Graham: Money makes our heads spin around

Our attitudes about money and its influence in our lives are based on class and our experiences.

By Ciera Graham / Herald columnist

We all have fears. Some of us fear change, spiders or closed spaces. But what about a fear of money?

And yes, there’s a name for that: chrometophobia — also called chrematophia — is the intense fear or deep aversion to money. But, who doesn’t love money? Money is a necessity for life, and a tangible sign of success and power. Money is embedded in the proverbial “American Dream,” the idea that hard work warrants upward mobility, and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

For migrants who come to America, their motivations are governed by the hope for a better life, and increased prosperity. Research shows that Americans are spending more time on social media, and thus we’re constantly inundated with depictions of lavish and extravagant lifestyles, expensive material possessions and messages of overindulgence. Popular Netflix shows like “Selling Sunset” illustrate how money can be used to buy access to the richest and most luxurious estates, and the most exclusive social circles.

In our political sphere, we see the connection between money and influence; corporations spend billions of dollars each year to gain access to decisions makers and influence their thinking. Money doesn’t just give wealthy people and corporations the opportunity to show their affinity toward a candidate; it gives them leverage to reshape the American economy and political sphere in their favor. We see how wealth and money protects billionaires from paying proportionately less taxes than the working and middle class.

In our education system, we see how money creates access to different schooling opportunities; higher income areas have access to well-funded schools. Essentially, with more money, you have more choices, and choices lead to more opportunities.

With all these examples of how money is connected to power and success, do you ever think about how your class status influences how you think about and perceive money?

As someone who grew up in a working-class family, I have always had a scarcity mentality toward money, a perpetual fear of running out of money. At an early age, I learned that the only way to obtain money was through a viable job; no inheritance, no borrowing money from parents, and there was no such thing as being lucky and winning money.

With money earned through employment, you learn to adopt a peculiar protectiveness over it, and you’re extremely cautious with it: no outlandish or extravagant purchases and no gambling; only consistent budgeting for basic necessities and life’s emergencies. At a young age, you learn that your working-class identity is deeply intertwined with the fear of running out of money and the motivation to always be working, and chasing profitable opportunities is unwavering.

In addition to my scarcity approach to money, money was also a very taboo topic. In many working-class families, you don’t talk about how money has a utility beyond providing basic necessities. You don’t learn or talk about investment or retirement plans. For many working-class people, money serves the need of the here and now. It’s never perceived as something that can be invested for the long-term.

I remember accepting my first official job offer and being completely oblivious to the concept of saving for retirement, and I almost felt embarrassed and envious that my more affluent peers had this vocabulary and knowledge. The idea of a retirement account and a long-term savings plan felt nebulous and overwhelming, and a task that was doomed to fail.

We often fail to realize that money is personal, emotional and intimately connected to class issues and the messages we received during our childhood. We learn about the scarcity mentality of money when we see our parents make tough choices between materials possessions and necessities, or when we see our family fight over money.

At an early age, we also learn about how money is allocated differently in families, and we learn this by seeing our affluent peers have access to private schools, tutoring services, cars, clothes, and college funds. Money is personal and can become incredibly destructive when we tie it to our own identity or measure of self-worth.

When we begin to think or say how much I make reflects who I am or the type of person I am, this is psychologically harmful. For many working-class people, money and work become so much a part of who you are that you find it hard to find joy in activities that don’t involve working or making money. Fear of not having enough money is often disguised as a deeper fear that you are not enough without it. It is the fear that your world will fall part without it. In a world where employment can feel precarious; the availability of money is fleeting.

There’s no denying that money can give one a sense of stability and security. Making money can also make people incredibly happy. But it’s important to do some deep reflection on how you approach money, how you talk about it, what meaning it has in your life, and how your childhood shaped these feelings.

Ask yourself, what about money is taboo for you? Adopting more positive and empowering views of money is not easy but critical for your psychological and emotional health. By doing this, you will find yourself in a position to shift your money mindset, redefine your self-worth, and be a healthy risk taker.

Follow Herald columnist Ciera Graham on Twitter @CieraGrahamPhD.

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