What Were You Taught About Money?

Are you still clinging to your childhood beliefs about money? It’s time to let them go, says Spencer Sherman, because they may be leading you to make bad financial decisions.

Spencer Sherman
31 May 2022
Photo by iStock.com / Antonio_Diaz

Beliefs are powerful and it’s our job as meditation practitioners to loosen their grip on us. If we agree that everything is impermanent, then are we ready to see the impermanence of our own beliefs about money and let go of clinging to them?

You may believe that you don’t have enough money, that the stock market can’t be trusted, that you’re not competent with money, that rich people are happier, or that you’ll feel secure when your financial situation improves. The problem is compounded when you aren’t even aware of your beliefs. I didn’t know, for example, that I valued money more than my life—until I risked my life to retrieve my files from a burning building.

Our allegiance to our money beliefs can lead us to invest impulsively, avoid addressing our finances, become stingy with ourselves and other people, blindly rely on the advice of others, or focus our energies on acquiring shiny objects that fall short of our expectations.

In short, when we cling to beliefs about money, we suffer what Buddhism calls the three poisons: greed/fear, aversion/avoidance, and delusion/ignorance. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Money beliefs, even lifelong, are as impermanent as any other thought or belief. If we loosen their grip on us just a little, we will find our innate money wisdom more accessible, we will be more able to discern sensible financial opportunities, and we will feel a lot more at ease.

When it comes to money, our conditioning has been so strong and so long-lasting that we often aren’t even aware of it. So the first step is being open to the possibility that you are deluded about money. Being successful with your finances becomes much less challenging when you gain awareness of the conditioning that blocks your common sense.

The question is, why do we have so many delusions about money? The reason is that our beliefs about money were formed when we were young children, and those deeply rooted childhood beliefs often override what we learn later as adults.

For example, as adults we might embrace the idea that more money doesn’t necessarily make us happier. But we find that our money actions and reactions are more aligned with the opposite view—that money will make us happy—which was planted in our minds when we were young.

Even the most advanced meditators often remain on autopilot about their money behaviors. Our deeply implanted habits can butt up against our adult wisdom, and we find ourselves more grasping and more aversive than we’d like. This disconnect only exacerbates our sense of confusion about money.

What further complicates the problem is that there’s no environment in which we feel safe telling anyone about our real money issues and fears. Money is such a taboo subject that we don’t know how other people experience it, and we can’t share our own experiences. We don’t have the situation or training to investigate and speak about money issues in conscious, intentional, and mature ways. We tend to either disengage about money or be very reactive to it.

This inability to nonjudgmentally recognize and examine our money beliefs keeps our conditioning in place. Think about a money decision you made, maybe an impulsive decision you made that didn’t turn out well. Can you trace what belief you were clinging to that supported that action? As we examine our financial history, awareness starts to loosen up the grip our money beliefs have on us. Here’s a step-by-step practice to help you do that.

Surface Your Money Beliefs

As you calm your mind and body, bring to mind a money challenge you’ve had or an emotion that’s related with money. Become very aware of the physical sensations that arise as you do this—how your breathing changes, how the speed and quality of your thoughts change. Commit to just sensing what you feel, without leaping to any insights or commentary.

Now ask yourself: what’s the belief that supports this money challenge or emotion? Spend the next few minutes befriending the younger version of yourself who learned this belief. Offer compassion to this young person for adopting and clinging to such a fixed belief.

Finally, ask yourself two questions. First, would this money challenge or emotion change if you had learned the opposite belief? Sit in silence without reaching for any answers. Now ask yourself: who am I without this belief? After a few minutes, allow your awareness to widen and open. Consciously let go of your beliefs. Let go of identifying with these beliefs. Let go of clinging.

Spencer Sherman

Spencer Sherman

Spencer Sherman, is on a mission to use the timeless wisdom of the dharma to transform and empower our relationship with money. After getting his MBA from Wharton, he founded Abacus, a financial firm with Buddhist-inspired values. He is the author of The Cure for Money Madness and the Spirit of Money Workshop. His thirty-year Vipassana and Dzogchen meditation practice informs his work with money. His upcoming workshop with Menla, “The Dharma of Money,” begins September 17.