fear and stress. So – for those of you working toward what I call money harmony and other kinds of harmony as well, there are two books I would recommend (besides my own, of course!) to help you learn to experience a state of gentle self-acceptance, peaceful serenity and self-love and to extend this wonderful state to those around you, both near and far.

Susyn Reeve has written a wonderful book, Choose Peace and Happiness (I intend to buy a bunch of copies to lend and give away to my coaching clients, lend to others, etc.) It’s a 52-week guide to practicing principles that lead to this vital state of mind and being. You can do it by following that map, or open it anywhere and still learn something useful. You can read it in very small doses or in one sitting as you choose. It talks about principles I hold dear – gratitude, focusing on the positive, learning how not to take things personally (a whopping challenge for super-sensitive types like myself!) and many other useful techniques.

Second, Tara Brach’s wonderful book, Radical Acceptance, has been a comfort and a blessing to me and others around me in recent months. Tara is a therapist and Buddhist meditation teacher in the DC area who embodies peace. I wholly recommend this book as well.

Recent Events: I had a wonderful time speaker at NAPFA (for fee only advisors) National Conference in Toronto; at the University of Maryland laste week on Money Harmony for Women, and at client appreciation events in the DC area and in other states as well. I feel truly blessed in my work, and try to “let that in” as often and as deeply as I can.

I still hope to launch a radio show (Money Talk with The Money Gals) instead of “The car guys”…) and am talking to the folks at NPR about a monthly guest interview spot on one of their weekend shows. So stay tuned!

Happy spring and coming summer to you all!

Money Harmony for Overspenders

  • Practice the non-habitual (save, avoid spending binges, only shop with a non spender friend and a spending cap.)
  • Seek ways to meet your deeper needs, instead of indulging yourself on the surface. (Ways that promote self-respect, creativity, growth, and self-love.)
  • Avoid slippery places for you, (both physical and emotional places).
  • Keep a spending diary to monitor your expenses – and your feelings about them: your changes.
  • Reward yourself for new behaviors in ways that do not undermine your progress. (You can’t overspend to reward yourself!)
  • Seek help whenever necessary: D.A., money mentors, therapists comfortable with money conflicts and spending issues.

What a supportive partner can do to help

  • Ways to communicate effectively and promote change and closeness
    • Open communication with a “warm start”: Stress your partner’s assets not their faults.
    • Remember that neither of you is perfect – share your own vulnerabilities and imperfections, too.
    • Use “I” messages; avoid judgments or attacks. Use language that makes you allies; Listen with respect and empathy.
    • Don’t rush the communication process.
    • Don’t use trustingly confided information against each other.
    • Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Expect temporary relapses, don’t overreact to them.
    • Be patient in dealing with denial, shame, and temporary relapses.
    • Respond to your partner with mirroring, validation and empathy (Harville Hendrix’ work) to indicate your full emotional support.
  • Seven no-nos for caring partners
    • No angry explosions.
    • No scare tactics.
    • No threats of ultimatums.
    • No nasty accusations.
    • No guilt trips of sweeping criticisms.
    • No parental platitudes.
    • No one-upmanship.

Polarization Patterns for Couples, Work Dyads, Family Dyads

“Mellan’s Law” (others coined this termJ If opposites don’t attract right off the bat – and they usually do – then they’ll create each other eventually. So even if two people begin in similar positions or stances, they end up at opposing poles at some point. This happens to couples living together for a while – they don’t have to be married. It also exists in work relationships (like “work marriages”) and other habitual dyadic relationships.

So here are the common polarizations:

  • Hoarder vs. Spender
  • Money Worrier vs. Money Avoider
  • Planner vs. Dreamer
  • Money Monk vs. Money Amasser
  • Risk-taker vs. Risk-avoider
  • Money Merger vs. Money Separatist
  • Polarizing around different priorities.

What couples/dyads need to do to de-polarize:

  • Acknowledge secret envies and appreciations
  • Walk a half mile in partner’s moccasins.
  • Reward themselves for new behaviors
  • Monitor their progress and their resistance, preferable in writing.

Communication Tips for Relationships:

  • Find a non-stressful time for moneytalks.
  • Start out with a positive appreciation.
  • Share thoughts and feelings first, about your money history, childhood messages and childhood vows.
  • No interruption; only respectful listening.
  • Share thoughts and feelings first; negotiation comes last, after thoughts and feelings are aired.
  • Do goal-setting separately, several times; then try to merge lists, using win-win problem-solving.
  • Only make a shared budget or “spending plan” after sharing feelings fully and mirroring them respectfully.

