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People today are worried.
About what, you ask?
Well, a lot of things.
How about we start with just the top few: they’re worried about money, corrupt government officials, terrorist attacks, people they love getting sick and dying, the economy collapsing, losing their jobs, not being able to take care of themselves when they get older, and choking on Skittles and dying.
For many, worry has become such a normal part of life it barely even registers in the conscious realm of concerns. Since it’s always there, people become desensitized and don’t even realize the toll that it’s taking on their joy, contentment, and quality of life.
And, because life moves so quickly, we rarely take the time to stop and reflect on the day to day worries we face and what we can do to help alleviate them.
Worrying About Money
A while back I read an article that asked the question, “Can we ever not worry about money?”.
After going through each of the areas of life that tended to stir up the most worry, kids, marriage, job, and retirement just to name a few, the writer concluded with the following statement:
“I can try to forget all of my doubt and live in the happy present. But I wouldn’t be myself anymore. After all, worry is one of the things that keeps me motivated about frugality the most.
I do, however, wonder if I will ever be worry-free and not have to stress about anything one day, especially if it has to do with money.
The answer might be that I just need to continue accumulating wealth to the point where I don’t have to think about money anymore. Or it might be that I just need to stop worrying and start enjoying the present.
When I read the words, I have to admit I was very saddened.
Live happy in the present, but I wouldn’t be myself.
I wonder if I’ll ever be worry-free and not stress about money?
The answer may be I need to accumulate wealth to the point where I don’t have to think about money anymore.
These words made my heart ache because they communicate a feeling of hopelessness when it comes to attaining any level of financial peace.
Why I Write
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about personal finance is that I want to help people AVOID hopelessly worrying about money. I want them to experience the freedom that comes from knowing that you have a solid financial plan in place and that you can ignore all the fretting and frowning that the world does over money.
You can watch the evening news about the latest “biggest economic collapse in (fill in the blank) and not lose a wink of sleep.
When the water heater is toast and the car needs a new transmission, you’re not pushed to the brink of your emotional and financial limits.
And when others at work are anxiously discussing how they’re going have to work until they’re 70 in order to make ends meet, you can sleep soundly knowing you’ve got a plan in place that’s going to set you up for long-term financial success.
A Startling Fact that Got Me Thinking
What was perhaps the most startling thing about this article’s revelation was that it was not written by some starving artist or an out of control free-spirit spender.
It was written by a personal finance blogger.
It got me thinking. If someone who is both interested in their finances and has developed some skills in handling money is that worried and hopeless about their financial state of affairs, what’s the emotional state for the other 99% of people?
Well, the stats reveal they’re not good.
Now for some, these worries are well-founded. Recent studies have revealed that in the 50 and 55 age group, the household median retirement account balance is just $8,000. For people between 56 and 61, it’s $17,000.
But for those who have put in the time to develop a solid financial plan, who have paid off their debts and are saving and investing the minimum 10-15% of their salary that is often recommended, they probably have very little to worry about.
Related: Bring Sexy (Money) Back
So for those of us who are working our plan and are still struggling with money worries, how can we overcome our worry about not having enough money?
One answer, surprisingly, is by having less, not more.
If you’d never heard of money expert Francis Bacon…get in line, because neither had I until a little while ago.
Bacon was a 16th Century English writer, scientist, and philosopher. And, it turns out, a personal finance expert.
It was Bacon who said, “Money is a good servant but a poor master”.
His medieval quote is both beautifully relevant today and tweetable.
“Money is a good servant but a poor master”. -Francis Bacon, 16th Century writer, scientist, philosopher and personal finance expert. Click To Tweet
In 140 characters (or 280) or less, that is the problem with money.
If you don’t master it, it will master you.
But how do we go about mastering our money? How do we escape its hold when we can’t deny that it is a necessity for meeting MANY of our everyday needs?
Well, it turns out Bacon has an answer for that as well. (who knew bacon could make you so wise?)
Money is like manure. It’s only good if you spread it around.” – Bacon…again (smart guy).
Now Bacon wasn’t talking as some high-minded aristocrat looking down on people from his ivory tower. Having fallen into deep debt, lost his job, and with his marriage on the rocks due to his financial troubles, it wasn’t like he was a medieval version of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
And yet, that was his advice.
Money is like manure. It’s only good if you spread it around.” -Francis Bacon, 16th Century writer, philosopher, and personal finance expert. Click To Tweet
Like I said, Bacon was a philosopher. So I’m guessing, unlike you or I, he spent a lot of time thinking. And since his finances were such a disaster, I’m sure the topic of money was often at the forefront of his mind.
So why tell us that the solution to our money problems was to give it away?
You Can’t Serve Two Masters
Bacon understood that there is no middle ground when it comes to money. It’s a great servant, but a terrible master.
Either you own it, or it owns you.
You’re either it’s master, or it’s slave.
He realized that in order to break free from the money trap that can consume us with worry, you have to let go of your money.
