• It can be a challenge to stay afloat financially in a demanding and expensive modern world

  • Dehra Mitchell explores the hidden reasons for your feelings of shame about money and debt

  • If you are struggling with any issues, you can find a therapist here

People who are great with money tend to stand out, because they’re a minority. Most of us, at some point, find ourselves in debt, wondering how it happened. We try to live within our means, and yet still we’re overdrawn at the end of each month. If this sounds like you, it’s time to look closely at your relationship with money and find a way to change it.

Money is a symbol - coins, cards and paper have no meaning, except what we invest in them. But money is a powerful symbol because - whether we realise it or not - it takes us back to something in our childhood. Only by understanding the meaning of money within our own families, can we change our relationship with it. Try to think back to the first time you became aware of money. Talk about your early memories of money with someone you trust, or write them down.

Family attitudes to money

Every family approaches money differently. Some children get money every week, or on their birthday, or when they visit relatives. Some get money when they ask for it; others have to do something in order to ‘earn’ it, like cut the grass, or get good grades at school. Some parents let children do what they like with their money - others dictate how they should spend, or save, it. Some children hear their parents fighting over money.

In my work, I see a huge amount of shame around money - either not having enough, or having too much, and feeling the need to hide it. We depict money so often as unclean with terms like ‘filthy rich’ and ‘dirty money’. Money is often surrounded by secrecy. Some adults get into debt because they feel ashamed that they don’t have enough but want to keep up with other families.

I see many different types of relationship with money in my practice. For example:

The hoarder: someone who is terrified of spending money, who deprives themselves and berates their family for spending too much.

The shameful spender: either someone who has more money than their peers and feels they can’t enjoy what they have; or the person who spends knowing they can’t afford it.

The joyful spender: the person who enjoys spending, whether they have the money or not and does so with a sense of abandon.

The saver: a rare breed, who spends and saves appropriately, putting money aside without stinting themselves or others.

When two people with different relationships to money get together, it can spell trouble - for example, a hoarder with a spender, or two shameful spenders together.

Solutions to debt

Step 1: Know your family story. Explore your feelings around money now and discover where they come from.

Step 2: Work on disconnecting the symbol from the feelings. If cash feels more ‘real’ for you, try spending only cash and see if it changes your spending pattern.

Step 3: Try to work out the meaning and origin of your shame. Reduce your isolation by getting together with people in the same situation.

Step 4: Get help. If you’re in debt, don’t go for the easy loan (‘magic money’). Find a debt counselling organisation, which will help you take positive steps towards becoming debt free. And if you need to talk, see a therapist who can help you unpick your struggles with money.

Think of that pound coin in your hand as a magic key, which can take you back to your childhood and open the door to memories which will help you improve your finances, your relationship and your life.

Further reading

The psychology of money: what does our relationship to money say about us?

How couples can stop fighting over money

Is it a money problem? Understanding your relationship to money

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