Male-Female Differences Around Money: Understanding Two Different Cultures

Introduction: Rob Becker’s Show, “Defending the Caveman”: male-female differences traced to men being hunters and women gatherers. But there’s a lot more:

  • Socialization Patterns
    • Different sense of boundaries
    • Competition Vs. Cooperation
    • Different defenses re feeling needy, vulnerable
    • Training, confidence and competence around money issues
  • Financial Power in Adulthood
  • Defenses around Confidence:
    • Overconfidence vs. Underconfidence
    • Assigning blame and taking credit
  • Different burdens around Money and Work
    • Provider burden vs. superwoman burden
  • Different fears
    • Bag Lady nightmares vs. more limited fears
  • Power, control and Decision-Making in the family
    • Hierarchical or autonomous vs. cooperative, collaborative, democratic.
  • Styles of decision-makiong
    • Jung’s thinking vs. feeling types
  • Investment Styles
    • Risk-taking vs. Risk-aversion
  • Selection of Financial Advisors
    • “Just the facts, ma’am” vs. Search for Trusting Relationship
  • Styles of Philanthropic Giving
    • Status vs. connection
  • How the Money is Kept
    • Merged vs. separate: connection vs. autonomy.
  • Communication Styles
    • Eye contact or not?
    • Who’s to blame? And
    • Healing styles: space vs. contact.

Our task: building bridges between these two different cultures.

Women’s vs. Men’s Money Myths and Blind Spots

Women’s Money Myths:

  1. Money is too complicated for me to understand (and a corollary: learning about money is tedious and boring)
  2. I don’t have enough money to do anything with.
  3. If I risk my money, I’ll lose everything.
  4. I don’t have enough time to manage my money well.
  5. It’s selfish to put myself first – I’m supposed to take care of everyone else.
  6. If I get too good at this money stuff, I might antagonize intimates – or I could even end up alone; and
  7. If I’m lucky, some man (or someone else) will take care of my money for me.

Men’s Blind Spots:

  1. Learning about money just comes naturally to us men.
  2. If I make more money, I get to decide how it’s spent.
  3. I don’t have to ask my wife’s permission to buy something.. or it’s humiliating to have to talk to you about buying something.
  4. If I have money problems, it’s someone else’s fault.
  5. It’s humiliating to admit I don’t know as much as you do about money.
  6. I rather keep living with denial about a bad investment than admit I made a mistake.
  7. When I give to charity, it’s important to be the most generous donor.

Note: Generalizations are sometimes dangerous and sometimes useful. Many men and women are NOT like these generalizations – some couples experience total role reversal. It’s just useful to understand the influence of socialization and social conditioning around gender issues to help individuals and couples feel less isolated and alone in their struggles.

Creating Money Dialogues: Tools for Growth and Transformation

Since 1982, I have been helping individuals and couples achieve what I call money harmony, the ability to use your money to achieve some of your life’s goals and to express your own integrity and your values — to see money in proper perspective. The most powerful exercise I recommend to everyone to facilitate this awareness and movement toward balance is what I call a money dialogue. I invite you to try it — it will heighten your self-awareness of the past, present and your positive future around money in facilitating your life goals. Ultimately, it will help you move toward money harmony.

Here’s how it works: Imagine that Money is like a person with whom you’ve been having a lifelong relationship. Write out a conversation (or speak it into a tape recorder, or role-play it with a friend) about how the relationship is going. Either you start, and money responds, or vice versa. Continue the conversation until it winds down of its own accord.

Once it seems resolved (at least for now,) invite several “voices in your head” (that’s your “internal commentary”) to comment on the dialogue they’ve just heard. The first two voices should be your mother and father. Then add the voices of any other strong influences — your spouse, your ex-spouse, a money mentor you’ve respected or feared, your minister or rabbi, a grandparent or godparent.

Finally, end the dialogue with commentary from the voice of God, your Higher Power, or your voice of inner wisdom. This voice will tell you where you need to go to heal and reach more balance. The way to hear these inner voices is to try to relax, and open your mind to your own intuitive impulses, and to your own imagination. Anyone can learn to do it with a little practice.

My Own Past Money Dialogue

As a “recovering overspender” here’s one of the sample dialogues I Wrote, many years ago….

Money: You throw me around but you don’t treat me with respect. What’s your problem?

Olivia: I only feel happy and alive when I’m spending you. When I’m not spending you, I feel empty, deprived and depressed.

Money: That’s only seeing a small part of what I can do for you. How about saving and investing me for your future? Why doesn’t that get on the radar screen?

Olivia: I have no discipline, and feel a little like an impulsive kid. But I do want to try to start saving you for things that matter to me, like my kid’s education, etc.

Money: Sounds like a good idea to me — and about time, too. Just try to treat me with a little more respect.

Olivia: I’ll try.


Mom: You were always a selfish, spoiled brat, insisting on getting everything you want in the moment. Grow up, will you?

Dad: You’re perfect the way you are. I just wish your husband was wealthier, so you wouldn’t have to set any limits, dear!

Voice of Higher Power/ Internal Wisdom/ God: Sorry your parents don’t have the wisdom you need. But you are learning. You’re out of debt, you take your husband’s good advice about some major money decisions, and you’re learning more about investing, and beginning to save for the future. Keep avoiding your “slippery places” and points of temptation, and get help and support from money mentors (like your husband, and some of your women friends), and you’ll continue to move toward money harmony. If you keep doing the work to find true balance in your life, I will be with you every step of the way.

So that’s it! If you take the time to do money dialogues once a week, or once month, your relationship with money will improve incrementally, and your money anxiety will decrease significantly. Try it — you might really like it! And it might help you enjoy and track your own personal journey toward money harmony.

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