Everyman and Money

Posted on February 14, 2013

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I was sorting through a bookcase and came upon a script for a play I was in back in the 90’s (you didn’t know I was an actor, did you?).  It was a church production titled “Everyman for Himself.[1]”  The title character, Everyman, awakens from his slumber to find that death is waiting for him.  As Everyman is confronted with the prospect of accompanying death, he begins to call on the people in his life for help.  First his friends refuse him, then his wife, and then his mistress.  Finally, Everyman calls upon his old friend Money (who is one of the lead characters in the play).  One of the longer exchanges in the script is the conversation between Everyman and Money.  Everyman starts off confident that “Money will never desert me.”  And the relationship is quite chummy until Everyman asks Money to accompany him on his journey with Death.  Money says, “Sorry, Everyman, I follow no one into the grave.”  The relationship deteriorates from there.

The point of this post is not to moralize about our relationship with money.  Rather it is to point out that we all have a relationship with money, but we don’t all have the same relationship with money.  For some, money is status.  “My lifestyle, my house, my car, my clothes are a reflection of my status, my success.”  For those for whom money is about status, they may look at their possessions and their lifestyle as a reflection on them.  For others, money is security.  “I would rather have money in the bank than a new car.  I feel more secure when I know there will be enough to pay the bills.”  These individuals tend to be more savers than spenders and often prefer safe investing.  For a third group, money is about enjoyment.  “Money buys fun.”  People for whom money is about enjoyment often enjoy shopping and buying new things.  The fourth category is that money is about control.  “The one who has the money is the one with the power.”  Money buys influence.

In the PREPARE-ENRICH couple’s workbook (Olson, 2008), there is an exercise that helps couples identify the meaning of money for each partner.  As with all human traits, people do not just fit neatly into boxes.  However, most of us do have a stronger bent toward one or two of the relationships with money described above.  Often, this relationship with money is not even on a conscious level.  Part of our view of money came from our family of origin.  Part of that relationship is a product of the times in which we lived.  My father, who was a frugal man (money is security), used to say, “You can’t have lived through the depression and not had it affect you.”  Since I also tend to be frugal (some would say, “cheap”), I tried that line out a time or two with my wife and children, but to much less effect.  It loses some of its power when you were born 20 years after the depression ended, but I digress.

It is not that one of these types of relationship with money is correct and the others are wrong.  If you are single and the sole decision maker around how you manage your finances, you can live how you want to live.  The difficulty arises when you have a spouse and your relationships with money differ.  When a person for whom money is enjoyment marries someone for whom money is security there is potential for difficulties in the marital relationship to arise out of these differences.  The person for whom money is about enjoyment may feel unloved when their partner tries to tighten the purse strings.  The “security” partner feels their anxiety rise every time their partner makes a new purchase.  They may come to see their partner as irresponsible.

Now that we have defined the problem, what do you do about it?  As with so many things, the first step is understanding one another’s perspective.  One’s relationship with money has a large emotional component.  It is easier for a couple to negotiate how their money will be handled, spent, and invested, once each partner feels that their emotional experience has been understood and taken into account.

References

Hoover, G. (1996). Everyman for himself. Colorado Springs: Meriwether Publishing Ltd.

Olson, D. et. al. (2008). Prepare-Enrich couple’s workbook. www.prepare-enrich.com, Minneapolis: Life Innovations.


[1] Please pardon the gender specific title.  This is a discussion that applies to both genders.

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Posted in: Marriage, Money