How much is enough money? How much do we actually need in the practical sense as opposed to the emotional? Can millions of pounds, or dollars, ever make us feel protected and safe in the non-financial way?
I have long had a somewhat complex relationship with money. My mother (who was a child and adolescent during World War 2) suffered, as did many of her generation, from fear of scarcity, attributable, I am sure, to the horrors of war and rationing. I married a man who shared this fear – and, to be fair, it may well be that his birth, at the end of the war, was responsible for this, at least in part, since the late forties were years of austerity.
Both shared an absolute terror of destitution and a conviction that it was just round the corner. My mother was certain that we were always hovering just on the Bread Line; it was only much later, looking at the reality, that I realised the extent to which her fear had introduced faux poverty into our existence.
For many people – and I am one of them – money has emotional overtones. For some, it is so tightly bound up with their sense of security that no amount can ever be big enough.
I don’t suffer from that one, thank Goddess. My needs are relatively simple and few. But I am a comfort spender, just as I have always been a comfort eater. One of the reasons for quitting supply teaching in the end was my recognition that I was using money and sugary food (the link is pretty obvious so I won’t belabour it!) to fill an increasingly huge emotional gap. I was, quite literally, plumping myself out because I felt so tiny, puny and insignificant within.
But also, if I am honest, my ex-husband’s scarcity fear, like all such things, was contagious (as, of course, was my mother’s) – and I recognise that a pale echo of that undermining terror has wiped off upon me, a carelessly wiped boot of emotional mud. Fear of destitution was part of what led me into teaching – and this despite the fact that I knew, logically, that I had sufficient funds for my needs. I may have been bottom set for Maths, but I can count and my calculations were abundantly clear!
To be frank, supply teaching does not pay that well. I mean, every little extra is very welcome and all that – but, given the stress of the job and the extra money needed for fuel and clothes, the amount actually available to save is minimal. Particularly if, like me, you fritter it away on things designed to give comfort, strength and bucket-loads of sugar!
I think the psychology, boiled down to its most basic stock, goes like this: Aware subliminally of discomfort and dis-ease, we reach out for that which, from earliest childhood, has soothed and comforted us the most. For many – and I was one, for several years – the first memory, post breast, is of a full bottle. No wonder so many return to that most emotive of shapes when wounded and uncertain in adulthood. For others, it is sweets, chocolates, cakes. For still others, memories of the heady days of teenage guilt and furtive delight bring in the rewards courtesy of illegal substances and/or cigarettes.
All of the above involves some degree of comfort-spending – or serious comfort-stealing!
I noticed that I was being drawn, ever more forcibly, to the cupcakes, chocolate bars, colourful cakes, crusty bread and chocolate spread sections of the supermarket; that special offers on Easter Eggs caught my eye everyday, and were rarely resisted with any genuine determination. I saw that I had stopped cooking for myself and was subsisting on fatty snacks. I saw that my old craving for sugar had returned full-force and I felt panicky if none was in the house.
I saw, in a word, that I was consuming money – and this got me thinking. Coins and notes have no intrinsic value. They mean nothing in and of themselves. We have given them bartering value because this is how we control our lives. Being rich is a concept; it is not a finite reality or an absolute. Those who are counted as super-mega-wealthy rarely feel satisfied with what they have got. Money counted in millions, owned by one person, makes a nonsense of the whole thing in my opinion.
I think it terribly sad that, as a species, we are so spiritually and emotionally impoverished that the only wealth we recognise comes in bank balances, rows of noughts and the plethora of denominations which characterise our financial planet.
I think it terribly sad that, for so many of us, enough money means being entitled to at least one holiday abroad each year; that we have forgotten along the way that overseas vacations used to be seen as luxuries, and not rights (the way they are to so many now).
We forget so easily the difference between need and luxury. They blur in our minds so that we can justify spending hundreds of pounds on something we swear we need which is, actually, a luxury, a treat, something to be saved for.
Sometimes I guess we have to sit back and actually look at what we have got and weigh it against what we would like to acquire, need but cannot afford, want because someone we admire has one or crave because we are deeply unhappy and unable to see that our misery cannot be healed by money and possessions.
Maybe it is as simple as the est training (which I did in 1982) once taught: That instead of going all out to get what(ever) we want, we should concentrate upon wanting what we have already got.
I know a lot of people comfort-spend, probably without even realising that this is what they are doing. It can be their reward for a particularly troublesome week at work; their therapy after dealing with a difficult son or daughter or spouse; their payback during a marital dispute.
Nothing wrong with spending money per se; of course there isn’t!
But my contention is that the insecurity targeted by comfort spending is rarely material – and so, in every sense, filling that gap with money, or the things it can buy, is only ever going to be a short-term solution and has no chance of truly healing the deep wound.