Recently I’ve become fascinated by the relationship that people have with money. It means so much to so many different people, and it is one of the last taboos, so it’s mysterious. I devour articles on The Billfold about what things cost, and how much people pay for rent and groceries. It must feel like what people felt like to read sex research back in the sixties. Am I normal? If not, where do I lay on the spectrum? What are other people like?
But even my favorite blog talks more about people’s attempts to save and less about people’s emotional relationship with money. I couldn’t find any information anywhere that said what I wanted to know. If I can’t find a book on this subject, I thought, maybe I should decide to research and write it myself. Not that I really want to do that, because I hate doing research.
Lucky for me, Planet Money recommended a book called “Mind Over Money” that talked about the very subject I’ve been fascinated by. I didn’t realize at the time that they were talking about a very similar book with an identical title, but that’s okay, I’ll read that one in time.
This is a very short book. As an audiobook, it’s less than four hours long. It touches on how people’s attitudes from money relate to specific touchpoints from their childhood, the typical Freudian/psychological approach. The end suggests some exercises to uncover these which involve drawing maps of your familial relationships or drawing an egg and filling it in with events from your life that involved money. If I’d had a paper book rather than an audiobook, I might have tried these, even though they seemed rather silly, but as it was I barely had enough motivation to go back and find where he mentions the code to take their financial attitudes test.
The Klonz’s (father and son, both psychiatrists, co-authored the book) are also Freudian in that they tend to see people in terms of pathologies deviating from some uninflected norm. I took the test and it said I have hoarding tendencies (because some items have a psychological connection to me and I hold on to them even though they are not useful–photographs of my kids) and that I have enabling tendencies (sometimes I spend more money on a party that I think I ought to have–that falls under “giving money to others and regretting it.”) and that I don’t have a gambling problem (falls under the category of “no duh.”) There are no variations of okay. This is not a personality test to figure out which of the X number of finance personalities you have. The problem I think I have isn’t even listed among them.
To me, this book felt like the introductory chapter of the book I wanted to read. It doesn’t cover the subject deeply enough, and while I liked the anecdotes, they didn’t elucidate the questions that the authors promised to answer. Why do we happily spend $20 for a stupid hat when we’re on vacation, but not spend $10 on a hat we actually like when we’re not on vacation? How do personal attitudes towards money affect a career, especially with salary negotiation? How do you figure out your partner’s attitude towards money and find out if you’re compatible? How have attitudes towards money changed in the past few decades? What are the different types of attitudes towards money and which are most common in different demographics? In short, I wanted someone else to do research (Have I mentioned I hate research?) and tell me the facts. Isn’t that why we buy nonfiction?
The other thing this book is not is an effective self-help book. If you do have a problem (overspending, or feeling like you aren’t deserving of money, or a miser who refuses to spend money even when you ought to) there aren’t any clues to change, except “find a therapist who specializes in finances,” for example, the doctors who authored this book? I’ve gotten better advice and feedback from bloggers. A good self help book would have chapters called “why you need a fuck-off fund” or “go ahead and buy that latte: how to maximize your spend-to-enjoyment ratio.” a good self-help book would include a test in the book (or online, admittedly, it’s easier) and when you were done, it would says something like “You’re in the hedonist category. You see money as perishable, that needs to be spent as soon as it comes in. Here are your most likely problems, and how to overcome them.” or “You’re in the lady bountiful category. You see money as the thing that takes care of others. This is good because X, but you might have problems with Y. Here’s how to overcome that.”
I didn’t even feel like we got the full benefit of their experience. Surely psycologists with decades of experience would have some practical advice, or some recognizable patterns they could tell us about. There were a few anecdotes, and a discussion of the cause and effect of those, but it didn’t go far enough. In short, the authors didn’t have enough material to fill an entire book.