What I Know About Money

Growing up in my middle-class, secure home I never thought a lot about money. I knew how much candy I could get at the 7-eleven for a dollar. I knew it was important not to waste money by letting the water run too long, or leaving the lights on in rooms where we weren’t.
— Natalie Christensen

by Natalie Christensen

Finances? I’m still figuring this one out...

I stared at this blank page for twenty minutes before even typing that last sentence.

Here is what I know for sure:

  1. Money is made and money is spent and sometimes one action occurs more than the other.
  2. There is abundance everywhere. We are rich—sometimes in money, always in smiles and art, in cuddles and good books, in intelligent conversation and passion. When I live in abundant space, money pours in with little effort.
  3. There is want. Grey, stark moments filter in—times when the numbers don’t add up; times when despair and anger rear their heads, barking and blaming this creature called money.

Number 1 is easy. This is what a financial planner will tell you is the “answer:” make more money than you spend. Save. Invest wisely.

Number 2 is where we’d all like to live. We’d like to make this our permanent address. Number 2 is true. Our best selves live here. Gratitude lives here. Peace lives here.

Number 3 is, well… also true. Crap!

In between those basic tenants is everything else, all the stuff I don’t know for sure.

Later, when I began earning my own money and supporting myself, it felt like a novel game. “Look at me, I’m paying rent!” “Look at me, I’m doing price-comparison shopping!” It felt good. It felt grown up. I liked that.

Growing up in my middle-class, secure home I never thought a lot about money. I knew how much candy I could get at the 7-eleven for a dollar. I knew it was important not to waste money by letting the water run too long, or leaving the lights on in rooms where we weren’t. I knew it was good to have money but I also couldn’t exactly fathom the experience of not having enough.

Later, when I began earning my own money and supporting myself, it felt like a novel game. “Look at me, I’m paying rent!” “Look at me, I’m doing price-comparison shopping!” It felt good. It felt grown up. I liked that.

My story about money was shifting. Quickly I had associated adulthood with earning. I suppose that isn’t a bad thing and in many respects, quite accurate, but you know how an unconscious mind can just run away with a good storyline? Years later I realized that my definition of adulthood had adjusted itself to include “struggling for money.” I felt really grown up when I had to make “tough life decisions” about how to make money stretch. This idea had wormed it’s way in and subconsciously, out of a desire to be an adult (who doesn’t want to be an adult?) I was patting myself on the back every time I made due with less money than I needed. As one might guess, this is not the best equation for financial abundance.

There is always more to the story of money because our emotions and identity and busy little unconscious minds are wrapped around every single cent. If I am subconsciously choosing between adulthood and abundance, yet I value adulthood (and all that I associate with it—independence, responsibility) more than I value material abundance, you can imagine what my bank balance might look like.

Maybe tenant Number 4 is this:

4. Until you untangle your identity/story from money, it’s all very hard and confusing.

Seriously, I have QuickBooks, my numbers balance, but finding a way to feel like I’m an adult without struggling to make ends meet does more for my bottom line than any official financial planning. Convincing my subconscious that I can be well off—heck, even fantastically wealthy —without trading any shred of “grown-upness” isn’t easy, but it’s one of my most important tasks.

When I realize we are out of some ingredients I immediately blame Money and jump right into a Number 3 state of mind, right down a rabbit hole of worry and anger. Scarcity.

This is the kind of clarity I have when sitting down and analyzing, when laying it out on a piece of paper in neat organized tenants. The rest of the time I am living life—making dinner, answering questions from children, working, exercising, making appointments, reading stories, grocery shopping, paying bills—and the money stuff gets fuzzy again.

If I am triggered, I jump to Number 3. I’m irritated because I have to pee and dinner is running late and the girls are fighting over a Lego figurine. When I realize we are out of some ingredients I immediately blame Money and jump right into a Number 3 state of mind, right down a rabbit hole of worry and anger. Scarcity.

If I am fully grounded, a Number 2 state of mind is easy. The girls are running though the grass blowing bubbles, I have a delicious plan for dinner, my hair smells clean and I feel content. Abundance.

Same bank balance, same expenses, different states of emotion.

Maybe tenant Number 5 is this:

5. Your emotional state can inspire you to feel rich or poor.

Money requires higher brain function. Not only for the math involved, but also for the emotional intelligence required to determine where our money story is getting in the way, and the self-awareness necessary to identify when our feelings are inviting a sense of poverty.

Money also inspires brain shutdown. The emotions involved with having enough, having too much, using it the right way, whether or not we’ll have some later—fear, worry, anxiety—are the precise emotional states that cause our brains to snap shut, leaving us in a dark world of fright and panic.

No wonder money gets fuzzy.

I think it’s best, at this point, to just give myself a big hug. I need it after wrestling through these thoughts. (By the way, empathy is the best way out of the lower brain region.)

I think it’s best, at this point, to just give myself a big hug. I need it after wrestling through these thoughts.

For now, this is what I know about money:

  1. Money is math; some comes in, some goes out.
  2. There is great abundance and to feel this makes more money.
  3. There is great need and to feel this is scary and hindering.
  4. There is more to the story and to pull the pieces apart is to see more clearly the foundations of your account balance.
  5. Money is emotional, both requiring great emotional intelligence to handle it well and potentially creating emotional upheaval at every turn.

I’m feeling my way along, taking notes, hoping to find a place of ease and comfort, learning to live mostly in the abundant state of mind. It isn’t easy (there are too many layers for that), but it feels comforting to type it all out and peer into the complex shadows. I see that it isn’t just fuzzy numbers, complicated math that I can’t get my head around. It’s deep and twisted and mercurial. It’s personal and it’s temperamental.

No wonder I don’t have it all figured out! I can give myself permission to not know all the parts of a convoluted entity. You can too.


Natalie Christensen

About Natalie Christensen

“Parenting with Empathy.”

Natalie Christensen is a writer, illustrator, and mother living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator of Feeleez, a line of tools that support the emotional development of children. She offers life + parenting coaching and on most days can be found on the banks of the Clark Fork river with her family and her dog. 

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