When it comes to money, there is no middle ground. Either you own it, or it owns you. Click To Tweet
Check out this video tutorial on how to catch a monkey.
Random, I know, but stick with me. I promise it relates.
All this baboon has to do is let go of the seeds and he’ll be free.
But he refuses. In his own mind, he’d rather be trapped with his fist tightly clenched around the object of his desire than to be free.
Now it’s easy to look down on little Mr. Baboon and think, “What a silly animal. Just let go and be free!”.
But how many of us are like this?
How many are holding on so tightly to our money that the object of our desire is actually the means of our entrapment?
I know for myself this is something that I am constantly aware of. For many of us, the line between concern about money and being consumed by money is razor thin.
Just because a person has lots of money, doesn’t mean they have mastered money in the sense we’re discussing. In fact, being wealthy in these cases can actually be a symptom of being enslaved by money.
When I was in junior high, our church youth group ran an event one Friday evening called Bigger, Better night.
The instructions given to us were simple. Start with a small object that someone in our small group had in their possession, and go door to door asking people to trade us for something that was either bigger or better.
Immediately our adolescent thoughts turned to which neighborhoods in our town would give up the biggest prize. It didn’t take long for us to settle on a location – the poshest area in town…the Estates, where the rich people lived!!
A Brand New Car!!
As we made our way to the first house we were giddy with excitement. Word had trickled down from someone’s older brother that on one of these nights a few years back, someone had gotten a car!!
We strategically selected the first house we’d ask. Naturally, we started at the biggest house in the entire neighborhood. Why wait until the end of the night for the car? Let’s just get it right off the hop.
As we rang the doorbell of the palace and waited for the homeowner (or perhaps one of their servants) to greet us, we could almost smell the beautiful leather interior of our new car wafting through our nostrils.
When the door opened, we made our impassioned plea for something bigger or better (or in the case of the car, both!).
The owner paused thoughtfully and tilted his head to the side as he poured over the hundreds of priceless things he could give away to our band of junior high door to door beggars.
“I think I’ve got just the thing for you,” he exclaimed as he slowly moved away from the door and out of sight.
We couldn’t believe it. Our first house and we were about to hit the JACKPOT!!
After a few minutes, he arrived back at the door.
And he had something in his hands.
A set of keys?
An expensive antique?
A new set of golf clubs?
No, no and…no.
An old shop vac hose.
In that massive house, with all of those beautiful material possessions, the best he could do was an old shop vac hose?
You Can Learn a lot About Someone by Asking
That memory has stuck with me for close to 25 years.
Now I didn’t know that guy from Adam. Maybe he was crazy generous and just wasn’t feeling like giving anything even halfway decent to a bunch of hormonal junior high boys.
But for me, the message sent and received was that just because you have a lot, doesn’t mean you are generous.
I wonder if that man, who initially we all were envious of, was actually someone to be pitied.
Was he like the baboon with his hand stuck in the hole? Was he the master of his money, or had it mastered him?
Who’s the Boss?
Generosity has everything to do with who or what is in charge of your life.
Being generous shows that you are the master of your money and not the other way around.
Generosity doesn’t form your views about money, it reveals them.
There have been moments in my life, precious few I’m sad to admit, when I stop and reflect on where I am spending my time and energy. Specifically, I think about what I am spending my time and energy thinking about.
When I’ve done this, at times I’ve come to the sobering realization that many of my thoughts are focused on money; do I have enough money to pay for this, can I find a way to make a little extra cash so our family can take a trip, what if I invested in something a bit riskier than the index funds I’m accustomed to so I could reap a bigger reward, and so on and so on.
When I catch myself thinking like this, I need to stop and take a hard look at what I’ve let take charge of my life.
If most of my thoughts are about money, how to get more, how to spend what I have, and how to store up for the future, I’ve probably let money take a place in my life that’s not healthy.
Plan to Give and Stop Worrying About Money
And, if I’m thinking about money that much, I’ve almost certainly started worrying about it.
Now please don’t hear me saying we shouldn’t think about money.
It’s important to be thinking about new and creative ways we can increase our income.
We need to be intentionally planning for how we’re going to spend, save, and invest.
It’s critical that we have a plan for how we are going to support ourselves after our most productive working years are behind us.
But we also need to plan for how we’re going to give. Giving reinforces that we are the masters of our money, and that it doesn’t control us. Being intentional about generosity helps to prevent worrying about money and ensures these worries don’t consume us.
How generous we are shows whether money is our servant or our master.
And how we give, both the amount and our attitude, reveals the degree of money worries we are going to have, and the level of true and lasting financial peace that is possible.
Is a person’s worry about money connected to their generosity? What’s your experience with this? Share in the comments below or on Twitter @method_money or my Facebook page Method To Your Money. You can also find me on Pinterest. To get more great ideas on how to save money, sign up to receive my weekly emails detailing how to keep more of your hard earned cash!