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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Are You Bad With Money?

"You must be bad with money." "I'm good with money." Our culture likes to divide itself into heroes and villains. Maybe there's really no such thing as good with money or bad with money. Maybe it's really all about how we approach money, based on our background, life experience, and even genetics. (Yes, I do believe that some personality traits are heritable.) We each reach adulthood with baggage that infuses our money responses.

In a similar vein, I've observed that people generally fall into one of three categories when it comes to how we respond to unexpected bills. There's the person who freaks out and can't wrap their head around a bill, whether it's a $25 co-pay at the doctor's office or a multi-thousand dollar repair bill on our home or car. The unexpected bill itself hits their pain buttons pretty hard. Then there's the person who isn't fazed in the least when they receive these bills. The dollar amount is just a number to them. They've got it lucky. And then there's the rest of us, myself included. When they/we receive an unexpected bill, at first we freak out, but then we come around to the idea that this work needs or needed to be done, or that life has it's bad along with the good. This is totally me.

What brings this up is we've had a car repair need for a little while. When I first heard a ball-park estimate, I did freak out. "Where will I find the money?" "How could something possibly cost that much?" But I came around to the idea of the bill and accepted that car ownership has its costs. When I actually did take the car in to get a real estimate, the number was nearly double what I had anticipated. But do you know what? I didn't freak out, not even for a minute. Do you know why? Because I had already come to grips with the thought of a "big bill" to get the car fixed. In the real-life moment, it didn't seem to matter how much bigger that amount was. I had accepted it and was ready to move to the next step. This doesn't mean I'm "good" with money. It just means that for whatever background reasons, I have been blessed with the ability to accept this kind of bad news.

Sometimes in relationships, both partners are either the type B or type C with regards to accepting big bills. In those cases, life's unplanned emergencies don't rifle their financial feathers too much. But in other cases, one partner is definitely a type A and the other is type B or C. This can be a challenge for both partners. How would you like to feel that you were always being "forced" into spending more money than felt comfortable? Or how would it feel to be on the other end, always trying to "shock" your partner into "reform?" It's tough for both partners. I can imagine it's pretty uncomfortable to be a type A when it comes to response to unexpected bills. I'm glad that I don't have to deal with that all of the time. So, what can you do if your partner is the type A and you're a B or a C?

Be a compassionate leader in this area.
Pick your moment carefully as to when to reveal unexpected expenses. And choose your words with even more care when that moment of reveal comes up. No one wants to or should be shamed for responding to bills in "their normal way." And remember your own humanness with humility. You may be well-suited to handling difficult financial situations, but you certainly have weaknesses in other areas. I can never, ever remember which way to screw anything. My mind begins to zone out when someone explains anything technical to me. I have an irrational fear of dental appointments. I lose my temper far too easily. I am impatient. And the list goes on. My partner needs me to be understanding and careful of their financial pain points. I will never be the one to "enlighten" him to the ways of unexpected bill acceptance. And maybe that's a good thing. We balance each other out. Knowing what I know about myself and him, I can just take charge in this one little area and get stuff that needs doing done, without bringing unnecessary stress into his mind. He, on the other hand, can help me think through a financial situation and assess whether or not work/repairs/help really needs doing. I don't succumb to his fears or reactions, but carefully take a second look. It's a partnership, right? It's not at all about me being good with money or him being bad. It's just a matter of our backgrounds influencing our gut reactions.

If you happen to be a type A with these bills, it's not a moral or character flaw. There may be work you can do with yourself, so that you can remove some of the emotion when these situations arise. That could make your financial life feel a whole lot better, I'd imagine. If you're both type As, this may be something you could work on together. But if it's not, you could still be the one to lead your union through treacherous financial waters, with personal work or maybe with a therapist who deals with money response and baggage. It's painful to be either a type A or type C, so practicing a little compassion and patience, plus choosing words and moments wisely can go a long, long way. I'm neither bad nor good when it comes to money. My responses are not indications of character, simply the sum of my background. I try to remember that.


  1. I think the overall sentiment of this post is true in many areas, not just financial. Are you a good or a bad parent? Are you a patient or an impatient person? You are so right when you say we need to approach each other with gentleness and humility. I am blessed with a great husband and I think we balance each other out in a lot of different ways. Your post reminds me of the time when I bit back negative comments after my husband burned a pan on a stove and instead responded in a supportive, non-judgmental way. A few months after that happened, I scratched the surface of our brand-spanking new picture window when I was attempting to clean it. I felt sick about it, but my husband responded kindly. Ya never know when you will be on the receiving end of needing some kindness and forgiveness!

  2. Good messages. We're all different and take a big breath before you say anything in an emotional situation. How's that for a very brief paraphrase?

    As for the screw, I always use this little phrase, "Lefty loosey, righty tighty." Works for me because I can't even tell right from left. BTW, never take directions on how to get somewhere from me. :)

    And as for the cultivated blackberries question in a previous post. From my experience, the flavor is more bland in the cultivated ones and as they get bigger the seeds get bigger.

  3. This is a great blog post. If you can get into the right mind set it will make it easier on yourself.

  4. Lili, this was a very wise post. I don't recall ever reading something that addresses this issue so succinctly. Did you study psychology? Good job!

  5. Kris said...
    I think the overall sentiment of this post is true in many areas, not just financial.

    This is so true. I love your illustration of how you and husband were so kind and forgiving. So many times when I've ruined something, I feel badly enough about it. I really don't need someone else to make me feel worse. Thanks for adding this, Kris.

  6. live and learn said...
    As for the screw, I always use this little phrase, "Lefty loosey, righty tighty".

    Thanks, live and learn. Do you have a way to remember which way to turn something where you have 2 parts screwing into each other, like connecting 2 hoses together. My mind doesn't see a left or right. Would it be the hose fitting in my right hand turns to the right/clockwise?

  7. Thank you, Belinda. It really is all about the right mindset. That's a very succinct way to describe how to approach these situations.

  8. Bonnie said...
    Did you study psychology?

    Thanks, Bonnie. Nope, I've just done a lot of reading in order to work on my own issues. But thank you! I take that as a compliment.


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